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Sunday, 30 September 2012

Starting A Career In Food - Make That Dream A Reality

Welcome to the world of food

Your words to me...
"I have always dreamed of having my own small bakery..." , "I love baking, but it never works with me..." , "I want to start a food blog..." , "Why is my blog not getting good readings?..." , "I hate my job, wish I could do something I love... like you..." , "You are lucky to have found your passion, I too love food but don't know where to start..." , "I want to start my own business in food..." , "I am a very good cook, maybe I should start a food business..." , "It was always my dream to start this business, but somehow it is not working..." .... etc.
                                                              -  words by my friends, readers, trainees, fans and followers

You have asked, and I have listened. I am putting together this post to answer some of these questions for you, and ultimately to inspire you to really follow your dream, and make it a reality. I aim, in this post, to explore with you how you can move your dream from being just an idea you think about anytime you have a free minute, to a reality. Remember that dreams do come true only if we do the work! Although I am exploring this topic from a food-related-dream perspective, I think that the same concepts are universally applicable.

I have compiled these tips from my experiences, and from having repeatedly spoken about this with many of my friends and food industry professionals. There are many resources out there on establishing businesses that are worth exploring. However in this post I am exploring the dream with you, as a first step on the road to reality. I cannot cover everything in one blog post, and I do not intend on making this a thorough business plan. On the other hand I will share with you some facts without which your dream will never come true!

This post is quite a read, so grab a cuppa, read on and enjoy...

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I Have a Dream...
We all have dreams... In fact, we all spend a very good chunk of our day dreaming! But as I told you before: dreaming is cheap, doing the work is what gets you there! by that I mean, we can all dream, we can spend all day, dreaming. In fact we can spend a life time dreaming. But that is all it will ever be: A dream! However, it does not have to necessarily remain just as a dream. Your dream can become a reality if you put it into action: If you do the work.
It is a false notion that dreams become a reality with no effort. That those who have achieved did it only because they are lucky! No, anyone who has ever achieved or even started to realise their dreams, did so because they worked hard.

From Dream to Reality you must:

  • Have something unique to contribute to the market (an idea | dream). 
  • Focus this idea into a defined and workable concept. 
  • Acquire all the necessary knowledge and skills to put this dream into action. 
  • Invest time, effort and resources to materialise this idea. 
  • Work extra hard to get that idea up and running. 
  • Once your dream had become a reality you will continue to develop, improve and deliver this concept in the best practice possible
  • Have a competitive edge by continuing to be unique, original and armed with real skill. Your concept has to add value or once the buzz is out your concept will be out too.

Having a dream is, therefore, the first step, from which we move to work, mostly very hard and very demanding work to get that brilliant idea to reality mode. How do you do that or what does it take?

Step 1 -  The Dream...
What is your food-career dream? 
It is funny how most people think that Chefs are the only food industry professionals! And therefore need to have that title attached to their names to prove that they belong to the industry. While 'Chef' is the title most synonymous with the food industry, there are many other titles to consider. The CEO of a food consultancy is just as part of the food industry as a Chef is! So is a food supplier, a food writer, a food photographer, a food publisher, a restaurateur (who are not always Chefs by the way)...etc.

So what is your dream? Is it to become an author of a food blog? To become a Food Photographer or a Food Stylist? Are you a wonna-be Caterer? A Restaurateur?  A Chef? A Food Critic? Does your dream include a specialised bakery? A specialised cookery supply shop? A Franchiser? Or a CEO of a food consultancy?... there are a million and one fields in the food industry that you can work in! The first and foremost important thing that you have to do, is focus your ideaWhat is your dream? Which part of the food industry do you wish to belong to?
While we all love to, non of us can be everything at once! You can start somewhere and if you work hard enough you can possibly grow into the different roles, or grow into a multi-functional operation. But first you must have one unique, very good concept that is defined and workable.

The brand that came to life
from a dream

Step 2 - The concept: Focused, Defined and Workable
Now that you have a dream, what do you do with it?
If your dream is to cook for your friends and be a star, then that is a hobby. Nothing wrong with that! You can learn cookery, you can practice, you can share recipes and you can realise becoming the go-to-kitchen-diva amongst your friends, whose known to be the host with the most. Do the work: get to know food, cook and practice, join courses, and be creative in your kitchen. Follow resources such as blogs, books, cook shows and build your knowledge and skills. These are the makings of your dream.

