What I Learned Building a Catering Business


In 2011 I embarked on a journey of building my fifth business, but this time it would be something I had no experience in. It was a catering company that my wife had founded in 2004 straight out of culinary school with her chef bag and knife kit. It was something totally opposite of anything creative. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone for a while and take a shot at doing something that had nothing to do with web, design or art. In the beginning frustration and confusion set in. Here I was this super creative person having to now work in an industry that felt very uncomfortable. I couldn’t find that one area within the business which I could be of absolute value. I felt out of place and without a purpose.

I felt like a failure until one day… I discovered that my skill sets as a designer could be utilized to create efficiencies within the business.

To my surprise, utilizing design thinking provided me with the ability to see where problems existed in our workflow and then I designed solutions to remove those inefficiencies. I noticed that there were certain tasks that had to get done on a frequent basis, but the catering company had no systems in which to follow. I frequently had to explain things to my team while having to remember to be consistent in my delivery – it was draining and took extra effort and time. I learned very quickly that I had become so accustomed to solving only visual problems, that I had never considered that creative people can solve business problems as well. I decided to design workflows and processes for everything including sales, inventory, bookkeeping, accounting, lead generation, lead capturing, client communication, creating invoices and preparing for events. The systems were implemented and things began to work effectively day to day within the company. Things were getting done faster and I found myself stepping back more and more from working within the business. But even with all the systems I built and the value, they added to the company, entrepreneurship kicked my ass — but it was a valuable experience worth sharing!

I learned very quickly that I had become so accustomed to solving only visual problems, that I had never considered that creative people can solve business problems as well.

FAILURE IS GOOD. 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 journeys 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, but with the catering company, I felt like I had achieved something. Having learned and grown since my involvement with Wishful Concepts Catering, I want to share some insights with other startup food businesses and “foodprenuers” that are of value.

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 the infrastructure you’re afforded with, 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

At the beginning of any venture, it may not be perfect. Whether that be an insufficient amount of key people, limited financial resources, or lack of equipment needed, START WITH WHAT YOU HAVE ACCESS TO. Samone and I grew the catering company with what we had. We utilized our two-bedroom apartment back in 2011 that had 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 in Maitland. At times there were some tears, curse words, emotional break downs 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 in 2014 once we grew out of the commissary phase. It took us three years to get into our own commercial kitchen, but with hard work and sacrifice, we did it.

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 the language of 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 with precision, how it will make money, who the business will serve and how it will uniquely deliver its 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 a lack of discipline. There will be times of hectic schedules that include balancing emails, meetings, working events and working a full-time job. It’s important for a food business owner to be organized and disciplined with how their 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 that 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 she 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 routine 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 grow its growth will test the foundation of the business, to see if it is able to withstand the pressures and demands of the industry. I’m not knocking “soloprenuers”, but that is a dangerous and detrimental business model and should only be utilized in the beginning stages of a business. Here’s the BLUNT TRUTH. Clients are paying money and 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 with consideration and thoughtful execution. 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, subcontractors and financial investment. 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.

Want To See The Catering Company In Action?

Watch the Video Below

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