This week I want to talk about how complacency can kill your business (or at least hurt it). I run a personal chef business, and have been doing it for 11 years now. When I started out doing it on the side, I was a little scrappy. I did guerrilla marketing. I did a lot of networking. I was regularly sending out my email newsletter. As my business and customer base grew, I slowed down on some of those tactics.
Fast forward to this summer...business kind of sucks, and I realized that I hadn't been paying attention. I'd become comfortable, and complacent. It could have taken me out of the game completely. So I wanted to share this mini, solo podcast as a cautionary tale, because it's important for me to share my failures in addition to my successes (maybe even more so).
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I know I know I'm supposed to be on break, right? If you've been listening to the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast, you may know that I am on a break and the show will be coming back on September 6. I have some great guests lined up, including Brad Leone, formerly of the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen, Chef Cory Seagal, Scott Blackwell of High Wire distilling in Charleston, Kara may Harris of old line plate, and Rollie Wessen. From the Jacques Pepin Foundation, just to name a few. I guess I should drop a quick intro in here before we get rolling. So this is Chris spear. And you're listening to Chefs Without Restaurants, the show where I usually speak with culinary entrepreneurs and people working in the food and beverage industry outside of a traditional restaurant setting. Okay, so there's a number of reasons I took a break for the past couple of weeks, one of which is it's summertime and my kids are home, I've had a lot going on. And I wasn't really having a lot of time to edit episodes. But there's a reality that I haven't really been talking about. And that's that my personal chef business was struggling a bit. I think a lot of times people like myself, you know, people who have podcast talking about business, often they only talk about the successes and not the failures, which I think is dangerous. And I want to be transparent here because my show has always been about helping people build and grow a profitable food business. So I have my own personal chef business, perfect little bites, many of you probably know, and I got a little complacent. And my business has struggled because of it. Not just because of it. But you know, maybe partially, and it's been scary. You know, this summer has not been great for business. It's not always my busy season, but this year was particularly bad. Like June, I think I made $2,500. And that's before expenses. I can't live on that. And thank God, my wife has a job. But I realized that a lot of what has led to my success I hadn't been paying attention to I took my eye off the ball. So I needed to spend some time refocusing on my business. I think I got a little complacent. I've talked about how I grew my business through Airbnb, and vacation rentals, which I think is an amazing route to go. I did a whole podcast episode on that. But what I wasn't really thinking about and paying attention to was the fact that I think maybe seven of the Airbnbs that I had been consistently working with over the years have closed for whatever reason. I know one of them sold another one of them, they decided to just convert it back to a residential house. And you know, I seen them on social media saying, Hey, we're selling the property. It's been great, thanks. Okay, fine. And then a couple months later, it would happen again. And I wasn't really continuing to reach out to new Airbnbs, which I should have been doing. So fast forward to this summer, man, you know, my business is down. Well, if I'm getting so much business through Airbnb s, and seven of them that I've been working with have gone out of business, that's a problem, I should have been continuing to reach out. But I got comfortable, I got complacent, if that's what you want to call it. I used to get a lot of referrals from other personal chefs in my local area. And again, I know some of them are no longer doing it. Because you know, for one thing, the personal chef thing is so hard, and it just didn't work out. And they want to do other things. So if they're not getting hot leads that they can't take care of. Again, this is another revenue stream for me that I've now lost because they're not sharing these referrals. And this is something that I hadn't really thought about either. And it wasn't until business was really down that I sat and thought, hey, where have my customers typically been coming from. So now I have less Airbnbs that I'm working with, and have less chefs sending me referral business. And then there's things that I don't know if it contributed, you know, I can look at things like I was in two different Chamber of Commerce's. One of them was here in Frederick, Maryland, where I live, and one was in Alexandria, Virginia. And you know, during the early days of COVID, they weren't doing in person events, which is something that I really got a lot of benefit out of. And one of the reasons that I wanted to be part of these chambers. So I just continued my membership, it was a lot of money for just virtual, you know, events, whatever. And I just didn't rejoin, even though they're now doing in person events. And I don't know, I never really felt like I got a lot of business from them, per se. But again, you never know where your business is coming from. So I'm not in those chambers anymore. I had magnets on my car for advertising. I didn't go the full rap route. But I did have two magnets on the side. Who knows if they ever actually even worked, but my car was in an