However, if your dream is to bring something unique, original and a concept that adds value to the market, where this concept generates revenue, then you are talking about joining the industry's task force. This dream is not a hobby, or just something that you like to do occasionally and with big breaks and times off in between. Your dream in this case revolves around a business concept. Business concepts are all about filling a gap in the market, adding value to customers, and offering a real good service with a very strong competitive edge. In business it is all about revenue, and you will do all the work required to make sure your business makes the cut, that it survives and is profitable.
While this all sounds nice, what you need to know here is two main things: First; this is a job! Just because you are following your dream, does not mean that you are about to lead an easy life! It seems that most people think that doing something you like means doing nothing, except smiling!! No, it is a job, however a job that you love doing. Starting a business requires a lot of hard work. As the name suggests business is about being involved, about working hard, about making sure that you are achieving your objectives, that your business is growing, that you do not go out and become outdated! Second; as a consequence you cannot be stubborn about your concept! If your concept is not well received, you have to have the capacity, the originality, the creativity and the ability to redefine this concept.
In the market, it is not about what you like. It is about service, cost and revenue. This is the bottom line. This is what you must keep in mind when focusing (defining) your concept.  
Once you have defined your dream, into a focused and workable business concept that aims to achieve specific objectives, it is time to put all that into action. It is very necessary to have a business plan, one that clearly defines your concept, your mission, goals and objectives. One that includes an action plan designed to achieve those objectives, and one that does the math! Before you jump to the conclusion of whether or not your concept is hot commodity, you have to do the math for the bottom line. To make sure that your concept is feasible.

Knowledge & Skill are a pre-requisite
Having read the above, and if you find yourself in neither category; where you are a step beyond cooking for friends as a hobby, yet way not into the hard work or resources required for starting a business, then you my friend are someone who is keen to work in food as a day job. Either you can go for an internship at a restaurant, bakery, food consultancy...etc. Or if you are a talented writer, photographer, stylist...etc you can seek jobs in those fields which are still related to food. Whichever category you belong to, all three require the knowledge and skills to move forward...

Step 3 - Acquiring the required Knowledge & Skills 
A pre-requisite in order to put your concept into action

If you are at the beginning of the road, just finished with school, young and about to head to college then your option is easy: join culinary school. You will be properly trained to take up any field of the food world. You will have the knowledge, will be trained to acquire the necessary skills. You can even learn food business management and all things food related.  While, if you are someone who is changing paths, and following a life-long dream and think it is a tad too late for you to join the Culinary Institute of America to start working in the industry, to climb the ladder to become a Chef, and move forward... It is still never too late to join the industry towards which you lean the most.
However, it is very necessary that you know here: whether a Chef or a CEO, you will never make it in the food industry without food knowledge! The food supplier and the food writer alike, both have to know what they are talking about. They both have to know the need of the recipient, from quality of food, to applications, to even shelf-life, safety and handling, they have to know what they are offering the market, or they will forever be behind and will never make it in the industry. For example, a food critic who knows and understands the complexities, the techniques and the different outcomes of 'brown sauce' for instance, can give a better critique than one who has no idea what the difference between thin and thick sauce is! The first will always have better critique, more reliable reviews, and will always have a better competitive edge over the latter.

It is not the question of whether or not you need to know food! It is a matter of the details to which you need to know. If your dream is to become a Chef, then you must know it all in great details. Unless you are a proven extra talented cook who conjures up concoctions that are extremely good and is thinking of running a restaurant the concept of which depends on your knowledge, then you most probably have to go the classic route of culinary education. However, each field has specific knowledge and skills that are required for it, and you can start there. You can start by acquiring this relative basic knowledge, then go on and build on it as you go. But do not be fooled into the notion that you can become a stock broker even if you do not have basic financial knowledge, or even more basic: math knowledge!! food is to the food industry what basic math is to the stock market. Do the math and acquire the basic knowledge, make sure that your knowledge continues to grow in line with the requirements of your defined and focused business activities.

Specialised Courses by Dima Sharif are designed to help you achieve your dream

Step 4 - Invest time Effort & Resources
"Dreaming is cheap, doing the work is what gets you there"
By now you know that nothing falls from the sky as a goose that lays golden eggs!! You have a defined concept that is workable, but you are still in theory phase: Dreaming! It is now that you have to put it into action. Now you have to do the work. It all starts with investing your time, effort and resources. From getting the knowledge, to establishing a business it is all an investment of time, hard work, perseverance  patience, and allocation of resources. Make wise choices, don't invest in anything that does not serve a purpose: look for opportunities that help you move a step forward in your action plan. Look for long-term gain instead of short-term fixes. Having a fabulous lasagna recipe does not a catering company operate! Understanding Italian Cuisine, on the other hand, opens up a world of opportunities: Italian restaurant, Italian cookbook, Italian food catering company, Italian cuisine cook show, Gourmet Italian Products...etc. you get the drift...

