Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food service but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Sydney Eliason, Founder and Owner of The Somm Chef, located in Rosemary Beach, FL, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I am a private chef and sommelier that offers virtual and in-person events. I teach cooking classes and offer interactive dinners, food and wine events, and wine tastings. I work with individuals, families, bachelorette groups, and corporate groups. And have taught groups from one person to 200 at a time.
Tell us about yourself
I used to work in advertising and film media; however, I realized that it wasn't where my heart was. I had always loved cooking but had been attending cooking classes on weekends at a local Sur La Table. I couldn't get enough of them. Ultimately, I decided to relaunch my career path by attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York. During the last semester, we were required to take an in-depth wine class, which is when I fell in love with wine.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I think getting returning customers and referrals are such great accomplishments. I would say that about 85% of my business has been through word of mouth and referrals, which is pretty incredible. Nothing says "job well done" as much as when someone is willing to put their reputation on the line to recommend me to a friend or family, or wanting to book for a second, third, or fourth event.
While I do about 50% local business, I also love getting return customers who vacationed in my area a year ago who still remember me and their special event and want to rebook whenever they return. I think that and referrals are the biggest signs of achievement and that I'm doing something right!
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Finding that work/life balance. When you own a business, it's everything. Especially just starting out, I am the marketing executive, media coordinator, advertising, chef, recipe research and development, admin, etc., but I also love it so much that I don't mind working 24/7. However, there are times that I need to remember it's okay to set my laptop down and just have some fun away from the business for a bit.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Focus on your product and what you need to sell first and foremost. Make sure there's a market for that and see if you can sell it before spending all this money and time on a fancy website/social media account/etc. If it's truly a great product, you should be able to sell it before you spend a lot of money making it happen.
- Know your margins. How much will it actually cost (not what you hope or think it will) to get your product or service to your customer? Write everything down. For example, for my type of business: estimated electricity costs of using the kitchen, gas costs of delivering, food costs, plus labor, sales tax, etc. it's not just the obvious costs of the materials or labor that you need to know in order to charge people the right price.
- Don't be afraid of failure. Or perhaps just redefine what failure is. If you want to make your business work, there are risks, and failure will only bring you closer to success as long as you learn from it and keep trying new things.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Your business will likely change from day 1 to day 365 and onward. It should evolve and grow as you do.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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