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Periodically members on our forum will ask about how to manage summer lulls or clients who seem to disappear on them—or at least act noncommittal about upcoming cooking sessions.

What I like to come back to in all these situations is the importance of making a working plan that leads to dedicated long-term clients. And that means having a solid Client Service Agreement—one that confirms the level of service being ordered, the frequency of cook dates, pricing, the type of containers requested, and client/chef agreements regarding deposits, cancellation of cook dates, use of the kitchen, pets, children, access to the home—basically whatever comes into play in the performance of your personal chef services.

Your clients turn to you for professionalism. And, it’s up to you to provide that—not just in the kitchen but as a businessperson. You also owe it to yourself. Not a seasoned businessperson? That, of course, is where we have always come in. APPCA is here to help and guide you as you establish your business. We’ve got all the education and even the forms (including the Client Service Agreement) you need to get started.

One of the basics we emphasize is that even the most talented cooks must develop solid customer service and communications skills if they are to run a successful personal chef business since effective interaction with each client is the backbone to their enjoyment of both your service and your food. You must establish what the client wants to accomplish by using a personal chef. What they like to eat. How they like to eat. If they have allergies, sensitivities, or tastes or textures they simply don’t enjoy. This is a given, right?

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But you also need to know how often they want your service and make sure they commit to that on a quarterly basis. Finding that frequency sweet spot enables them to enjoy your delicious, healthy, palate-specific meals in a timeframe that supports their well-being and enjoyment, rather than putting pressure in their lives by providing too much food, too often—or not enough. Committing to it gives them security in knowing you’ll be there for them and gives you the security that you need to plan your time and know what income is coming in.

So, as part of that client assessment we always talk about you should incorporate the Client Service Agreement and schedule regular cook dates on a quarterly basis. How many of you have had a client call on a Monday evening to see if you’re free to cook for them the next morning? That’s pressure you don’t need—especially if you’re already committed and have to say no. Even if you’re not busy all of a sudden you’ve got to pull together food and equipment for a last-minute cook date.

Now what if you go ahead and sign up clients for quarterly service and they have to cancel a cook date? As hard as we try to avoid this, cancellations will always occur. Perhaps your client has to go out of town. Perhaps they’re ill.

In a way, you must train your clients how to work with you in a way that makes sense for running your business.

To avoid financial catastrophe, or at least inconvenience, establish in advance your rules for cancellations and put them in writing in your Client Service Agreement. Perhaps you have a rule that if you have a standing date and the client cancels 24 hours or less before the date, they must pay for groceries already purchased and some portion of your time. Whatever your rules are, put them in writing and explain them to your client at the time you meet to sign the agreement. This prevents misunderstandings between client and chef, and enables you both to want to continue to work together.

We like the idea of a quarterly commitment because it’s a good amount of time for clients to make a commitment and for you to have that commitment. It also sends a couple of important messages to your client. The first is that you are operating a professional service and guaranteeing your services for a set period of time. The second is that you are a busy professional and that unless they make that commitment, you may be booked when they want your services at the last minute.

It allows you to build a schedule that gives you control over your time and allows you to earn regular income. You can fill in open times to schedule appointments or meetings, take on alternative gigs like events, demos, marketing or promotional appearances—or enjoy family time. As the quarter draws to a close, be sure you talk to your client about the upcoming quarter and find out what their plans are. Are they interested in continuing your culinary relationship? Again, get that commitment in writing.

Having a confirmed quarterly schedules means you are the driver of your circumstances. It allows you to plan and grow your business—to market yourself to bring in more clients if you need them or recruit help if you’re jammed full of business. You’ll find that you’re much less stressed when you take control of your business. And, you’re likely to make more money more efficiently. That’s one of the best definitions of success!

Have you been scheduling for success? Tell us how you’ve had that conversation with clients and the terms you’ve established.

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.

 

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