Last week on “How to Run a Food Truck,” we brought you a few key strategies to follow if you’re having trouble bringing enough customers to your ordering window. Dealing with slow periods is just one of the many challenges you’ll encounter during your first year as a FoodTruckr, but it’s one that you’ll likely need to address on occasion all throughout your career. We’ll continue to revisit it in the future, but today, we’d like to focus on some problems of a different breed.
Today, we’re focusing on what we like to call roadblocks. Let’s dig right in and see what makes these setbacks so unique!
What Is a “Roadblock”?
For a FoodTruckr, the word “roadblock” has a very specific meaning—and it’s one that doesn’t have to do with giant branches or orange and white signs left sitting in the street. Rather, a roadblock is a temporary challenge that may seem disastrous at first sight, but can be navigated around with care. Let’s look at a few examples:
- Truck Repairs: Many food truck owners cut costs in the early stages of their businesses by opting for used trucks. This isn’t a bad idea, but it does come with the risk that you may need an unexpected repair at any time. You can plan ahead for routine maintenance like oil changes and tuneups (and avoid many major problems by completing these tasks in a timely fashion!), but there are simply some repairs that you might never see coming, such as a flat tire or a fryer on the fritz.
- Parking Tickets: Ah, parking tickets—one of the most aggravating and upsetting parts of life as a FoodTruckr. Whether they’re anticipated because you decided the benefits of that spot would outweigh the cost of the fine or unexpected because you didn’t know the rules of parking downtown, tickets are always frustrating and demoralizing to someone who’s just trying to make a living.
- Legal Troubles: Smart FoodTruckrs do their due diligence before opening their food trucks to make sure that their businesses are properly registered, insured, and licensed, but that doesn’t mean you won’t still get hit with a legal problem or a fine, particularly in the early stages of your business. These roadblocks can be especially stressful because there are so many unknown elements involved.
- Canceled Events: Booking a spot at a food truck festival or an upcoming catering gig is one of the most exciting successes a FoodTruckr can experience—but as a result, having that event canceled can be one of the biggest letdowns of all. Especially if you were counting on the event or the catering gig to meet your numbers for the rest of the month, this kind of roadblock can easily feel like one of the biggest blows.
Let’s be honest—more than anything else, roadblocks are scary. Roadblocks typically appear when you least expect them, and they will almost always force you to alter your path. But as frightening as roadblocks may be to your business and your livelihood, none of them have to spell “disaster” or “the end” for your food truck. They’ll just require you to take a step back and find a new way to move forward. Read on to learn how.
Six Steps to Overcoming the Roadblocks in Your Path
When you’re faced with a roadblock, the problem that lies before you can easily feel like the end of the world. But remember—a roadblock by its very definition can be handled and overcome with the right combination of time, thought, and effort.
To help you get started, we’ve put together a six-step program you can use to overcome any roadblock that gets in your way:
1. Give Yourself Time to Freak Out A Little
The first step is an easy one (in fact you’re probably already doing it!)—give yourself some time to freak out a little before taking any action. Whether you need a few minutes or a few hours, it’s okay to take a bit of time to worry about the roadblock you’re facing and to stress about what it might mean for your business.
Now, of course, we don’t want you to dwell endlessly on what went wrong and all the possible “what-if” scenarios the roadblock might bring to the surface. The trick here is to grant yourself just enough time to be concerned and to get all of your anxiety out in one go so that you may move on to another, more productive stage of the process. It’s hard to make smart decisions about how to get around the roadblock if you’re gripped with fear or paralyzed with doubt—so get all of that worry out now, and only move on to Step #2 when you’re ready to get serious about facing this challenge.
2. Assess the Situation
Okay—feeling a little better now that you’ve gotten some of the anxiety out of your head? If you’re calmer now and feeling motivated to tackle this problem and move on, you’re ready for the second step: assessing the situation.
What you need to do to assess the situation will differ depending on the type of roadblock you’re facing. For instance, a hefty parking ticket fine will require you to sit down for awhile with your bank accounts and bills to figure out where you’re going to get the extra cash, while a roadblock such as a canceled catering gig might have you spending a day calling businesses and past clients to see if you can book something else for the same day. But no matter what type of roadblock you’ve encountered, the most important thing to do right now is to figure out what the challenge means for your business. Ask yourself these questions:
- How much will this cost me?
- Are there any creative ways to avoid the cost (such as learning how to fix something on your truck yourself or looking for a way to dispute a legal fine)?
- Do I have the money right now (in my main account or in another account)?
- Is this something my insurance might cover?
- How easy is it to access the funds I need?
- What can I do to cover this cost?
- How long will it take me to recover from this cost? (Try coming up with multiple scenarios here to compare the paths you could take.)
- Will this roadblock cause any hidden costs (such as lost income from your truck spending a day in the repair shop)?
Once you begin gathering some of these answers and looking at the facts surrounding the roadblock, you can move on to Step #3—finding a solution.
3. Find Several Short-Term Solutions
Armed with some key details about the financial and logistical implications of your roadblock, it’s time to begin looking for solutions. Your goal in Step #3 is simply to find the short-term fixes.
