Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Food Enterprise Workshop

Last week I took a step further in turning my cake love into a business, and went to a free, 2 day workshop/course run by my local council and a company called the Food Enterprise Workshop. Its a free course, run at the indoor market, for anyone over 18 living in the city centre thats interested in starting a food business. The first day is all theory, and then the second day you make your food idea and 'test trade' it.
The first day was really good and so helpful, I took so so many notes. There was me, a couple that want to make healthy milkshakes (as well as their farming, marquee business, being a firefighter, milking..etc etc, multitasking to the extreme) and then a woman on her own wanting to make vegetarian food from around the world.

 On the Wednesday, I absolutely legged it there to be precisely on time, and everyone else was late! I thought I'd got the wrong place, even the guy running it wasn't there. (re read that, I WAS ON TIME, this is a rare thing) This first day, it was all business advice, legal info etc. I realised it was crazy for me to be able to access this information for free, and I wrote down everything! I have a notebook now thats nearly half full of just notes from this, the guy writing it said hes never had anyone take so many notes. We started by introducing ourselves, going through our ideas, and then what we wanted to achieve from doing the workshop. I felt like I had the best idea of what I wanted to do, and the most experience of my food idea. The couple had never actually made a milkshake ( ! ) but wanted to use local farmers produce for their product. The other lady seemed to have a good idea, making vegetarian foods from all cuisines, but then wasnt sure if this would be a delivery tiffin service, or a platform for cooking lessons, or something else, but had already quit her job to pursue it..!
We talked through marketing, thinking about target markets, how to find/get/keep/develop customers, and having something interesting to keep people coming back. 
Then we talked about the product, and being able to think of the process it takes, if you could teach it to employees, and how to plan for big orders. I need to think of a USP, a 'unique selling point'. There was a lot of mentions that everyone makes cupcakes, and he said he felt bad because thats what he uses as his example of something thats everywhere. I said that you get a lot of little bakeries and nice cafes in London, but there wasn't really anywhere like it in town/the surrounding area (and of course that everyone needs cake). I said I can do gluten free, and could offer things like vegan etc on demand, as an extra selling point. I know I need to find that point that makes my business unique, but thats maybe still needing development.
He said you could think you have the most unique idea, but if theres no market for the product, (i.e its too weird) no one will try it. I.e. you may want to make food from your far off country, but if there is no one that wants to buy or try it, you won't sell it.
We went through pricing, direct and indirect costs and calculating your profit and margins and breaking even. He said you still need to factor in that if this is your only income, you don't just need to cover the ingredient costs but you need to be making enough to pay rent and bills etc.
Theres three pricing bands, economy, premium, and luxury, and he said to think where you would put yourself, if you're really cheap, youre less desirable, but if you price yourself out of your market, its not worth it.
In term of place, we talked about landlord permission, registering with the council and food safety, and keeping records of cleaning/temperatures etc. And of course, register with HMRC.
He said think about your pricing carefully, because you could be priced cheap now when you have less overheads, but if you move to premises where your costs are higher, your unit price will go up but you will lose your loyal customers who dont want to pay more. 
I need to get my food hygiene certificate too, and apparently Level 2 is the one. Level 1 is too basic, but I can do a day course with the council for £40. Its apparently better to do it in person, so someone can explain it to you, and then just renew it online.
Then we talked about promotion, brand identity and displaying products, how important it is etc. The other three were middle aged and kept saying things like, oh I don't understand the internet, oh I'm not on that Facebook thing etc. I found this really annoying, I think the internet has a huge part to play in business, and can be invaluable for promotion.
Finally we had lunch and I got a break but then I met mum, grandma and aunty and just talked about it all again for half an hour! After lunch, we went through what you should put in a business plan, why you need one, and where you can get templates. This seems like a huge task, but he explained that not only will it be what you need for getting a loan etc, its a good way to plan out for yourself your whole business idea, and you'll have something to refer back to as you go.
Then we talked through legal requirements, tax and VAT, health and safety requirements, risk assessment..trading standards..licensing..insurance..requirements for premises..food hygiene..etc etc etc!! I felt like a note writing machine.
After another little break, we got down to discussing what we were going to make for Friday. It turned out we didn't really have that much time on the day to make the idea, and so I decided to make a lot of my idea at home, to save time (and be able to use my familiar kitchen). When we left, I left my ideas a bit up in the air, and resolved to decide later.
The test trading day is giving out free samples on a kind of pop up part of Leicester Market, with the idea of getting feedback and being able to ask questions to the general public on your business idea. Based on the sample idea, I thought it would be better to be able to give out mini cupcakes instead of a part of a big cupcake, so that you can still get the idea of the cake as a whole. However, in one of my many notebooks, I'd listed all the things that are kind of 'tried and tested', and wanted to offer something other than cake. I settled on making a batch of marshmallows, because even though they take 12 hours to set, they make 70-80 pieces, and theyre really a special thing to give out. 
 I decided to make a couple of flavours, and not stick to boring ones like vanilla or lemon. I made Zebra cupcakes, which is vanilla and chocolate but striped when baked. A variation on a marble cake I guess, but much cooler..! I overdid it on trying to get too many layers, so maybe you lost the effect a little, being that the cakes are so tiny. I also made Red Velvet cakes with cream cheese icing, which have a good visual effect, being so bright.

 This is the huge marshmallow setting on my table!
Friday morning was a bit of a rush, and I took so much stuff with me I didn't even use. But here's our little stall, my cakes on the left, Seema's thai fritters in the middle, and Robert and Caroline's milkshakes on the end.
It was a great experience and we did get some good feedback, but I felt it was pretty quiet. It did rain a little and wasn't so warm, but I'd hoped for quite a busy day.
Its left me feeling that I CAN do this, and that I have a much clearer idea of steps I need to take to become a proper business. The first hurdle is sorting my tenancy out though, it definitely says I can't run or register a business at my address.