And Finally…

Cliff TreeWhat I accomplished:

  • I now surrender to the changing winds rather than fight them.  I have seen past needing to control things or having them go one way.
  • I realized my own resilience, passion and tenacity.
  • I’ve learned to receive and to ask.
  • I am more present to my own and other’s humanity.
  • I went out on the skinny branches and I went full out.
  • I collaborated with amazing people.  Great conversations were had over coffee or drinks.
  • I had wonderful travels to Wisconsin cheese destinations, Seattle, and Raleigh.
  • I generated amazing media attention.  Best moment: When a journalist from New Jersey got in touch with me asking for my exclusive story (when I raised the $100,000 successfully, of course) to submit to Entrepreneur and other magazines.
  • I was honored by the American Cheese Society for my innovative ideas in the industry.

Other favorite memories of the journey are definitely when I went to Seattle to talk to Howard Schultz and also contemplating doing business with an investor with questionable financial origins.  I felt like a player to be potentially doing business with the guy.  I had this great talk one of my advisors when they told me that WeatherVane Creamery would cleanse and purify the guy’s dirty money.  Ha!

Lastly, I want to thank everyone for their support.  There are hundreds of you- investors, advisors, fans, people who contributed to the Indiegogo campaign,  people who contributed knowledge and know-how, those that offered connections, those who who offered their valuable time, and for all who offered emotional support- especially Turningpoint in River Falls.  And Moscow, my dog of 12 years who passed in the middle of everything.

That’s all I know for now.  And it starts right here.

 

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Letting Go

banksy let goI am giving up my fear of people.  I give up worrying about what people think.  I also forgive those of whom I have held resent for and I forgive myself for resenting them.

I give up the regret over taking the Eddie Bauer management position and letting my dream go.

I give up and acknowledge that I failed to open WeatherVane Creamery.

I take responsibility for allowing the investor terms to be relatively vague and for the lack of communication on my part in making things clear at the time of investment.  If there is a next time, things will be laid out very clearly and I will go over every detail with my investors.  I will not take their money until I am clear that they are clear on the terms of the loan and repayment.

I take responsibility for letting  myself go.  Somewhere between last year and now I have gained nearly 30 lbs.  I have pretty much stopped wearing makeup and when I do, I apply it while driving.  I stopped boxing and running.  I don’t even keep my nails up.  Because of the weight gain and my own stubbornness, I have refused to buy fitting clothes which has resulted in a very limited wardrobe and, very possibly, some inappropriate choices for different occasions.  I am disgusted at myself.  This can also go into the Giving Up category.  I give up hating myself and what has happened to my body.  I am taking control back.

I acknowledge that I was an inconsistent communicator on social media and with WeatherVane Creamery’s enewsletter.  I also had been inconsistent with communicating with my friends and loved ones.

I also acknowledge that I had many successes that I didn’t celebrate.  I  may have shared them as marketing sound bites, but I never allowed myself to own and celebrate the successes.  To me, there is no such thing as success if it comes short of the end goal which in this case was opening a store.   The moment after I accomplish something my brain says “NEXT!”  There is no reveling or celebration.  And I wish I could put this entire paragraph in past tense but the truth is, I haven’t been able to get past this one.  It is something deeply ingrained in who I am.    I am aware of it and I am also aware of the fact that this contributed greatly to my burn out and exhaustion.

 

 

 

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Closure

that's all folksWhat a long strange trip it’s been.  Can’t believe I am quoting the Grateful Dead.  I am not even a fan.  That quote just resonates for me right now.

*drum roll*

I’ve finally decided to listen to my inner voice and shut all things cheese down.

Let me tell you about it:  I’ve been trying to pound that voice down since it started talking to me last December.  I quit Eddie Bauer and figured that I would just jump right in where I left off with WeatherVane Creamery.  Except that the motivation that drove me from waking to sleeping every day for over three years was suddenly, loudly absent.  LOUDLY.

