Colleagues, Not Just Competitors

Filed under: Business Strategies , Tags: , , , — Author: Caron Golden , February 4, 2019

Our friend and colleague Anne Blankenship of Designed Cuisine in Dallas sent this guest post. As a freelance writer who relies on referrals for much of my business I could easily relate her conviction that the very people who I could consider “competitors” are also the best people to recommend me for a gig that may not be right for them or that they’re too busy to take on–and that I could reciprocate in this as well. It’s also just good karma and makes life richer. Take a read and think about your relationships with personal chefs in your locale. If you don’t already know one another perhaps it’s worth reaching out and befriending and assisting one another. 

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” – Henry Ford.

When I started my personal chef business 12 years ago, I was so excited to discover that I could potentially do what I loved and be able to make a living. After undergoing the initial training through APPCA, I was fired up about putting into action all the terrific marketing ideas that had been learned during their seminar.  However, my phone didn’t ring off the wall as I had hoped.  This was probably due to the fact that I couldn’t quite let go of the steady paycheck, so was unable to devote all my time and attention to growing a new business.

Reality hit when I lost my paralegal job and was at a crossroads in my career.  I knew if I didn’t give it my all to pursue personal chef business, I would never do it.  I had to focus and concentrate all my attention and waking hours to culinary school and finding clients.  Now was the time to dip into that savings account.

Not ever known for being a “shrinking violet” I contacted two APPCA members in the Dallas area and we met and got to know each other.  I think this was the beginning of my trying to network with other personal chefs in the area and possibly get or give referrals of clients.  One became a good friend, with whom I have worked over the years.  If you are just starting your personal chef business, add to your marketing list of things to do a reminder to start contacting AND stay in touch with other personal chefs in your area.

Clients started slowly trickling in and I found that small dinner parties and catering jobs were more plentiful, so I took what I could get, still working for some of the large catering companies to make ends meet.  At one point I was attending culinary school, cleaning houses, doing odd catering jobs, and working for my fellow APPCA member on occasion while hoping for those clients to start calling.

Looking back at 2018, I know that I have finally achieved what I set out to do – my phone is ringing, I have a full roster of clients, and am actually having to turn business away.  Again, never one to be shy I started contacting fellow personal chefs in the area to see if they could take on any new clients.  In the e-mail exchanges to them I made the point that we are not just competitors for clients, but we are colleagues as well in the same profession.  Lately there seems to be plenty of business to go around, so my thought was “why not join forces and work together instead of constantly competing against each other??”  A novel concept to some, but when you can refer a potential client to a fellow personal chef whom you trust, that client will remember you and be grateful that you have helped them.

Recently I received an inquiry from a lady in North Carolina who wanted to hire a personal chef in Dallas to handle a dinner for her elderly parents.  I was unable to do so but referred her to a good friend of mine with whom I attended culinary school.  I knew his personality would be perfect for what she wanted.  What she wrote back to me after she hired him, is exactly why I am happy to make referrals to those I know:

“Hi Anne,

You really put the personal, into “personal chef.” 

Thank you for being so gracious and so helpful. Yes, we are working with Chef Thomas, and we think he’s a great fit for our parents’ needs.  What a nice and, obviously, talented person he is.

 It was great to have a referral as we were just wingin’ it, being from out of town.  You gave us peace of mind and we’ll always remember that. 

 Merry Christmas.  Best wishes with the holiday parties!

It is good business to know your competitors and what they have to offer so you can ensure you are at the “top of your game” with your own business. I feel strongly about not looking at the personal chefs in your area as just competitors, but as colleagues. When I finally got to meet with the personal chef in Dallas last month with whom I had corresponded, we both agreed that it made sense to be able to refer business to each other if we were overloaded and to keep each other in mind for parties and events if we were unable to do them.  We made “short work” of discussing our backgrounds, our businesses and how we could help each other.  It was an excellent meeting and since we run into each other while shopping many times, we can now say hello and briefly trade stories on our respective businesses and “the good, the bad & the ugly” about our clients.  Being on friendly terms with your colleagues who are also competitors just makes good business sense.

Do you know the personal chefs in your area? How have you helped one another?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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As we look ahead to 2019, Candy and I hope you’re taking whatever downtime you may be enjoying right now to plan your business strategy. I thought it might be helpful to look back across our blog’s 2018 posts for the helpful words you and your personal chef colleagues offered us. Think of it as a friendly reminder of the wisdom you and your peers have and have enthusiastically shared. Perhaps they will spark some cool idea that you were just developing. Or perhaps they’re concepts you’re ready to hear and act on now that you weren’t months ago.

