“The last 10% it takes to launch something takes as much energy as the first 90%.”
Through the years I’ve met so many eager people who dream of building and growing a successful food business. Whether it’s product or service based, they envision building a business centered around their passion and living out their dream.
Despite the great ideas and enough ambition to fuel a small country in the Olympics, the majority of aspiring foodpreneurs share one common problem – getting started!
With our information overloaded society, it’s easy to experience analysis paralysis. Taking the first, second, and third step is like getting back in the gym after a year off!
All because nobody wants to make mistakes, burn through funds too quickly, and fail miserably.
So the question for so many is, “how do I get started when I have no idea where to begin?”
Well, the purpose of this article is to help you break the shackles and to build your confidence to a point where taking action is almost automatic.
1. Creating Questions for Foodpreneurs
Think of this as “standing on the shoulders of giants.” Meaning, you’re using the lessons from those who came before you as starting point.
With this in mind, your first step is creating questions to get experiential information from anyone operating a similar or identical food business as yours.
For instance, if you dream of opening a restaurant, you’ll create specific questions for this type of business and interview restaurant owners.
As a side note, despite perceptions you may have of people’s willingness to share information, you’ll be surprised at the depth some share under the guise of helping others in the area they’ve succeeded (or failed).
Based on the type of food business you’d like to start; the questions you create should be specific. However, here are some general questions applicable for any business.
Questions to Ask:
- Can you explain how you began building your business?
- If I wanted to start a similar business, where should I begin?
- What mistakes did you make early on while building your business?
- What caution would you give me as I start the process?
- How did you fund your business in the beginning?
- Do you have any tips or suggestions for finding or raising capital for my business?
- Do you have any advice about partnering with people in this type of business?
- From a legal standpoint, is there any advice you can give or resources you can provide to get started (and no I won’t hold you liable for this information)?
Get your questions completed and as I mentioned, ensure they are specific to your niche. Get them typed or printed and ready for the next step.
2. Conducting Interviews with Foodpreneurs
Once you have your questions ready, it’s time to find foodpreneurs and begin conducting interviews.
As a major note, you’re not just looking for successful foodpreneurs, but all types. Individuals who are just starting out, those in business for many years, and even those who failed miserably.
Wait, people who failed miserably?
Yes, because sometimes in life we learn more from mistakes than successes. As such, it’s important to find all types of foodpreneurs.
You may be wondering how many interviews you should conduct?
Your compass is your confidence. Meaning, as many interviews required for you to feel confident about where to start.
Personally, I’d recommend interviewing no less than ten individuals from all walks of life and varying degrees of success. Seeking alternate perspectives is important. Just because one person gives advice, doesn’t mean it applies to you and your situation.
There are several ways to get in contact with people, but it takes relinquishing any preconceived notions that people won’t engage with you. Some will say no, which is okay. However, many will lend their time and advice, trust me.
Where to Connect With Foodpreneurs
- Visit their business in person: When you walk in, tell whomever you encounter first that you’re interviewing owners of businesses like theirs and like to speak briefly to the owner. When you initially meet the owner, let them know exactly what you’re asking and how long it will take up front, don’t be ambiguous. If you can get 15-20 minutes, that should do the trick. Give them the option to talk at some point in the future or at that moment.
- Connect on social media: Find individuals on various social networks and send them messages. Several networks allow you to search people by title. For instance, using restaurant ownership as an example, you can type “restaurant owner” or “chef-owner” in Facebook or LinkedIn and individuals will appear with those words in their profile. It’s important to craft a message ahead of time free of grammatical errors so you can copy and paste. This will help with consistency and scaling your efforts. As a side note, if you send out 20-30 messages, and receive zero replies, it’s time to revisit your messaging.
- Use your circle of influence: Explain your mission to your close friends and family and ask them to help make connections with foodpreneurs they know in your chosen niche. You’ll be shocked at how connected you are. In my pursuit to launch Entrepreneurial Chef, I did this and within roughly three connections I was speaking with Master Chef Ferdinand Metz, WACS Master Chef Reimund Pitz, Best-Selling Author Chris Hill, Hell’s Kitchen Contestant Kristin Barone, and on and on. Granted, I spent a decade in culinary education and already had many connections, but again, you’ll be surprised at who your friends and family know.
