My mother walking through the slot canyon not long before the accident occured.
If things are a little quieter around here this week it’s because this past weekend my 60+ year-old-mother managed to break not one but both of her legs while hiking in a slot canyon in Arizona. She’s currently in Salt Lake City undergoing surgery to pin one leg back together and cast the other. So, in a nutshell, there’s a lot going on at the home front these days that, understandably, is taking a lot of my time and energy.
That being said, this did remind me of the issue many small food business entrepreneurs face that has nothing to do with their actual food business – health insurance. In fact, ironically, it was almost three years ago exactly when I broke my leg (also hiking….we’re now thinking perhaps our family should take up chess instead!). Thankfully I was insured through the health insurance my husband receives through his work but what about people who don’t have a spouse who can provide that insurance? It’s easy to sit here and say “follow your dreams – start that business you’ve always wanted to” but much harder when the reality is that getting insurance as a self-employed person is darn near impossible here in the US.
Prior to marrying my husband when I was starting up my business, I was able to find emergency health insurance through ehealthinsurance.com. It was frighteningly expensive but worthwhile, I thought, should anything major happen that would require immediate care. Thankfully I never needed it but it is an option you should be aware of in case you’re looking for some type of basic coverage. Obviously, coverage options vary based on person and the state you live in.
Do you know of anyother health insurance options for small business owners? In the mean time, be careful out there and stay healthy!
Have you ever thought about going back to school? What about if you could go back to school and learn how to turn your passion for food into a business? If you’ve ever dreamt of starting your own artisan food business but don’t know where to begin, I hope you’ll consider joining me at the Starting A Food Business class this October in Seattle. This comprehensive class, taught by myself and Zoe Bartlett – another experienced small food entrepreneur – will lead students through the process of starting a food business. Students will learn to cost products, prepare food specific business plans, and how to obtain health and other required permits.
The four-part noncredit class, priced at $125, will take place every Wednesday in October starting on Wednesday Oct 5th from 6p-9p at North Seattle Community College. More information about the class can be found here or by contacting me directly at info (at) smallfoodbiz (dot) com.
If you’re part of Generation X (or older), then you’ll remember a time when networking was just that. It wasn’t considered ‘social’ – it just was. And it wasn’t done behind a computer. Networking for small businesses is just as powerful as it ever was and a strong network can help make or break your business.
Chances are, no matter what your business idea is, there is someone else out there who has faced a similar problem and figured out an answer. Rather than spending your time trying to come to the same conclusion, your network can provide you with those resources, give you new ideas, and help steer you away from making bad financial decisions. Personally, my business accountant is a godsend to me and I found her through a recommendation another small food entrepreneur made.
So how do you develop that network? It may take some time to build up a strong network, but you have to start somewhere. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to other food entrepreneurs you meet and ask vendors you work with if they might be willing to put you in touch with some of their other small food business clients. You can also see if your local Small Business Administration office has get-togethers or mixers or whether there is an existing Entrepreneur Group in your area. While not all of those people may be in the food industry, they will likely still be able to provide you with great resources and a sounding board to help you make decisions.
The good news is that the ‘social’ part of networking can help. Twitter and Facebook can be great places to ask business questions and see what other entrepreneurs recommend (this of course assumes that you have entrepreneurial ”followers”). Just be forewarned that while 99% of the advice you’ll receive online is likely given in good spirit, if you’ve never met the recommender in person you aren’t completely sure what their motives are so use your judgement when taking their thoughts or comments into account.
Do you have a business network you rely on? How did you develop those relationships?
As I mentioned yesterday, I had a professional photo shoot earlier this week. In talking with the photographer, she said that she was in the process of changing her thinking about who she is. “I have to stop thinking of myself as a photographer,” she said, “and start thinking of myself as a businesswoman.”
This statement has stuck with me because I think it’s something that a lot of us small entrepreneurs – regardless of whether we work with food, photos, or fidos – forget. We often start our businesses because it’s a passion of ours. For those of us food entrepreneurs we got into this crazy and wacky world because we love working with food, we love feeding people, and we love sharing good flavors with others. So for that reason, when asked many of us will say that we’re a chef, a cook, or a baker.
But the truth of the matter is that running a small food business is much more than simply tying on an apron and firing up the ovens. In order to make a business successful we have to think like businessmen and businesswomen first and foremost. That means that we have to be willing to throw ourselves as enthusiastically into QuickBooks as we do into our recipes and we have to spend as much time on Marketing as we do on developing new flavor combinations.
