In 2011 I embarked on a journey of building my third business, but this time it would be something I had no experience in. It was a catering company that my wife was operating prior to marrying me. It was something totally opposite of anything creative. I wanted to take a risk at something new so I took a shot at seeing how I could add value to the food industry.
In the beginning frustrated and confused not knowing where I belonged.
I tried being a server, cook, and equipment manager and I continued to fail at each and every role. I couldn’t find that one area within the business in which I fit and could be of absolute value. I felt out of place and without purpose.
I felt like a failure until one day…
I discovered over time that there were very important tasks that needed to be completed but by their very nature were redundant. I noticed that certain repetitive tasks needed to be explained frequently and explaining things became exhausting. Having to answer questions time and time again became exhausting and also wasted time. I wanted to find a solution fast…
It’s my innate instinct to solve problems and find the best solutions to rectify problems. I decided to design systems and procedures for everything within the business including: sales, packing, inventory, book keeping, accounting, lead generation, lead capturing, client communication, creating invoices and preparing for events.
I found my role and began to operate in it.
In the past 10 years, the culture around entrepreneurship has become increasingly failure-friendly. I personally believe the big boys of business are becoming more transparent in their journey and showing the masses that it takes real grit to make it. In the past I never felt like a successful entrepreneur because I had failed so many times with other businesses. Having learned and grown since my involvement with Wishful Concepts Catering I want to share some insights with other startup food businesses and “food-prenuers”.
Here are SEVEN guiding principles that can be beneficial to the hospitality entrepreneur or early stage food business owners:
Principle #1: Build Skin In The Game
Building a business is tough and it takes a certain type of emotional strength and psychological makeup in order to endure. Sacrifice is part of the game when you’re just starting any venture and depending on how you start, you may be managing many roles during initial growth. At some point I was involved with washing dishes, managing catering operations and managing client accounts. All of this while working a full time teaching job. Sacrifice is also necessary if you want to attract partners or investors because you want to demonstrate you’ve got yourself invested in your vision.
Principle #2: Use What You Got
In the beginning of any venture it may not be perfect. Whether that be insufficient amount of key people, limited financial resources, or lack of equipment needed, START WITH WHAT YOU HAVE ACCESS TO. Samone and myself started with what we had. We utilized our two-bedroom apartment with a patio storage closet to house catering equipment. Dried goods and non perishables were stored in the second bedroom of our apartment. To maintain health and safety standards, we stored and prepared perishable food items at a licensed commissary because legally we couldn’t prepare any food in our home. We rented a virtual office to conduct consultations with clients. At times there were some tears, curse words and frustrations over the desire to want better startup infrastructure but not being able to afford it. But sometimes you have to START WITH WHAT YOU GOT. We eventually secured our own brick and mortar location once we grew out of the commissary phase.
Principle #3: Develop Your Business Model
Whether it happens through formal education, a business mentor, or through your local Small Business Administration office, it is essential for startup business owners to take time to learn business. Contracts, finance, accounting, profit-and-loss statements, developing business plans and developing a strong business model are all essential to business success. The reality is that no matter how talented or passionate you are, it is essential that the leadership at the helm of any business, understand the mechanics of doing business and being successful at it. Every business owner has to understand their business model, how it will make money, who the business will serve and how it will uniquely deliver it’s services. My accountant and friend, Orlando Perez of BVL Income Tax Services, shared a resource with me that offered a simple way of thinking about business development; it’s called the Business Canvas Model. The success or failure of a company’s business model depends largely on how it interacts with other models of other competitors within the marketplace, so it’s important food startups research competitors and study the market.
Principle #4: You Have To Be Organized
The journey of business ownership involves many things and the most detrimental trait a business owner can have is lack of discipline. There were times I had to balance emails, team meetings, working events and working a full-time job. So many things happen within my day, that it’s important for a business owner to be organized and disciplined with how time is managed. This principle, if broken will damage not only your efficiency in how you run your business, but ignore it long enough and you will feel it financially. Not being disciplined to go over expenses, earnings and reviewing client accounts, will produce a “blinded business owner” with no awareness of what’s happening.
Principle #5: Document Your Business Processes & Implement Systems.
I’ve learned that no one’s role is so sacred you can’t document it. If only one person knows how to do a specific task that’s crucial to your business and he/or dies, or just up and quits one day, then the whole business gets screwed. This was Wishful Concept’s biggest learning curve and took the longest to understand it’s importance, implement and execute. Documenting day-to-day procedures, no matter how simple or obvious, will save time, stress and make things easier as the company grows. Processes also help to build & automate routined tasks, increase efficiency and prevent duplication of effort — because ultimately effort wasted is time and profit wasted.
Principle #6: Your Business Has To Be Scalable
Every business owner needs to learn the “art of duplication” if growth is a goal. Growing a business properly requires constant evaluation and change. More growth means more demands on your business model. Once a business begins to growth it’s growth will test the foundation of the business, to see if it is able to withstand the pressures and demands of the industry. Here’s the BLUNT TRUTH. Clients are paying money expecting the business to respond to new client inquiries as well as manage clients under contract. What happens if a business goes from 2 clients a month to 200 clients a month? What happens if someone wants to take a day off? Can that business handle more growth based on how it’s operating currently? These are questions that must be thought about carefully and answers provided. If the business can’t function without the owner at the helm, this is a signifier for the business owner to sit down and reevaluate things before a serious problem happens.
Principle #7: The Only Intelligence That Matters Is Emotional Intelligence
Business owners must operate from a place of emotional clarity if they are to be successful in day-to-day operations. If a business owner has the desire to scale their business, they must develop an organizational culture that is emotionally healthy and conducive for productivity. Maintaining self-awareness, rewarding others, demonstrating empathy and possessing strong communication skills, will position a business owner to build good company culture and attract quality employees, staff, or subcontractors. Without EQ skills (Emotional Intelligence) it will be very difficult for a business owner to grow their business. This is where the implementation of a manager would benefit the business owner who is not crafted in such a way. Put people in front who possess these attributes and allow them to be your mouthpiece.
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So many people give business advice on the internet, but some of that advice comes from “want to be entrepreneurs”. My business advice is rooted in actual experience gained by getting up everyday and executing, failing and eventually succeeding at things. Enjoy the video!