During this step, you should begin thinking about what you can do to overcome this problem right now. If you got hit with a $1200 repair bill, the short-term solution might be to pull the money from your emergency account or to see if the auto repair shop will allow you to pay the bill in installments. If you just lost your spot at your city’s Friday Food Truck Event, then you could start looking around for another spot to park that will get good Friday night foot traffic or you could offer catering clients a 20% discount on their entire order if they book you for that weekend.
Focus on figuring out what can be done in the short-term to address the problem. Even if the obvious solutions you’re coming up with right now aren’t the best-case scenarios, they will be actively moving you in the direction of a positive solution to your roadblock.
4. Consider the Long-Term Ramifications
Now that you’ve come up with a few potential short-term fixes, it’s time to consider the long-term impact that each of those choices would have. This step requires a little more serious thought and deliberation. You need to weigh the short-term benefits of fixing the problem right away against the more enduring effects the decision could have on your food truck business.
For example, in the situation we outlined above where you’re considering tapping your emergency fund or paying your auto repair bill in installments, you need to think about how you’ll get that money in the future. You might save some money on interest charges by paying the bill outright with your emergency fund, but what will you do if you get hit with another major expense down the line and your account is already depleted?
Now, that concern doesn’t necessarily mean that using your emergency fund is the wrong choice—it simply means that you need to have a plan laid out as to how you will replace the money as quickly as possible. For a FoodTruckr, allocating an extra $300-$400 over the next few months to rebuilding your emergency fund might mean that you need to work a couple extra shifts or begin shopping at a wholesale store for your base ingredients in order to save the additional money.
Think very carefully about what type of long-term impact your decision will have on your business before moving on to Step #5—and if you have doubts about whether or not your plan is really the smart choice for your food truck, reevaluate the potential scenarios and see if you can find any alternative solutions.
5. Start Working Around the Roadblock
Once you feel like you have a potential solution that will work to address the roadblock in the short-term without causing too many long-term problems, it’s time to put your plan into action and start working around the roadblock.
Regardless of the challenge you’re facing or the course of action you’ve chosen, the most important thing you can do during this step is to move quickly and to act decisively. Too many entrepreneurs have lost momentum in their businesses or faced additional costs and challenges because they took too long to take action and wavered in their decisions too many times. Though it’s extremely important to put your full consideration into your decision and to give yourself enough time to make a smart choice, you need to take action eventually.
In taking action, you address the situation and overcome the roadblock—and, even more importantly, you also allow yourself to move on and to continue on about your business. A roadblock can only derail your entire course if you allow it to, so don’t let it take over your life and your focus. Address the situation, take action to overcome it, and then—move on.
6. Take Steps to Prevent It from Happening Again
Once you’ve managed to move on from the roadblock, there’s one final step you should take—doing something to prevent the roadblock from happening again.
This step is all about analyzing what happened and figuring out what you can do to avoid similar situations in the future. Of course, not all roadblocks are avoidable, but many can be prevented by making more careful decisions and taking preventive measures in the future. Here are a few examples to consider:
- Researching your city’s parking laws more thoroughly could help you avoid tickets in the future. Alternatively, you might even decide to consider some parking fines as a cost of doing business in order to secure a really great spot—and if so, you can work this expense into your monthly budget so that you’ll be prepared in the future.
- Preventive food truck maintenance is one of the best ways to keep your truck out of the repair shop. We recommend working with a regular mechanic who can get to know your truck and help you find the best minor repairs that will help you avoid major breakdowns in the future. If you haven’t found anyone you trust enough just yet, be sure to focus on getting regular oil changes and tune-ups in order to keep your truck out of the shop!
- Before booking an event or taking on a new catering client, do some background checking of your own to get a sense of how reliable the people you’re working with are. If you’re working with a brand new festival or event that doesn’t have a proven track record, ask the event organizers about the experience they have with similar events. The person you’re working with might not have ever put together a food truck festival before, but perhaps he or she has coordinated a large county fair or city event that required some of the same skills. When you take on a catering gig, institute a non-refundable deposit policy so that you won’t lose out on payment for the time and money you spent prepping for an event that gets canceled later on.
Though you can’t avoid every roadblock in the future, you can prevent more and more of them by taking additional preventive measures to protect your business.
The Importance of Staying Positive
Roadblocks may seem like major catastrophes when you first encounter them, but if you do your best to stay positive and to address the situation calmly, you’ll quickly learn that each roadblock is also accompanied by a powerful learning opportunity! As you and your truck grow in both experience and demand, you’ll become more savvy at figuring out which situations have an abundance of potential roadblocks on the way and which opportunities are most likely to be smooth-sailing. Overcoming roadblocks might not be fun, but it is one of the best ways to prove your competence and commitment as a FoodTruckr—and for that reason, they are an essential part of your growth.
Next week, we’ll wrap up Unit 3 with another lesson that highlights the importance of staying positive—we’ll talk about maintaining momentum and keeping your team going through the winter months. Stay tuned!
Until then, we’d love to hear about the greatest roadblocks you’ve faced in the past—and most importantly, what you did to overcome them. Tell us about your experiences in the comments below or on our Facebook or Twitter pages!
image by Hugh Kimura