• Justin Sterling

1/4 Mile

Nashville is not only home to Country Music, but Nashville is also the home to the contemporary christian music scene as well. In the early 2000’s when I lived in Nashville, A good friend and I were out on the town one evening in search of adventure.

It was their version of the Grammys, they call the “dove awards”, and one record company known for producing rap and hip hop music was hosting an after party. It might have been the allure of hanging out with artist types, or it could have been the lack of wisdom resulting from the drinking we had done beforehand. Either way our lack of an invitation wasn’t a problem and we easily shuffled right in with everyone else pretending to be more important than we really were.

Imagine if the movie 8 Mile were made by catholics. They’d call it ¼ mile, and cast me in the lead role because I’m not Catholic and I have no musical history. When the DJ announced a Freestyle Rap competition, my friend looks at me and said “ You should totally do that”. As I have the absolute worst singing voice, and no rhythm, tilt my head and said “Yeah Boi” I will.

I’m 3rd in line, the first two were really impressive. Crowd is still clapping for the efforts of the last guy when give me the mic. Feeling the energy and optimism of the crowd I waste no time asking the DJ to give me a beat. I don’t ask the crowd to support me. I tell them. “ Wave those hands from side to side”.

Boom crack, Ba Boom Boom Crack…Boom crack, Ba Boom Boom Crack. The crowd is obviously having a great time and I hadn’t rapped about anything yet. I’m feeling like a rockstar and drop my first line with something obvious… “My name is Justin Sterling an I got something to tell ya”. Im’ now bending my knees with my arm extended above my head, and my brain locks up and I can’t quickly think of anything that rhymes with “tell ya”..

Fortunately for me there is a “Boom crack, Ba Boom Boom Crack” to give me some time to come up with a brilliant lyric, and my arm has crossed my face like a human metronome. I say “gonna take ya home, then I’m gonna smell ya” .

I kid you not, the music stops, dead silence. The crowd is looking at me like I just blasphemed Christ himself. I look at the DJ like “hey man, can we keep going?” and he motions for me to give him back the microphone.

The sense of embarrassment hadn’t sunk in yet. But in the moments it took to exit the stage and stand by my friend the gravity of shame became physically obvious in my posture. I could feel my shoulders collapsing in on themselves, and my eyes were drawn to my own navel. Hoping that his confidence and poise could work thru osmosis, I rhetorically asked him “how was that? ” But he wouldn’t even look at me. He looked away from me while asking “You want to leave?”. I said “Yeah, this party is lame”.

It’s taken me a decade to realize that in your business, just like an entertainer, you need to respect and understand your audience. What are they looking for? What expectations do they have? Do I have a solution to their needs?

Every week, I’ll be asked by a start up about some real estate, and like that DJ, I want to give them a chance and see them succeed. I assume positive intent, and that they will deliver. Some will and some won’t. All I can do is set the stage, and hand over some real estate tools and watch what happens.

If the business has no “business plan”, and they are going to freestyle their way thu it, at least those who practice, over and over, and over, might have a chance. But those who have no entrepreneurial experience, no plan, and no one to guide them, they are going to fail.

When the real estate agent ask detailed questions about your finances, work experience, and vision for your business, it’s not so they pass judgment, it’s to convey a sense of responsibility that we have as a community. Your preparation affects the banker who underwrites the loan, the insurance company who’s policy protects the property, the Landlord who’s creating a platform for you to operate.

Early on in my career, I took a phone call from someone with an idea and they sounded competent on the phone, drove an hour to meet them at the space, and spent an hour talking with them before I asked them, “What are you doing now?” They responded “I work at Shoney’s”. Are you an owner? No. Manager? No. Franchisee? No. Did you inherit some money? No. Did you study the culinary arts in school? No. Any other experience in the hospitality industry? No.

I apologize to them right then. I should have done a better job preparing you for this meeting. This lease is over $100K a year, and could cost you $200K in start up cost. I don’t want to make any assumptions so let me just ask, how will you pay for the start up costs? He couldn’t .

Before the prospect left the space, I told him this story about my short lived career as a rap mogul and how we want to see him thrive as a rockstar in his business, but Landlords who don’t hand you mic, may be doing him a solid and saving decades of pain. You may have a great idea. Take some business classes, find some case studies of similar concepts, and start writing a business plan. Take some smaller risks with a side hustle, and ask your manager how you can take on more responsibility at work. Prepare yourself for the person you are going to be every day and the cumulative effort will produce something you can be very proud of.

Rock forth America!

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