1. Get certified. Get Educated.
If you want to be taken seriously by not only your customers, but your peers – get certified and educated.
Part I: A (personal service or catering) business license, appropriate (catering or personal chef) insurance, your local food safety management certification through the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and then of course, following the regulations and local city or county laws.
Educate yourself on local liquor laws, food transportation issues, etc. I would never hire or take seriously a caterer/personal chef that doesn’t carry insurance or tells me how they deliver their meals out of a cooler in their Pathfinders trunk. True stories!
Part II: If you don’t have a culinary degree or business experience, get some through your local community collegue, culinary school, culinary class outlet, local foodie clubs, associations and non-profits.
Listening to others experiences, gaining basic knowledge about accounting, business management or even cooking techniques. These gain you experience ‘in the field’ without even doing an actual ‘cook date’. They also help you build collegue references and give you an opportunity to ask all the questions you need answered about the ‘logistics’ of being the food business.
I will also insert into this section that it is probably important to join a personal chef association only if you have no idea how a daily personal chef business works. Most personal chef associations make you pay a horrible fee to be a member that allows you to get introductory information about the business and a listing on their website list of members. You need to decide for yourself if having an outline of what a day in the life of a personal chef is like is worth $500-$1500 for the first year and $150-$350 per year after that.
2. Figuring out ‘What you do’.
A good way to figure out what kind of cooking/service/product you want to provide is to first analyze your experience and then cross check that with what kind of client you want to cook for/service.
Middle-class, both parents work, with 2 or more kids? Fad dietiers? Young Professionals who want to eat in 2 minutes? Uber-rich busy people who don’t want a live-in private chef?
Everyone will say – of course – uber-rich people that will over pay me and I’ll be set for life! Be serious…99% of personal chefs across the nation serve the standard middle class, family of 4 with a bunch of freezer ready casseroles. I know one personal chef that makes 4 servings of 5 casseroles for $395, including groceries. Can you say – 90% profit!
This will help figure out not only your ‘service niche’, but your pricing, your demographics and that will lead to where you need to market – be it a local school board letter or just through your website.
3. Don’t quit your day job.
Sometimes it takes a while to build a client base, get your marketing going and just being ‘open for business’ with your website live and your phone on, just isn’t enough. For every person starting a new business there is a new path on how it happened or how it become to be a ‘full-time’ job.
One personal chef I know just starting cooking for a neighbor while they were recovering from chemo, the neighbor suggested they do this for a ‘job’ and through the clients referrals and the chemo-outpatient nurse, in 3 months they had a full time personal chef meal delivery service, niched for cancer treatment patients in out-patient. Another chef I know, after a year, never got more then 1 steady personal chef client. They tried to make ends meet by teaching cooking classes and barely a year after that they have flipped their business where 90% of it is teaching cooking classes and they will fill in a personal chef client when they have the time.
4. What are you willing to do to be famous?
It sounds like what a seedy holleywood studio manger would say to a young and beautiful, wanna-be starlet. Sadly, it is very translatable to the success of your personal business. And nothing is a guauntee.
Are you willing to work for next to nothing just to get your business name out there? Are you willing to negotiate your prices to keep that client? Are you willing to give discounts, donations to charities, etc.?
Some personal chefs I know are unwilling to do any of the above. Frankly, all of them are successful personal chefs that have been in the business for almost 10 years, as long as it has been around. I don’t truly think they understand what it takes to start a personal chef business today, now that there are over 300 personal chefs in my DC Metro area alone! You have to be competitive and sometimes, ‘discount’ yourself out.
When I started my personal chef business, I under priced everyone, trying to get any clients, even if they were cheap – and it was hard work. But I knew I had the focus and a product that would make this business successful. Therefore, as my business grew, so did my prices. In just a few years of service, I am making 3 times the amount I made when I started my business. And comparing myself others, my prices sit in the median-lower rang, so I still have room to grow – in fact, I can raise my prices at least 40% before I am in direct competition with some other expensive personal chefs in my area.
This is all up to you and how bad and hard you want to work to get your business started.
5. Marketing, marketing, marketing….marketing!
If you have ten clients a week or zero clients a week. Marketing needs to be a weekly shot into your business.
6. Do the basics:
Get a separate phone for your business. There is nothing worse then calling what you think is a business and there is some 3 year old on the answering machine saying ‘The Andy-sons ain’t home white now!” Would you leave a message? Then why would your customer. And with cheap cell phones, you can carry your business line with you all the time, ready to get that next client!
Get a website Be a million dollar site or a build it your self site for $10 with just your name, phone and email. I get 99% of my new business from my website and people always say “You have the best website” – “Your food on your website looked so good, I had to call you” – “Your menus are exactly what we want for our party”. The more information you provide on your website to your ‘niche’ (pictures, menus, faq’s) customer, the more you will weed out those that you don’t want to serve. My personal website advice – Don’t put your picture on your website unless your hot. Many a marketing researcher knows, people subconsciencly do not relate to unattractive people. And frankly, just keep your picture off your website altogether - whether you are hot or not – it is probably NOT a good idea. You might be putting yourself in danger, since you work mostly by yourself, in a strangers home - a pervert might figure this is a good way to get you alone in the ‘comfort of their home’.
Get an email account: Some people looking for caterers/personal chef will email you when they have time, meaning, it may be 2am after they have spent time with their significant other, after putting the kids to bed, after making dinner for family, after working until 8pm….come up with ‘auto-responses’ describing the basics of your business and some things that ‘hook’ a client into your niche. And for petes sake, please don’t use a personal account – like ‘MrsRobinson@aol.com or Drinkmorethanyou@hotmail.com’ – then you are advertising more than you would probably like to a potential customer.
Online listings: Get on any and all local and national website, email and business listings you can. Your goal…When someone googles your business name – you are the first listing that shows up. You want people to be bombarded with your business – because when you see a business advertised everywhere – don’t you think they must be a respected, well-known business…