5 Tips for Navigating the Complexities of Starting a Food Business

This is my office. It's a tiny space that's actually perfect for planning. If all goes well, I will eventually outgrow it. In the meantime, having an offsite production kitchen is great because I don't have any residual clutter making it's way to the table. AND I have a window in front of my desk for fresh air and the calming view of treetops.

This is my office. It's a tiny space that's actually perfect for planning. If all goes well, I will eventually outgrow it. In the meantime, having an offsite production kitchen is great because I don't have any residual clutter making it's way to the table. AND I have a window in front of my desk for fresh air and the calming view of treetops.

I'm writing this post -and probably most of this blog in general- in the event that there are any other would-be food entrepreneurs who stumble across my website and find themselves held back by fear of the unknown and making mistakes. I want to put it out there that I have a lot of experience with pastry and working in restaurants in general. I can make my way around a commercial kitchen with my eyes closed. But starting and running a business is a whole other beast. It's kind of intimidating. Don't let that scare you away from putting your vision out there. Take it one small thing at a time. 

If you can handle the heat in the kitchen during a rush, you should be able to get yourself organized in the office, right? For sure. Doesn't mean you won't run into obstacles or unforeseen delays. However, there's nothing you can't tackle if you keep your chin up and mind focused.

I pulled together this short list of notes regarding start up food businesses that I've been attending to lately.

1. Roll with it.

The number one tip I can give to someone starting their own business is to be flexible. Try to account for any unknown troublesome hurdles in your timeline. Project for more than you think you need in duration and budget. If you've never done this before, you're going to run into things you don't know about that will present you with at least a minor obstruction to your proposal. Prepare yourself for in advance and make up your mind not to let it bother you -whatever it may be. For instance, right now, I'm waiting on snail mail correspondence from my bank. You really can't do much in the food business until you have access to your pot of gold. (That would be the ideal start up fund, amiright?) I mean, you can, but then you get into paying for things out of personal money and transferring them to the business and it would get so messy. You don't want that. Keep calm and wait.

2. Research.

This is kind of obvious, but you can do some basic research on how to start a business just by googling and reaching out to anyone you know that might have advice about owning a business.

Field research such as finding a kitchen location involves a lot of going here and there. These kinds of logistics could take considerable time, so you might want to start at least keeping your eyes open before your business is actually official.

Research also goes into things like sourcing ingredients, generating menus, and forecasting expenses. Furthermore, you want to be familiar with competitors' products and their pricing. Lowballing prices doesn't do anybody any favors and definitely won't make you any friends. As the owner of a start-up pastry shop, if I know another local bakery provides an office suite breakfast catering package for 25 people at $100, I'm not going to offer breakfast catering significantly lower at $50 just to bring in business. It's fine to run a promotional campaign for special occasions, but know your peers. And respect your peers. It's just a good business practice.

3. Resources.

In North Carolina we have the Business Link. You can email them and tell them alllll about your business and they will direct you to various websites and points of contact for any license, tax, registration, etc. It's really helpful to have a reference who knows the ins and outs of legal requirements for any new small business owner, especially because stipulations vary across industries. Likewise, when you register your business with the Secretary of State, they will send you a next steps PDF to try to keep you on the right track.

Additionally, you probably want to at least consult with an accountant during the beginning stages to make sure you're clear on how the process of bookkeeping and taxes will work. For instance, depending on the nature of your business, you may be required to pay taxes monthly opposed to yearly or quarterly, and "Well I didn't know" likely won't be sufficient for an audit defense. Find the right people to look out for you and spend a few hours in the beginning meeting with anyone who will get you up to speed on all of the legalities. It may cost a little money, but it will probably make your life easier down the road.

Equally central to starting a business are brand identity and brand awareness. It can't hurt to connect with a photographer, graphic designer, or other marketing professional to help you get the ball rolling with positioning your brand.

4. Business Plan

I'm sure you've come across this before if you've done any research online. As a small business owner, this just helps you maintain a vision of where your business is heading. It can change and that's okay. Spend time considering and writing your business plan. Routinely keep it updated to sustain your focus and keep your products, services, and actions in line with your overall company goals. 

Points to address in your business plan are:

  • Business Description and Structure
  • Product Description
  • Target Market 
  • Marketing Strategy
  • Goals

5. Network

Ugh. Who wants to sound like a broken record sales person all the time? Not this woman. Networking is the hardest thing, in my opinion. The easiest way to go about this is just to know people in general, without pitching anything but your wonderful self. Still really hard for introverts, I know. 

There are meet up groups that you can join in your area to help you meet new people. You might also try learning something new. Register for classes at a local college or training through a local specialty store like cooking or running. Meeting likeminded individuals could be energizing and inspiring, networking aside.

Social media networks are also important. They're one more thing for you to manage and maintain. I say, pick two key platforms that are most relevant to your business and make yourself a calendar of when to post. Some platforms -Facebook, for example- let you schedule your posts, so you can queue up your ideas that aren't "for immediate release" communication. Others -Instagram, for example- don't work that way because they are built on the concept of "for immediate release" type information to showcase what you're currently working on. There are also apps like Buffer that help keep your social media organized, but I find if you only have accounts for a couple of platforms, you don't need the additional management app.

Starting a business takes dedication.

And the process might test your sense of determination. Just remember why you started your business in the first place -you probably wrote about it in your business plan!- and stay committed to your company goals and solidifying your dreams. Just for fun, you might want to get one of these T-shirts (Disclaimer: District of Clothing is not an affiliated/sponsoring brand/website, just something that I love) to psych yourself up on the hard days. Cheers to the strength to do what you love.