We also wrote several posts in 2018 with strategy in mind that we hope you will find worth revisiting. I’m going to start with this essential checklist I wrote this time last year:

General Review:

End of Year Checklist: Start here for the basics—from reviewing and updating your business plan to reviewing your equipment and organizing records for taxes.

Making Changes in 2017? Tell Your Clients Now!: Candy addresses how to talk to clients about issues like price increases or other changes in service.

Time for Your Year-End Business Review: Candy’s advice for reviewing the past year and making plans for what you want to create in the new year—from how to enjoy your business more, evaluating your income streams, and marketing.

Is a Commercial Kitchen Right for You?: Most personal chefs travel to clients’ homes to prep meals, but some chefs are opting to rent commercial kitchen space. Here’s why and how.

Marketing:

Five Venues for Marketing Your Personal Chef Business: If you’re looking for marketing inspiration, check out these tips.

Can Public Speaking Help Your Business?: Members offer tips for getting started in public speaking

Are You YouTube Ready?: Here’s why you should start doing video to market your business—and how to do it, from fellow chefs.

Five Essential Marketing Tools for Personal Chefs: We get down to the basics, from photography and business cards to a Facebook page, good website, and chef’s coat.

Marketing Your Business Through Williams-Sonoma Chef Demos: Member Anne Blankenship explains how she got into doing demos at the retailer and how it works.

Specializing:

Serving Clients with Dementia: Christine Robinson and Dennis Nosko of A Fresh Endeavor Personal Chef Service talk about how they work with dementia clients and their family.

Cooking for Patients with Cancer: Member Gloria Bakst explains how she helps clients with cancer.

Cooking for Special Diets: Tom Herndon of Hipp Kitchen gives insights on cooking for clients with special needs.

How to Create a Vegan Menu for Clients: Here we learn from Jim Lowellbach of Custom Provisions about how he developed a vegan menu for clients.

Cooking for Seniors: Do seniors need personal chefs? Yes, and here’s why and how to best serve them.

Taking on Special Diets: A Personal Chef Challenge: Food sensitivities?: Yes, you can handle this. Learn how.

Additionally, check out these topics:

We’ll be back in 2019 with more ideas and suggestions to help you run your business effectively. And we hope you’ll contribute guest posts with your own successful strategies! In the meantime, we wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year!

What are your 2019 business strategy resolutions? What do you need help with?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

 

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APPCA member and personal chef Anne Blankenship has pretty much served as our reporter on the ground for personal chef transitions. The owner of Dallas’ Designed Cuisine a Personal Chef Service, Anne is working her way toward retirement and has written about that process for us. This week she outlines the process of hiring and working with an intern, the idea being that she could eventually refer incoming potential new clients. 

If you’re looking for help and a way to pay forward the help you received when you were just starting out–or if you’re a culinary school student searching for some practical internship experience–you’ll want to ready this guest post by Anne:

They say too much of anything is not a good thing. When you have more business than you can handle, what do you do? I have recently found myself in the position of turning away clients on a weekly basis for the first time since I started my personal chef business. While I am thrilled that potential clients are calling, it is also frustrating to be unable to accommodate potential new business.

When I sat down to ponder this issue, a light bulb went off in my head. Recalling my days in culinary school I knew that there were required internships of students. I so “fondly” recall working for $5.85/hour, scrubbing fish scales out of the sink around midnight, and then mopping the floor! However, it was a great experience and when you are the “low person on the totem pole” you never say “that’s not my job.”

I contacted my alma mater (a local community college with an outstanding and highly rated culinary program) and sent a message to the head of the Food and Hospitality Institute at the college. The school’s culinary program is accredited by the American Culinary Federation, and I of course knew that the “CPC” (“Certified Personal Chef”) designation was available through the organization. I told the chef that I wanted to hire a student for an internship as well as provide them with insight into a different area of the culinary world—that of a personal chef. I also reminded him that the “CPC” designation was a viable option, as many culinary instructors are unaware of this classification. He responded and said he would mention my internship to his classes and that the best option was for me to post it on the online job board for students, which I did at the end of August when school started. In addition, I contacted my clients to let them know I was considering hiring an intern. I wanted to check  whether or not it would be alright with them that this person would accompany me on future cook dates.

