On March 9, 2016 I was asked by Hudson Kitchen’s Djenaba Johnson-Jones to serve on a panel to share about our experience as entrepreneurs and business owners. At the event, Table Talk Live, I spoke about how we turned a humble Instagram fundraiser into a legitimate business and the ins and outs of the journey. Alongside me were: Eddie of Me Casa, Dawn of Om Sweet Home, and Alysis of Chilltown Kitchen. Humbled and honored to join such a panel, I found myself looking back at the year and a half I’ve had the titles “Entrepreneur” and “Business Owner”. I reflected on what I learned along the way and how podcasts, books, friends, and the almighty Google have guided me. I was not only excited to share, but eager to learn, taking home vital points from fellow panelists and guests alike. This post is intended for anyone thinking about starting a food business or in the beginning months of one and I'm rooting for you! Whether you're aiming for a side hustle or you're taking the first step into a new life that sounds more fulfilling than the typical 9-5, I hope you find value in this post. I still feel like I'm a rookie, a white belt at this thing called Food Entrepreneurship, but that's an attitude I hope to always carry. Eager to learn and to start the conversation, I invite you to provide any feedback or questions below!
7 Things Every Aspiring Food Entrepreneur Should Know
1. New Jersey is one of only FIVE states that doesn’t have a Cottage Food Bill (this means it's illegal to sell your scrumdiddlyumptious treats from home) and the steps to overcome that are fairly easy:
- Form a Business Entity aka give birth your newest baby
- Certificate of Authority for collecting tax from your lovely patrons
- Find rental Kitchen Space to obtain a Health Certificate. Don't have a commercial kitchen or incubator in your area? (hopefully Hudson Kitchen will be in JC soon!) Look at Step 3!
- Get Insurance so you don’t get sued into smithereens
- ServSafe Certificate so you know how to wash your hands the right way! (amongst other stuff)
- I'm sure that's it.. haha. talk to these guys to make sure you're up to code
2. How do I get into Farmers Markets?
This is a question I get all the time, whether it's through text or email. Juggling a million things is the norm for a business owner (so they say) and I can't help but feel this guilt-filled NEED to ignore these texts to focus on my tasks of the day. It’s 2016 and the internet is either an infinite source of entertainment, or an infinite source of information. It’s really up to you!
So in order to have a guide I could send them to and to help myself stay focused on what I do, I decided to explain the extremely complicated process I did to get into flea and farmers markets in my area..
- Google: “flea farmers markets ::yourcityname::”
- okay, that’s pretty much the only step. Not so bad, right?
All of them have application information on their websites as well as guides and how-tos for getting all the required documentation i mentioned in step 1. You'd be surprised at how many times I get "how did you get into ______ market?" On all of the websites for these markets, on the landing page is usually a "Vendor application" tab or button.
3. If someone has a certified kitchen, they have a kitchen for rent. They just don't know it yet.
Trisha and I went all over the place looking for a commercial kitchen. Churches, firehouses, schools, catering companies, community kitchens, etc. They were pricey, far, and had no storage space. So what steps did we take to overcome that?
- Research and jot down all the kitchens in the area that are closed one day of the week (Mondays and Tuesdays are most common. Yelp does a great job telling you who's closed)
- Write up an amazing pitch basically telling them they get free money for doing nothing
- Write up a contract and an offer they can't refuse
- Mentally and emotionally plan on pitching to TEN people and EXPECT a NO.
We were lucky and got it on our first try, and we love the relationship we have with them!
4. Ask yourself.. What is your goal? What is your market?
Wholesale? Retail? Both? None of the above?
5. Always ASK and Utilize your local Small Business Development Center and/or Non-Profits.
As a student with aspirations of being an Occupational Therapist, the beginning of our entrepreneurial journey was full of 1000s of questions. Now I'm only down to around 500 questions a day, but still, you get the point! Luckily I had friends who have been through the ups and downs of owning a business that shared with me a few Dos and Don’ts.
In addition, the all-powerful google informed me about the Small Business Development Center in Jersey City. From business plans, to projections, to consulting, to anything! No question is too dumb, and all questions are answered by people with years of experience in the field. Best part.. it’s FREE.99.
6. Stop making excuses, and google the crap out any question you may have
Every now and then I'm catching myself setting a limitation on what we can do or where we can go with #Baonanas. Living in ignorance can be bliss, and opportunities are captured when we can conquer fear, doubt, and just plain down right ignorance. “how do i get into markets” “how should i approach them” “but how will i scale for when i get bigger” These are the types of things I used to ponder for days before being proactive about finding an answer. These are questions I get in texts and emails from aspiring food entrepreneurs. I'm flattered you approached me, but you could've found that out in 5-10 minutes of googling.
Whether it’s through books, audiobooks, friends, or the almighty google, all you know is what you know unless you bring in more information. Dreaming big just means making bigger moves, and you have every right to do everything in your power to make these moves more and more of a probability than a possibility. Whatever you’re going through or will be going through.. someone else has gone through it.. and there’s a real good chance they wrote about it. (.. like in this post)
7. Have a website!
Why? so you can write blog posts about 7 things you learned along your journey as a food entrepreneur. that’s why! but in all seriousness, the story of who you are, what you make, and why you do it is so hard to embody. I look at our website and I still feel like people only get a fraction of the love we’ve put into this adventure and into every ounce of #Baonanas we make. This is a website to not only show the who and why of what you are, but it’s a place where people can buy a wonderful pint or quart of artisanal banana pudding by clicking here. It’s also a platform where I can offer you 10% off your first order by signing up for our newsletter. haha, this is a place you could do things like that!
8. BONUS TIP I: Manage your time one step at a time!
For two semesters I was juggling 15-18 credits and #Baonanas while Trisha was finishing up her last semester of her undergrad. (RU ’15 rep yo set!) Have I always been good at managing time? NO. Did I magically become perfect at it? NO. Do i understand like many things in life it’s a journey and something that will always be a constant balancing act? YES. If you’re lucky, you get 8 hours of sleep every night and have 16 hours a day to do whatever you want. But of course, you have responsibilities! Your job, your kids, picking up groceries, running errands, your kids, spending time with the boo, etc. But are you reactively going through the day or proactively going through it? If it sacrificing one hour of tv time a day to learn more about starting a side-hustle-soon-to-be-turned-primary-hustle, that means getting just one step closer to your goals.
They didn’t pay me to plug them, but Trisha bought me the Passion Planner for my 23rd Birthday and my life has changed since then. Now, it’s rare when i have my version of baseball’s Perfect Game; when i list all of my responsibilities, hobbies, and leisure time for the week, and actually execute them all to perfection. But when I do, life feels great. Life feels balanced. I can hear the sweet sound of birds chirping in the air. Even on the days I come a little short I understand it’s the constant pursuit of executing these systems that make successful people successful. It's a balancing act!
Are you a Food Entrepreneur? Aspiring to be one?
Drop some knowledge gems or questions below!
Questions you could answer:
What books/podcasts/websites do you recommend for me and others?
What was your biggest lesson as a food vendor/entrepreneur/store owner?
Best investment you ever made?
Biggest life hacks for business?