If what you want is to be a cook, a chef, or a baker then it might be worth taking your skills and getting hired on by someone else where you can focus all your energy on the cooking, sautéing, and baking. If, however, you want to run your own food business then the business half of that equation needs as much of your attention as the food half.
I’d be interested in knowing what you think about this. Leave a comment here or feel free to email me at info (at) smallfoodbiz (dot) com.
I promise not to subject you to more vacation photos but I did want to share the photo at the side. As I mentioned before, Zermatt holds very special memories for me as it was where I grew up skiing 2-3x annually. (Before you think I was some rich trust-fund kid, let the record show that I grew up in North Africa and it was significantly cheaper to get to Switzerland and ski then come back to the States. Not to mention that the snow is much better in Switzerland than in Egypt!). In addition to being the ski resort of my childhood, the village of Zermatt itself was magical. Perhaps because it was the antithesis of everything I knew in Egypt, but it was a place full of horse-drawn carriages (as opposed to camel-drawn carts), huge mountains (as opposed to pyramids), and beautiful mountain architecture (as opposed to Middle Eastern architecture).
But one of the very special things to me was Stephanie’s Creperie. As you can see in the picture, it’s a tiny little storefront but it served the most delicious crepes. This truly was the motivation for me to not only go into the culinary field but to also start up a business of my own. I remember being enamored as a 10-year-old watching the owner make crepes in her always-packed store. The windows you can see in the picture open up to about street level and it would be so hot in her store at night, due to wall-to-wall customers and the two crepe pans going as fast as the owner could handle, that the windows would be open despite the cold and the smell of crepes would literally waft down the streets enticing passersby.
During those evenings I sat in the creperie enjoying my Zuche crepe (just plain butter and sugar despite the many unique flavor options available), I started to daydream about what I wanted to do when I grew up and the idea of running a creperie seemed like a pretty great one. Ten years later the very first business plan I wrote was for a creperie I wanted to open in the Vail/Beaver Creek area. I spent about six months working on the business plan and I’m sure I could dig it up again if given enough time. Though I didn’t end up opening up the creperie due to rent prices being out of control in the Vail area, it was an important exercise for me to walk through and helped solidify for me that I wanted to be a small food entrepreneur.
What about you? When did you first start dreaming about opening up you own small food business?
My husband and I are leaving Tuscany in a few minutes for 9+ hours of train travel (thankfully we both love trains!) and heading to Zermatt, Switzerland. Home to the Matterhorn, Zermatt holds a very special place in my heart. My family and I lived overseas most of my pre-highschool life and while growing up we did a four-year stint in Egypt. As it was not easy to get back and forth from Egypt to the US very often, my family instead started vacationing in Switzerland which was easier to get to and, at that time, pretty cheap to visit thanks to a strong US dollar. During those four years we took countless trips to Zermatt and that’s where I was truly introduced to the European way of life.
Perhaps it’s because I was finally old enough to have a handle on my surroundings, but Zermatt was magical to me. There was the fresh bread smell that rose from the bakery down the street and floated up to my hotel room to wake me up every morning with my mouth watering. There were the delicious handmade Swiss chocolates that I distinctly remember desperately counting my coins to see if I had enough money to purchase one white chocolate truffle. And there was the “crepe lady,” as we kids called her, who ran a very small nighttime creperie that was apparently the go-to place for everyone in town after dinner every night as the place was jam packed. I would argue that she was the one who inspired me to go into the small food business world as my first business plan, one that I came very close to putting into action, was for a creperie at one of the Rocky Mountain ski resorts. I’ve been told that the Crepe Lady is still there so I’m looking forward to stopping by again, perhaps nightly, and enjoying that little slice of magical Zermatt.
As mentioned earlier, I’m staying at a rented home in the Tuscan countryside that is part of a working winery. In talking with the owner, while giving me a cooking lesson on the intricacies of true Italian Tiramisu, she explained that this farm has been in her husband’s family for generations. Back in the late 1990′s though the farm wasn’t generating enough income to sustain itself so she came up with the idea to remove some of the crops that weren’t yielding what they had hoped and she replaced those with olive trees and wine grapes. Now, nearly 11 years later, the farm is flourishing. The family still plants wheat, semolina, and sunflowers – all of which are sold domestically, but they now also sell their olive oil and wine throughout Europe. Unfortunately they don’t yet sell to the United States so I’m planning to bring back my 2Liter per person limit of wine and olive oil.
