- When Hillery Sawyer opened her grilled cheese food truck, she faced supply, staffing, and equipment challenges
- While some small businesses feel there’s a stigma around loans, more are starting to see them as an essential tool for growth.
- Access to cash flow helped Sawyer move from just surviving to growing her business.
For Hillery Sawyer, the realities of running a small business were grinding her down. After starting a grilled cheese food truck based out of Rome, Georgia with her two best friends from high school, Sawyer’s friends decided to move on to pursue other careers. She found herself trying to run and grow her business on her own.
“I would work every day from 7 a.m. till 7 p.m. or until midnight,” Sawyer said. Beyond the grueling hours, there were still challenges she wasn’t prepared for. A lack of capital and cash flow held her back from growing the way she envisioned.
She had to use her earnings from each day to buy the next day’s supplies. The shop-cook-sell cycle made it difficult to keep the product consistent and grow the business. It was only when Sawyer started accessing PayPal Working Capital* that she was able to grow and sustain her business.
The early days were a struggle as Sawyer found her footing
Sawyer, who had previously run a crafting business online and worked as a freelancer, had a vision to create a one-of-a-kind food experience with over 30 variations of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches with “edge-to-edge” flavor.
But in the beginning, she was barely surviving from one day to the next. In those early days, Sawyer didn’t even own a truck and relied on neighbors to tow her food trailer to events.
While her creative take on grilled cheese was arguably her most important asset, it was challenging to produce a consistent product or prep in advance of events because she didn’t have established partnerships with food supply vendors.
The startup pains and lack of capital to invest in the food truck held Sawyer back from growing. The daily grind “took up a lot of time that I could have been using for marketing and working on the truck,” Sawyer said. “I had word of mouth, but it was really slow building, to be honest.”
Access to cash flow helped turn the food truck into a sustainable business
Sawyer was first approved for a $2,000 PayPal Working Capital loan* in 2016. With the loan proceeds, she bought a more reliable fridge and created a food budget; she then established an ongoing relationship with a local vendor to make her sourdough bread sliced at the perfect thickness for her grilled cheese sandwiches. The loan was then repaid through a share of each of her PayPal sales making it easy to manage cash flow.**
“Partnering with someone to bake for me was a game changer,” she says. “The loan gave me freedom and time as well as mental freedom because I was no longer moving a penny from here to there to make sure my business could survive.”
Over time, taking out a series of small loans enabled Sawyer to take one crucial step after another.
Eventually, she was able to buy her own truck to tow her trailer — but growing Speakcheesy wasn’t all about equipment and business deals.
“I still wasn’t totally sure how I was going to do it all by myself,” she said. “It was absolutely exhausting.”
For Sawyer’s next step, she needed help on a daily basis to keep things going, so she began hiring staff. With employees handling some of the cooking and truck maintenance, Sawyer was able to devote time to marketing and other aspects of the business.
With time to devote to her long-term vision, Sawyer made a deal to begin grilling sandwiches inside a local brewery, hiring even more staff. That agreement set Speakcheesy up to endure the pandemic, as Sawyer pivoted her business from food truck to delivery.
She began using the brewery as a base for delivering sandwiches to customers and later to selling outdoors in tents. When the brewery closed down because of the pandemic, Speakcheesy survived as it had already established more business opportunities.
Sawyer is applying the lessons learned during the difficult early days of her business by planning to expand in two new directions: She is looking to open a ghost kitchen — a kitchen set up for delivery only, with no restaurant — to build her customer base; she also hopes to soon buy a second, larger truck to take out on the road. From there, the goal is to eventually franchise Speakcheesy to bring her grilled cheese sandwiches to the masses nationwide.
Small businesses are realizing they can benefit from loans
Even though Sawyer now has the business history to consider a traditional loan, she still plans to access capital through PayPal.
Earlier on, Sawyer was wary of seeking traditional loans, as are so many small business owners. According to a recent PayPal survey conducted by Wakefield Research1, more than a quarter don’t pursue loans for fear of rejection, and almost as many worry about harming their chances with other lenders and damaging their credit reports.
But, since the pandemic, more small business owners have shifted their perspective on taking out a loan. According to the Wakefield Survey 1, 70% of these entrepreneurs no longer see the loans as a stigma. In fact, 44% more small business owners are willing to apply for a loan now than they were before the pandemic.
“I’m not afraid of taking on those loans, because every time I’ve taken on a loan, I’ve seen the growth in my business immediately,” Sawyer said. “I’ve been able to make my business essentially double every time.”
- Based on an online study commissioned by PayPal and conducted by Wakefield in September 2021, involving 1,000 US small business owners (below 500 heads).
*The lender for PayPal Working Capital and PayPal Business Loan in the United States is WebBank, Member FDIC.
**For PayPal Working Capital, a minimum payment is required every 90 days.