Running a small business is a labor of love. Few people actually get rich doing it, and it consumes your life from the moment you wake up until you fall asleep (and sometimes even your dreams). Some people start a small business to become a large business (like Steve Jobs or Debbi Fields). I am not one of those people. I started this bakery because I love to bake, I like being in charge, and I wanted something I could control and still have a life. I like being small and love the challenges.
There is something about a small business however, that invites perfect strangers to give you advice. Here is some of the advice I've been offered by others (and I am NOT talking family and friends here, I am talking absolutely and perfectly random STRANGERS).
- You should sell these cookies at Publix (or Sam's or Wal-Mart or Winn Dixie). After all, Emeril or Wolfgang Puck or Martha Stewart does it. The fact that neither one of these people runs a small business apparently doesn't really matter). One of the reasons our cookies (and cakes and pastries) are so good is that we make them like you would at home, in small batches with fresh ingredients, and without compromising taste and quality for mass production.
- You should get a billboard. Do they have any idea how much outdoor advertising costs? Even in Tuscaloosa, Alabama it is about $3-5K per month. How many cookies and pastries do you think we'd have to sell to support a billboard? (And that would be AFTER paying for ingredients, labor, and and marginal electricity.) Our big ticket item is wedding cakes, and the folks selling outdoor advertising around here have yet to convince me that brides consult billboards before buying their wedding cake.
- You should sell on the Internet. Which would involve packing and packaging of fragile and perishable items. We'd have to buy reasonably small quantities of packaging and have the space to store it. Who knows, maybe we'd find a shipping company to work with us as we grow. And maybe even I suppose there are folks out there that would pay a huge premium for custom cookies and cakes. Not a risk and investment I'm willing to make right now.
- You should make cream horns (or cannolis, or bagels, or baklava, or some other perishable specialty item). We can't be everything to everybody. While I am not looking to get rich, I would like to eke out a living. Never mind that the person suggesting never plans to actually BUY any of these things from us on a regular basis, they only want to know that they COULD if they wanted. That's what personal chefs are for - you pay them to make what you want when you want it. We're a bakery, and hope to sell more than one of each item we make.
- You should write a book. Well, I did. And you can buy it on the Internet.
Lesson for the day? Listen to advice, but only YOU can decide what is right for your business.