I was wondering to myself what the hell happened?  I didn’t recognize myself.  I was shocked and in denial.  How could this be?  I went on medication.  I had a shaman entity removal (really!).  I left my leadership position at Landmark Worldwide citing well-being issues.  I went to a community healing event looking for answers.  I tried to give myself the space to work though the dead space that WeatherVane Creamery once inhabited.  I had investors.  One of them wanted their money back despite the legal agreement that they had agreed to.

*sigh*

Then one day I read an article on entrepreneurial partnerships (thanks, Mark Ritzinger for all the business magazine subscriptions!) and I thought “That’s perfect- I just need a partner to pull me through this phase and then I can pull them through when they need it.”  So, I enlisted my friend Joe (who is also officiating my wedding).  He agreed and we moved forward with www.cheesehustler.com to start generating income for both WeatherVane Creamery’s investors, WeatherVane Creamery’s future, and for ourselves.  Oh, and for fun.

When creating the business plan for WeatherVane Creamery, e-commerce was always in there.  And social media always played a big role for WeatherVane Creamery from the beginning.  The reason we didn’t sell cheese under the WVC name was because I wanted to break out from the restrictions of being family-friendly.  I wanted to create a marketplace that brought cheese to a new generation- our generation.  Inspirations include Voodoo Donut and John Fluevog.  Joe and I both read Gary Vaynerchuck’s book “Jab Jab Jab Right Hook”.  I was noticing that Marie Forleo, Gary V, and Patty from Millionaire Matchmaker were all from New Jersey and they all expressed themselves in a way that I admired.  I wanted to be fully expressed in my opinions and swear and all that good stuff.  Anyway, I wasn’t feeling fun or self expressed and it had nothing to do with Joe and everything about that nagging void.  I started to resent social media.  Without my natural passion for this project, it felt fake, like an obligation, and a manipulation of the masses.

In the meantime, I took care of all of my investors.  And when I say that I mean that I had meetings with all of them and created terms of repayment that I made sure everyone was satisfied with.  I spoke about www.cheesehustler.com as a gateway for WeatherVane Creamery to emerge out of when the time came.  WVC was going to take longer than originally planned.  Instead of a one year plan, it could be a five year plan.  I looked at the real estate for WVC in River Falls and speculated on the current Foster Sports location that I was hoping would come open when WVC was ready for it.  I met with Craig Foster and heard about his future plans for his business and asked about his landlord.  Would the planets align in the future?  For some reason that seemed like something worth holding out on.  And I couldn’t see any other possible location in town working like that one was.  As my dad would say, I was married to that one idea.

And Joe and I half-heartedly started working through our summer calendars to sell cheese and promote www.cheesehustler.com at art fairs and festivals.  I pulled money out of my personal tax account thinking that the write offs from the sales would justify it.  We made lists of things that needed to be done.  We inquired with events and I had sent a reservation check to one only to get rejected.  In the past, I would have tirelessly pushed and efforted my way in to fill up my summer calendar no matter how small, far away, or inappropriate the events were.  Now, I just lost my steam hardly before anything got started.  Joe and I weren’t holding our meetings or deadlines.  Weddings and charity events were popping up threatening my drive further to fill them with www.cheesehustler.com selling fairs.  Our first weekend of selling was looming and we didn’t have our shit together.

So, what was the final blow to the nail?  I started to notice my body aches and recently I have been quick to anger.  For example, the other night as we were drifting to sleep Bill says to me “I just want you to know how much I love you” and I got a flash of red as I was thinking to myself exasperatedly “I was ALMOST to sleep!!!!”   These red flashes have been showing up off and on for the past three weeks and have been a surprise to me every time.  Who is this girl?!  So I went in to see my trauma therapist.  It was there that I finally got real with myself that WeatherVane Creamery and all things cheese have officially lost their steam.  Actually they did in December.  It’s just time to start listening to myself now.

