2003: I landed in NYC with $700, my backpack, and big city dreams.
I’d recently graduated from culinary school. Despite my lack of business experience, I had a singular goal in life: to cook in people’s home kitchens and get paid for it.
At the time… I couldn’t have known Manhattan had a number of social climbing characters who could easily take advantage of my blue collar small town upbringing. I was young, naive, and clueless.
At the time… I couldn’t have known how important it was to take on the right clients, the ones who would respect my time and energy. And I spent far too long in the wrong relationships.
And lastly, at the time… I had no idea the importance of setting up a strong business foundation that didn’t need to involve a 6 page business plan.
I had no idea how to run of a business. The learning curve was steep, but invaluable.
Here are 3 of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the business of being a personal chef.
1. Create a professional brand that truly reflects you
Before I launched my original website, a designer friend politely but bluntly told me I was about to make a big mistake.
I’d bartered with a graphic designer whose style did not mesh with mine. The website he’d designed felt rigid and forced. I’d been pleased with my ability to get this website free of charge. Had my friend not been so direct about how bad it was, I would have never known the difference.
But I listened. I invested $1000 in a gorgeous logo + a website. The website gave me business confidence – and helped me feel like a professional despite the fact that I was just starting out.
It made a world of difference in my business. To this day, grateful she spoke up – this shaved years off my learning curve and helped me attract the right clients. It also gave me insight into the power of branding.
2. If a client sounds difficult from the first meeting, take it as a sign to move on
I wish I’d listened to my gut on more than one occasion. My second client in NYC drained my time and energy and didn’t pay me enough for the amount of time I spent cooking there. But I thought I’d landed a great gig in a 38 million dollar home, and I was blinded by the glitz – and the fact that these people, who routinely ate in the world’s best restaurants – ate and loved my food. As an inexperienced chef, I was proud of this accomplishment. But sticking around hurt my self-esteem and pocket book more than it helped anything.
I wish I’d listened to my gut when a client asked for thousands of dollars of food a month and ate 20% of the food we made. Once a week for a year, 80% of my energy went in the garbage. For some, having a fridge full of food despite the fact that you eat out most nights is a comforting feeling. It’s just not one I’m willing to indulge ever again.
3. Don’t settle
Fear makes you settle: fear of firing a client that’s a good income even though you’re miserable. Fear of investing in your business because you’re not sure it’s worth it. Fear of putting yourself out there to get new clients. Fear of charging what you’re worth because you’re worried clients won’t hire you.
Your business struggles when your brand is lacking, you take on the wrong clients because you’re desperate, and you settle for less than you’re worth.
Creating a business you’re proud of takes pushing through your fear. Not settling. And setting up systems to make sure this doesn’t happen.
If your business is struggling: it doesn’t have to. And if you’re just starting out, take this advice to heart – and create a strong foundation so that you can thrive, flourish, and continue to actually love the work you do.
We get into this business because doing what we love nourishes us and nourishes clients. We believe in home cooked food. We love to be in the kitchen.
Business isn’t easy. But it can full of incredible growth, rich client relationships and opportunity to continue to do what you love, every single day.