A Sweet Goodbye

A lot of things happened since my last post, and I have a hundred excuses for not posting earlier. But I’m not here to make excuses, I am here because I hate leaving stuff unfinished.

Last time, I said I would write all about how Yummy Paleo’s first event was.My partner who was there selling goods said it was great – it was a very nice start, as we assumed. Turns out, crossfit and paleo go great together (hint: every food has its crowd – it’s smart to try and find it as soon as possible)

However, many things happened since my last post. My partner and I decided to go our separate ways. She continues with her sweet paleo journey, and I am off to seek new adventures in user experience and business consulting as usual. Nothing too personal – it’s just a matter of dynamics and vision.

My mother once told me that every ending is  the first step towards something new…
The food business will always be in my heart – I remain a foodie with some awesome memories of how I helped make a very special bakery happen. So, I decided to remain true to my foodie heart and just share (from time to time) my experience visiting all kinds of eateries across the world here.

Thank you for being a part of this short and sweet journey. Now, off to my next adventure!

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The Price List

Once you have it all set up, customers are just magically start calling, right? Nope. Even though we did everything we thought of to get some customers and interest on the internet (you never know – your CFO might just grow into a serious full-time business), our phone remains silent and our mailbox is more or less empty. A mixture of guilt, fear of failure and panic kicked in. Now what?

My first instinct was: We have a cottage food business. It’s a local thing. Let’s just take our business cards, bake some goodies and try our luck at local cafes and other possible re-sellers. So we did. We went and visited a couple of potential local re-sellers – some of them we contacted beforehand via email or phone, but sometimes we just went there and left a business card together with some samples. First success (or so we thought) was when we brought a box of samples to a local coffee shop. The owner was actually there and she got to try our fresh batch of brownies. She loved it and asked for a price list. Funny thing – we never thought about it until she mentioned it (of course we didn’t say that!). So, we said we’d email it to her, but she had to give us her contact first (we gave her our business card).

We were so happy… But not for long. Making a price list can get really frustrating, especially when you are a total beginner that is just trying to get her first re-seller. We had no idea how to set the prices, so we turned the internet upside down. I still can’t stress enough how much this post helped us in setting a fair price that takes everything into account (who would have thought to consider the electricity and rent bill expenses as well). In only one day, we had the price list all figured out – for customers and re-sellers. However, we waited and waited, but the coffee shop owner did not contact us. But that didn’t stop us from calling there and asking for contact info ourselves. So, we got the email address, sent the list, and waited for a response. Nothing. Things like this can really discourage you as a beginner, but you just have to keep moving on. There are plenty of possibilities out there – don’t bet everything just on one (no matter how perfect it seems to you at that moment). Keep looking, and don’t lose hope.

When looking for a potential re-seller, it is good to know your customers first. Trying to partner-up with a business that sells to a completely different crowd from your target one is obviously not the best idea. We learned that people who go to crossfit are often experimenting or seriously practicing a paleo lifestyle, so we decided to find a studio nearby. Great success! The owner let us have a tasting party at their studio, and she was impressed. We got into first serious talks and she even ordered some goodies AND offered to let us have a table at their upcoming event. Now I really have to go back to making that chocolate for the event. Next time, you’ll hear all about it 🙂

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Showtime

So, we got approved and finally got our business license. We didn’t have much time to talk about how to get customers and where we would sell our stuff, let alone discussing a logo or colors… It was clearly time to make a basic checklist and start working on our brand.

Yummy Paleo. The name was already a part of our daily vocabulary. Heck, the inspector that came to see our home kitchen even thought it was my business partner’s name! That really made us laugh, but at the same time, it worried us a little. So many people still didn’t know what paleo is, and have never heard about the Paleo Diet. There was not much we could do about it – we already had the name registered, and now that I look back, it really sounds funny how this worried us. With this name, we actually called out to people who understand what it is directly and those curious enough to ask and give our products a try. It’s a great conversation starter, too. But just the name is far from enough. We needed to think about the looks and voice, too. We needed a logo and a voice. Of course, right then the most important question hit us: Where are we going to get our customers? How will they find us?

