We just celebrated our 2nd birthday in the most exciting way. We opened our very first cookie shop (see our last post)! We’ve learned so much since we started this cookie adventure and we wanted to share a few nuggets with anyone out there who is thinking about starting up or is just curious about our journey so far. We’ve learned by getting out there (tastings, markets, events, supplying to shops, cafes and restaurants), talking to other food producers and entrepreneurs and from myriad food events, training and conferences. Here are a few of our main lessons:
Starting a business is hard
Trust us. Everyone tells you it’s hard and you think you’re prepared for that but you’re not. It’s harder that you imagine. You will wake up every morning and fall asleep every night thinking about your business. You will obsess over every little decision and try to find the ‘right’ answer only to realise over and over that there is no right answer. You will be that boring person in your circle of friends who talks of nothing but work. People will tell you how lucky you are to be your own boss, and you are! You are living the dream. The dream that most people are too scared to live. But it won’t always feel dream-like. When you are washing dishes at 11pm after a 15 hour day in which you haven’t had time to eat– it won’t feel so glamorous. It’s also an emotional rollercoaster. The amazing feedback that you get from your customers will give you such a high. Such satisfaction! And when someone complains or isn’t fully happy with what you’ve delivered them it will be a stake through the heart. You will cry, you will sweat, you will feel truly exhausted. But, you will also feel pride, elation and job satisfaction like never before.
There are no overnight success stories in food
Every successful brand out there in food has taken years of hard work, dedication and adaptability. And even then, success is not guaranteed. So many food businesses fail due to external factors – wrong place, wrong time, a saturated market, recessions, a drought 20 continents away, the works. When you see amazing establishments with Michelin Stars closing, you start to understand how hard it is to be successful in food. All you can do is stay as informed as you can about food trends, changing customer expectations and hope you get the mix right.
Your product will not speak for itself
It should. But it won’t. People are a lot more complicated than you think and having ‘the best tasting’ sandwich, cake, cookie, drink, coffee, sweet, chocolate, cheese …… is not enough. People are not as practical and logical as we think when it comes to purchasing. They buy with emotion. We all want to perceive value in what we are buying – and value is not about money. It’s about what we perceive as value for money. As small businesses we have an edge over large corporations in that we can meet and talk to our customers every day. We can take feedback on board immediately and make adjustments easily.
People will take advantage of you
But that’s OK as long as you have your eyes wide open. You will be asked to give free samples, you will be ‘given opportunities’ to distribute your product for free at events for the networking opportunities. Other businesses will try and sell you software, equipment, support that you ‘must have’. Just be aware. Remember that you, your time and your products are valuable. If you are sampling or giving your product out freely make sure you know why and know what you are getting in return.
Help is at hand
There are fantastic supports available to food businesses. Between the Local Enterprise Offices with their Online Trading Vouchers, Priming Grants, Feasibility Grants and Export Grants; Enterprise Ireland with their Innovation Vouchers; Bord Bia with their Marketing Assistance Programme and Step Change Fund and great programmes like FoodWorks, Food Academy and many more. There are also great organisations like The Dublin Food Chain who host events throughout the year, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) and Bord Bia who host fantastic events that support businesses with information and networking opportunities. But, the best help, advice and support available out there is from other food producers. From simple things like information on markets and events, advice on insurance and other services, sharing of information on HACCP right up to sharing of equipment and helping each other out at events. This has been invaluable to us and we have been surprised at just how supportive a community food business is. We have now adopted a ‘pay it forward’ policy and try to help other small businesses out if we can. A rising tide lifts all boats as they say and the more each food producer can do to help grow the craft food industry, the more we all benefit. Our friends and family, as always, have been a steady and invaluable source of help and support, too. From pitching in at markets to listening to every madcap cookie idea to selflessly testing our new products, they are there. You know who you are and you are the best!
Starting a business is exciting
Last but not least – starting a business is exciting. People will respect you in a new way because you are now that brave person that they wish they could be. Planning your own path and seeing it happen before your eyes will make you feel more proud of yourself than you thought possible. Realising that you can make a difference in the world, that you can build something from nothing, that you can make your own path will change your life. No matter what happens, you will not regret trying and being that brave soul.