Pardon me while I take a break from the usual food porn to talk about business.
Last Friday I went to The Foodie Bugle Lectures at Thyme at Southrop. I loathe to call it a “networking event”, because that phrase is horrible and would make it sound like an opportunist suit-and-tie shmooze fest. Instead, the lectures felt more like a casual hang-out with foodie friends to swap stories, inspire, eat and take in some serious Cotswolds countryside eye candy.
The premise of The Foodie Bugle Lectures was this: people with food businesses get together to talk about how they’ve succeeded, their biggest challenges, and the things they would have done differently if they could go back in time. The line-up of speakers included some of my own food heroes, particularly Trevor Herbert of Hobbs House Bakery, Chantal Coady of Roccoco Chocolate, food writer Thane Prince and Monika Linton of Brindisa. In the audience were people like me: people trying to make a business based around food.
The day was endlessly inspiring and massively interesting. I noticed a few common themes throughout the talks:
“The art of delegation”, Trevor Herbert’s phrase for enabling people in your company to make decisions. How do you do this? Through solid training and well-established processes that people can take charge of. Even I, with my minute business and just a few helpers, am quickly learning that there’s no point having employees if you don’t give them the training and confidence to do the work without constantly having to ask me for guidance. You hire people to save time, and they can only do that if they’re empowered to make good decisions.
Marketing is critical. Sounds obvious, but it’s the kind of thing that can go to the wayside when you’re dealing with day to day operations and trying to develop a product or brand. But just because you create something great doesn’t mean that people will come. It might be tempting to lay off marketing if money’s tight, but in fact, those are exactly the times when you should ramp up your marketing effort. I also like how Jane Cumberbatch put it: “you need to get your name about”.
Ask and ye shall receive. Seriously. Your business will not survive if you don’t talk to people and are bold in asking for support. I loved Monika Linton’s story about asking her milkman if she could borrow his refrigerators to store her cheeses in when she was just getting started. Just about ever speaker mentioned the help they received from other people in getting their business off the ground.
“I wish I had been a technical genius.” Most speakers mentioned the importance of technology and the internet in establishing and maintaining their business. The usefulness of Twitter was bandied about and it all ties back with what Pascal said: “you’ve got to get your name out there”. As someone trying to build a business helping foodies use the internet, it was pretty swell to hear that this was high on people’s minds.
One of the reasons I love about working with foodies is that events like these almost always involve really amazing food. At Thyme, we got that and some fantastically amazing scenery to go with it (it helped that the sun was shining and it was warm enough to lunch al fresco). Wild garlic frittata, sourdough bread, Tunworth cheese, and some sweet pickled plums that I can’t wait to try making myself when Mirabelle plums are in season again.
So why am I writing all this down?
The Foodie Bugle Lectures gave me pause to think about my own “food business”, something I should really write about more often because it underlies some of the things I try to do with this blog.
A little background: I studied mathematics, but somewhere along the way I discovered good food, and now I’m trying to figure out a way to make a business that involves food but still takes advantage of my training and inherent geekiness. So for the past year I’ve been building a business helping foodies rock the internet.
My business is at a critical point. I’m pretty saturated with work, and that’s awesome, but I would like to make more money. No, I’m not greedy, I’m just a self-employed person who would really like to buy a house someday and have a nice enough cash cushion to not have to think (worry) about money as much as I do.
But to get there, I need to grow my business. And to grow my business, I need to take some risks. And so that delegation thing really rang true. I need to offload some of my work to other people, and that means (a) finding good people and (b) training them well. I need to accept that it’s going to take time to do this well, and I need to be disciplined enough to take that time.
Of course, beyond delegation there’s the actual challenge of GETTING more business. And so I’m reminded, both through the stories told in the lectures and through the event itself, of the importance of talking to people. It’s a tough one for me. I mean, one of the reasons I love the internet is that it means I can communicate with people without having to meet them in person. It would have been so easy to just NOT go to The Foodie Bugle lectures, and so I must thank Rachel Demuth for inviting me along and encouraging me to go, because it would have been stupid not to. These are exactly the kinds of events I need to attend if I want to grow my business. I need to stop being so damn socially lazy. Because these people are friends as much as they are colleagues, and dammit, they’ve got great taste in food.
Hmm, there is a personal lesson in this: if there’s one thing that will help me overcome any personal obstacle it’s good food!
How does all this tie back to the blog? Well, if I had my way, my dream job would be this: to take pictures and write about food. But right now that’s just a hobby, and a very pleasant side effect of working with food people. In my dream future, my business would run itself (or I’d be independently wealthy), freeing up my time to do all the creating writing and picture-taking stuff that I want to do.
On that note, thanks to everyone at the Foodie Bugle Lectures for helping me, and everyone in the audience, keep the dream alive. See you at the next one.