One Man’s Rocky Road to Becoming an Entrepreneur
Restaurant-owner Brad Barbour’s advice to budding entrepreneurs? Look at the numbers first. He learned the hard way that if they don’t add up, passion alone won’t carry the day.
CPA, recruiter, restaurant owner — Brad Barbour has lived many professional lives. With an eye for business opportunities and a head for numbers, Barbour has taken his formal education and used it to follow both his passions and the money.
Armed with a master’s in accounting, Barbour left school and worked as a certified public accountant (CPA) for several years. It was good work and he enjoyed it, but as he edged toward 30, he began to question himself. Thirty is a turning point for many people, and it certainly was for Barbour.
Having worked for a national public accounting firm as well as a local one, he’d seen a lot of the accounting world. Surprisingly, he realized he was happiest when he was recruiting young students on campus. Talking to college accounting majors about their futures filled Barbour with joy.
“I went to college campuses and met with students and I tried to bring them to the firm. That’s what I liked best. And as I was getting closer to 30, I wanted to do more of what I really liked,” Barbour says.
It’s a sentiment so many of us can relate to: How can we spend more time on things we like?
Naturally, Barbour began working for a recruiting firm specializing in accountants. Then, not even a year into the job, he encountered a bump. “The gentleman I got into business with died and his son took over,” Barbour recalls. “I worked there for a year and was fired.”
He was surprised and worried. Newly married, Barbour felt the pressure to contribute to household finances. So he took a leap of faith and started a recruiting firm of his own.
Becoming an Entrepreneur
“I dove right in. For direct-market recruiting, you don’t need much — a phone, a computer, and a car. The biggest worry was keeping money coming in,” Barbour says. He merged his recruiting firm with a temp agency, thinking that it was the right move. Their services were in the same field, and they could provide a wider range of workers to companies.
But after about five years, Barbour realized it wasn’t going well. Ever a numbers guy, the arrangement with the agency wasn’t working at the financial level. “I was paying a fee to work with them every month, and it wasn’t working out,” he says. “I thought it would provide stability, but it was not so easy.”
This proved to be one of the biggest lessons of Barbour’s journey: The path is never easy when your passion collides with reality.
Learning From Mistakes
“No one is going to know or care more about your business than you do,” Barbour says. “You certainly need counsel along the way, and I have people I turn to. But there are other folk — they don’t have ill intentions, but maybe they think something applies universally. And sometimes you need to temper that. They say, ‘Well, this will cost you $225,000, so let’s make it $325,000 just in case.’ You have to say, ‘No, those numbers don’t work for me.’”
“Keep your objectives in mind and don’t listen to what other people want,” Barbour continues.
“They aren’t going to be the ones on the hook — you are. You’ve got to temper your passion a little with reality.”
With his accounting background and knack with numbers, he realized that the business he was in was not going anywhere. It was time to look elsewhere — time to make a change. Barbour and his wife, Meredith, started toying with the idea of running a restaurant.
They spent the next three years studying and researching the restaurant industry. “We came across many restaurant properties, including a barbecue joint and an ice cream shop,” Barbour says. “A buddy of mine was doing well with a sub franchise, so we looked at that, too. At the end of the day, the numbers just didn’t make sense. We weren’t going to invest just to break even. That’s not investing.”
But their patience paid off. One night, a meal out changed their lives.
“We were eating at our favorite restaurant in Carolina Beach,” Barbour says of the evening. “My wife checked us in on Facebook, and we noticed they were franchising. This was a beer decision, as the best and worst ones sometimes are! The franchise came with small overhead and excellent food, and that appealed to me, the lower risk. We sat down with the founders, and we ended up with one of the first franchises!”
Barbour now has three restaurants, and last year one of them was named the Best New Restaurant in Cary, North Carolina.
The Bottom Line: Crunch the Numbers!
For future entrepreneurs, Barbour advises starting with the numbers. “I still start with the numbers side of things and then move to the operations,” Barbour says. “I think a lot of folks get caught up in ‘I’ve got the best idea — I can make this work.’ Hard work can overcome obstacles. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to pay people and pay yourself. I think numbers are a good tell-all.”
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