I received a response to my ad within a week from a promising young student. However, I had neglected to post the days/hours that I needed the applicant, and his school schedule was such that he would not be available. After I amended the posting to include the hours, I received a second response at the end of September. This time I knew I had potentially found the right candidate in Tina, who is in her first semester. Like me, she had been in the corporate world for 20 years and wanted to change careers, had always wanted to be a chef, loved to cook, and had planned and executed dinner parties for friends with various cuisines and interesting dishes. We exchanged e-mails and as she told me more about herself I became certain that if she was interested, I could help her pursue becoming a personal chef as well as have someone viable to whom to refer new business.

We met for lunch a few days later and after three hours of discussion we made plans for her to accompany me on upcoming cook date at the beginning of October. Once at the client’s home I showed her the menu and recipes for that day and we divided up the tasks and who would make which menu item. Although I was watchful, I knew she was competent and I truly didn’t have to worry about the way she cooked the food. Everything she has done thus far has been excellent (and made me think I’ve been a little careless in the way I cooked some of my recipes!). Even better is that when we review the menu for the day and divide up tasks, she usually has a good idea of how to execute the recipes but always asks if she is not sure.  Truly, she is the best person I could have gotten for the job!

The “end game” is that if she decides to pursue being a personal chef, I would help her get started and hopefully be able to refer any incoming potential new clients to her as I am quite satisfied with the client base I now have. I told her that it wasn’t all “philanthropical” on my end—she would be helping me so that I wouldn’t have to turn away business and she would benefit by having her own clients. I have been very honest with her about how clients come and go in the personal chef business, that you have to be flexible, manage your finances well and be prepared for what could happen. However, I also told her that being your own boss, making your own schedule, and truly enjoying what you do for a living is beyond compare to working in the corporate world. I still love what I do every day and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

She will be with me until the middle of December but has until the end of December to decide whether or not to go back to the corporate world or pursue her dream of being a chef.

I did not change my liability insurance policy as I did not know how long Tina would be with me.  Since my insurance premium is due in December, I will take a look at everything at that time. When we talked she asked me what the “big picture” was and I said that I wanted to try and retire in 2020 and if the right person came along, I would consider turning my business over to them.  I was working out details about possibly taking a percentage of the client fees for awhile when I turned over the business.  I am still mulling over that idea. If Tina does not want to go forward with this then I will start over again next semester and possibly hire someone else.  If I cannot find the right person, I will just keep on doing as I am now and turn business away.

If you are in a position to hire an assistant for your personal chef business, consider your local community college, as many of them now have excellent culinary programs. You have the ability to mentor someone (probably younger) and show them that there is so much more to the food industry than working at a restaurant. I feel it is one way for me to “pay it forward” for someone who wants to be a personal chef. I have the Internet presence, the knowledge and 12 years of experience to assist her in getting started. I believe she feels as strongly as I do about the “personal” in being a personal chef and how we interact with our clients’ families, children and lives. As a result, my tagline has now become “Personal Chefs – We Make a Difference in Peoples’ Lives.”

Have you considered working with an intern? What are your concerns about the hiring and collaboration process?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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I spend a lot of time on social media, much of it on behalf of APPCA. I started to notice a lot of interesting tweets coming from an APPCA member, Angela Capanna of Eat Your Heart Out Edibles. She serves South Jersey, Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, and Delaware. The tweets are engaging and fun. She clearly knows what she’s doing. So I asked her to share her strategy and approach. She generously has–and I hope she inspires you to do more and do it thoughtfully as part of your marketing strategy.

My website is the primary source of new leads for my business, Eat Your Heart Out, and social media has become a significant driver of traffic there – as well as direct inquiries, I might add. As a busy chef, I operate on the KISS principle (keep it short and simple!)…I use two main channels – Facebook and Instagram (eatyourheartoutedibles). I have Facebook set up to auto-post to Twitter (@EYHOEdibles) – two for the price of one! LOL).

I make sure to stay consistent with posting timing; I post by 10 a.m. and again between 5-7 p.m. daily. If I have time, I’ll do a third post in afternoon. That allows me to catch followers’ attention no matter what time of day they’re on social media. Another point of consistency is that I always use certain hashtags with every post. I do roughly the same posts on Facebook and Instagram, modifying if needed for format.

