“Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” – Oprah Winfrey
It’s been exactly two months since I started my GoFundMe campaign in an effort to catch up from a 30% decline in sales in the first and second quarter of the year while I was recovering from major surgery and other complications from delivering my son.
30% decline. It seems impossible that my business could have gotten so far away from me. The first quarter of the year seems like a distant blur, and the second quarter more like a traumatic awakening from some kind of drug-induced coma! It’s like I’m having to figure out who I am, how I got here, what I’m doing and where I go from here.
Nothing could prepare me for my birth story. I was in good shape, I was healthy, strong, and I didn’t have any problems or complications with my pregnancy. No high blood pressure, no protein in my urine labs – healthy. My mistake – if there’s one to be named – was that I listened to my doctor out of fear and allowed an induction instead of trusting my instinct to stay on the natural course of labor that my body was already following. There was no reason for the induction – just my age. The baby was perfectly positioned until the induction led to round after round of interventions to keep labor on track with the hospital’s desired time table – rushing my baby to descend until my baby’s head was positioned at an angle that was challenging to correct. In the end, I wish I would have trusted myself to not make decisions from a place of fear.
I left the hospital with a C-section scar, lots of scar tissue and identified endometriosis scarring. I lost a lot of blood and became anemic. My right hip was injured during the birthing process of pushing and I had numbness and pain in my right hip and thigh for about four months. To add salt to the wound, I had postpartum depression. I wanted to skip pain medication but was advised not to – so I was in a woozy dream state for several weeks. I was caring for my sweet baby which meant I was sleep deprived. Due to the C-section antibiotics, my son and I got thrush. It was one of the most painful parts of the childbirth experience. I also had vasospasms – and extremely painful condition for nursing moms where there’s lack of circulation in the nipple worsened by cold weather.
Six weeks postpartum I cried every day wondering when I would be clear from pain. Pain was my new normal. Not just sharp pain in one spot, like from a sprained ankle, but, an enduring, deep pain that became an annoying tick. Pain that made you feel mentally exhausted and unhinged.
Somehow, I managed to bottle my white, rosé and reserve wines in early March, a month and a half postpartum. I’m not sure how that worked out! I did plan ahead a little bit in advance with finishing the wines in December. But, it’s the logistics of bottling that can easily implode! That is, ensuring your bottles arrive, your corks, labels, and so on.
I got by with help from others.
I have spent nearly a decade doing 99.9% of the work for this business all by myself. There have been friends and temporary part-time worker bees to see me through the years, but, by and large, the work was laid out and finished by yours truly.
I’ve never had an easy time asking for help.
As for this year, I’ve had no choice but to ask for help. I think if there’s one specific life lesson for me in 2019 – it has been to ask for help.
I was diligent in asking for help with the physical part of the business – production – because, let’s face it, when you’re very pregnant, in labor, and postpartum, well, you’re kind of limited in what you can physically do. Asking for help with production was an obvious necessity.
What wasn’t obvious was the help I would need in sales. I felt like I had my supporters all set and they’d all be there for me without even having to ask. I assumed when the wine was bottled, the wine would just sell. Distributors would get their allocations and they’d place their purchase orders, and they’d pick up their wine and I’d get paid.
This is not to conveniently place blame on others. The mistake here was all mine.
I allowed months to pass without realizing that I was down 30% in sales!
When I recently ran my profit/loss report for the year to date it was very clear that I didn’t roll out the 2018 white and rosé wines as I normally would, a delay that could have cost me my business – and may very well, still.
Distributors never placed orders for these wines and by the end of summer I still had full inventory of these wines. This is pretty terrifying considering most white wines need to be sold by the end of summer.
Typically, I pay for my grapes from the previous vintage in three installments which gets paid off by early second quarter. This year, I still have outstanding payments due to one grower and it’s a significant amount of money. Had I sold the 2018 white wines on time, this grower would have been paid a long time ago.
I still owe money from my last bottling run that happened in July.
I now have about $35,500 worth of invoices from the sale of my wines out in the universe, but about $15,000 of it is already 30 to 60 days past due. If that money came in on time, I would be able to pay off the outstanding bottling expenses and stay on top of my regular production and operations expenses. With the rest, I could pay a chunk of the outstanding grapes invoice from 2018.
The good news – my online sales are up! My wine club has grown! And, really, if I was able to grow my direct to consumer sales (full retail), then I’d be in an even better position. It’s challenging to do that when you don’t have a tasting room. We have been working to get clever about how to make our wines more available and accessible to consumers.
This isn’t all bad news – I promise.
I landed an amazing marketing intern who is so positive and cheery – she is kind of resuscitating a new and exciting creative energy into my work. She’s like Anne of Green Gables meets Avril Lavigne. I am grateful to have her help! We meet once a week to discuss ideas. It’s wonderful! She takes things off of my plate and comes up with innovative ways to improve my business. At the same time, I get to mentor her, which is super rewarding for me! So, it’s a symbiotic relationship. She set up her own LLC and invoices me for her time. It’s one of the best things that has happened to my business (and me)!
