Stay or Quit? The Struggles of a Jamaican Entrepreneur

David’s head jerked at the insistent sound of the telephone ringing in his office. He hadn’t realised that he had fallen asleep at his desk until the call interrupted his late afternoon nap. For several months, sleep had eluded him during the night, and his body was trying to regain well-needed rest.

Despite being bone-tired when he finally crawled home after ten most nights, David found it difficult to wind down and relax. Concerns about his business swirled around his mind and he spent many more hours contemplating strategies that could help him fix the serious problems that he faced.

As the proprietor of a small trucking operation, David enjoyed the freedom that business ownership brought to his life. Twelve years ago when he made the courageous step to start his own venture, David had big plans to turn his fledging delivery service into a multi-million dollar enterprise.

The business has enjoyed initial success, as he was the only operator in the eastern parish where he lived with the type of equipment that could meet the needs of the local businesses. Eventually other entities had joined the market and fierce competition now made it a cut-throat environment.

Big, problem man!

David cleared his throat as he picked up the handset of his straight line. “East to West Trucking,” he responded. His face broke into a grin when he heard the voice of his biggest client. Soon, the smile gave way to deep furrows across his brow. “I understand your position,” he said resignedly.

The bad news was not unexpected. For months David had been trying to convince this customer to keep using his services. With his high overheads, David could not match the cheaper delivery prices being offered by some of his competitors; now his client needed to reduce costs as well.

David cradled his head dejectedly. This was the latest in a series of challenges that had beset the business, and it might be the final straw for him. Due to the increase in government taxes, the cost of petrol had sent his operational budget through the roof. Without fuel, he didn’t have a business.

Another blow came when David discovered that his longest-serving driver had been moonlighting at nights with a rival company. This betrayal hurt him, as he tried to remunerate his workers well. David wondered if his staff really understood how hard he had to fight to keep their jobs going.

Game over?

Years ago, violent crime was unheard of in his community and David could rest assured that his business was secure. However, when a truck was waylaid by armed robbers last year, David was forced to institute a comprehensive and costly security system for the premises and the vehicles.

To add to all his troubles, some of his customers were taking longer than usual to pay on invoices. David was tired of using his working capital to remit General Consumption Tax each month that he had not even collected. Cash flow was tightening up and it was affecting his ability to pay his bills.

With costs increasing steadily and revenue flowing intermittently, David had to seek financial intervention from the bank. It seemed like any operational profit he made was being eaten up in high interest charges and David knew that his business would not survive under these conditions.

“I feel like I’m playing a sport in which the rules are designed for me to lose,” David muttered, “I’m tired of this game; I need to find something else to do with my life.” Wild thoughts entered his head about how he could put an end to his misery. “I should just run away and leave everything behind.”

A long-waited breakthrough

To calm his nerves, David turned on the television set in his office. He flipped the channels until he saw that a rerun of The Profit was showing on the cable station CNBC. He liked to watch business shows as they made him realise that he was not alone with his challenges as an entrepreneur.

As he observed the wealthy investor, Marcus Lemonis, whip another failing business into shape on the reality show, David began to get an inkling of an idea. Something that Lemonis said resonated with him. “Perhaps that’s what I also need to do to correct my operations,” he thought excitedly.

David couldn’t wait for the show to end to turn on his laptop. He logged into his online accounting program and brought up some information about his expenses. Remembering the TV mogul’s advice, he recognised that he had made some hasty buying decisions that had cost him dearly.

For the first time in over a year, he began to feel a sense of hope for the future. “David, you’re a fighter,” he reminded himself, “and you’re not going to let this business fail.” Although the computer screen illuminated David’s face, it was in fact steely determination that brought a glint to his eyes.

(c) 2015 Cherryl Hanson Simpson

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