One of my favourite pieces of crap television is watching chef Gordon Ramsay try to save a sinking restaurant against the best efforts of the incumbent restaurateur – Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. It’s like watching the evolution of a slow-motion car wreck unfolding from a power pole.
The part that really gets me is that cameras can go in and reveal mouldy fridges and grubby hovels, they can reveal the most disgusting vestiges of slop being fed to patrons… Ramsay can show them they’re losing a thousand pound every week… they’ve lost their house and live in a box in the alleyway… everything in the commonsense world says THIS IS FUCKED – but the restaurateur disagrees.
And that’s the amazing thing about offering advice to small businesses whether they’re doing well or going down the drainpipe. The owner is in the trenches with invested money and emotion. The owner is invested in a dream… in reconciling the success or collapse of that dream in their own fragile human world. So when Ramsay comes and tells them the facts, they don’t find it easy to accept.
This is the saddest part about watching a lot of small businesses slowly fall out of business. Sometimes it’s not that hard to pick what’s wrong – they’re selling too expensively or too cheaply to be viable concerns, their value proposition is crap against the alternatives, they’re not breaking even, they haven’t figured out that you need a strategy and focus… and the entire enterprise is falling over.
But what do you do? I mean, if the owner even respects your ability to identify and fix an issue then you can bet they’re not going to hand over the keys. Even if they hire you on board as a manager… they still probably won’t hand over those keys.
The keys to the shiny Jaguar that lives in their minds-eye when they envision their beautiful (but failing) business.
Sometimes all a business is doing wrong is not understanding who their real competitors are… or they’re in the wrong business… or they’re trying to sell ice to fucking Eskimos (or Innuit)… or there’s a systemic issue with some slugger in the office playing gatekeeper and they need to be relieved of their employee’s cap.
Because business isn’t all about living the dream. It’s all about being in business. It’s about realising the reason you are in business isn’t even to make money – the reason you’re in business should be to serve social needs not met by government; the reward for doing that well (better than most, if not all, others) is people will give you money.
Money is a consequence of doing all that other stuff correctly. All the Ramsay detail laid out in Ramsay’s honesty. You may like the man or not; he produces one of the best practical small business shows on commercial television if you’re interested in how small businesses struggle to evolve.