A Letter To My Younger Self: Would I Have Listened?

Bill Faeth
Posted on March 31, 2019
What would you tell your  young self across the years? (Pexels image by rawpixel.com)

What would you tell your  young self across the years? (Pexels image by rawpixel.com)

I'd like to share a letter I recently wrote to my younger self. This is dating back to 2006 when I first launched my limousine company, Silver Oak Limousine, in Nashville, Tenn. I wish I would've had the knowledge back then I have today. I've been fortunate to achieve lots of success as I was growing my limousine business, but like you and everybody else who’s new, I didn't go to college to study the limo business. I started a business I had no experience in and I made lots of mistakes I had to overcome.

Many of you know my story as running an operation for about five years and growing a $9 million business. It looks like everything is unicorns and rainbows, but it's not. There are plenty of hurdles you have to jump in any business, whether you're on a fast-growth plane like I was, or if you're the tortoise just plodding along growing at 5% or 10%.

I’d like to share this letter to my younger self:

A younger Bill Faeth from his days of Silver Oak Transportation pictured in front of the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tenn. (LCT file photo)

A younger Bill Faeth from his days of Silver Oak Transportation pictured in front of the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tenn. (LCT file photo)

Dear Bill,

You've got an amazing journey ahead of you in the limousine industry. I know you decided on a whim to start this company based on a negative travel experience, but you will learn a lot as you go through this. One of the things I must recommend to you is do your research. You started this business because of a negative experience you had with your limousine company in Nashville, but you didn't do the research. You didn't even do a SWOT analysis. You certainly didn't analyze the market. You just jumped right in (literally within a week), and I don't want you to deploy those practices as you move forward and try to grow this business.

I can tell you it's very difficult and will get harder every year. You will have to prepare for a recession in the second half of 2008. You will be hit by a flood in Nashville that will cause $2 billion in damage in May 2010 just as you're starting to climb your way out of the recession. The recession will cripple many companies in the limousine industry because it is a luxury travel space, so you need to prepare early for that.

Don't even think about opening a second location right as the recession is starting to hit… It’d be a bad idea to think your rate of growth is a good enough excuse to open in Little Rock, Arkansas. Within the first two years, you built a $2 million-plus business. It's going to be bad timing for you, and you will take a big financial hit. If you take my advice, just stay in Nashville and don't be too aggressive because right behind that, within another year and a half, will be the flood that will affect your primary business outside of the limousine industry, and it will change the scope of your life within your family and finances.

I wish you could see all this, so you would be able to prepare. I know along the way in your first year, you were at LCT East and won Image of the Year, and you broke down crying on the stage because you had only been in the business for eight months, and that's great, but that doesn't put dollars into your bank account. I know in that first year, you weren't financially focused. You weren't looking at profit and loss statements every month. You were managing your business out of your checkbook and you found out how difficult that is because it doesn’t allow you to really identify the true health of your business. As you grew to 2007 and 2008, you went through the recession, and you were still able to grow, but you made that one decision. You couldn't have seen it coming. I don't blame you. I just wish I could've been there to warn you of what was coming. It's easy to sit here 12 years later as a 46-year-old and see the hurdles you would have to overcome.

I remember the longing questions… Would the fleet get larger? Who will run the fleet? Who will do the sales and marketing for me? How am I going to handle the accounting in the back office? What about insurance rates? Should I sell my company, and if I do, what is it really worth? Is it worth what I think my company should be valued at? You will find the answer is no. You thought your company was worth a lot more than it actually was as most people do because they let the emotional side play into that decision-making process.

You will come to terms with Carl Haley, and Grand Avenue is going to buy your business, and then you’ll be on a different plane. You will build probably one of the nicest facilities in the history of the industry, the only Gold LEED certified facility. It's a monstrosity. You should've tried to talk Carl out of building something that big. I mean, I think five acres and 55,000 square feet might be a bit excessive, but you and Carl kind of had that in you. I get it. It was 10 years ago.

You will venture into the motorcoach business, and you should literally pick up the phone today and call Barry Gross and thank him for getting you into it. You were lucky to have Barry as a mentor. It may have been for a short time, but you probably didn't realize then what I realize now. He was one of the best and most knowledgeable operators in the industry. You will continue to have many people help you along the way, and I know you’ve been grateful, but realize what George Jacobs and Barry Gross pinned upon you will benefit you forever.

Probably the best decision you made was seven years ago when you decided to exit the business, right as TNCs were coming into Nashville and starting to operate. Sure, you invested money in that last year; you and Carl both did. You wrote to legislation to try to keep them out. You did everything you could, but it was inevitable. Luckily, you got out at just the right time (April 19, 2012).

You were able to walk away in a better financial position than when you started. The only reason you were able to do that is because after the first couple of years in the business, you learned how important it is to pay attention to your balance sheet and profit and loss statements on a monthly basis. Not only that, but you realized the importance of truly understanding them, and you tied them into your business plan, so you had this guiding light that lead you to success. Just like in your younger days when you were playing professional golf, you probably wouldn't have been successful if you tried doing it on your own. You needed a coach to motivate, inspire, and help you create the game plan. It’s what made you (me) the man you are today.

Sincerely,

 Bill

Today, I have one mission, and that's to help you, (my fellow operators) succeed in a very difficult business. Please build a business plan. Please get with a bookkeeper or a CPA and get a profit and loss statement; analyze it monthly. Please understand your balance sheets and use that financial data to help you make stronger decisions so when you write a letter to your younger self, it will be even more positive than mine.

Bill Faeth is the founder of Limo University (www.LimoGrowth.com), Inbound Marketing Agents (www.inboundmarketingagents.com), and 23 additional startups, including Silver Oak Transportation of Nashville, Tenn. As a successful former operator and active advocate for the industry, Bill continues to invest into educating and training operators on how to grow, manage and sustain a more profitable business. You can reach Bill at [email protected] For more columns and blog posts by Bill Faeth, click here.

Related Topics: Bill Faeth, building your clientele, entrepreneurship, industry education, operations, tips for success

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