February 15, 2012

A continuation from the last post…

The next morning came, and I dutifully showed up at the coffee shop at 8 am.  I don’t drink coffee anymore, only hot tea in the mornings.  Over six years ago, I quit drinking coffee cold turkey on Labor Day weekend.  Haven’t had a single drop since.  I was drinking way too much, and the excess caffeine made me jittery and the acidity was causing some GI distress.  So I just quit.

When I meet someone in the mornings, usually for business networking to get acquainted or re-acquainted, I still refer to this as a “cup of coffee” meeting.  Sorry I digress.  I bought a cup of black tea and waited.

It was pouring down rain outside, a really nasty morning.  H____ told me she takes the bus to work, so on this particular morning it would be understandable if she were a little late.  I waited, drank my tea and read the newspaper.  A full hour I waited, now well informed as to the current events of the day.  Somebody committed a murder and is going on trial.  The economy in Greece is falling apart.  Republicans aren’t willing to tax themselves at the level needed to maintain greatness in America.  When Eisenhower was President, the top margin tax rate for individuals was 91%.  We built the interstate highway system, the aviation infrastructure, a permanent military, and maintained our national parks.  Duke’s perimeter defense is vulnerable.  Some parents are bitching that their kids aren’t being assigned to the right schools.  Sudoku is harder than it looks.

At some point I realized H____ wasn’t going to show up, and went back to my home/office.  There was a phone message from H_____, explaining that she arranged for a friend to give her a ride so she wouldn’t have to stand outside at the bus stop and get drenched.  Her friend was late.

I called her later, and we agreed to meet at 5:00 pm, right after she gets off work, a few days later.  But when I got there, a co-worker explained that she didn’t work that day.  H_____ was originally on the schedule but needed to swap days for some unknown reason.

In one of our short phone chats, she mentioned that there was an issue – not explained in any detail –  involving her children, now 13 and 15 years old.  She needed to work with the staff at the halfway house for help in getting into an apartment so the kids could move in with her.  An abusive father, perhaps?  Who knows.  She also mentioned needing time to work with her lawyer on how to get a drivers license again.

My life is so easy.  After paying her dues to society with seven years of incarceration, H_____ will continue to pay and pay again while trying to rebuild the basic infrastructure of independent living that folks like me take for granted.

As of this writing, we have not talked again.  There is no reason to rush.  H_____ has the rest of her life in front of her, and if she walks a straight and narrow line, keeps working, loves her children, keeps smiling, and slowly puts a foundation in place, the time for her entrepreneurial dreams will eventually come.


Hello… I’m Out Now

January 29, 2012

H____ called me last week, to report most happily that she’s been released from prison, found a job and still aspires to start her own catering business.

We only spoke a couple of minutes, long enough for me to learn that she is working at a quick service restaurant fairly close to my house, and then the call was abruptly cut off.  Has she gotten in trouble at work just for calling me?  Is this her own phone or a borrowed one?

I texted back to the number and suggested calling me when her shift ended, and she replied that she would do that.  But another call never came.  This was Wed. Jan. 18th.

Be patient, I told myself.  It must be hard adjusting to being freed from incarceration, and rather intimidating to reach out to me for help.

The following Monday I went over the the QSR where she said she works, a little before 5:00 when she had said her regular shift ended, but alas she was off that day.  Another employee described herself as “H____’s friend” and gave me her schedule for the rest of the week.

So back I went on Thursday, again a little before quitting time, and halfway through placing my order with a very pleasant young woman who’s nametag identified her as H_____, I blurted out rather awkwardly, “By the way, I’m David.”  After a short moment of looking like a deer caught in the headlights, she gathered herself.  “David Bass!?  Omigosh!  I’m so excited to meet you.”

And then explained that she needed to head to the bus stop to get back to a halfway-type house where she is living temporarily, because there is a house meeting tonight and she is trying really hard to do all the right things.

So I walked her to the bus stop, chatted as casually as I know how (which is NOT AT ALL!) to carry on a conversation with someone who has just been released from prison – and I know none the details.  She mentioned her desire to start a catering business, maybe someday own her own restaurant, how she got interested in food preparation and cooking, and did not come across in the least as having a chip on her shoulder about her incarceration.  I was expecting to see a woman holding a grudge against the world.  Instead I met someone cheerfully going about her business.

We agreed to meet the following morning before her work shift for coffee and further discussion.  More on that in the next post.

YES, it is very hard

December 23, 2011

Dec. 23, 2011

Dear H______,

Thank you for your nice letter.

You asked if owning a business is really hard?  The real answer is YES, it is very hard, but you can do it.  You will just have to work hard at it and do not be shy about asking for help.

The most important thing is to be able to get customers for your catering business.  Without any customers, nothing else really matters.

To help you get your business set up and ready to start, there are several good resources available, including Business Link North Carolina, which a free service for you to be able to call a business counselor (Monday – Friday, 8 am – 5 pm, call 1-800-228-8443 or 919-807-4280) and they provide a variety of assistance with your business structure and licensing requirements.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Very truly yours,

I will be released in 13 days

December 23, 2011

Received Dec. 21:

Mr. David Bass

Hi!  My name is H______.  I got your letter and I am still interested in starting my catering business.  I just completed Job Start and will be released in 13 days.  I have your number and will call you as soon as I get out.  I have done some planning allready and have done a lot of networking.  My release date is Jan 2nd.  What I would like to ask is it really hard to own your own business?  I don’t know anything about the book work.  I do know how to manage a restaurant but not the owning part.  You can write me but like I said I will be release soon.