1. The Look
We needed a logo and something to show to our potential customers. Logo was first. It took a while and a bunch of questions, such as: will it be a typographic logo or an image? Do we need both? What colors should we use? How will it work on our website? Will it work in black/white? On print? To be honest, I think we exaggerated. In the end, we picked the first idea that was simple and just worked with that. Since CFO means you’re starting small, you don’t need a full graphics team to make a simple logo for your business. At least not right away, that is 🙂
As for the color, there was no debate. Lea loves green. It is by far her favorite color. Everything she wears, buys, likes, is green. As a nice metalhead, I was reasonable enough to know that it wouldn’t be the best idea to use bloody skulls and all-black for a sweet natural bakery, so I went with it. Of course, I still decided to play around with my own line of dark chocolate – a black and bronze combination of deep and dark natural flavor …

It is beautiful how two people can put their differences aside for the sake of good business harmony. By the way, our spiral logo was inspired by petroglyphs.

2. Show Off

If you are going to talk to people about your business, you should really have a business card or at least a channel to direct them to for more information. We have a license to sell to resellers, so it was vital to have business cards with contact info. Also, we wanted to show what we’re making and how we started. So, we decided to put up our own website. Thankfully, we got a lot of help from our husbands (with design and programming) who were glad to help.
We took some smaller steps towards our potential customers. You see, it only takes a couple of minutes to create a group on Facebook, set up a Twitter account for your business, and you can reach so many people… So if you’re not comfortable setting up a website and all that – just do the simpler steps first – as a CFO, you’ll have to operate locally either way. But do what you can. Heck, we even published our short story just to show off: http://edgartells.me/embed/5413262c4288820b00bfd9e1.

3. Quality

However, none of the online accounts, posts and shares help if you don’t have a good product. It should go without saying that whatever you make, it has to be fresh, look delicious, and taste amazing! It has to leave people craving for more. But tastes are different, right? How to know you have a good thing?

Here is what I propose: Test your products, hand out free samples, get feedback and listen! Yes, you can start with friends and family as soon as possible, but try elsewhere, too. Family and friends are not necessarily the most objective crowd – I know my mom would eat almost anything I make and be ecstatic about it, even if it tasted like cardboard …
Find a local coffee shop or fair or just look for a Farmers Market and talk to the owner. Ask them if you can bring some goodies for people there to try. Here’s a secret: I haven’t met a person that would say no to a free sweets testing 🙂 Plus, this way you’ll get honest feedback (see how many pieces are eaten, if there are a lot of leftovers, and if people come asking for more) and even get an opportunity to get a new reseller or a place to sell (if the owner likes your product, of course).

We’ll talk about building customer and business relationships later on. Now it’s time to do the fun stuff. Bake, decorate, figure out the packaging and start handing out goodies! But don’t forget  to give the customers a chance to get back to you, and remember (or write down) their feedback.

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We’ve covered why and what we want to do, and decided we were going to start our food business small. It was one of those “Now what?” moments, paired by “Are we really doing this?”. It was clearly time to make it official.

California Homemade Food Act makes it much easier for people to try out their food business ideas with very little expenses and almost zero risk. We looked into it. I must say, CFOs have many limitations and really isn’t for everyone. Make sure you do your research and talk to your county’s Health Department and City Hall about all the rules and restrictions. I am glad we did. With all the knowledge we got from asking all imaginable questions and sending dozens of emails to the Health Department and Business Development at the City Hall (thank you, guys, you were great!) we finally managed to use these limitations as strengths and build on them.

Being prepared and knowing when to get each paper is key here. While it is smart that you talk to appropriate advisers in your county about your special case, I have found that getting all the papers together the fastest and with the least complication, would go like this:

  1. Landlord’s Approval
    If you don’t own your house/apartment, talk to your  landlord first. Without their approval, you won’t be able to start your CFO. It took us a lot of time and energy to explain to our property manager (who had to explain it all to the property owner) that we won’t change anything on the property, won’t be advertising on the property, and will not be involved in any illegal activity (like making marijuana cookies or something). Of course, you also need to assure your business doesn’t disturb the neighbors (and keep  all your promises!). Don’t forget they are doing you a favor, so thank them with a sample box, full of your goodies 🙂
  2. Class A or B?
    Do you only want to sell directly to customers or are you going to try to partner up with restaurants and stores in your county (Third Party Permitted Food Facilities)? We wanted this option, so we applied for a CFO-B. However, that means we needed to have our kitchen inspected by the Health Department annually. This permit also costs a little more (it cost us about $200), but we figured it can really help us boost our sales, so we went for it anyway. For CFO-A, you need registration with the local enforcement agency and approval of your local environmental health agency.
  3. Fictitious Business Name Statement
    Before writing your name on business and other permit applications, it is best that you get a hold of your business name statement. As I was told, I could only avoid getting this statement (and having to pay to file for it) if I chose that the business will carry my name and last name. Of course this was out of the question for Lea and I, so we searched the business name base (as well as domain name options for our website) and applied for it as soon as we could. We just went to the Clerk-Recorder’s Office and filed in person (it is much faster than sending papers back and forth, plus you always get some useful info from the nice people who work there). And don’t forget to publish your new fictitious business name in a local newspaper if that is needed in your county (we had to).
  4. Food Handler Certificate
    Everyone who will be in contact with food that will be sold, is required by law (at least in California) to get a Food Handlers License. It was pretty straight forward that Lea will take care of this one, so she chose one from the list of approved courses. She says it takes you about a day to study the material and complete the test. But then again, it all depends on your experience and prior knowledge.
  5. Your Local Health Department
    To apply for your business license, you need approval from the Environmental Health Department in your county. As far as we know, the requirements differ greatly among counties, so it might be a good idea to get in touch with them and explain what you want to do before applying for a review of process. We filled out the application and soon got a call to schedule an inspection for our kitchen.
    To file for this approval, we needed:
    – Business name: That is why it’s good to have your name officially confirmed (Fictitious Business Statement) by now.
    – Food descriptions: A brief description of what kind of foods we will be making. I highly recommend looking at the checklist thoroughly so you don’t find out you can’t make a certain food item because it contains something it shouldn’t. As soon as it is something perishable, it can be a problem.
    – Label samples: There is always a lot of talk around this. We kept asking and asking about this and that… At the end we submitted a food label for each food item (e.g. chocolate muffin, cocoa brownie, almond cake pops), but for only one taste variety. We might end up making vanilla muffins, but we didn’t need to submit a special label just for the change in flavor. We will have to submit new labels for new food items, e.g. if we decide to make croissants and didn’t provide a label for that before.
    – Food Handlers Permit/Certificate: You will need to write down your certificate number. It can be done and updated later, but I don’t recommend doing it that way. You can forget about it easily with all things happening at once.
  6. Inspection
    Because we applied for CFO-B, we signed up for an annual kitchen inspection. We were worried that we forgot something or that they might ask us something we don’t know. Of course, everything was fine at the end. We just needed to update our labels and correct the size of the text that says Made in a Home Kitchen, as it was required in the application.
    From our experience, I would advise a couple of things before inspection:
    – Have a clean kitchen and food storage room
    – Have a proper thermometer and keep the required temperature in your fridge (check with your health department – about 34 degrees Fahrenheit was OK for us)
    – Chlorine Test Strips to test the water you are using
    – Have the ingredients you will be using for your business properly stored
    – Have a dedicated space with your food packaging/boxes/bags.
  7. Sellers Permit
    This one was tricky for us. We left it out completely and were shocked to learn at the business licensing window, that we absolutely need this permit to get our license. We were so close to getting the permit, we just filled out the fully online form on a smartphone while the nice lady waited for our permit number. Of course, it didn’t all just happen that easily. After re-applying five times because the system crashed and one phone battery died, we finally got the permit. But the online version didn’t show the number, so we had to call and a very nice employee faxed it into the office immediately.
  8. Business License and Zoning

    The last step in the process. You can go on with this one once the Health Department approves you. I believe they always send the approval to the City Hall and you, but it is best to check with them when you file for approval.
    As soon as we got approved, Lea and I went straight to the City Hall. A piece of advice here: Ask for a business license application for a CFO Business (We made a mistake of not telling what kind of business we will be opening and ended up filing out the wrong form first time).
    Once we had the right form, we took it back home to fill it out and provide all that was needed with it:
    – Fictitious Business Name Statement (copy for Business License)
    – Landlord’s signature of approval (Basically saying they let you operate on their property) and contact information
    P.S. Zoning is still a mystery to me – we were lucky the nice lady at the office checked where the building was and San Leandro’s tax holiday and free zoning this year really made the whole experience even nicer.

    There you have it – this is how we did it. Once you know what do start with and take it from there, it is all much more simple, not to mention faster. I hope this helps you at least a little bit – I know it would have saved us a lot of time for sure.