You might reach a point that you are already out there, say you have started a food blog. The market can become glittery with so much promise and so many opportunities. But you know the work that needs to be done from your side to achieve the defined goals that you have set for your business. Do not deter from your objectives just yet, do the work, and you will most likely get better opportunities at a later stage, because you actually are more experienced and qualified than when you first set out. The same applies to a small bakery, as another example. Don't go offering every single baked item on earth, wait test the market, create your specialties, find your niche! Be good at it. In fact, be the best that you can be at it! Then put it out there...

Short Courses by Dima Sharif are designed to increase your knowledge in a specific food topic: say a product.

Step 5 - Work extra hard for your concept to be up and running
Originality comes from truly having something to offer.
This step might sound very similar to the previous one, and while both pour into the same jug, they are slightly different.
Here, I am referring to your concept.. Your dream...
So you have worked extra hard, gone through all the steps, got the knowledge, and you feel that you have all it takes to make it in the market. You are about to hit the market with your concept... if your concept is a borrow-all from all resources, or copycat kind of concept that has no originality and depends on other businesses for ideas, then you honestly have nothing to offer, and are better off without an original business! Because establishing a business is just the first step in a very long journey. The market changes, and you have to adapt. You have to be able to come up with strategies when the market is down. You have to evolve develop, and continue to improve. You have to deliver! Remember there is a responsibility in starting a business. A responsibility towards your customers, towards your allocated resources and towards the market within which you operate!
If you are borrowing these ideas, you will eventually be side-lined and out. You will not be able to manage crisis, to be innovative, to bring in more customers, or to even offer real added value to the market.
Keep in mind, when you work super hard on your dream: you have done all the work you have what it takes, and only you know how to run it inside and out.
If you cannot relate to this, and believe originality is not necessary, then you are better off as a franchiser: someone who does not have to come up with concepts, rather one who carries out concepts that have already been created, and just do it well. Franchises usually have a set formula for work, that is guaranteed to work, all you need to do is follow it. Don't get me wrong, Franchising is a very good business practice. However and since you are riding on people's original ideas, you will have to have bigger capital to pay for their ideas and hard work. So if your allocated capital is not sufficient, you must find a way to be creative!

Step 6 - Continue to develop, improve & deliver your concept in the best practice possible. 
You have come this far, now you show the world that you mean business.
Just because you had a soft opening, just because you were covered by press, just because you have a few clients or many walking through your concept's doors, or just because some people are talking, does not mean that your job is done! It does not even mean that hard work is over! No, now is when you need to show the world that you mean business. That you are here to stay, to leave a mark, and to deliver the promise!
You must continue to develop your concept, you service and your offerings. You must continue to improve and offer the best service possible. You must continue to deliver and therefore to make revenue, in order to continue to exist as a business.
You must walk the talk.

Step 7 - Have a competitive edge by continuing to be unique, original and armed with real skill. Your concept has to add value or once the buzz is out your concept will be out too.
Finally, you must always have a competitive edge. Business is a very competitive arena, and its everyone's game. The customers are the final judge, so make sure to offer these customers a real good service. Don't ever assume that you can talk your way through offering a bad service! You have to offer in service the same miles in talk! The quality of your offering and service is what makes all the difference between one provider and another.

Quality is reflective on all aspects of your business. Quality reflects, strong focus, knowledge, skill, consideration, management, clear objectives, real effort to guarantee quality, originality, understanding of the market need...etc. This step is reflective on all that you have worked hard to achieve.
Quality is not necessarily offering foods made with pricey products. Quality can be in convenience, in customer service, in flavour, in experience, in credible reviews, in photos that speak...etc.
When you know what you are doing, where you are heading, what you are offering, and exactly how to do it all with flair, only then does your dream become a reality. It becomes your vehicle to achieve, then to evolve from Good to Great! Otherwise, a dream will remain as a very cute thought you can pass your time with every time you need a break from reality. Kind of like that chocolate bar in your office drawer!

Short Courses by Dima Sharif are designed to increase your knowledge in a specific food topic: say a product.

I know this was a heavy post, with a lot of reading involved! Not what you would expect in a food blog, however even in food there is work that needs to be done. For those of you who have asked me how to make your dreams come true, I hope that in this post you have found some answers, and that I was able to inspire you as well as point out the facts for you. Nothing is easy, but it is all worth it in the end.

My aim is to start a conversation here, I have put it from my perspective and set off with exploring some facts. I would love to hear from you guys, whichever end you are at: Industry Professionals or Aspiring Industry Professionals, and/or Dreamers. Please do share your experiences with us, give us any tips or advise from your experiences. Share your dream with us or any relative questions that you can think of... lets get this conversation started. You will be doing a huge favour for all those who have a dream and looking for ways to make it a reality. So please join the conversation and leave a comment before you go...

Hopefully your dream will also come true and you too will realise all your objectives ;)

Specialised Courses by Dima Sharif are designed to help you achieve your dream
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