So what does that mean?  Well it means facing the feelings of shame, fear, and failure.  It means shutting everything down and packing the boxes.  It means this public declaration.  And it means continuing to make the agreed upon payments to investors.  It also means that in closing this down and completing it, something else has the opportunity to take its place.  I anticipate that to be the wedding and starting my new life with Bill.  We both have very big short term goals for this year.  We both work for The Handyman Can!!! Inc growing that business.  Bill has the opportunity to become a part owner.  I am a very large part of the success of that business.  I am taking a stock market class in LA in a few weeks.  Bill and I are working towards a life where we can have travel, adventure, and prosperity.

There are a few more blog posts.  And then, moving on.

 

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Blowin’ In The Wind

Gust of wind girlWow. Reading that Black Friday post was quite the flashback.

And the wind continues to shift. I follow it trying not to resist. Where will this wind take me? Will it be good? Will others understand?  Is the finish line around the corner?  Is there a finish line?  Or just another starting line?

That pretty much summarizes where I’ve been these last five months.  Anyway,  I am back.  And this is a start.

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Happy Black Friday

Screaming

I have lots to report.  So much so, that every day I think to start a letter or blog and stop short overwhelmed.  I have a tug of war going on as to what to show.  I often have thought that my entrepreneurial and personal story is important to tell.  I’ve been through alot, I’ve done amazing things, and there is more to come.  While it may seem that I have been quiet the last six months, the truth is, I was out setting a foundation for myself and WeatherVane.  I feel as though I’ve been to the top of the mountain and have made my way back again- humbler and possibly even wiser.

But for now, I bid you a Happy Black Friday as I peel myself away from home to put in my second-to-last appearance at Eddie Bauer at the Burnsville, MN Center as Co-Manager.  I pray I make it out alive.  I know that is an exaggeration but the other day, I heard a scream coming from a closed car in the parking lot and wondered to myself if it was a child or mall employee.  I could relate to the mall employee if that was the case.  This shit is madness.

Don’t get me wrong, Black Friday can be a good day. I can’t wait for the day that WeatherVane Creamery is open on Main Street and participating in the chili crawl. I envision me walking in the door in the morning and preparing with a hum in my throat. And as the day moves on, I look forward to seeing all of the familiar faces and giving out surprises to the children. I see happy employees at play. I can not think of a more gratifying way to spend the day.

Happy Black Friday.

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Sarah update and an invitation

Here’s the deal. I don’t think a lengthy post is an effective way to tell you about the Landmark Forum. Let me just tell you about a few things that have happened to me in the last month and a half. These are things that, I believe, would not have happened without having done the Landmark Forum. The the last two and a half years have included homelessness, unemployment, traumas, heartbreak, and a move across the country. Also two and a half years of being closer to my family in a place that I love beginning the life and career of my dreams. I have received multiple career accolades and made connections with many esteemed business leaders including from the American Cheese Society, Howard Schultz of Starbucks, Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s Deli/ZingTrain, and Mark Pinsky of the Opportunity Finance Network. I have raised over $35,000 from over 75 people. It has been both amazing and terrible. Finally, two months ago, in the midst of facing financial straits, I made some key choices to take care of myself. And this is what happened: I got a new car, new 5 bedroom home, new job as a co-manager at Eddie Bauer, and as a bonus- a fiancé, Bill. All in less than 60 days. And once the dust settles, WeatherVane Creamery will continue to move forward. When I am in River Falls full time, I will continue the dream that includes a home full of foster children and making a difference for our community. If you want the power to dream and create like a child and actually have those hopes and dreams come true in the face of all circumstances, come on September 25th. Maybe there is an area of your life that isn’t working as well as you’d like it to. Come. Check it out. At the very least, eat some good food and be in the presence of good people. I’d love to have you over.
~Sarah

Sarah’s Invite To Attend An Introduction To The Landmark Forum Continue reading

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A New Phase

moon phaseHere I am in the kitchen at my fake dad, Johnny’s house at midnight waiting for my meatloaf to bake. I got home tonight at quarter after eleven to a dark and sleepy house. There was a slice of chocolate cake whispering my name on the kitchen counter. I go upstairs to get my laptop and I see that Yvonne, my fake mom, has opened my windows in my room to freshen it up. I’ve lived here for several months now while waiting for my new home to be ready in River Falls. Johnny and Yvonne have generously been putting up with me in their home. Tonight I was working at Eddie Bauer. I am noticing that my left eye is doing the exhaustion twitch.

