7 tips for start-up food entrepreneurs
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An entrepreneur’s dream includes the freedom and flexibility to create his or her own rules and be successful. It also includes seeing goals and objectives achieved, impacting the community, and advocating for what they are passionate about. However, what most entrepreneurs fail to consider is that entrepreneurship involves much more than meets the eye.
In my personal experience, what I thought was entrepreneurship when I decided to pursue this career and what it really is are two different realities; Building a company and working for a company is different. The focus, responsibilities, skills and experience levels required are not even close.
A highly rated chef may leave the restaurant he works in and fail because being a culinary artist and a culinary entrepreneur is not the same. A food and beverage manager also has a completely different job function than a CEO. I tell people that “artists must learn the art of business to be successful.” Confusing your ability to produce great food with the knowledge and skills to own and run a successful food service business is, in my opinion, the main reason for failure in the food industry. Most people think that they will be successful in business once they can prepare and serve delicious foods and drinks. I’ve seen companies owned and/or with celebrity names that still fail. To ensure success as well. Everything has to be in sync, just like clock widgets. If you have all the passion for your product but don’t know how to reach, deliver and keep your customers, that’s a recipe for disaster.
The vision I have for my life continues to evolve as I continue on this journey. Some things were achieved, others, I realized that I no longer wanted over time and removed them from my list of priorities. A good example of this is that I learned that if I became a mother or when I became a mother, I would have wanted to stay home with my child for at least the first year of my child’s life, which I did. I accepted, declined and created opportunities that allowed me to live on my terms and conditions. In the same way that I am methodical in my personal life, I am in my professional life. I don’t live by default, but seeing me makes me focus and gives me something to look forward to, especially when nothing seems right to me. In business, we must do the same thing – plan, systematically review, and be deliberate about the growth of our companies and our employees. Otherwise, things may get out of hand, making it difficult to recoup losses and regain momentum.
With food innovation reaching an all-time high, many new concepts and trends have been brought to the market. The way the products come in makes it seem as if these companies are mind readers who know what I want and when I want it. Sometimes I even find myself saying, “I never thought of this, but this would make my life so much easier!” The truth is that product creation is fun and exciting, but designing company systems to run smoothly and replicate products, services, and experiences is very frustrating and boring for a creative person.
As a business consultant and strategist, I love my job. I have found that providing consulting, project management and other professional services are essential to the success of the business. However, clients do not always understand why or how to keep the work done in their business and achieve and maintain success. As a result, I decided to combine what I know into a hybrid program (teaching, training and consulting) that empowers and guides entrepreneurs to achieve success when building their businesses and throughout the life of their companies.
Here are 7 tips I would like to share with budding entrepreneurs in the food industry:
1. Define your ultimate vision clearly first
Before I work with clients, I always ask them what the ultimate vision they have for their company. To build a good company, you must know and understand the purpose of making your product or service come alive and bring it to market for others to enjoy. My suggestion is that even if you can’t get to what you want because of your experience and resources, trust the fact that you will grow in stages and set them as goals over time until your business becomes strategic.
2. Hiring a legal advisor
Before you legally register your business, approve partnerships, or accept funds from investors, it would be wise to have a sound legal advisor in place to avoid common pitfalls. These include minimizing misunderstandings and clarifying and setting expectations. For example, oral contracts are legal in some states but what is agreed and signed in writing is hard to deny.
3. Complete your list first before writing a business plan
Before you choose, rent or buy commercial property, it will be helpful to have a complete list of products and services that will be available to your clients and customers. What you can do varies depending on the local regulatory authority in that area. I have seen companies that have never opened their doors in my entire career because the requested site has a history of not getting permits approved in a timely manner, or using certain equipment or special food processing operations that required special permission that had their own application process that needed to be reviewed and approved them before the business is opened. As a result, the owners were not financially willing to pay for a place they couldn’t use right away and make sales.
4. Write your business plan based on your list of products and services.
A business plan should always be customized and not made of generic templates. Revising a little to get an idea of what you need for your plan is acceptable but should not be relied upon because it is not specific to your business. Identify ways to give your company a differentiation in the marketplace. Explore the latest financing options, creative marketing strategies, grow a healthy company and a loyal staff and customer base that craves what you have to offer.
5. Create your own policies, systems and processes before you start your business
Doing business with entrepreneurs who take more pride in their physical product or service than their actual business offering. I can list experiences where I have paid for products and services but have been disappointed and damaged or destroyed professional relationships. So while getting the best ‘sauce’ or whatever you make and sell please make sure you establish the basic systems and processes because every business needs to standardize.
6. Create a plan for personal and professional growth for you and your employees
It’s great to have a business that has customers who keep the numbers coming in. However, having the same level of skills and experience years after setting up your business means that you haven’t grown, and what you know may not be as relevant as you think. Clients who have multi-million dollar companies and refuse to invest in professional development and training don’t realize that this seriously hurts their business. I’ve found that when working with these types of clients, you can’t serve them better because they don’t understand the importance or value of what you do for them and what you propose to them. Plus, they are the same ones who wonder why their customers are no longer satisfied with them after years of loyalty.
7. Have a written succession plan
Favorite neighborhood cornerstones, especially those that have served several generations closed, unexpectedly leave a void that often cannot be filled. Common reasons are that it was a family business and no one wanted to work in it; Business partners who disagree; The owners who started it as a married couple have divorced. The list goes on, however, planning these things would keep the business and functioning as it should be regardless of personal matters.
I understand that work and life can be unpredictable because I have not worked on any similar project. However, we must be prepared and plan as best we can to meet the common challenges in our respective fields. I’ve also learned that seeking feedback from other entrepreneurs carries significant risks. I am a member of a group of online restaurant professionals where people ask questions to other professionals in the field; I rarely see sound advice being shared, and more often than not it’s dismissed. I see it as receiving relationship information from someone who is not familiar with the details of your life. Don’t listen to everyone’s advice.
I don’t think culinary school prepares you for a culinary entrepreneurship. I learned more about the food industry while working in this industry. Study your business more than you study anyone else, and for me that is the key to success.