 

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5 Essential Steps Towards Your CFO

I’ll admit – Even if you have been around in a family business and have a lot of experience and knowledge about running a business, it can still become pretty overwhelming. This is why I decided to make a summary and point out the 5 essential steps that helped my friend and I bring our bakery idea to life.

1. Set a clear WHY
So you want to open a home food business. First, you really have to know WHY you are doing it and what are you going to do to achieve it. What goals are you achieving with this business? There will be ups and downs. You will be in doubt, others will try to get you down, and you will question yourself why you are even doing it. That is why your vision should not be only something you have written down in your business plan or something that you have to tell people so that they will like your business. Think hard. Why are you doing it? What does your business do that makes it so different/better than others? What is your specialty? Keep that in mind, at all times, in all that you do. You might even be able to sneak it into your business name.

2. Loose ends first
Take care of the special details in your business endeavor. For instance, if you are renting your house or apartment, you will need permission from your landlord. It is best to talk to them and see if they are ready to let you open a home business. Make sure you know what you would be doing, if and how it will affect your environment, and discuss the details with the landlord. They might be skeptical if you don’t know the details of how you will be operating your business.

3. Plan small and tweak along the way
Yes, you need a business plan. But you don’t need a 100-page elaborated, detailed chunk of tables, graphs and research results. Start small. Make a one page business plan</strong> that you will grow along with your business. Remember, your entire plan might change drastically sooner than you would think. For instance, my plan was to sell my products online, but then I figured that setting up an online store for a CFO that ties you to a county you operate in (well, you could ask for permission in other counties, but you might want to wait with that) was not the best idea after all.

4. Get all the papers
Do your research and find out what are all the documents you’ll need to open a CFO. Order them by priority (e.g. you can’t file for a business license without approval from the Health Dept, you can’t get a Health Dept approval without a Food Handlers License etc). I did my reading and talked to professionals, and still ended up filling for a seller’s permit online at the City Hall so that I could finally get my business license.

5. Don’t just sit and wait
Getting papers and permits takes time. Make sure you do all you can in the meantime. Think about packaging, pricing, delivery and selling options, research your competition, decide on your marketing strategy and keep your limits in mind (you are still a CFO, so remember the rules). Talk to people. Let them know what you are doing and tell them when approximately you will be opening your business. Get business cards as soon as possible, and make sure you keep in touch and let the same people know when you’re in business. There might be some guys that will try to talk you out of it or offer advice you don’t need, but that’s OK. Just stick to your vision and keep moving.

I hope these steps will make the whole beginning faster and easier for you. After considering these, there’s really nothing left but to take care of those papers! More on this in my next post.

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First Big Decision

“Once you find your passion, everything just comes together,” they say. Don’t fall for that.

It’s never easy. Finding your passion is just beginning of a very complicated journey. Sometimes even painful and devastating, but more rewarding than anything else – This, I must say, is true.
First, you absolutely need a plan. Not the super-foolproof-detailed-100-page business plan with fancy charts and all kinds of calculations that you paid a fortune for. Just a solid plan that describes what you are going to do, how you are going to do it, and most importantly – why you are going to do it (Thanks to Simon Sinek, this is the first thing I think of when I do business). After that, decide what your short-term and long-term goals are and what you are going to do to reach them – create a short action plan… I’ll just stop being a smartass here and explain how it all went on with Lea and I.
So, we knew we wanted to do something with food. She wanted to bake and I had the knowledge and experience to help. My first thought was: “We must take it slow. No huge investments, just nice and sweet baby steps. We need to think this over and do it right (I still remember so many of my parents’ “small” mistakes that really turned ugly)”. But let’s leave my paranoia for now, and focus on the thing we had to do at that moment. We needed to roll up our sleeves and get to it, otherwise it would all just stay an idea. So… What is the first giant wall that takes days of brainstorming, getting into fights to all friends and family and sleepless nights? I am not kidding, I know that many have even dropped the whole idea because of this step. That terrifying question is: What should I name my business?
We all know that you will need a website, business cards, and all kinds of marketing materials that will carry your name. It is almost like naming your child. Going by a strange, complicated, or just forgettable name can really screw you at the very start. Here’s how we did it:

1. Revisit your story.
Your name should reflect your vision. We decided to open a paleo bakery – Lea is gluten and dairy intolerant, and has been on a paleo diet for two years now, so it was obvious we decided to help out people with allergies to gluten and dairy by making sweets that taste delicious and contain only the best organic and natural, minimally or unprocessed ingredients. It didn’t take long before we found out that “paleo” was the most googled diet last year, and it went beautifully with the type of sweets we were about to offer. So it was decided: “It has to be Paleo-something!”

