How’s everything going? Are you still able to work with clients or have some cancelled for the shelter-at-home duration?

If you’re using this time to make changes in your business, how about staying in your clients’ line of vision–and the vision of potential clients–by sending out a weekly newsletter?

The newsletter could be as simple as a weekly note via email that checks in on your clients, lets them know what’s going on with you (yeah, you’re not all that busy either but perhaps you’re noodling around with new recipes, working in your garden, starting a cookbook…), shares links to health or food news, and perhaps offers a recipe or two. Just design it so that the content is broken up into easily consumable pieces, bold type where useful, along with bullet points and links.

But that same content could also be part of a more designed, formal e-newsletter, using Constant Contact, BenchmarkCampaignMonitor, MailChimp, or some other platform. Depending on your distribution, these could be free to use or modestly priced.

Each offers templates that allow you to pretty easily create a design. You can set up a format that offers a box for any news you want to promote, such as a guest post for this blog, a new Facebook group you’ve launched, volunteer/community work you’re doing, or a new cooking demo you’ve released on YouTube. You could have another that offers a recipe with a photo. If you have a niche service, like cooking for athletes or expectant moms, you could have a section with relevant health news and links to stories with the details. And, of course, you should have a permanent section that describes who you are, where you are, the services you provide, and how to contact you, etc. Fill it with great photos, but keep enough white space in the design so it doesn’t feel claustrophobic.

When I was still writing my blog, San Diego Foodstuff, I prepared and sent out a weekly e-newsletter using MailChimp to both promote it and my other work as a food writer. I ran an excerpt from the new post on the top left, food community news on the top right (a cookbook author coming to town, classes people I knew were teaching, food events, etc.), and below that a photo and description of my latest story for the San Diego Union-Tribune’s food section with a link to the story. If I had won an award, that was placed on the lower left above the block that had information for how to get in touch with me and then a description of my work. And, of course, I included any advertising I had and a photo of my dogs–because why not? (Also create an easy way for people to unsubscribe because realistically not everyone on your subscription list will want to receive it.)

You should also include any social media links you have: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest.

Why so much information? Because you’re marketing yourself at a time when you need to keep your clients engaged and plant seeds in the minds of potential new ones. Because you may be looking for new opportunities under your personal chef umbrella to teach classes, cater events, write food articles, or be on local television.

You may think, well, I have a half dozen clients. I’m doing fine. Why should I bother writing a weekly newsletter? Well, how about broadening the possibilities and sending it to local news producers, local newspaper editors, or influencers who could help you find new clients or other food-related gigs? If you’re on social media, you can even announce you’re launching a newsletter, describe the type of content you’re planning and encourage people to sign up for it.

These are weird and challenging times. If you and yours are healthy and you can carve out some time, why not design and start sending out a collateral via email that can help you rebound once the world reopens? If you’re concerned about your business, this is another tool in your toolbox to help it come back. And if you’re one of the lucky ones who is still busy, congratulations. But you know you should always be thinking ahead. A weekly newsletter can help you stay at top of mind with those with whom you already have a relationship and launch new relationships with those you want to impress with your skills.

How do you promote your business? Have you been writing a newsletter to clients?

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 or point of view to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

Squash blossoms

Winter doldrums, menu malaise… It’s easy to get into a cooking rut. But it’s just as easy to get out of one, too. Especially with spring around the corner. Produce seems prettier and more inviting that basic root veggies. There’s color outside and more color in the markets.

I asked our Facebook page followers what they do when they’re feeling the need for some inspiration for new dishes, techniques, and menus. What is their inspiration? And I got a variety of options to share with you:

  • “I watch Fast Forward cooking shows,” responded Cherylanne Farley. “The Kitchn always has good ideas techniques.”
  • “The Barnes and Noble bargain cookbook area,” is member Carol Borchardt’s inspiration. “Pinterest. Old magazines because everything that is old can be made new again.”
  • “Tasting Table, Plate magazine or Pinterest are my go to’s,” said Jennifer M. Grawburg.
  • “Pinterest,” is Suzy D. Brown’s source of inspiration.