So yes, I took the Co-Manager position at Eddie Bauer in Burnsville, MN. It is about an hour drive from River Falls. Or at least, I need to leave at least an hour ahead of my scheduled time to make sure I get there despite any unexpected traffic issues. Eddie Bauer is a fantastic company. If any other retailer offered me a position in Burnsville I would be sure to turn it down, believe me. The job is an exciting opportunity to flex my Manager skills in a new venue and maybe even learn some new tricks. Since starting there three weeks ago, the store’s performance has risen dramatically. I can’t take all the credit, of course. There is a great staff and a new Manager as well. And there is enough success for us all to share in the glory. Besides the management opportunity, the position offers reasonable pay and bonus opportunities. It has been since March 2011 (I actually had to check my LinkedIn profile to get the year right) that I had a regular full time position with reliable pay.

There have been other things happening as well. I was working on the Summer Marketing Plan for WeatherVane and many things got delayed. For those of you who know me- I do get slowed down, but I never stop. So just trust that things are still moving forward. One of the things I have been working on is my video blog series, Sarah Kowal: Cheese Hustler. I will do a whole blog on this soon. And I know I have been teasing about this one for awhile. It *will* actually show up at some point, I promise.

Additional things going on:
1. My new (for me) car arrived today. I haven’t seen it but I will tomorrow. Turns out banks actually WILL lend money for some things. Hehe.
2. My new house is getting ready to be moved into. It is a 5 bedroom home that is getting some renovations done at the moment. I am looking for two roommates. I am clean and not around much, but when I am, I like to relax and cook and other things around the house. Painting will be taking place on Sunday. Moving in will follow the plumbing installation in the bathroom.
3. I am taking on a 90 day wealth program with a friend. Aside from the formal aspect of the program, I am also working out a new budget. So far, this has been both frustrating and exciting at the same time.
4. I am in the Introduction Leaders Program at Landmark. This is an intensive eight month leadership training course. One of my next steps is leading a three hour interactive introduction seminar to a group of strangers. Whee! Anyway, that goes until early October.
5. I actually do hustle cheese to chefs and grocery stores on my days off. Surdyk’s is a client of mine and I am currently romancing chef Wyatt at WA Frost in St Paul and chef Tony at the WestWind Supper Club in River Falls.
6. I have a Little Brother in the Big Brother Big Sister program. His name is RJ and he is 9 years old. We like to go to farms and frolic in nature. This Sunday I am taking him to the Golden Gloves boxing tournament at River Falls Days.

So, I don’t know- that is what I am up to these days. I am filled to the gills with stuff to do which is why I find myself making meatloaf at midnight so I have food to sustain my body during the day. I have theme paper filled to-do lists that get updated daily. I have accountability partners. Today, I have four that I report to. It varies by week and what I am up to. And yes, I am exhausted and even dealing with a mild depression that is a result of the normal stuff as well as a side effect of a medication that I am on. Not that most people would ever guess. But I know. And I have even been told that it is to be expected considering the major life transition that I am going through. So please don’t worry about me. I keep plugging away, ok? I am keeping my head down and my nose clean. And when the dust settles, I will toast to the new phase. And then we can REALLY talk about what the future for WeatherVane is, ok? ‘Cuz for now, I am taking a brief leave of absence. Talk to me in August. In the meantime, I might even blog some more. I’ll be in touch.