In terms of content, of course the majority of my posts have to do with meals that I am cooking, or recent catering events – always with at least one picture. (Here’s my Grilled Mediterranean Chicken and Quinoa Salad.)

I also try to post something “personal” a few times a week, as that really engages followers. (I have read studies on this, and I find this to be true with people I follow). Overall, with everything I post I try to represent my brand image. What I mean by “brand image” is that I like to keep my posts mostly about food/cooking/personal cheffing/catering, with a few personal posts about me – but never about politics, current events, etc. I always try to keep anything too personal off my EYHOE social media so that whatever I post ultimately points back to my business – food and cooking. I guess you could say that my brand image is one of a creative, somewhat adventurous, chef who takes food, but not herself, seriously.

One approach that I have found to generate a lot of “engagement” is my “Name that Food” game, where I post an unusual picture of a food, and ask my followers to identify it. I also suggest that they like and share the post to get their friends in on the fun – which can result in more followers for me! Then I post the answer, usually the next day, with a “normal” picture of the food, replying to/tagging the commenters to keep them involved. Here’s a close-up of a “Rambutan”, the edible fruit of a tree from Southeast Asia.

Once the prickly skin is peeled away, the fruit reveals a sweet and juicy flesh, with bitter seeds found in the center. The second picture is “the big reveal.”

I also use social media to promote my blog, “Annie’s Anecdotes.” Whenever I have a new blog post, I will post a lead-in and link to the blog on Facebook and Instagram, to generate blog readership.

While making these posts does take a certain amount of my time, I def think it is worth that investment. I love engaging/getting personal with my followers on social media. The best part of social media is the engagement with followers! After all, I am a “personal chef”! love going back and forth with them; their comments are often insightful.

Chefs, are you active on social media? What is your strategy? How’s it working?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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Chefs, you probably have a personal Facebook page but perhaps you haven’t gotten around to setting up a business page. Or you have a business page but haven’t put much effort into populating it or promoting it.

Time to get off the dime.

I promote my writing business on Facebook with three pages: my personal page (hey, it’s my personal business), my Goldenwriting page, and my blog San Diego Foodstuff’s page. Plus, I have Twitter, Pinterest, Linkedin, and Instagram accounts. Am I on and posting all the time? Of course not. I work for a living. But I make sure that I have a regular presence on each. I’m probably most active on Facebook and Instagram. And on Facebook, I’m most active on my personal page and San Diego Foodstuff (not to mention APPCA’s business and group pages).

The point is that social media–and Facebook in particular–hones community and community is what I need to further my business. As personal chefs, you need community, too. You need people to be aware of you and what you do and offer. You need to whet their appetites for your offerings. You need to help them think about their culinary needs or health needs or lifestyle needs.

Despite its flaws, Facebook remains a great option for this.

Now perhaps you’re on Facebook and haven’t gotten much traction from your efforts. Have you considered how you’re approaching it? Have you asked for feedback from fellow personal chefs or friends you trust? Are you trying to engage people or just posting (mediocre) photos of food you’ve made? Are you offering them anything useful? Are you demonstrating to potential customers or partners who you are and what you’re interested in?

Now your Facebook business page isn’t going to save your business. But its got the potential to be a tremendous marketing tool. And, I’m hoping, the tips that follow can help it become just that for you.

