SuperTalk Mississippi

BYOB: Don’t ‘fake it till you make it’

When we started Lazy Magnolia there were very few packaging breweries in the South, and none in Mississippi.

Opportunities for learning the business and the trade were far and few between. The Brewer’s Association was still very young, and the large conferences that bring vendors and suppliers together had really just started. Looking back, I am honestly shocked at how little we knew about the business. In many ways, we were figuring it out as we went along. That is a critical aspect of entrepreneurship: figuring it out.

On the other hand, I have also encountered those who embrace the “fake it till you make it” strategy. I’m not talking about the very effective and healthy practice of believing in yourself and smiling through the pain. I’m talking about trying to fool others (and yourself) into believing that you’re the expert and entitled to success (think Elizabeth Holmes).

These fakers blame other people for their failures. They blame shoddy equipment. They blame bad circumstances. They blame a market that won’t accept their product. They blame bureaucrats for being in the way. They embrace a life of victimhood. They put on airs that they are right, even when they clearly are wrong.  They carve out positions that are indefensible. They don’t learn from their mistakes. They hide their bad decisions behind a veil of obfuscation.

Figuring it out isn’t faking it. I have encountered faking it many times, at many different levels, but successful entrepreneurs don’t fake it. When I have encountered other successful entrepreneurs they don’t front, they don’t say they know answers to questions when they really don’t. What they do is embrace their lack of knowledge. They openly acknowledge their shortcomings. They learn what they must. They study. They practice. They make it right — even to their own detriment. They have confidence. They believe in themselves. They work, day and night, to learn everything they need to know to make it.

No one who understands how difficult first-time entrepreneurship is will ever take the step to do it. The task is daunting. To be the boss, you have to be good at everything. Every business runs on several critical pillars: leadership, accounting, sales, production, service, human resources, and quality. In general, people who are great at doing the work are terrible at leading the work. You can’t do a good job of being in charge of sales and production simultaneously — trust me. Failure of being adequate in any of these categories results in bankruptcy. Being great at all of these things is impossible.

A degree in Business Administration is a great tool, and it will help immensely to understand a P&L, Balance Sheet, and Statement of Cash Flows. More importantly, it will help you understand when and where to use each of these financial tools.

But understanding those things won’t help you make the right decision when one of your wholesale partners, who bought too much inventory four months ago, finally tells you that they have $100,000 of product going out of date in their warehouse next week. That might be a month of revenue that they expect you to pay from your net margin dollars to cover their mistake. Doesn’t matter that it is illegal for them to require this of you.  They are bigger. You need them more than they need you. This payout isn’t a one-month hit to the bottom line. It is trading the sum total of profits from this year, to keep a customer.

There isn’t any class that will help make that decision. There isn’t any amount of faking it that will make that problem go away. Go ahead and pull out your distribution agreement and use that paper to dry your tears.  Eat it if that makes you feel better. No one cares what it says. You are the small guy and you can’t afford to litigate this — and they know it. You have to pick from several bad choices. You choose the one that seems the least like faking it.

In that case, you keep the customer, you take it on the chin. It wasn’t your fault, but you own up to the responsibility. You put systems in place to monitor wholesaler inventory, you train your sales staff to monitor pull-through, and you make sure that you only have to buy this experience once. That is making it, but it isn’t faking it.

The more appropriate phrase: “Learn until you make it.”

ICYMI: Brewing Your Own Business column one

ICYMI: Brewing Your Own Business column two

ICYMI: Brewing Your Own Business column three

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of SuperTalk Mississippi Media.

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