I didn't choose the street life..the street life chose me
For the last two years, I have been grafting away in the unforgiving street food scene. In battling with the elements, a 3 tonne milk float that gets overtaken by runners and finding my feet in a cliquey industry, I think I have finally found my purpose. Having spent much of my time struggling to determine what it was I wanted from a career in food, I have been blessed with the opportunity to give my own thing a fair whack. This part of my blog is going to document my journey as a young chef into a business owner and hopeful food entrepreneur.
The battle and struggles have already begun in the back office but KoMex is on the right path. I have wrapped my head around with how I want this business to identify, where I see our place in the market and where I would like to see us go. I have learnt a lot from my previous employer who was at the forefront of the industry but unfortunately had to step away. I have learnt a lot from other traders who are big names in the industry and have helped me a long the way. The challenges I expect to face in the next few months are daunting but not enough to shy away from.
My first month as a self-employed food business owner has presented a few challenges like the following, but I have found solutions;
Bureaucracy - treat it like you would a restaurant
I have a 8 point checklist to get through before I start trading. The legal documentation you need to get one of these businesses going is infuriating but necessary and it is for your safety and the protection of your employees and the customer. The first thing you should do is register the business with companies house and then register with your local council. NCASS are a great help with health and safety etc.
Getting in some business
Organising space to trade is pointless unless you have all of your documentation and registration details, so get it all ready as soon as you can. The next challenge is convincing someone that your brand is strong and your food is delicious without having a site to prove it. So do dinner parties, supper clubs and events and get as much photo content as you can. A lot of markets are organised by the local council but some are organised by street food collectives like Kerb and Street Feast and these are much better organised and better to work with in my opinion. However, they are notoriously hard to get into.
Branding and menu development is the fun (and easy) part
Whilst it is absolutely necessary to have a strong brand with a memorable logo, concept and website/social media channels. These things are secondary to figuring out the operational side of things. When it starts to get real, you need to know how you are going to get your equipment from A to B, where you are going to prepare food, where you are going to store stuff and how organise your service when you do begin to trade. First impressions in this industries are everything if you intend to hype yourself up for a big launch, so make sure your operation is as smooth as possible before you start trading.
Surround yourself with people you trust
I have been lucky enough to keep some good friends around me that have been very helpful in areas that I struggle. Support from friends and family is essential to growing a business and you need people to bounce ideas off and ask advice from.
BUILD a strong business plan
Initially your business plan will look like a right mess. But it will help you gather your ideas and unless you are pitching to investors, it doesn't need to be that well polished. Over the first few months of set up and trading you can keep looking and improving your business plan based on the challenges you have faced and changes you have made along the way. By the time you are ready to expand and are looking for investment your business plan should look much more professional and be concise and clear to an outsider looking in.
Really believe in your concept and strategies
You can pick out the great pretender a mile off. Those who cook exclusively vegan food that aren't vegan, a mexican vendor who doesn't know an taco from a quesadilla or bloke cooking pad thai that hasn't seen a wok in his life. For KoMex kitchen, our concept is unique yet simple but our strategies will set us apart. They involve a sustainable and healthy plant-based dish (with a meat option) with a strong focus on reducing packaging and food wastage. This strategy derives from my own personal agenda and something I can really get behind. This structure will help when selling as the customer will believe your passion and buy into it.
Harness the power of social media
Social media can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Instagram in particular can make or break a business so it is particularly important to know how to manage your page.
Don't launch too early
it is important to create hype but try to avoid launching until you have a location in which your audience can come and try your food. Build up your content over the first couple of months of setting up so you have enough to keep up your engagement with your followers
Know when to post and how to promote yourself
You can use apps like UNUM to manage when you post and it will advise you times when your posts will be most effective.
Keep your content interesting
Try to keep your content varied and try to use engaging information to keep your followers interested. I am running this blog alongside my instagram page as well as doing my "recipes from home" instagram stories. This variety will hopefully be a bit more interesting than seeing the same image of my food in different locations.
These guys will spread your message and all you have to do is give them some free food. So learn who the influencers are in your industry and get in contact when you have a finished product in a good location to offer them
Expect to be skint and work hard for little return
Running your own business isn't easy and you will be lucky if you are able to take a salary for at least 6 months, so you will be living hand to mouth most of the time. It is so important to work out your costing, break even point, budget and cash flow forecast before you get going so you can work out your own personal budget. The nature of a food start up is that nothing is guaranteed so legislate for that. This may mean taking part time work to pay the bills or getting personal loans but don't let this stop you. You are living the dream and you are your own boss finally. (i think that last part was a 'note to self')
The best thing about it, is being able to cook for your buddies!