  1. Strategize: Consider what you want to get from the time you expend on Facebook. More clients? Of course–but how? Who are your target clients? Families? People with special health needs? Those who want to get fit? Caregiving children of parents who need assistance to stay home? Men or women? Knowing who your audience is will help you better craft your messaging and engagement. It may also help you determine what time to post and how often. Working people probably log on early in the morning or in the evening, for example. One way to learn about who is visiting your page and when is to check your page’s analytics that are in the “Insights” section of the page.
  2. Offer something of value for free: These could range from cooking tips, health news, and food recall updates to recipes. Try subscribing to food site email newsletters and post intriguing news and ideas you get from them to your page. Great resources include Cooking Light, Time Health, Well Done, the Kitchn, Epicurious, and Health.com. But explore the web for others you’re interested in.
  3. Hold a quiz: Not only are they fun, but done the right way they can give you consumer information. Ask people what they’d like to see on a weekly menu, their favorite Italian-style dishes, how they use their slow cooker, their kids’ favorite meals… Maybe quiz them on safe cooking practices. You get the idea.
  4. Post beautiful food photos: We write about this here all the time, but some of you aren’t paying attention. Here’s just one of our posts, written by APPCA member and superb photographer Carol Borchardt. If you do nothing else, make sure your photos are in focus and are well lit. If they look lousy, admit it and don’t use them. Then work on ways to improve them–and you can do this even with a cell phone. Take a look at this piece and think about how you can use these tips for improving your photos. They’re your business cards.
  5. Engage in Facebook groups: One way to bring people to your business page is to participate in relevant Facebook groups so people can get to know you and want to hear from you. They could be food or chef groups (be sure to join and contribute to our APPCA group and Carol Borchardt’s new group Taste Matters). But consider other options, such as a local community group, a group dedicated to discussing health care issues you specialize in, and even totally unrelated groups that engage in topics you’re passionate about–politics, gardening, pet care. The point is you’re meeting people and they’re meeting you. Offer useful information to demonstrate your expertise, ask great questions, let them know what you do. They’ll surely subscribe to your business page–and perhaps generate referrals.
  6. Make sure all critical business info is on your business page: Is your name and geographical location listed? Your services? Your areas of specialization? Do you list your website and contact information? Don’t make people have to labor to find you. It may not be a client. It may be a newspaper reporter who wants to interview you.

Facebook business pages will only be as useful as the time you put into them–and the quality of your content. You can’t stay off for weeks or months at a time. You can’t post lousy photos. And you can’t try to promote your business with it if you don’t engage with others and draw them to it. A Facebook business page has the potential to be a great marketing tool, but only if you master best practices in running it.

Do you have a Facebook business page? What are your best practices and how useful has it been?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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We’re in the thick of hot and lazy summer days. Okay, hot but probably not so lazy. Or are they? Have clients gone out of town on vacation? Has business slowed down for other reasons? If so, this is the perfect time to look inward and consider how you can ramp things up for the fall as well as protect the business you already have.

I was poking around the Internet and came across some must-read small business tips for food entrepreneurs. They come from a Sidney Morning Herald interview with Sarah Hancox, a woman in Australia, who provides outside catering and offers consultancy services to small hospitality businesses. The story is five years old, but Hancox’s tips are evergreen. Here they are:

1. Know your trade. These days you need to know your strengths, whether it is cooking or in other parts of the business. If it’s not cooking, take a back seat and let your chef do it but be able to fill in for them if for any reason they can’t.

2. Understand your target market. Know who they are, how to reach them and what they want.

3. Know your key performance indicators. You need to understand your KPIs very well, especially your food and labour costs. This will help you understand your cash flow and what’s happening in your business, including whether someone is stealing from you.

4. Quality products almost always produce a quality dish. People are very educated about food these days – many through watching cooking reality shows – so don’t scrimp on quality.

5. Focus on customer service. Too many in this industry forget about the customer and instead think they are the stars of the show. If no one is buying your product because they are not getting the right service then the venture is pointless.

6. Value your staff. Not only should you reward good work but you should not be afraid to get rid of poorly performing staff. By looking after staff you get low turnover and consistency of product.

7. Plan your menu well. Stick to your skill set and remember who is going to be eating your food as well as where and how.

8. Be organised. There’s a lot that goes into cooking including organising storage and understanding products throughout. When you run a food business you have to wear many hats.

9. Get a good accountant. You need someone who is proactive; they don’t have to understand your industry but they need to be able to make suggestions. You should also outsource anything that you don’t have skills in, especially marketing.

10. Use social media. How successful you are with social media will often depend on the customers you are marketing to. Find out where you are getting responses and capitalise on them through targeted marketing.

Many of our personal chef members are great business people. You understand the value of what Hancox advocates here and have already been implementing these concepts. You also get that having a passion for cooking and feeding people isn’t enough. If you’re going to turn that passion into a business you need to treat it like a business. If you find that your talents are not in keeping books or tracking costs, find someone trustworthy who can do that for you.

And, remember that Candy and Dennis are here to help, with advice and resources that will help you overcome any walls you think you’re facing.

Here’s to a happy August. Refresh, review, and ramp up for a busy fall!

What are your tips for running a small food business well? What are your challenges? 

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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We like to touch base with members to learn their best practices for getting new clients. We’ve written on this subject several times over the years, mostly because marketing is one of the most critical aspects in any business for developing new business.

