As the New Year approaches, I can’t help but reflect on what has been accomplished in the last year. To be honest, 2015 has been a bit off the charts for the Ewalts. I've had numerous major life changes this past year. It feels like we crammed about 5 years worth of stuff into this one year.
I know this post is long, but if you’re curious to hear more about my story and how I pivoted, this is a good recap. Grab a cup of coffee (or glass of wine :)) and settle in.
A pregnant woman (me), her husband and two kids (4 and 2 years old) are living in far Northern Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Superior. (Think really far north, then go a little further. When all that separate you from Canada is a big lake, you’ve arrived.)
We’d been running a coffee shop and roastery for about 8 years and poured our hearts and souls into the business. Three renovations, immense growth and a kick ass re-branding had finally gotten us to the point we always wanted our business to be.
We had a full time staff of 6, with seasonal and part time staff of over 15. Our coffee was being sold throughout the Upper Midwest at cafes, high-end grocery stores and food co-ops. Our online sales were growing like crazy and even our cafe was hitting numbers I didn’t think were possible. Things were going very well.
But something was nagging on me. I had often assumed this feeling of discontent was because I wanted more out of my business. But now that I had achieved many of my goals (more money, more freedom), I knew it was something else.
After a lot of discussion and reflection, I admitted to Jon that I wanted to make a dramatic shift in our lives. I was ready to sell the business. And I wanted to move across the country, back to Oregon where Jon was from and where we had met. Amazingly, Jon agreed it was time to move on.
This was big.
How are we going to do this?
How the hell do you sell your business without taking years to do so?
When you want something bad enough you need to think outside the box. Don’t do what everyone else is doing. Make yourself stand out.
Our business was on top and it was a good time to exit. You don’t want to wait until you are completely checked out and the business is dying.
We talked with a few brokers. We researched all the “fun” things like how to value your business and what the sales process looks like. That would be the traditional path to go down to sell the business.
But we dug a little deeper. What are some alternative ways to do this?
We thought a lot about the intangibles that we had created at our cafe. There was something really unique in our business. In a town of 600, we were able to run a coffee shop that was open daily, year round. It became the living room for the community, part of it’s heart.
We were able to offer full time employment in various positions. For those of you who have lived or worked in a remote, seasonal tourist destination, you know how rare that can be to find.
People were emotionally attached to the place and what it provided for residents and tourists. We loved the community and all it had done to support us. We loved knowing their stories and them knowing ours.
These were the things that made our business truly unique. (That combined with the fact that it was profitable, and rapidly growing).
We decided to look for someone who shared and valued that as well. We didn’t want to sell it to someone who would turn their back on the community.
We were lucky enough to find someone who valued our business and the community in the same way we did. They were willing to work with us and our staff to create the worker owned cooperative.
The path to get to signing the final agreements was long and winding, with lots of ups and downs. The months leading up to the finalization of the sale were some of the most stressful of my life. We kicked off 2015 with excitement, nervousness, stress and a lot of work to figure out how to make all of this come together.
But it was our creativity to solve solutions and willingness to change, research and adjust that made it all come together in mid March, when we finalized the sale.
The Let Down
We signed all the papers with the new owners on a bright, chilly March day and headed out for a celebratory drink (and ginger beer for preggo me!). I was expecting a gush of emotion. So much work, such a huge part of our lives and we were done. We were officially NOT business owners.
But I didn’t feel any different.
Umm, what the hell? I think I was in shock. And as I look back there was so much leading up to it that the actual event didn’t smack me in the face as much as I thought it would.
We signed all the papers on a Wednesday and we left on Friday for a three week road trip. (Yes, it was like the start of a joke: A man and his 3 year old, 5 year old and 8 month pregnant wife head out on a 3 week road trip in their Prius.... )
We headed south toward sunshine and warmth and then up the east coast to visit family.
Even while we were gone, it still didn’t sink in.
We returned to northern Wisconsin in April and after a few more weeks it finally started sinking in. We were moving on from our business of eight years. Jon attended a conference for bootstrapped (software) startups called MicroConf. I start working with some of my first coaching clients and loved this new style of work.
Working with other moms who owned small business fed my soul. I would come back from a session on a true high, energized and excited for what the future holds for them.
This feeling combined with a few more weeks of neither of us going into the coffee shop to work and it was finally starting to sink in.
We had sold our business.
I felt great. It felt right. I knew our time there was complete and we were ready to move on.
Finding the next thing was thrilling. But there were a lot of things to do before I could really focus on my business. There were babies to be born and cross country moves to coordinate!
Babies and Preparing to Move
May had its share of stresses as we listed our house for sale the week before I delivered. On May 21st, Sam was born and he continues to be an awesome, chill, go-with-the-flow baby #3. Three days after Sam's birth, we accepted an offer on the house.
June and July were full of family visits, adjusting to having three kids and packing.
Ugh. Packing! The last time we moved we didn’t have kids.
Moving the FIVE of us was way more of a pain in the ass. Wow. Really makes you evaluate the amount of shit you have.
I had a few moments of rage and anger about this, but there was no time to dwell on it. I purged and packed our stuff the best I could to send on a big truck out west. In hindsight, I wish that I had read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up before we moved rather than after. Oh well.