accident, and I had to have the car detailed. Pull the magnets off. They were starting to break apart anyway. And when I did pull them off, it was pulling some of the paint. So I just decided once I had the car painted detailed, I was not going to put them back on. Again. You know, another thing that maybe that's a way that people found me. Essentially, I have no idea really, I think it's really challenging. Sometimes for businesses like ours, people find you and you say, how did you find me? And they'll say, I did a Google search. They can't necessarily really remember. And then I guess You know, one more thing is, I have an email list that I kind of neglected. You know, an email list is a lot of hard work. And I think a lot of us focus on social media, even though I know in my heart that social media marketing has not been the strongest way for me to get customers, I was still more interested in posting photos on Instagram than doing the email list, which was a mistake. Because now when I look at, when I post on Instagram, I get maybe 25 to 40 Likes on a post. Whereas I have 600 plus people on my email list, and I'm directly marketing to them. Typically, I'm getting close to a 50% open rate, which is huge. So that's something I've rectified. And to be honest, last Sunday, I sent out an email. And that day, I had four customers reach out to me and booked dinners. So don't sleep on that email list thing, because again, that's something I just wasn't consistently doing. But business was really good and 2020 and 2021, especially in the early days of COVID. Because, you know, people weren't going out. At the time, I was turning away business, because I had more than I can handle. And I think that made me feel comfortable. When I started this business, I was really scrappy, I would do guerrilla marketing. And, you know, you think you're doing well. And then you kind of stopped doing some of those things. I would do fun things like on the anniversary of my business, I would do a giveaway, you know, including complimentary dinners. It was just something I enjoyed doing. And I think it builds rapport with your customers. And you know, again, I didn't do that this past year. So like, going back to guerilla marketing this month, I was featured in a Frederick magazine, where I live, it's one of those community magazines, and they put out a bunch of, you know, stacks of them and free places and shops around town. So I went downtown for a couple of days in a row with stacks of business cards, and I would just find those stacks of free magazines, pull, you know, 30 of them out and stick my business card in the page where I was featured, because that's the kind of thing I did when I was starting my business and people didn't know about me, and I wanted to get the word out. And I just got to the point where I figured, you know, I've been doing this 10 years, people know me, the business will come. But this summer, that wasn't happening, and it scared the shit out of me. Because, you know, if I don't get this together, I might have to go back and get a job. And not that I'm opposed to getting a job somewhere. But I really love what I'm doing. I love the flexibility. It's provided me the time that I have with my family. But you know, we need to make money. You know, I can't be having these months where I'm bringing home like$1,800 in profit. When it's all said and done. That's not going to be a sustainable business model. I can't be making $20,000 a year. So even though I'm supposed to be on break, I felt the urgency to share this. Because if you're going through it, I get it. And if you are and you want to talk about hit me up in the DMS, you know, you can reach me on Instagram at Chefs Without Restaurants, or my email chefs without email@example.com. I know that I'm going to have a long career in the food and beverage industry, wherever it takes me. It might be focusing more time on this podcast, which is something I love. Just don't stop doing the things that made you great that made you special, especially if you have a business. Don't take your eye off the ball. Because the game is changing every single day, if this past four years has taught you nothing else is that everything can literally change overnight. And if you're not paying attention, you can wake up one day, and I've lost it all. But I want to leave this on a high note. So I'll say that I believe in you. I know you can do this. Anyone who wants to do this can do it. If you are getting in business, there's always ups and downs. And again, I'm here if you want to talk about it, so reach out. Thanks for being listener to the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast. And again, this show will be coming back on September 6 with my guest interviews. I look forward to sharing all these amazing episodes with you. As always, thanks so much for listening, and have a great week. You're still here, the podcasts over if you are indeed still here. Thanks for taking the time to listen to the show. I'd love to direct you to one place and that's chefs without restaurants.org. From there, you'll be able to join our email newsletter. Get connected in our free Facebook group and join our personal chef catering and food truck database so I can help get you more job leads. And you'll also find a link to our sponsor page where you'll find products and services I love. You pay nothing additional to use these links, but I may get a small commission which helps keep the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast and organization running. You might even get a discount for using some of these links. As always, you can reach out to me on Instagram at Chefs Without Restaurants or send me an email at chefs without firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks so much