 

Your strategies tend to break down into a couple of categories. See where you fit it:

  • It’s who you know: Carol Tipton Wold explained, “I’ve gotten more business through relationships and word of mouth than anything else I tried. Belonging to service clubs (Rotary, Lions, Soroptomist, etc.) and volunteering at their events has paid off 10 fold because you make friends who tell their friends. Of course, you always give them the “Because we’re friends” deal. Website, Chamber of Commerce, ads, never worked out.
  • Website: Member Christine Robinson, as well as Katie Muente Losik and Kitchen Kalibur agreed with Tipton Wold about word of mouth–but also added website. In fact, your website is your front door to your business, opening up to a world of information–if you give it the love and care it deserves. It’s also a point of impression. It can either deliver a terrific first impression or turn someone away. Be sure you have the basics (your name, service area, and services, along with contact info), as well as beautiful photos, menu samples, and other information a potential client would want to know. Make it easy to navigate and make sure it’s linked to your social media platforms.

Four additional marketing practices we advocate include some very simple concepts:

  • A professional-looking business card with all contact information. Take advantage of both sides, with one listing your contact info and the other your services–or a mouth-watering photo of a classic dish you prepare. And, please, have them with you at all times! You never know who you’ll meet, even at the market, even at church, even at your kid’s soccer game or on line at the checkout at Old Navy! (That means you also have to be sociable and strike up conversations with strangers.)
  • Up-to-date social media, with beautiful photos. You may not actually get a client via social media, but that account of yours could reinforce a decision to hire you–or turn someone away. Post beautiful photos of food you’ve prepared. Note events you participate in, new types of services you offer, new ingredients you’re working with. Ask questions (the answers can help you identify new approaches to your business or new service areas). Make social media work for you.
  • Networking. Get involved in your community. It doesn’t even have to be a food-oriented organization–just anywhere you’re going to meet people, like your kids’ school, your church or synagogue, a beach clean up group, or a political organization. Volunteer to help put together a meeting or event–or host one–to demonstrate your chops. It’s all about widening your circle and then showing off your skill set.

Cooking Classes

  • Teach classes. Offer cooking classes to clients or others you know to which they can invite friends and family. The classes put you and your skills–and charm–into the spotlight.

What are your most successful strategies for building your client base? What lessons have you learned?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

 

 

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Do you ever have an occasion in which you feel you should gift one of your clients? Usually we discuss this around the holidays but over the course of the rest of the year there are birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, or other special events your client celebrates. And, how about a thank you on the anniversary of your beginning work for them?

Well, if you’re feeling the need to present a gift, how about making them sea salt caramels? If your client can eat–and absolutely loves–sweets, this will be such a cool way to say thanks or congratulations.

There are certain foods that no matter how simple they actually are to make if you actually endeavored to learn how still have a mystique about them. Caramels, for me, fall into this category. Honestly, we’re talking just four basic ingredients–butter, cream, sugar, and corn syrup. But this quartet, once cooked together, is the foundation of sweet magic–that is, if you use really good ingredients and have the finesse and creativity to take it to a sublime level of deliciousness. I found someone in San Diego, where I’m based, who taught me her secrets.

Nancy Flint created a small business–Sugar Mamma–around caramels five years ago. She’s taken these four basic ingredients and elevated them with various flavorings to create 17 flavors of caramels that you can find all over San Diego County.

Flint makes everything by hand by herself out of her Talmidge home kitchen, usually working in the neighborhood of 12 hours a day every day to meet her orders. She starts by combining her foundational ingredients–the butter, sugar, cream, and corn syrup, in a large pot, heating the mixture over medium high heat until it reaches 248° F–stirring all the while.

“Once the sugar dissolves, you can step away briefly, but stay close,” she advised. “You can stir every minute instead of constantly but you don’t want it to stick or burn.”

With a jelly roll pan lined with parchment paper next to her, Flint stirs until she reaches the temperature she wants, at which point she removes the pot from the heat. Then she adds kosher salt and vanilla, stirs to incorporate them and pours the mixture into the pan. If it’s her Sea Salt Caramel flavor, she’ll give the mixture a few minutes to set, then sprinkle Maldon sea salt over it. In general, fruity flavors get the fruit addition during the cooking process. Any alcohol flavor gets that at the end of the cooking process, once it’s off the heat.