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Money! Part II

whale money

September 2011. I am in yet another coffee shop in Minneapolis, this time on the phone with my friend Maikol. “Maikol! I need a money breakthrough.” I go on to say that I have always run profitable businesses like NO ONE’S BUSINESS. I mean, I ran the 13th most profitable Starbucks store in over 200 stores in Chicagoland and raised margins and sales while reducing overhead at EVERY retail management job I have ever held. But I digress.

So anyway, I tell Maikol that while I have had consistent success in my career, my personal money habits were rather lacking. You might be able to relate to my story. As I made more, I just spent more. I never got that motorcycle or kayak or pottery wheel that I always wanted. Saving was a joke. And I am pretty sure that the only reason that I had a nice car is that it was supposed to be a gift. A gift that came with monthly payments after the breakup. Ha! And now I was opening my own business which seemed like a professional/personal collision waiting to happen. Then Maikol says in his slow, deep Nigerian accent “Sarah. This is perfect. I am taking a wealth seminar in November here in Chicago. It’s free. Go online right now and register.” So I did.

Fast forward to November. It’s the week before my trip to Chicago. I strategically scheduled my investor meeting for the day after my wealth seminar. I wasn’t sure he would like the cheese concept. I figured that he wouldn’t stand a chance if I was amped up from the wealth seminar.

And I was broke. Beyond broke, actually. See, in October I took a week off to help my mother in Appleton after she had neck surgery. When it came time to claim my unemployment benefits for that week, I called in to verify that I was NOT claiming since I was not in the area to participate in job interviews or accept a job that week if one came through which is one of the agreements in the program. And I have to tell you, that took something for me to do. I knew it would impact me but the biggest impact would be if it showed up in their system as a glitch that would somehow jeopardize me from continuing to receive benefits. So I called in to verify what I was doing and to get some assurance that everything thing would be fine the following week. Which I got. After being on hold for 90 minutes. NINETY!

So here it is the day before I am to leave for Chicago. I have ten dollars to my name. I call the unemployment office and am told that my case has been assigned to an adjudicator (who even knows what that is?!) and that I cannot speak to anyone because my file has been placed on their desk just that day and they haven’t had a chance to look at it yet. I am being audited. It might take six months. She assures me to keep filing for my benefits and that I could be eligible to receive them later.

My knees buckle. I feel nauseous. Tears are welling up. I apologize. I say “I know you are just the messenger, but this has a real life impact on me. I have bills to pay. I need to eat. *sniffle* I was being honest about taking that week off and I have to admit that it wasn’t easy to do that- not that I would do it any other way. But I was doing the right thing. Is there a supervisor I can speak with?” She says yes and I reply with “I can’t speak with them right now. I am not composed enough for that conversation and I have a meeting to go to. I will call back later. Thank you.” A few minutes later I am walking down my gravel driveway to my car. The sun seems unusually bright. I am in shock. I tell myself “Just put one foot in front of the other” and I feel weak. This was not even ten minutes later. My phone rings. It is the unemployment lady. “I spoke with the adjudicator and we got it sorted out. You will get your check on Monday.” I am in a different disbelief now. I start sobbing again- only this time for a happy reason. I thank her wholeheartedly. To imagine that I got this call within ten minutes of the other from the same agency that kept me on hold for 90 minutes just a few weeks before. A miracle!

Only that still leaves me with just ten dollars to get to Chicago for the weekend. That hardly covers tolls, much less gas. And the wealth seminar required a promise to show up or they would charge your credit card account $100. No matter what I do at this point, I am screwed. At the same time, I am having a tangible pulling in my chest to get to Chicago. My investor and the wealth seminar are over the rainbow and I just have to follow the brick road. I tell myself that this is the perfect meltdown to happen right before my anticipated Big Win.

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Letter to Advisory Team and Investors

letter
Last week two significant things happened. One, an investor with a $10,000 promise dropped out. Secondly, River Falls State Bank clarified that they would be lending WeatherVane Creamery money for equipment and assets rather than starting costs. So, instead of needing to raise $50,000 (raised $40,000 last month!), the choices are to raise an additional $87,000 or cut opening costs by $87,000. River Falls State Bank also said that they couldn’t see doing a line of credit in addition to the loan either. The line of credit was to be available as a buffer in case things do not meet projections in the first opening months.