I realize that other people’s vacation photos are never that exciting to someone else but if you want to take a look I have a few pictures of the winery and the surrounding countryside:
This is the commercial name of the winery and olive oil company. As you can see, there is a web address if you’d like to go check it out yourself!
This is the barrel room that’s located underneath the house we’re staying in. Since the house is a remodeled farm house, the space beneath the house was where the cows, goats, and other livestock used to sleep. Now it holds wine!
This is a picture of some wine that was bottled about a month ago. The amazing thing about this winery is that all of the work is done by hand. The grapes are cut by hand, processed (apparently though they do not in fact step on the grapes because it bruises the skin too much!), bottled by hand, and then labeled by hand. The winery produces 20,000 bottles per year – a syrah, a merlot, and a blend – so that’s no small task for a small family-run winery!
I took this picture this morning on a walk as I love all the happy sunflowers that are just starting to peak. So beautiful!
If the idea of starting a food truck business is appealing but rising gas prices has you nervous, what about a food bike business? Yes, there is such a thing and hear locally in Seattle one of the stars of the food bike business is a small part-time company called Piecycle. Started by Max Krushaar, a 22-year old university student, Piecycle uses pedal power to transport his delicious pies (the vegan dutch apple is a crowd favorite) around the University District on Friday and Saturday night. So that means while other college kids are heading out to their favorite bar or party, Max is baking up pies and then hitching a trailor to his bike – which can weigh upwards of 200 pounds when fully loaded – and carts it all around with him until he sells out. So a bike food business is certainly not for the faint of heart!
But Max’s pies, which can be purchased by the pie or by the slice, are the hit of the neighborhood. In addition to texting Max with their location, customers can also follow his movements via his Twitter Page so that when that pie craving strikes they can see if Piecycle is nearby.
I contacted Max a few weeks ago to see if I can could conduct a one-on-one interview with him but he was too busy being filmed by The Food Network for an upcoming show. Even though I couldn’t share his words of wisdom with you directly, his pies and the business concept itself was just too good not to share. Be sure to keep an eye out on the Food Network for an upcoming (not yet scheduled) show featuring Max and Piecycle.
Sorry for the blatent Emeril Lagasse-like subject line but just yesterday Daily Candy announced their second-ever Start Small, Go Big contest for entrepreneurs and food is one of the catagories they’ll be judging. You have until August 5th to submit your idea and winners will be flown to New York City, given tons of great mentoring, and get a writeup in Daily Candy, an online lifestyle newsletter, which is not too shabby when you think of the jump start that alone can give your budding business.
More information about the Daily Candy contest is available here. I’d love to know if you submit anything so feel free to drop me a line at lewisjennif at hotmail dot com and tell me about it!
When I was in highschool the teachers used to ask each of us on the last day of school what our goals were for the summer and what we hoped to achieve over the next three months. There were always a range of ambitious answers from “complete all my college application essays” to “read Shakespeare’s entire collection of work.” Then Labor Day would roll around and we’d sheepishly admit that none of what we had hoped to accomplish had actually gotten done. But didn’t our new tans look good (tans we would regret 20 years later when they came back as wrinkles!).
With Memorial Day weekend here in the States being the unofficial start of summer (can someone please let the weather in the Pacific Northwest know that summer is supposed to be here!), I’m going out on a limb to tell you my summer goal. I can’t use the word vacation since I, unlike highschool kids, don’t have the summer off and in fact my nonprofit job kicks into high gear in the warmer months. Regardless, my goal is to have a new book completed by Labor Day. It won’t be finished and ready to print, but I’m working on having it completely written and in the “editing” phase by Labor Day. I don’t want to share too much other than it is a small food business book and it’s about a topic that I get asked about constantly. Since one piece of feedback I received from my first book was that people loved reading the ‘How They Got Their Start’ stories about real food entrepreneurs, I’m in the process of interviewing a whole new set of food entrepreneurs who will be able to share their real-life experience with readers.
It’s a lot of work but it’s a topic I’m passionate about and I look forward to getting all these thoughts that are running around my head down onto paper. This means that you may notice, from time to time, fewer posts here if I’m well immersed in the book. But I will share bits and pieces of the interviews with you here as there’s nothing I love more than sharing stories about food entrepreneurs. Of course if you know of a food entrepreneur who just knocks your socks off – perhaps they have a unique business model, they offer a product unlike any you’ve seen before, or they’re just an amazing person – I’d love to know about them to see if they might be a good fit for the book.