If you make these–Flint has generously given us her Sea Salt Caramel recipe–follow these additional tips of hers:

  • Use the best ingredients you can.
  • Pour what comes out into the pan. Don’t scrape the dregs of the pot into the pan because they won’t crystalize. Instead, scrape them into a silicon ice cube mold.
  • Got bubbles? Don’t worry. Flint said they tend to pop on their own over the 12 hours.
  • Got a sticky pot? Soak it in hot water to melt the sugar so the mess will release.
Sea Salt Caramels
from Sugar Mamma
Yield: 240 1-inch pieces
Ingredients
3/4 cup of unsalted butter
4 cups heavy cream
4 cups granulated sugar
2 cups corn syrup
2 teaspoons kosher stalt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Maldon sea salt to sprinkle
Directions
1. Line a 10- X 15-inch jelly pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. Combine the butter, cream sugar, and corn syrup in a large pot. Bring to the boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.
3. Once the mixture comes to the boil continue stirring by just every minute instead of constantly. Add a candy thermometer to the side of the pot reaching into the caramel mixture. Once it reaches 248° F, remove the pan from the heat.
4. Stir in the kosher salt and vanilla. When mixed well, pour into the jelly pan.
5. After 5 minutes sprinkle the Maldon sea salt over the mixture.
6. Let set for 12 hours or overnight. Cut into 1-inch pieces and wrap them individually in wax paper.
Have you ever made caramels? Do you ever make special edible gifts for clients?

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APPCA members never fail to amaze me. It’s so exciting to read both our website forums and our Facebook business and group pages to learn about how creatively you’re running your businesses and marketing them. So, I when I saw that Anne Blankenship of Designed Cuisine in Dallas recently had a radio interview experience I wanted to learn more–and figured you would, too. Not only did Anne come through with her story about the interview, she has included a wealth of great tips on preparing for it and–even more important–serving it up as a way to promote her business. You’ll want to take notes!

Recently I was contacted by a company called All Business Media FM, which is a subsidiary of I Heart Radio. At first I was skeptical, since I receive so many “spam” calls on a daily basis. My philosophy is “if they don’t leave a message, it’s not important.

But I did receive a voice mail from this company and it sounded fairly legitimate so I returned their call. When I spoke to the lady I queried her with my usual questions to verify their intent/legitimacy. How did you find me? Why did you select me/my business? And most importantly, “How much is this going to cost me?” She was a “fast-talking New Yorker” (apologies to all of you in the NYC area!) but as I listened, she was able to answer my questions. She said that she had visited my website (and cited some sample menu items I have listed) and had seen the reviews on my business on Google and Facebook, so I felt comfortable that she had at least done some research on me and wasn’t just a “scam artist.” She was very honest about the fact that there would be a follow-up call and that it would probably involve a marketing pitch, although there was no obligation after the interview.

The company specializes in small businesses and since I am not only an entrepreneur but a female in what is still (unfortunately) a fairly male-dominated profession of being a chef, this was an “enhancement” for them contacting me and wanting to do an interview. Once I said “yes” she put me through to their scheduling department and we verified all of my information and e-mail address. We scheduled a date and they sent four questions to me via e-mail that I answered and returned to them prior to the show. She had given me information about the fact that it would be an eight-minute interview, who my host would be on that day, and how to retrieve the interview afterwards from their website so I could post it on social media.

I created an “event” on my business Facebook page so everyone could see when the interview would be and posted the information on my personal Facebook page as well, since I knew some of my friends would listen in. In addition, I took the time to listen to a few of their other live interviews to get a feel for what would be the experience. I happened to listen to a woman who is a massage therapist and focused on Reiki as well, which was interesting to me, so I ended up listening to the whole eight minutes.

To prepare for my interview I reviewed the answers to the questions they had sent me and highlighted some important points. I knew it would go quickly and having been in Toastmasters at one time, I also knew the importance of no slang, no “uhs, ers, and ums,” as well as not starting sentences with “OK” and “So.”

They called me at the set time and the host chatted briefly with me about some simple instructions. I was nervous but truly most of the information is in my head since I’m always ready with the “elevator speech” and how to condense what I do in a few short paragraphs. Although I repeated myself a few times, overall it went well and they were very complimentary (which I’m sure they tell everyone!) A week later I was able to retrieve the interview and posted it everywhere on social media, as well as sent the link via e-mail to clients, friends, and family. (You can listen to it here.)