2. Do your research.
Before you get all excited about one single idea, take your time and try to make a few word combinations that can serve as backup. We encountered our first problems when searching the chosen name online. Of course, “All the best domains are already taken” and “I’m out of ideas” could be heard while we were frantically typing every name our brain produced into the search window. Finally, we coined a simple and sweet combination: Yummy Paleo. It was just perfect, and the domain wasn’t taken yet, plus, it didn’t cost 1 million dollars. Great success! 🙂 Little did we know, we were very lucky – At that time we didn’t know we still had to search the directory of fictitious business names that already exist and file for a fictitious business name, with a name that has not yet been taken. I also found out later that the only case in which you don’t need a fictitious business name statement is using your own name and surname – but I believe this is applicable only to home offices and very limited solo business endeavors.

3. Take your pick.
By this time, you are left with one or two names that cover all the rules and criteria. All you need to do now is just pick one that seems to say most about what you do and why you do it. Now is the time to check with friends and family and present them with only 3 picks. However, I have to warn you – at the end, you still might go with the name that got the least votes. That’s OK. It means you have made your first huge step towards your business.

Lea and I chose Yummy Paleo, and we still like it. It carries our core values and provides people with just enough information to get them interested or just turn them off at once. That is what every aspiring CFO-er should do. Be bold, direct, and carry your name with pride. Some will like it, and some won’t – and that just means you’re on the right track. Next step? The most excruciating one to me – sorting out formalities to actually open and start your business.

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Food Enterpreneur by Heart

I have to admit, I did everything in my power to get out of catering, restaurants, and pubs. Having grown up with parents who opened one business after another, switching homes like underwear has been pretty exciting. But, as years passed by, it just got more and more exhausting. If you grew up in a catering family, you know exactly what I am talking about. Forget your dreams, this is the family catering business. It pays your bills and the roof over your head. Of course you have to help out for free and you owe it all your “free” time. I helped out in all imaginable roles, from working as a waitress at a crazy country pub, to serving as part of the head staff at a 5-star restaurant, to delivery girl, accountant, recruiter, receptionist, marketer, business strategist, partner, manager, and probably some more jobs I forgot about. At the same time, I was stubbornly completing my university degrees (I have two of those). Why? To get the *bleep* out of this forsaken business that sucks up all your time, energy, and in some cases, even sanity.
As faith would have it, I moved to USA from Europe almost immediately after getting my second degree. I left my job as an ESL teacher and Education Consultant, eager see if there is any American Dream left for me. I stayed confident: “I’ll look for any job but catering. But, if all else fails, I can still work as a waitress – they always need those, no matter what continent you live on.”
What followed was months of despair. I sent out about a hundred of job proposals and even landed some interviews and even some occasional projects that might be called “jobs” by some. I was miserable.
While sorting out all the documentation I needed to become the proud new Californian resident, I got a neighbor. She came here from the same country as me. When it came to what we actually want to do now that we’re here (our husbands are coworkers, and we all got relocated because of their jobs), we were both in the dark. We both knew we had to take advantage of the opportunity to do what we want to do, what we’re passionate about… But not everyone knows their passion, and trying to find it can be so hard it might result in something very similar to a nervous breakdown or two. After a couple of months, my new friend found it. Still having no idea what my own lifelong passion is, I listened to her, half happy, half envious. “I just want to bake,” she said. The girl decided to forget all about her IT studies (she was getting a Doctorate, but dropped out) to bake. I’ll never forget this feeling. It was liberating and imprisoning at the same time. “I know you know a lot about the food business, so I would really appreciate your help”. My answer? I didn’t even take time to catch my breath. “Of course, it’s gonna be awesome!” It took less than a second. It was a moment of clarity that I was looking for. Not caring about what it would mean, how it would work, how we’re going to do it, I just said yes to more or less what I’ve been running from half of my life. And it felt great!
I guess it really is like my older brother said: “It’s not just business. You can never run from something like this. You have been living it all your life. You know it in and out. It would be crazy to throw it all away. It is a part of you, and you won’t be happy until you find a way to make it work.”

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