Of course, right as we moved West, Jon began development on RoasterTools. RoasterTools is software for wholesale coffee roasters that he’s been thinking about for years. We both felt a big pressure to get his next project off the ground.
July ended with the closing of the sale of our house and all of us heading out to Oregon.
Listen to your Gut
We arrived in Portland with the goal of finding a place to live. We were open to numerous towns in the Oregon/Washington region.
While we were dutifully doing our research before we arrived and we had focused in on Bend, OR. We visited there the previous summer and really liked it.
It had many things on our list that we liked; awesome outdoor activities, great food scene, an amazing historic downtown, and great entrepreneurial community. What's not to love?
It sounded like the perfect fit on paper. I kept telling myself that Ideally I was a mid-size town kind of girl. That around 100,000 people was perfect for me. No traffic issues but with lots of amenities of a bigger city.
So we went to Bend for a short week and looked at housing. We looked and looked and something just wasn’t adding up. There were things I loved about it, but when Jon and I would look at each other and say, “what do you think?” neither of us said much.
We were scared to admit that we didn’t absolutely love it.
What is wrong with us? Everyone else LOVES Bend and would just die to live there (we kept hearing that). Here we are, able to chose anywhere in the country. We should feel so lucky to have the privilege to choose Bend, right?
I had to turn off what everyone else was saying and listen to what felt right for me and for my family. And my gut was telling me Bend wasn’t the right place. I was honestly a little sad about it.
Since we hadn't decided on a city to live in, it was making finding a place to live a bit of a challenge. And staying in the one bedroom in the basement of my sister's basement added some pressure to the situation. We needed to figure this out pretty quickly.
I'd held my cool pretty well until this point. I felt so frustrated and under so much pressure to find a place. I was craving routine and normal daily life. What the hell were we doing?! Why didn't we have this all figured out before we arrived in Oregon?!!!
We left Bend feeling down, frustrated and overwhelmed.
On our drive back to Portland from Bend, I could feel my happiness rising as we got back into the city. I truly love this place.
I love the trees, the neighborhoods, the architecture, the city, and the people.
I LOVE the energy of the city.
I had a realization. I am a City Girl.
What?! I grew up in a town of 8,000 and have lived in a few medium sized cities, but I always told myself I was a small(to medium) town girl. However, I was finding that this wasn’t true.
When I listened to my gut I felt happiest when I was in a great neighborhood in the city. Portland was where my heart wanted to be.
Walkability is huge for me. I want to be able to walk to neighborhood places. Portland provided numerous options with many great neighborhoods to look at.
Let me make a distinction here. When I say city, I mean in a traditional city neighborhood. (Think grids vs cul du sacs). I don’t want to live in a subdivision or suburb without an old school downtown. When I was driving into a subdivision to look at housing in Bend, my heart sank. I knew that it wasn’t where I wanted to live.
I had to acknowledge that. I would try to talk myself into it saying, it would be ok. I’d be happy. But I knew it wasn’t my number one choice. I was financially able to make different choices. I had to listen to this.
So after listening to our guts and being able to talk through what we really wanted, we set new parameters and hunted for something to satisfy our desires.
We found a house to rent in a kick ass location.
We moved into our new space 5 days before the kids started at their new schools. We can walk to both kids' schools, grocery stores, and restaurants. We are close to fun retail districts.
We LOVE where we live. We barely drive our cars.
We are more active by default.
I feel happier on a daily basis.
We spent the next few months unpacking, organizing and settling in.
I went on a bit of a craigslist binge. I updated lots of furniture, got rid of things we moved across the country.
I felt annoyed by the fact that we moved things all this way only to decide to get rid of them. But I have to remind myself that we didn’t know what type of place we were moving into and so we just moved it all.
Not ideal, but oh well.
By mid October I started getting really antsy to get to work on my new business.
I finally felt that we had some routines established and had our space fairly put together. Of course there are still pictures to hang on the walls but other than that, I’m calling it good for a while.
I’ve been able to work around Sam’s naps, as well as waking up very early to get some work and workout time in before everyone wakes up.
January’s #1 goal is to find some part time childcare for Sam so I can focus on MFP and really hit the ground running.
Doing the Hard Stuff.
Jon and I have had this saying that we need to “Do The Hard Stuff!” It was central to our last business and we’ve made it part of our personal lives as well.
The hard stuff is often on your to do list, but you never do it first, because it takes more time and is challenging. The hard stuff is finishing, and not giving up. So often projects go to 85% and then are never completed. (Note to self, finish hanging those pictures that still need to go up).
Now I’m to the hard part, working to launch a business from the ground up.
I’m putting myself out there into new situations, meeting new people and creating more connections with other entrepreneurs in Portland. I love it, but it still makes me nervous. I am challenged everyday.
I have to open myself up to be vulnerable. To know that I will stumble and the start will be rough and imperfect, and that is ok.
I have to be disciplined. No boss is holding me accountable. Only me.
I'm inspired by Jon, who's facing these same struggles with his business. He's about to launch the beta version of his new web app, RoasterTools. Watching him put himself out there and doing things that are completely out of his comfort zone is what doing the hard stuff is all about. And he's doing it with amazing success.
I will embrace doing the hard stuff to accomplish my goals in 2016. Watch out, it's going to be crazy! But no more babies and no more moving!
So that is the recap of our crazy and amazing 2015.
What big changes do you have planned for 2016? Leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!