Media, of course, is a great source for food-related ideas. Social media is awash in food images and video. And you should certainly subscribe to daily newsletters that arrive in your email’s inbox from Epicurious, Serious Eats, Tasting Table, Well Done, Cooking Light, the Kitchn, ProChef SmartBrief, and MyRecipes–just to name some of the most obvious. So are the vast array of cooking shows on PBS, Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube.

Marcus Samuelsson learning how to make noodles in Las Vegas

But sometimes you need to get your head out of your computer or device and get out. A recent PBS series that puts out there just how inspirational a hometown can be is chef Marcus Samuelsson’s “No Passport Required.” His second season just concluded but you can find the episodes on demand or the PBS website. Lucky you if you’re from Boston or LA, Philadelphia or Seattle or Houston. Most cities have enclaves of different ethnic groups and watching No Passport Required should give you the itch to explore your city’s Armenian neighborhood, or Filipino or Nigerian or Italian.

Yes, I recognize the irony of suggesting a TV show to get outside. So get outside. You may think you’ve hit all the hot spots of your town but there may be other towns nearby to explore.

Learning from a kind family at next table how to add egg to a Soon Tofu dish at BCD Tofu House in L.A.’s Koreatown.

I asked a chef I know in San Diego what she does when she’s looking for inspiration. She goes on food tours of the city–in San Diego or wherever she happens to be. They take her to markets, restaurants, food stalls, and street vendors. There she can try new flavors, ask questions, and develop ideas for new dishes. I’ve done this myself in San Diego, Los Angeles’s Koreatown, San Francisco, Paris, Quebec City, Vancouver, and Montreal. It can explode your mind and lead to an exciting new approach to your menu.

If you’re not in an area where organized food tours are available, how about gathering up a few friends and day trip somewhere close by? Take a bus or train or carpool to a nearby city for a day of markets and food from another culture? Bring a notebook, take photos, and ask lots of questions of chefs and shoppers? See something you don’t recognize in a bin? Ask someone making a selection about how to use it and how to pick the best quality.

Green almonds from a Middle Eastern market in San Diego

And, if you can’t leave town and you have several different kinds of markets in your town or city, turn that into a day trip and enjoy your region’s diverse offerings. Mark Dietz told us on Facebook he swears by markets as inspiration.

What if your inspiration needs to come from a very specific practitioner? Let’s say you’re interested in taking on cooking for clients with a specific dietary need. Sure, you can turn to the Internet and Pinterest, etc. But how about reaching out to professionals–dietitians or nutritionists, for instance–who can give you some ways you can incorporate specific foods into dishes? Maybe you can have a cook date to learn techniques?

It all comes down to how eager you are to come up with novel resources that ignite that spark of change. Just getting a fresh perspective from another chef or an aisle of gorgeous spring vegetables may send you racing back to your kitchen, eager to develop a new recipe or two for clients.

What’s your inspiration when you are in a culinary rut? 

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!

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!

Spring will be here in a week–March 20th. While those of you on the East Coast may still be dealing with harsh storms, eventually the chill will give way to warmth and flowers and sunshine. It’s a time of renewal–so what better activity to engage in than a virtual spring cleaning for your personal chef business!

We have five tasks you should take on to rebirth your business:

  • Examine and update your marketing tools: How long have you had the same style of business card? When was the last time you updated your website? Does it have all the critical information necessary for a potential client to find you and be engaged by your offerings (including the basics, like the geographic area you serve, your latest menu, your name, your phone number/email address)? Is it time to replace your Facebook business page cover photo? All touch points should examined–and ask your friends for their input about their effectiveness.
  • Embrace a new social media platform: If you’re already on Facebook, add Instagram and/or Twitter and/or Pinterest. You can do fun new things on each platform that can show off your offerings. Photos are your big sales tool on social media so be sure you’re posting well-lit, appetizing dishes.
  • Sharpen your knives and do a great cleaning on your tools: You probably give your knives a honing when you use them, but how often do you actually sharpen them? If you have to think about it, it’s been too long. And take a look at your other cooking tools. Are they showing signs of wear or grime? Clean them or replace them. And, hey, that includes your chefs aprons, your towels, your knife roll, and even your footwear. Spiff yourself up.
  • Learn new skills: Spring is a time of feeling energized so take that burst of energy and direct it into something constructive. Take an online cooking course from our partner Escoffier Online International Culinary Academy–or, better yet, sign up for a certificate in culinary arts. Or take a cooking class at a local school. Learn new techniques or global cuisines. Experiment with new ingredients. Learn how to take better food photos and how to style your dishes to help with marketing. Take a writing class and start a blog on your site or write a food column for your local newspaper. Learn how to do public speaking.
  • Volunteer in your community: We talk a lot about networking. One way to network without having to “sell” yourself is to get involved in your community. Spring is the perfect time to look around and decide what group/s could use your skills and enthusiasm. Spend a weekend morning serving meals at a homeless shelter. Volunteer at the local food bank. Or do something outside of your food background with Habitat for Humanity or your local Humane Society if you love animals–whatever moves you. You’re helping your neighborhood, meeting new people, and building your resume.

These are just five ideas that should energize you and give you some momentum in building your business or moving it into a direction that excites you. If you have additional suggestions, please add your voice!

What is a “spring cleaning” task that you’ve found helps you re-energize your business? What have you been toying with doing that you’re finally going to act on?

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!

We hope that you APPCA members were able to take advantage of the special 50 percent off deal we arranged with Fagor. Up until October 24, members in good standing could order Fagor portable induction cook tops and electric multi-use cookers (pressure cooker/rice cooker/slow cooker all in one) at half price. (Thanks for organizing this, April Lee!)

Like the hugely popular Instant Pots, these electric multicookers can be a little intimidating until you get used to how they work. And while you may initially limit yourself to the obvious–stock, soup, beans, yogurt, you’ll want to broaden your mindset and learn about the many additional ways you can use these machines.

So, for all of us novice multicooker owners, I thought I’d offer up some essential resources to get you started. Bookmark them and return again and again because invariably yet another cool way to use these machines will come up. And perhaps you’ll think of some yourself. If so, please share!

  • Hip Pressure Cooking: Founder Laura Pazzaglia has written two books on pressure cooking and her site is filled with all sorts of great information. Beyond the many recipes, she writes pieces on nutritional information, best cuts of meats, machine reviews, even tips for how to open the machine effectively (it makes a difference). There are videos, forums, filling guidelines, and time charts.
  • Facebook Instant Pot Community Public Group: If you’re on Facebook, this is an invaluable group to join. Check out recipes, get cookbook recommendations, ask questions. You’ll be totally surprised by the dishes people make in the electric multicookers. Something go wrong? Troubleshoot it with members. While you’re on Facebook, also check out Instant Pot Recipes.
  • Pressure Cooking Today: Need to figure out how to get started with your multicooker or, specifically, Instant Pot? Here’s a great site to help. You can also get help with how to convert a recipe to pressure cook, which buttons to press, learn the difference between quick pressure and natural pressure release, and get a boatload of indexed recipes from breakfast to sides to dessert.
  • How to Use an Instant Pot: The New York Times has created this indispensable page, written by Melissa Clark (who has a new book out, Dinner in an Instant). Consider this your ABC primer. Clark breaks down every component of the multicooker and how you’d want to use it, as well as how to experiment with it. Just as important, she tells you what not to cook in this machine and why. Plus Clark offers some recipes from her new book.

  • Instant Pot Videos: Love a good YouTube cooking video? Then subscribe to Instant Pot on YouTube. You’ll find a wealth of recipes as well as equipment instruction that will get you up to speed. Learn how to make chicken stock, pork roast, unsoaked beans and grains, and chicken and pancetta risotto.
  • Instant Pot Recipes on Pinterest: Finally, the circus that is Pinterest can lead you to some interesting resources for using your multicooker. There are plenty of links to recipes, cheat sheets, cooking time lists, and mistakes to avoid.

While we’re at it, check out Fagor’s site for recipes to create using their (and perhaps your) multicooker.

Are you an Instant Pot or Fagor Multicooker user? Do you have a blog with recipes? Please share it here! And let us know if you have other great online resources we should know about.

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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