Thank you



Better Get Some Help

November 17, 2011

Email to Bonnie Fedchock, Executive Director of the National Association of Catering Executives (NACE):


Hi Bonnie,

I am a volunteer with Inmates to Entrepreneurs, a unique non-profit organization that provides training and encouragement to prison inmates who are nearing the end of their period of incarceration, to start low-cost service businesses after their release.  As you can imagine, the traditional employment prospects for these individuals are not very good.  See http://www.inmatestoentrepreneurs.org/

I have recently agreed to serve as a mentor to an inmate who wants to start a small catering business upon her release, scheduled for early January 2012.

Among the publications in the NACE aStore I noticed a book titled:  Off-Premise Catering Management, by Bill Hansen and Chris Thomas.  Would you consider donating one copy for use my this inmate?  This would be a big help to an individual who now seeks to straighten out her life.


Hello, I’m Your New Mentor

November 17, 2011

November 17, 2011

Ms. H______ Y_______

[prison address]

Dear H______,

I have received a copy of your letter to Sageworks regarding your desire to start a catering business, and have agreed to serve as a mentor to you in this process.

First of all, congratulations on taking the first step towards becoming an entrepreneur, by attending the Jobstart session and completing the Inmates to Entrepreneurs Questionnaire.

Being your own boss can be very rewarding and provide much freedom, control and economic opportunity.  It is also a big challenge and very frustrating at times.  If you persist and persist some more, you can succeed!

Have you begun to develop a business plan?  If not, I suggest you begin immediately.  A business plan does not have to be overly complicated.  A good business plan includes information about these areas:

  • The value proposition to your customers (Lowest cost?  Fanciest service?  Most convenient?  Trendiest?)
  • Facilities (Where will you operate?  What equipment is needed?)
  • Personnel (Will you do everything yourself?  Hire others? If yes, what skills will they need?)
  • Operations (For a catering business, will you prepare the food onsite or offsite?  If offsite, how will you deliver, setup, cleanup, and control quality?)
  • Competition (If this information is readily available)
  • Pricing
  • Customer acquisition (This is the most important item!  To have a business you must be able to acquire customers.  This seems very obvious, but it is surprising how many entrepreneurs do not give this enough thought until after they have established their businesses.)
  • Financial (Including both the initial start-up costs and expected income and expenses in the initial weeks or months.)

Also I would like to ask what is the best way to communicate with you for now?  Are there any restrictions or guidelines as to how much information I can send to you (including books or other publications)?

Here is a little bit about myself:

I currently work with the owners of private companies when they are ready to sell their businesses or thinking about how to sell their businesses in the future.  I own my company, Arena Capital Advisors, which provides these services.  I have owned other businesses as well, including a staffing company and a recreation business.

A few years ago I helped the owner of a catering company sell his business.  At the time it was one of the largest caterers in North Carolina.  For that company, food costs were approximately 22% of sales revenue, and labor costs were 23% of sales revenue.  These figures may be helpful in your planning, although as a startup I would expect your food cost to be a slightly higher percentage as you would not be able to negotiate the same volume discounts on your purchasing.

Please let me know any questions you have, to help turn your dream into a reality.

Very truly yours,

I Have Only 61 Days Left

November 17, 2011

Here is the letter that started my on my Inmates to Entrepreneurs mentorship:

Nov. 9, 2011

To Sageworks,

Thank You for coming to Jobstart.  I look forward to seeing you soon.  I want to get this business on the ground.  You guys gave me hope that it can happen.  If there is anything I can do to get it started now or any information for me please send it to me.  I only have 61 days left.

Thank you.


Also enclosed was the I2E Questionnaire:

1. Why do you want to start a business?  [I want to be my own boss work for myself.]

2. Briefly describe the type of business you intend to start and why you have chosen this business?  [Catering business to maybe in 8-10 years.  I want my own restaurant.]

3. Describe in detail the product/service you will sell.  [Food anything from birthday parties to business meetings.]

4. Why will customers want to buy your product/service?  What is unique about your product/service compared to your competitors?  [Quality, always willing to satisfy the customer.]

5. How much will you charge for your product/service?  [I don’t know yet.  The price of the food, equipment, labor, and other charges that will acquire the price.]

6. Describe the group of people (market segment) to whom you will sell.  What do they have in common?  For instance, think about age, gender, education, location, etc.  [Any.]

7. How will you reach your customers to motivate them to buy?  [Word of mouth, start out little, advertisement.]

8. How do you plan on keeping your customers?  [Quality, performance.]

9. How will you get your product or service to your customers?  Will they come to you, or will you deliver to them?  [Come to them.]

10. List and describe your direct competition.  How will you compare with them regarding price, quality, and service?  [Price depends on how much I have to put into the product.  Quality best food ever.  Service on time.]

11. Describe your experience related to this business, if any.  [Serve Safe, I took on hand traninng for all areas in Food Service.  I have recommendations.]

12. What are your goals for this business? (Sales & Profit for year 1, 2, 3)  [To one day have franchises.]

13. What aspects of your personality will help ensure the success of the business?  [My attitude towards people]

14. How much cash will it require to start this business?  [ ? ]

15. Will you need to hire anyone to help you run this business?  [No]

16. What will you name your business?  [H____’s Catering.]

17. Are you currently incarcerated?  If so, what is your expected release date?  [Yes   1-2-12]