In looking at how to respond to this, I could possibly see opening WeatherVane Creamery this summer on the most riskiest of terms- basically everything on terms by paying the contractors 50% up front and work out payment plans for the rest, buying inventory on terms, cutting as much as I can from the opening costs while attempting to not sabotage the business needs, and taking out credit cards in WeatherVane Creamery’s name and using them. This strategy does not support the economic sustainability that I am committed to for WeatherVane Creamery.

Another way is to continue fund raising. I met with a few people last Sunday to discuss WeatherVane Creamery branding. It seems like the themes of HIP, MODERN, LOCAL, SMART, QUIRKY, ACCESSIBLE, MAGICAL, and TRADITIONAL SENSIBILITIES are coming through the online marketing. Areas for fund raising were also discussed. River Falls Days, Town and Country Days, and other public event participation was emphasized. Also continuing with the online marketing that would include a weekly video series and a crowd sourcing campaign (like www.indiegogo.com/weathervane-creamery-rocks-this-town ). These things would entail re-working the website (thank you David Foster Babcock for your help recently!), having marketing materials for displays and for social media, a video intro, and an easy, automated ways for people to invest or donate. It would be going to back “on the streets” to market and also would be an opportunity to sell product. Besides raising funds and having sales, these types of activities generate interest and audience which provides a better foundation for WeatherVane Creamery to open with. Opening date would be this winter.

On a personal note, as it looked like we were only $10,000 away from pressing the GO button, I was stretching my personal dollars more and borrowing money to make my monthly expenses. At the same time, I was taking care of some outstanding issues around my health, car, and student loans. I have applied for social assistance. In light of this trend combined with the news that I won’t be taking a paycheck from WeatherVane any time soon, I have started to look at my options. Eddie Bauer has been pestering me to promote to a full-time management position. In considering this (right now we are starting negotiations), I realize that I can do most of the marketing and fund raising things for WeatherVane Creamery at the same time. And if Eddie Bauer can’t accommodate me, I also have an opportunity to expand my cheese sales to chefs and grocery stores in the Twin Cities with St Croix Specialty Foods. I get mileage and commission and can tie in my weekly video series with the professionals that I meet. Either way, a regular income affords me some peace of mind, my credit score intact, and a better structure for getting things done.

WHAT I NEED: For all marketing efforts, I will need support whether it be bodies at the events or people behind the scenes promoting it. I need an active advisory team. I will be in touch with each of you personally (and some I have already) to gauge how to make things work. I have also approached a few people about joining the team. And as always, resources. Anything you’ve got. I envision working with a social media company and a graphic artist. I’ll need to purchase packaging for online sales. I’ll need a 4G phone to act as a hotspot so people can donate or invest on the spot. These things all cost money. I will be in touch with investors to ask permission to use the funds that they have invested towards some of this. I will make a detailed budget.

Please reply with any feedback or insights. I’d love to hear your thoughts. I will be in touch with you in the next two weeks.
Thanks for your support,
Sarah

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Money! (Part “Sidetrack” or 1a)

sand-&-money

Awww crap. I dropped by my local friendly banker today. And he was friendly. I discovered that the $50,000 that I had to raise also came with cutting my opening costs by 60%. Hmm funny that I don’t remember that part of the initial conversation. Not to say it wasn’t said. I just don’t recall how that fit into the “we want to work with you to get your financing” conversation. Then, in talking to my esteemed lawyer and advisor, Max Neuhaus, breaking things down, it looks like it could be as much as $87,000 left to raise. *sigh* And yet, these things should not be a surprise anymore. This isn’t the first time the winds have changed.

And on the bright side, I did receive a check made out to WeatherVane Creamery, LLC for $5000 today. So it isn’t all that bad.

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