My joke with everyone was “Well, I got through my radio interview and at least I didn’t use the “F” word – except for “Food!” It’s just one more thing to be able to add to my repertoire of marketing tools. The power of social media is amazing and the more you can post in various places, the more your traffic will increase. I have had my website for some time, but constantly review and try to change something on it at least once a month (new menu items, videos, this radio interview link, etc.) I have also created accounts everywhere in the name of my business, “Designed Cuisine, A Personal Chef Service.” This includes Facebook, Instagram, Google, Yelp, and as “Anne Blankenship” on LinkedIn. I review my traffic every week on all of these entities and have seen it increase dramatically in the past two years, thanks to consistent postings.

I thought no one really listened to the radio much anymore, but Caron Golden pointed out that podcasts are a huge thing now (something I had totally forgotten) so doing this radio interview and promoting it through social media is a terrific way to keep “oiling that marketing machine.”

What kind of marketing are you doing to promote your business? Do you have a gap you need help with?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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As a personal chef your goal is to make your clients happy with food that not only tastes good but perhaps also addresses health issues they face.

But what do you do when their health issues conflict with yours? What if, like APPCA member Jennifer Zirkle, you have celiac disease and yet still make baked goods and dishes you can’t taste?

This is neither a small issue or a rare one. Think of all the people in your life with gluten allergies, seafood allergies, and other random food allergies. Just because someone’s a chef doesn’t mean they’re immune to them.

Chef Dakota Weiss of Sweetfin, an L.A.-based chain of fast casual poke shops, told Forbes back in 2016 that she can’t even touch fish without reacting. She explained that her throat will close up, her tongue gets itchy, and it gets difficult to speak. So, how does she do her job? When scaling fish she dons two sets of gloves and wraps a bandanna around her face so that a scale doesn’t fly into her eye. It’s not always successful and failure results in her eye swelling shut.

Celebrity chef Amanda Freitag discovered she has an intense allergy to hazelnuts. She told Cooking Light that she worked with her allergist to create a plan and gather the right tools. “On the set of Chopped, I’m a regular. They know about my allergy. Hazelnuts are never on set when I’m there. They’re not usually on set at all. Any guest judge appearances I make, I let them know before I come in that I’m allergic to hazelnuts. That’s my first step. Second step is to always have an EpiPen.”

APPCA member Christine Robinson has issues with green peppers and gluten. “I can take digestive enzymes for small amounts of wheat and we use an Italian non-GMO flour that does not cause me to react…we tell clients ahead of time that we use every color of pepper except for green bell, as I can’t taste it…in nearly 20 years no one has minded…”

Similarly APPCA member Shelby Wassel addresses her watermelon allergy by leaving it out of dishes. “It’s not a big deal, but I never offer watermelon, feta and mint salad to my clients as I’m allergic to watermelon! No one has ever missed it.”

If food allergies dog you, your first responsibility is to your health and well being. Here are four tips for staying safe while still making delicious meals for your clients:

  1. “Just do the best you can, protect yourself first and if you can get someone to help that you trust then have them help you out,” Zirkle advised. That could mean hiring an additional person with you to handle the ingredients you’re allergic to–not just for prepping, cooking, and packaging, but also shopping for the ingredients so you don’t have to handle them at all, tasting the dish, and even cleaning up.
  2. Carry Benadryl and at least one EpiPen on you at all times. Double up on gloves and wear a mask if you absolutely have to work with an ingredient you’re allergic to.
  3. Be honest with your clients. Let them know that you have specific allergies and can’t prepare dishes with those ingredients in them at all or unless someone else you bring in handles them. Ask that anything you’re allergic to that they may have in their kitchen either be removed or stored away and well labeled so you can avoid it.
  4. Depending on the level of your reaction following exposure, don’t even offer it. It’s not worth the potential medical emergency that could land you in the hospital or worse.

And, if food allergies are an issue for you, let that be an opening into turning your compassion for potential clients who may also have food restrictions into new business opportunities. It may lead to your developing a new set of recipes that compensate for the ingredients you can’t work with, a new culinary specialty, and even new segment of clients who will appreciate how your limitations mirror theirs.

Do you have a food allergy you’re dealing with when cooking for clients? How have you addressed it?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

 

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