As your business grows and matures, where you invest time and energy needs to change. Too many first time vendors get overwhelmed when they find out just how many steps it takes to operate a food business. Others get paralyzed just trying to figure out what to work to prioritize first. Don’t let this happen to you!
The goal of this post is to help you set specific business objectives to throw your time and energy into when the time is right. You don’t need to complete the steps of starting and growing a business all at once. In fact, it’s impossible to accomplish. Instead break this task into bite sizes pieces and complete them one at a time until you’ve hit your goal.
By following the advise outlined in this post, you’ll understand where your focus needs to be when when starting a food business. All that being said, let’s begin to establish some smart objectives for your early stage mobile food business.
Stage One: Planning for Business
At first your focus should be will be on planning for the future. What menu will you offer? How will you serve food (restaurant, food truck, catering)? How do I get startup capital to actually get going? Typically, you’ll compile all of this information into your business plan document.
The planning stage is an important first step in the startup process whether you’re planning to launch a restaurant, food truck, or an on the side catering business.
But after the planning is done and your business has been released into the world… You’ll need to quickly turn the focus from making plans to sales and revenue.
If you’re like me when I started the food truck, you don’t have much savings in the bank. This means you need to make money immediately after you open..
Although I started with a food truck and expanded into restaurant locations later, my advice is similar for new catering businesses or restaurants need to build immediate cash flow and market themselves on a budget in the early days.
One important caveat that needs to be mentioned. If this is your first business you probably won’t have all the time in the world to complete the planning for your business. You will need to make time for it. For many entrepreneurs that means researching and planning your business on evenings and weekends.
Stage 2: Finding Locations
Finding profitable locations was were I spent the early days of my business. I would drive to corporate office parks in greater Austin without nearby food options and get the contact information of the property manager that was usually listed on a sign somewhere.
Then I would call or email the property manager to see if I could bring the truck at a future date. The sell wasn’t very tough since the property manager didn’t need to pay me. It was a no risk proposal on their end and something that the tenants and employees inside the buildings enjoyed too.
This is how many food carts got their start… Traveling to different office parks.
Some locations, I would generate no more than $200 for lunch service. These were tough days, but I continued to look for new more profitable locations.
My strategy was to continue vending at locations that were profitable and quickly drop the spots that weren’t.
I continue to maintain list of locations that are profitable, not profitable, and prospective locations that I can “test out” in the future if a profitable spot turns unprofitable.
Good vending spots can dry up more frequently than you might expect as different businesses enter and leave a certain business park. You always want to have your next prospect ready when this does happen.
If you own a catering business you can take a similar approach something by offering to conduct pop-up events at office parks using a tent. If you own a restaurant, you can try something similar and offer a limited menu at office locations from a tent.
This is a proven way to generate sales when you have zero connections and you’re just starting out.
Stage 3: Private Catering – The End Goal
In the early days of your business, booking catering gigs, weddings, corporate events, or private parties is a game changer. One or two events per month can take you from losing money to robust profitability!
Keep this point top of mind when you’re serving at any event or location. These smaller routine services and events are the ones that lead to highly profitable catering events or festivals.
Many small business owners only take single-day profitability into when determining whether or not to attend an event, but you also need to think about who you might meet at an event or service that could help move your business forward.
The Final Word
This is a simple 3-step process to implement, but that doesn’t mean it will be fast and easy to accomplish. You could spend months in stage one planning to create right business plan and develop recipes for your business. This is totally normal and you shouldn’t be discouraged if it takes some time to organize this. After you get your food business up and running, it will be more difficult to find time for planning and strategy.
After you’ve built your plan, go all in on business development. Try new vending locations, apply to be in local festivals and events. In those critical first months of business it will be frustrating to see that some days you won’t bring in much money.
If you are able to accept this as part of the learning process, move forward, and continue to follow the objectives outlined in this post you can be successful in this industry. Work hard and stick to the plan.