In this blog series, I interview fledgling freedom-preneurs about their first baby steps in business. I thought it would be inspiring for you guys to hear their stories, warts and all, to help you find more clarity as you start out on your own business journey.
So first up we have local legend, the Vegan Viking! (or Chris as he’s otherwise known), who swapped his career in sales to start a vegan food delivery service and now runs a vegan cafe:
So how long have you had your business? (*time of writing was 2016*)
Around 3 months, however I started writing my blog about 2 years ago.
Did you have any business background or experience before you started?
I've worked in Sales, Recruitment, Fitness & Nutrition as well as Food & Beverage, so I feel I have a fairly well rounded background.
What were the 3 most important things you invested in when you were starting out?
1. Catering equipment. I trialled using eco friendly silicone tupperware which I then found wasn't scalable and didn't look quite right. I then chose some compostable throwaways that help with the branding and are easy for people to recycle.
2. My electric van which is more affectionately known as the ‘Shield Maiden'. I started off using taxis and buses until I invested £2500 in her. She's pretty much free to run, given there are some electric charge points around the city that are free to use. It's value truly comes from a brand stand point though. I've already won business from people seeing it around town and it generates plenty of smiles too.
3. Time & hard work. Without doubt this is what I perhaps underestimated the most. I spend most waking minutes thinking about new ideas/recipes/ways I can improve the service. Apart from maybe one day per week when I can truly relax, I'm sourcing new suppliers, marketing on social media or testing new recipes on my ever-supportive wife.
Is there anything that you spent time/money on, that now with hindsight, you would do differently?
With hindsight perhaps the silicone packaging I initially used. However if I hadn't used these and got feedback, I may have never ended up using the excellent eco-packages I use now. I feel, from my experience, all mistakes are just part of the learning process, and whilst not apparent at the time, help you to provide a better service and ultimately contribute to a more efficient business model.
How did you get your first customers?
I trialled the service at my current place of work within my team and anyone else that was interested. Then started advertising in specific social media groups and dropping business cards anywhere that I came across. Also found that word of mouth is a powerful tool. Nothing beats getting out and talking to people.
What tips do you have for starting a business whilst still in your 9 to 5?
If you are passionate about something and feel it is going to benefit the people in your community and further afield, then go for it. Prepare to have some sleepless nights and a few setbacks on the road to wherever you're going. Gather feedback on your product/service but ultimately you have to make the key decisions, have the courage in your convictions!
*2019 update*: Chris has now swapped his food delivery service for a vegan cafe in the heart of Brighton called The Longhouse Cafe, and you can find out more about his delicious offerings here.
So do you know anyone who is in the early stages of their biz, and would like to share their story and lessons learned? Then ask them to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org