I started a new wine club exclusively for my college alumnae. I went to a small women’s college in Virginia and we call ourselves “the old girl’s network” for good reason – it’s an extraordinary league of distinguished women. This group of alumnae is quite amazing – so much so that we collectively saved our college from closure back in 2015 by raising over $30 million in just three months! So I founded the Vixens & Roses Wine Club for Sweet Briar College graduates – which is in no affiliation with the college. It’s just my way of offering something special to fellow alumnae.
I am surprised by the response of so many people who have reached out and offered to help! I’m grateful for my kind and generous friends, family, customers and colleauges who have contributed to my GoFundMe campaign (truly humbling!) or who have offered to come help sort grapes this harvest.
I am also surprised by the people who have made a very challenging time in my life feel even more challenging. There are times when you fall down. And you may keep falling down. There’s a great Japanese saying: Fall down seven times, climb back up eight times.
I don’t need to point fingers or put my energy into blame. But I will say this – there comes a time in every person’s life when things don’t go as smoothly as planned and you’re hanging by a thread. We all have troubles. Give good people a break every now and again, offer some support and understanding, extend deadlines every now and again and be open to giving a little every now and again – even if it puts your business or time or energy in a small crunch. Trust in good people. In the long run they will not let you down. In the long run, they will pay it forward in a big way.
It’s very important to know who’s there for you in good and bad times. I have had some negative experiences over the past several months – experiences that have, at first, while in my most raw and vulnerable moments, caused me some grief and even shame and embarrassment or unnecessary stress.
Oh, to be fortunate! How lucky! To have everything working out – be it financial success, ownership of a little empire, resources, space, time, conveniences – whatever makes it so easy to live well and worry free.
I am making it my priority to embrace others struggling with even more fervor and unconditional support when I am able! We should never take advantage of our friends, family, colleagues and so on. But, we should be able to have meaningful relationships – both business or professional – that allow for empathy, compassion, flexibility and help. I am making this part of my company’s ethos. Because if we don’t live our lives with a genuine spirit of generosity towards others, then how do we build a culture or community with those same beliefs and aspirations? We all must do better.
When I come out of this difficult time in my business story I will work on a new business plan, one that puts energy and thought into business culture on building better community and creating space for support and flexibility. Everything is much easier when you’re on the positive side of cashflow, when you’re profitable, when the money comes in and bills are getting paid all on time!
Still, I’m embracing all of the pieces that have made this part of my story either difficult or hopeful. I am using this time to learn and grow. This chapter is going to make me a better business woman. We need more empathy in business. I have often written about compassionate capitalism. Imagine if businesses – small and large – embraced kindness, compassion, support and generosity as tenets that are more important than bottom line, competition, winning, earning, and so on.
I believe in investing in the people who invest in you – from your customers to your employees to your board of advisors – everyone and anyone who becomes a part of your company’s culture and community. It’s always about people and relationships first – and with that comes a huge responsibility to stretch and support as needed.
I may be on a few blacklists this year because of my mini financial collapse. I may lose business contracts. I may lose the confidence of people who are doing business with me. I get it. I didn’t plan for the worst case scenario and I have fallen behind so much so that maybe it is unforgivable. There’s a trickle down effect of not getting paid on time that has really prevented me from making right on some of these major delays.
I remind myself it’s just wine. It’s just a business. We’re not saving lives here!
Nothing is so important that we cannot hold space for our community members when they are facing trouble. Bottom lines will eventually get in balance.
I forgive those who are not practicing timeliness with me. And, I hope those who I owe can forgive me, too.
I come back to asking for help. I guess that’s the greatest help I could receive – grace periods to get myself caught up again on selling my wine so that I can pay off my debts. The GoFundMe campaign has given me some relief. But, I am far from in a good place.
I hoped the GoFundMe campaign might introduce me to an investor so that I never have to go through this trauma of being behind on payments ever again! It may just work out.
I make myself vulnerable by sharing this – by being transparent about my story – because this could happen to anyone at anytime in business or in personal matters. What kind of community are you in – one that supports you or one that will shame you out of business?
I’m still here. I’m still operating this business. I’m still making wine. I have no guarantee that I will make it to bottling!
People ask what they can do – and I sincerely appreciate it! Please consider ordering my wine online. I know shipping wine is expensive – I wish it were different. By supporting my business – shipping fees and all – you are keeping me in business! Or, please consider giving to my GoFundMe campaign.
I do not make these asks lightly. Asking for help is difficult for me. But, I promise to pay it forward. I am building a new culture for my company that promises to put goodness, kindness and compassion first. I think that is an important piece to helping to make the world a better place. It’s making me feel a greater responsibility as a business owner. This is charging me to do better, myself.