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Robert S. Duxstad
Daniel P. Bestul
Lance A. McNaughton

From Beer to Eternity: Getting Started

Posted: 9.06.2017  |  Author: 


(Note: To anyone reading who’s been waiting six months for a second installment, Attorney McNaughton extends his apologies, and offers an important business lesson: sometimes life gets in the way of your best-laid plans.)


Sometime in the summer of 2013, something probably related to work (client confidentiality being what it is, I’ll pretend I can’t remember) frustrated me enough that I picked up my phone and shot off a quick message to my friend, Kevin: “I think it’s about time we sat down and talked about that brewery.”


The text wasn’t entirely impulsive. I was 43, and I was starting to feel the associated restlessness. I enjoyed being a lawyer, but the question kept popping up: if I really could do anything with my life, what would it be? The answer popped up faster than the question: I’d run a brewery. It would be a radical departure from practicing law, but I figured that the time for doing daring things was running out. Wait another ten years, and the retirement I hoped for would be looming closer; risks would carry greater weight and caution would be harder to ignore. If I was going to do this, I had to do it now.


I’d then known Kevin for nearly 12 years. About ten years earlier, Kevin had taken a short sabbatical from his job and gone through the Siebel Institute of Technology’s Master Brewery Program, in Chicago and then in Munich, Germany. It’s a fantastic program, and Kevin having completed it was a big selling point for us later. It provides one of the best educations for prospective brewers, and I was lucky that a few years later Kevin offered to teach me a little of what he’d learned. Before long, I had a small makeshift all-grain brewing system set up in the garage.


We’d gone on after that, each making our own beers and trying them out on friends and family. The response was positive – Kevin’s beers, especially, were the stuff people were willing to buy. So my idea of a brewery, you understand, wasn’t without some logic. We had a proven ability to make good beer, to conceive creative recipes. We knew that we could produce beers that were better than a lot of the stuff we were buying in stores and at bars. We were convinced this could work.


You might be in the same position – someone with a great idea for a product or a service, and a proven record of being able to produce or provide it. And with that in hand, you might think you’re a guaranteed success. STOP! You’re about to learn what we learned: what you know is nothing compared to what you don’t know. Running a successful business is dependent on knowing a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with your product or service. It’s about marketing, branding, budgeting, business structures, taxation, and financing. It’s about leases, real estate agents and contractors. None of it’s glamorous; some of it’s confusing and frustrating. All of it seems to be distracting you from what you do best, but all of it is critically important.


Thankfully, Kevin and I were only a few weeks into our preliminary planning when we started to realize how much we needed to learn. And, we were lucky to find out that there plenty of resources available to teach us what we needed to know. For us, it was two four-week programs offered through the University of Wisconsin’s Small Business Development Center. The first four weeks, which included a total of eight sessions, covered all the basics of starting and operating a business: business structure, marketing, financing and accounting, for example. Admittedly, they all offered introductory level information, but that was enough to warn us off of bad decisions. The second four weeks, again consisting of eight sessions, helped us design a really solid business plan, with the benefit of a dedicated business counselor for as long as we needed her. In fact, we were still meeting with our counselor, Linda, long after the business plan was complete. Information about those and other SBDC programs is available at https://bus.wisc.edu/cped/sbdc/program-topics/start-up-business-solutions.


There are other organizations dedicated to helping entrepreneurs and start-ups get off on the right foot. SBDC has advisors available in Southwest Wisconsin, who generally rotate from county to county on a regular schedule. In the Platteville area, the Service Corp of Retired Executives (SCORE), links retired business executives with those just starting out. Their website, www.score.org, provides a nationwide database of experts ready to help, based on your own location. A group with an misleading name, the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation, actually does a great job working with any entrepreneur, regardless of sex. Again, WWBI can provide a wide assortment of information and services to help you get your idea off the ground.


Locally, most counties have development corporations with resources for new businesses. In Green County, for example, you can reach Cara Carper GCDC’s website at http://www.greencountyedc.com. More local than that are your local Chambers of Commerce. Even if those organizations lack the resources to provide direct assistance or guidance, they certainly know where to direct you for the help you need.


The lesson: know what you don’t know, and then get to work learning it. The impulse to jump in head first is strong, but some smart delay at the beginning helps insure your business is around for the long-haul.



Lance A. McNaughton practices estate planning, probate, business, and real estate law in both Lafayette and Green Counties in Wisconsin. He can be reached by e-mail at mcnaughton@duxstadlaw.com.





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