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Mandi Lunan: "This picture of me with the pie was taken two months before Auntie Loo's closed. I had to put on a brave face. This was one of the worst times of my life."

Baker turned small business consultant Mandi Lunan: When should you ask for help?

By John McDonald on January 13, 2017


How many resolutions have you tossed to the curb already? 

Mandi logoMaybe there was the one about exercising more. Or maybe it was that you’ll pay more attention to your bank account. Perhaps it was that you would listen to the advice of others.

Small business consultant, and food business expert, Mandi Lunan (This Charming Mandi), would ask you to reconsider. These are three areas that she knows, from experience, can make all the difference.

You’ll know Mandi from her previous venture, the vegan bakery Auntie Loo’s Treats. After six years in business, she made the difficult decision to close in June 2015.

“I really should have asked for help.”

However, it’s often difficult for a business owner to ask for help, especially if your “impatience and stubbornness are legendary”. 

So when should a business owner seek help?

“Definitely when they are taking on something that they are having trouble understanding. If they’re putting out fires every day, believing that tomorrow it will be different. If they are overdrawn at the bank all the time, as I was. They should ask for advice. There are times when you have to just stop and look at your mess.”

Mandi Lunan: "A current selfie. Much Happier."

Mandi Lunan: “A current selfie. Much Happier.”

As Mandi reviews that period, she knows that there was not a single defining reason for Auntie Loo’s situation, but the business’s expansion and move played a part. 

She accepts that “I didn’t hire the right people for the work that was needed. I wasn’t fully aware of contracting, construction, the necessary permits, and the time involved. I should have had an adviser. But like any small business, I saw that as an expense that I didn’t want to pay. But I know now that if you spend the money up front, you won’t be paying the ultimate price later on. It’s a small price to pay for success.”

Mandi’s situation became more difficult when she was involved in a bicycle accident, which resulted in a shattered leg, and a one year recovery period.

Mandi Lunan: "This little kid with cake is me - food obsessed for life!"

Mandi Lunan: “This little kid with cake is me – food obsessed for life!”

“It was terrible. I wasn’t covered by insurance. My staff tried to hold it together. My family came and helped a lot. Régine and Katie, who own (the Dalhousie Street shop) Victoire, offered to wrangle up local entrepreneurs to help with parts of our business. That’s a true testament of who they are as entrepreneurs. It’s important that small business owners stick together. We’re all in this together.”

Through this experience, Mandi became aware of the importance of self-care.

“Now it’s something I focus on. It’s exhausting being self-employed. And without you, there is no business. You need to carve out space for yourself. Get away from your business. Part of that means no social media.”

With social media, and online business activities almost demanding immediate response, and an extended work day, some entrepreneurs would suggest that this is simply not possible. Mandi would disagree.

“Self care is not a luxury. It’s not a choice. You need time away to remove the pressure. You’ll go to pieces if you don’t. Delegation is a crucial part of self-care. You can’t do it all. What I learned from all this is that it will never work out exactly as planned. You have to be flexible and roll with it. As a young entrepreneur I was not flexible. There were a lot of temper tantrums. Everything was the end of the world. Now I accept that I can only do what I can each day.”

The closing of the business became imminent. 

“I had buried my head in the sand. I shouldn’t have. I needed tough love. if someone had grabbed me and told me to take a good hard look, maybe things would have turned out differently. But that puts the onus and responsibility on others, which I don’t agree with. I wish I had been able to listen. I’m certain that people probably did say things to me, but I wasn’t receptive to hearing it. I wasn’t able to deal with my own emotions. i would have been better off if I had been.”

The decision was made, and the doors were closed.

“I certainly could have handled the closing better. I didn’t go out like a lady. I took to social media, something I now tell my clients not to do, at least not immediately.”

While the closing was difficult, and “I felt shame,” it “was also a relief”.

Over the past year, Mandi has taken time to reflect, recover, and refocus. 

“I was in no condition to be in Ottawa so I went to my parents’. I couldn’t speak with anyone. I was beaten, exhausted, and vulnerable. I had been the Auntie Loo persona for such a long time, and felt this was the worst failure that had ever happened. I was despondent. It was a very dark summer. It was a time to pull the covers over my head until I made sense of it all.”

As the summer progressed, and with the help of others, Mandi felt that she was making sense of what had happened. She decided to share her experiences with other entrepreneurs through consultancy. 

“I realized that I had a wealth of knowledge, information, contacts, and life experience that I could share with others.”

She devised programs that she feels will address issues for businesses at different stages. For instance, at times, a business needs a review to uncover potential issues.

“I offer a 90 minute meeting with the business owner. Afterwards, I make recommendations, and share useful, relevant contacts.”

Then there are times when tough love is required. A “look at the mess”, as Mandi had mentioned.

“I have a service called Recuperation. If someone reaches out to me because they feel that the business is having serious problems, I work with them and come up with strategies and plans to make it better. I’m paid a flat fee. At the end of the year, I will take a percentage of the increased profits for that year. It’s confidential. No one will ever know that I am working with the business.”

And for start-ups and new projects, “I offer a number of options around business plans.”

It’s commonly accepted that the only certainty in business is uncertainty.  However experienced an entrepreneur may be, unexpected issues arise that can throw a business off the planned course – a bicycle accident, for instance.

With Mandi having “been through the highs and lows”, she is optimistic about the future of her new venture, and the help that she can offer.

“I’ve had almost everything happen. I’m able to help others move forward.”

She also feels that her continued focus on self-care is helping put the past in perspective.

“I’m slowly feeling like I’m back together.”

She pauses and nods, knowingly.

“It will take time.”

For more on This Charming Mandi, visit her Facebook page.