As you conduct your interviews, capture as much information as possible. If you can record the conversation on your phone or a recording device, that would be ideal. The point is to capture every word as it will help with the next step.
3. Identify the Overlap Between Foodpreneurs
Once you interview enough foodpreneurs in your niche, it’s time to aggregate the data and find the overlapping points.
What do I mean?
Your goal is to separate any outlier information – the extreme situations – and find the information shared by a majority of the foodpreneurs. If you do this on a categorical basis, it will help organize.
For instance, take the question “Can you explain how you began building your business?” Let’s say 8 out of 10 foodpreneurs stated they first wrote a business plan. If that’s the case, you have a majority who completed a similar step. You now have an overlap, and it becomes a step to include in your journey of getting started.
There will be specific categories you’ll want to create based on your niche, but here are some general categories to get you started.
- First steps
- Expected capital requirements
- Finding or raising capital
- Common mistakes
- Partnering advice
- Legal tips or resources
If you can find overlaps in these areas, coupled with categories you create on your own, you’ll have a tremendous amount of information to get started.
Now comes the fun part…
4. It’s Business Plan Time (Really? Yes, Really!)
Nothing really starts until you create an official business plan. It can be a single page, or 30+ pages, in any case, you need a formal plan.
If right now you’re thinking, “I’ve never written a business plan before Shawn!” Well, that’s okay, I promise.
Think of a business plan like a report you wrote in school. I know, completely different, but follow my logic.
For a report in school, you had a topic, researched, racked your brain, wrote until your hand cramped, got frustrated, hustled last minute and then submitted!
The process is very similar. And since you have your topic, your business idea, honestly that’s half the battle right there.
Next, you’ll research and begin answering the different components of the business plan. It may be challenging at first, and you may get frustrated, but eventually you’ll work through and finish. And let me tell you, it will be an incredible feeling!
Now, don’t get caught up in the “perfection” of the plan. A mistake people make in writing their first business plan is getting caught up in the gravity of the document.
Instead of thinking it’s “the document” for potential investors, just think of it as an exercise. A homework assignment, just like in school. Sure, it may “eventually” be handed to investors, but not after the first pass.
The value in a business plan comes from articulating your idea, succinctly and specifically. It ultimately turns the idea into a believable vision.
It’s true what Chef Pitz said in his interview about ideas and visions, “I don’t buy into “ideas,” I buy into a vision. People come up with all kinds of ideas, 99.9% of the time they fail. If you have a vision, it requires planning to get there.”
Your plan will include certain milestones, target market information, product or service offerings, marketing strategy, operational cost, and more. And when you finish, you’ll know what’s needed to get started.
Business Plan Resources
There are several resources to help with creating a business plan, some of which are completely free. I would recommend looking at the Small Business Administration’s website and perhaps visiting a local SCORE office if you’re in the U.S and have one near you.
One service I’ve personally used is LivePlan. It’s a paid service that walks you through setting up your plan. It even has additional tools to help you manage your business throughout the various life-cycles.
(In full disclosure, I’ve used LivePlan personally and it’s the reason I recommend. The link to LivePlan is an affiliate link, which means they pay a commission if you click to use their service, at no cost to you. The link should take you to a 50% discount off your first month to try them and start creating your business plan.)
After you have a business plan, the next step isn’t mandatory, but I assure you it’s worth mentioning.
5. Put Definitions Around Your Ideal Lifestyle
At this point, you have enough information to get started. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend you putting definitions around your ideal lifestyle before you begin your journey.
Meaning, you want to identify the hours you’re willing to work, where you want to live in the upcoming years, thoughts on starting a family, etc.
These are the foundational pieces of your life, and you want to put some real definitions around them first.
Some people commit to a business direction and realize it’s completely out of alignment with some fantasy lifestyle. And it’s because they didn’t map the two out in the beginning.
The reality of becoming a foodpreneur (or general entrepreneur) is that business becomes your life and life becomes your business. It’s tough to draw the line, especially in the beginning. You want to ensure your chosen business direction aligns with the lifestyle you’d like to live.
Avoid this step at your own risk…
Well, now it’s time to get started. Are you ready? Do you have enough information to work through these steps? I guarantee you do!
Personally, I’ve coached individuals through this process before, and I assure you it can get you taking action in no time. You will likely make more progress by following these steps than any time you spent on Dr. Google trying to find your perfect prescription for getting started.