I want to start by stating that I wrote this blog to bring some light to the reality behind the scenes. The same way that social media is not a reflection of the truth, the reality of running a business is way less glamorous than she makes it sound. She worked extremely hard to be where she is. She has always been a kind Mentor to me, and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without her.
Honestly, working by her side made me realised that there is no other secret behind ‘successful’ people than the sweat and tears to achieve their goals. Successful people never go through life drifting around or wasting time. She works relentlessly on her goals and purpose. She takes every single action she needs to get her closer to her goals and life mission.
As some of you may know, she started as a teenager with a nanny agency and photography business and became more and more serious about her entrepreneurial mindset over the years. She was just 16 when she started her first business. After finishing year 12, she worked at the Commonwealth Bank while going to uni to save funds to achieve her goal: her vision cafe Serotonin Eatery! Serotonin Eatery is her 3rd business and she has had more jobs than I can count to get her here.
I realised quickly that even so, Serotonin is a pretty successful business the cost of runnings it is astronomical, and that from what the business is earning not much is left to her, as matter of fact she’s even paying me more than what she is paying herself. Being a business owner gives her fewer benefits than us, employees, and she has to work a lot longer hours and a lot more.
Being a small business owner is messy. Being an entrepreneur is scrappy, but that’s the reality of it, and she juggles it with grace.
A glamorous image has been promoted of the “Girl Boss” business owner. It’s often glorified as the ultimate dream, being an entrepreneur with a flexible lifestyle that you are in control of. It’s easy to romanticise as it is easy to forget that running a small business is a life-changing challenge. You will have to learn to say goodbye to a reliable and predictable income (this was pre-global pandemic). Your business is your life and makes it hard to have free time for anything else, including personal life. There is no guaranteed superannuation, paid leave, or sick days.
As a business leader and successful entrepreneur, Emily is perceived as happy, confident, comfortable financially, and spending her days giving interviews, talking, and enjoying life. Well, it is so far out from the reality I witness working by her side, even more so since the pandemic has been hitting small businesses so hard without any substantial help from the government.
Most people think it is hard to start and launch a business, but once you’re up, the company established and earning, you can take a break and enjoy life. The reality is while it is the hardest when starting, the challenges never end, and the work never stops. It increases. The more popular a business becomes, the more you will have to keep improving and adapting to the harsh critics and market.
Being an entrepreneur and the boss doesn’t give her much control of her time and activities as you’d think. As an employee, I can look forward to my weekends, plan holidays, or even enjoy a lazy day. She is not entitled to this privilege. She works seven days a week. Even when on “holiday”, she will still be researching, thinking, creating and working on the future of the business. ‘Lazy days’ for her mean answering emails, networking, and coming up with ideas to improve her business to keep her 30+ staff employed.
Building a business from the ground up and keeping it afloat is a marketing challenge. You need to drive brand awareness and new customers while innovating and offering excellent customer service. You must use customer feedback to adapt and refocus your brand messages and initiatives. It is a never-ending process & time-consuming in a small business owner’s life. Emily regularly looks at every single customer touchpoint of the business.
I think it is important to shed some light as well on the financial cost of running a business to fully understand what a business owner has to deal with. I have always wanted to take the time to break those costs down to the customers for them to have a better understanding of the hospitality industry, unless you are in it, it can be hard to fully understand, so here’s my take on it:
To start with there is the cost of goods. At Serotonin, those costs are higher than most cafes and represent over 35% of the income. Emily consciously chooses to work only with the best quality products and choose to work and support other small sustainable businesses when choosing Serotonin’s suppliers. She never compromises with her values when it comes to her business and what the customer will receive.
But there is more than the cost of the goods that makes up the price of the foods & drinks you are being served. There are huge hidden costs of running a business, especially in 2021. By this, I mean the ones customers may not consider when visiting the cafe.
The costs to run a small business have been on the rise for years. Whereas the cost of a coffee has not really changed in nearly 40 years!
The cost of overheads, ie rent, business rates, electricity costs, bank charges, etc., rise yearly.
While she always wants to continue to reduce the costs that are passed on to the customers to make her happy place as accessible as possible to all guests, with the costs continuing to rise, it has become unsustainable as a business to proceed without pricing her services reasonably to stay in business as most small businesses in the hospitality industry.
The price on the menu reflects not only the cost of goods but everything that make Serotonin so unique:
- She always has an entire happy team of Serotonin Dealers on to offer the best experience to her guests. There are so many cafes & restaurants I visit where I received close to no service because they are understaffed- making the full experience unpleasant, that will never happen at Serotonin.
- Serotonin always sources as much organic & local products as we can.
- Almost everything is made in-house from scratch with the higher quality ingredients on the market, which takes time and effort. There are whole days Emily has chefs in here with no customers (aka no income), just to make everything ourselves so we know what we’re feeding you.
- She supports other small local Melbourne businesses.
- She supports all her staff with the wages and penalty rates we deserve. One of her main goals is to “humanise hospitality” and offer real opportunities for personal and professional growth to all her staff. I’ve personally grown and learnt so much by her side. She always has been here for me & been a great personal Mentor. She pays for my business & marketing classes to help me grow and is always looking at ways to help, support and mentor her whole team. For example, sending the chefs to vegan cheese making classes and holding dinners for the whole team.
- She regularly reinvests part of Serotonin’s revenue into the community by offering weekly FREE events to Melbournian’s as well as; FREE education, pilates & exercise classes.
- She supports many local’s sports clubs, like the Richmond Snakes male and female AFL teams.
- She donates to a number of charities all through the year and is always first to put her hand up to help.
As I said, Emily decided back when she opened she only wanted to work with the highest quality products, the most ethical suppliers and the most qualified employees. That has come with a cost, but that what makes up the Serotonin sensory experience.
I think most people realise that there is a cost of doing business the right way (ethically and sustainably) and are willing to support a living wage to the one who decides to run a more ethical company.
I can understand how Serotonin may not be for everyone, but I think Emily can hold her head high and be proud of what she had accomplished.
So please, continue to support this small business and think twice before judging and reviewing a business negatively. Mistakes can happen, please always reach out via e-mail instead. If Serotonin ever gets a negative review Emily always tells us to try to turn that customer around into a VIP and we have done so on many occasions. I truly believe that Emily is able to provide people with a great workplace environment, a safe space to enjoy their friends and family, nourishing guilt-free food, and a great forward-thinking company that supports its community.Reality check around small businesses in Australia:
*Sixty percent of Australian small businesses don’t survive their first three years. *Only 12 percent of all Australian businesses employ more than five staff members. Whereas the profound majority (60 percent) employ none and just 28 percent employ one to four people.*Twenty-four percent of Australian businesses turnover less than $50K per year and 35 percent turnover between $50-200K. That’s turnover, not profit and not salary paid to the business owner.