Launching any type of business—especially in food—is exhilarating, exhausting, and endlessly surprising, but the more that you know when you start up, the better. Here’s some advice from friends and clients of Good Egg Marketing.
1. Anticipate the Unanticipated
“Think about how you’ll track revenue and expenses before you launch,” says Julia Shanks, founder/owner of Julia Shanks Food Consulting. “Sooner or later, you may need to make some adjustments. What if you find out that what you expected to sell doesn’t, your ‘loss-leader’ is selling like hotcakes, and expenses are way over projections? Should you adjust your pricing? Find a less expensive supplier? Change your product mix?” If you have a good bookkeeping system in place, Shanks says, it will be easier to figure out what to do.
“So much of starting a business is improvisation,” says Marla Feldman, co-founder of EnerChi Bites, a healthy, tasty snack that comes in bite-sized portions. “But we wish we’d known how expensive it is to get food certifications like Kosher, non-GMO, and gluten-free.” She adds, “Having these certifications will dictate how much shelf space we get at many of our target retailers, so they’ve become a necessity in the food industry.”
“I wish I’d known how many licenses you need to produce a food product,” says Debra Bonnefin, founder/owner of Rockin’ Rubs spice rubs. “After I thought I’d done everything, I found out I needed a California “Processed Food Registration” (PFR) and it takes months to get it.” She advises, “Before you start your business, find what you need to do at the city, county, state, and federal levels and the ideal sequence to follow.”
2. Buy a Lot of Hats
The biggest challenge in starting my business has been wearing so many hats!” says Laurel Valchuis, founder/owner of Al FreshCo, which makes quick-cooking meal kits from locally sourced, seasonal food. “Figuring out how to describe an innovative product in a way that tells our story and stays true to our mission, while juggling production, managing costs, scaling up, maintaining quality, and dealing with permitting issues is never boring.” Valchuis has solved the problem of how to be practically everywhere at once by selling and distributing some of her meal kits by tricycle.
Balancing roles has also been a challenge for Marla Feldman, at EnerChi Bites. “Once the fun part (the initial recipe development) is over, you have to juggle all the different tasks–such as logo and package design, ingredient sourcing, marketing, event coordination, and managing sales and accounts–while you’re short-staffed and working other jobs.”
3. Get a Little Help from a Pro
Even if you pride yourself on being a great project manager, salesperson, marketer, product developer, bookkeeper and photographer, I believe that as a business owner, you should focus on doing the things that are the heart and soul of your business that only you can do and outsource other tasks to other people. For example, when I started Good Egg Marketing, I tried to manage my finances on my own. When I realized I was doing a lousy job, I hired Julia Shanks Food Consulting to get me set up and trained to use QuickBooks. Not only has it helped me get on track, it was surprisingly affordable. (FYI, Julia offers many free or inexpensive tools and templates on her website to help you start and manage your business.)
There are plenty of other free resources out there, such as the U.S. Small Business Administration, SCORE, and state, local and university business development centers. If you’re in the food business, culinary incubators like The Hood Kitchen Space in Orange County or Crop Circle Kitchen in Boston, or coworking spaces like Boston’s Food Loft are great places to get advice, support, and inspiration.
Get what you can for free, but if a professional can do it faster or better than you, get help! For example, Debra Bonnefin decided to build the Rockin’ Rubs website herself, using the free web creation site, Wix. She did a terrific job, but part of the reason that her site looks so good is that she hired culinary food photographer Alan De Herrera to shoot her products.