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7 simple ways to make better business decisions

3-minute read

Nico Schuermans’ succulent dishes have won his Belgian-themed Chambar Restaurant a wall of awards that would be the envy of any chef.

But a few years ago, Schuermans decided being a chef wasn’t enough. Although he had cooked for Bill Clinton and Mick Jagger and prepared a dish on NBC’s “Today Show,” Schuermans and wife Karri, who co-own Chambar, had a bigger vision.

They wanted to be food entrepreneurs and had a long list of ideas for new business ventures that could complement the restaurant in Vancouver’s Gastown district. But how to go about choosing the right path?

Break down major decisions into steps

Experts recommend breaking down major decisions into a series of steps. You need to know how much a decision is going to cost you and how much you expect it to return.

When the Schuermans approached BDC for advice on their plans, they decided to carry out a financial modelling exercise that would give the couple forecasts for all their options.

The first step was a “strategic visioning session”—a meeting with the Schuermans and top Chambar staff to brainstorm about growth ideas. They took an entire day and came up with about 20 opportunities.

The group then whittled these down to the best five options based on their feasibility and fit with the Schuermans’ business strategy. They settled on creating a second restaurant for breakfast and lunch customers, a cooking school, a line of packaged foods, a deli and a Belgian beer brand.

Create detailed financial projections

The Schuermans then had some homework to do. They had to create a business plan for each venture that included detailed financial projections.

All that information then went into a five-year financial forecast. A financial forecast includes setting a rate of return on the owner’s invested capital (typically about 15%). Any new venture should allow the business to exceed or at least match those targets, while not stretching finances.

A key challenge is how to do all this while minimizing external financing and not hurting cash flow.

An ambitious expansion

The couple’s first new venture was Café Medina, a breakfast and lunch restaurant. It was later bought out by a partner who moved the successful venture to a larger downtown location.

The next expansion was the Dirty Apron Cooking School. Here, the couple hit a snag. Their plan to open the school in a residential loft space got nixed when bank loan rules changed. They now needed to come up with the hefty 25% down payment needed to buy a commercial space, instead of just the five to 10% required for a residential property.

They went back to their financial forecast and plugged in the new numbers. Luckily, they found that the cooking school could still be financially successful.

Made rapid progress

The couple have since opened a deli in the cooking school, where they market their new food line. And Chambar’s drinks list now includes Nico’s own brand of Belgian beer.

A big key to the expansion’s success was the extensive thinking the couple put into decision-making upfront.

7 steps to help remove the guesswork in decisions

  1. Bring your top staff together to brainstorm opportunities.
  2. Narrow your options down to a manageable list.
  3. Create a business plan for each option.
  4. Create a detailed financial forecast going out three to five years.
  5. For each venture, factor in timing of the launch, initial outlay, cash flow and financing.
  6. Put your decision into action, assigning deadlines and responsibilities for each project.
  7. Break down the forecast into one-year timeframes. Track progress and update the forecast as needed.
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