Is It Just Me? No? Ok. Let’s Start a Business.
That’s pretty much how my journey into entrepreneurship began.
I was just a coffee loving mom who frequented local cafes but found it difficult to drag a little one around with me while I tried to get my caffeine fix.
Picking up my coffee from a drive thru window and drinking it in my car while my son napped in the back seat wasn’t exactly the ambience I’d been accustomed to after years of patronaging coffee shops. From my driver’s seat, I’d peek through the window at the cozy lounge chair I used to sit in, then glance in my baby mirror wondering, do I dare take him out of the car? Maybe he’ll stay asleep inside the café? Nope. Not a chance. Car coffee for me.
I had fun with my little man, I truly did. We attended a few mommy and me classes, visited the library and early years centers, but while these were all great bonding experiences with my little guy, none of them offered the same type of cozy, home-away-from-home ambience that I craved from my coffee shop days.
Then one day I had this crazy idea. What if there was a café with a play space, where my son could enjoy playing and I could get a latte and have a cozy chair to sit in? I looked online and found play cafes all around the world, but none in my hometown Burlington. Maybe there’s a reason there isn’t one here? I thought. Could it be that I’m the only one craving this?
Curious to find out, I turned to my local mom2mom Facebook group and I simply asked: “If Burlington had a play café, would you go?” My phone didn’t start dinging all day long. I received over 250 responses. At first, I felt vindicated. Yes! I wasn’t the only mom in the world who was trying to balance her caffeine addiction with having fun with her kids.
Suddenly this “me” problem turned into a “we” problem. If these 250 women were also frustrated, surely there were many more.
Then I wondered, if no one has created this in Burlington, maybe I should do it? After all, I’d just identified my first 250 customers.
The only problem was, I had not a single clue about how to start a brick and mortar business. I had run a copywriting business from my home for years, writing articles for magazines and newspapers, and I now had a stable job in content marketing … one that I soon learned was nothing but stable, but more on that later.
Something inside me told me that this was what I was meantto do. I just had to figure out how to do it right (gulp).
The first step occurred back in February 2018. I was on a Twitter chat with the Mompreneurs, a group that supports and connects female business owners. The chat was all about their annual conference that was happening the following Friday, and there were free tickets up for grabs. I knew somewhere inside me that this was my opportunity to take the first step, so put my name in the hat and I WON! I was ecstatic! I took the day off work and went to the conference.
As I was driving to Toronto, self-doubt began to swirl in my head. “What am I doing going to this conference full of strong, female entrepreneurs who are living their purpose and doing it for real? I don’t even have a business plan! All I have is an idea.” By the time I got there, I thought of just sitting in the hotel lobby, turning around and going home. I felt like an imposter. I didn’t even want to talk to anyone. I sat by myself and got out my notebook and pretended to be busy writing notes to myself, thinking about whether or not I should stay. Then, the most amazing thing happened. Someone sat beside me and asked “SO, what’s your business?” I had been dreading being asked this question because I DIDN’T HAVE A BUSINESS.
“I, um, I’m opening a café” I muttered.
“Oh! That’s so exciting! What kind of café?” the womanprodded.
Ok, I thought to myself. Here we go. So, I just started talking and bythe time I was finished the woman had offered me the names of three people Ishould connect with at the conference. Then one of them appeared. She got upand introduced me to them. There was no escaping now. I was now “Lisa, the girlthat is opening a café”. I sat at a table with a group of the most incrediblysupportive women I’ve ever met, each and every one of them offeringencouragement and support to the girl at an entrepreneurship conference withouta company. Somehow, I think they knew by the time the next conference rolledaround, I would have that company.
The next week, I scheduled a visit to the Halton Small Business Centre. There I met with a small business advisor and shared my idea with them. I must have looked like a squirrel –jumping from one idea to the next – we’re going to serve really good coffee, we’regoing to have mom and baby programs, we’re going to do story time, we’ll dobirthday parties, there will be comfy seating and funny parenting quotes on the walls, bright colours but homey, relaxing but fun, welcoming, supportive … I was throwing out adjectives like I was reading a dictionary. I had so many ideas I didn’t know where to start.
My business consultant told me I needed a business plan. Yes! A plan. I needed to write down all of those ideas and put a plan into place. So for the next several months, I headed to Starbucks on Thursday nights while my husband took his turn putting my son to bed and I stayed there until 10:00 working on a business plan for Chickadee Family Café. I researched coffee equipment, local roasters and food suppliers looking for the best items to include on the Chickadee menu. I dove into spreadsheets and located sources of funding (‘cause opening a café is a hella lot expensive, friends). I got in touch with an accountant, a lawyer, an insurance agent, business consultants, mom and baby program providers. I attended networking events with other local business women to learn the ins and outs of starting and running a business.
After about six months, I finally had a business plan. I presented it to the bank and received a loan. I presented it to the Halton Starter Company Plus Program and received a grant.
I was on my way to bringing the first every play café to Halton region. But, wait! I needed a location! It didn’t take me long to find what I thought was the perfect spot, but after four long months of lease negotiations and back and forth with lawyers, the deal fell through and I was starting from scratch. I admit, that was a tough day. I felt demoralized and a little humiliated – because I had told so many people that I had found this great spot – and I wondered if this dream of mine would ever become a reality.
I picked myself up, turned my focus to finding a location, drove all over town looking at for lease signs and landed upon a great spot for my little play café idea. After sending the landlord my deposit cheque, I took a huge gulp and stepped back from my desk to look at those first few notes I had written down at the start of this incredible journey into business ownership.
Today, as I sit here at my dining table surrounded by flooring samples, floor plans and chicken scratch writing about accounting software, I can’t help but think back to that initial Facebook post and read through the comments: