Jennifer Lewis voyaged into entrepreneurship with her own food business, and now helps other food businesses become successful. Her site, smallfoodbiz.com, has lots of resources and advice for artisan food entrepreneurs. She tells us about the specific challenges of running a small food business, her favorite social media platform, and more.
My questions are in bold.
How is starting a food business different from other forms of entrepreneurship? What peculiar challenges does a small food business-owner face?
People tend to come into the food world because they’re driven by passion for the items they make but they can face an uphill battle getting their products to market because of the numerous regulations that are specific to the food industry. This can be anything from health code permits to labeling regulations. It’s a complex world and one that’s very different from other types of entrepreneurial ventures.
How important is online marketing for food businesses? Do you think online marketing is a good fit for smaller businesses with less brand recognition and fewer resources?
I’m a huge proponent of online marketing for food businesses. Things like Pay-Per-Click advertising is a great way to start to build an audience at a very low cost. That being said, any online marketing a food entrepreneur does (or, really, any marketing in general) must be measured to determine whether the time, effort, and money being spent on it is actually helping the business achieve its goals and objectives.
What about social media? Which social media sites are most popular among food businesses and which, in your opinion, are the most effective?
I actually can’t say one is more effective than another because it all depends on the target market for that specific food business. I remind entrepreneurs that you shouldn’t be on Facebook simply because that’s where everyone says you should be – instead you need to do some research to determine whether your audience is actually on Facebook. No point in spending a ton of time on a social media tool that won’t help you grow your business. That being said, Facebook and Twitter still seem to rank as the most popular social media tools I see small food businesses using.
What social media platform do you personally like best?
Because I try to make connections with food entrepreneurs which is more of a B2B platform, I personally love LinkedIn and Facebook. I’m about to start doing some serious online advertising on multiple sites like Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. and I’m excited to see how those perform and whether one works better for me than another.
What are your favorite online tools – social media, productivity, or anything else?
Great question. My favorite tools are Google Calendar which I use as my social media editorial calendar to keep all my posts/tweets/etc. lined up for months in advance. I love MailChimp.com which I use as my e-newsletter service. Right now though my new sweetheart tool is Basecamp.com. It’s a project management software tool that helps me keep the multiple projects I’m working on for the smallfoodbiz.com site organized and on schedule.
What marketing or business advice do you find yourself giving most often?
Business is all about understanding who your target audience is. This is something the big brands do exceedingly well and if a small business wants to be able to compete at all with them, entrepreneurs need to do the work to figure out who their target audience is, what they want, and how to reach them. Otherwise you can have the best product or service in the world but it’s never going to be seen by the right people.
What sites do you recommend for small-business marketing advice?
I truly believe that marketing is in the midst of a profound shift because of social media and online marketing. For that reason I love MarketingProfs daily e-newsletter as it helps keep me up-to-date on the ever-changing marketing landscape. Knowing this helps me shift marketing strategies quickly as needed.
Small businesses often struggle to make sense of their data… what’s the one metric they should keep an eye on?
Most of the entrepreneurs I work with are so over-worked in trying to wear multiple hats at once that marketing for them comes with a ‘let’s throw it at the wall and let’s see if it sticks’ mentality. While the benefit of being a small business is that you can try new things quickly to see if they work, the real key is following up afterwards and really trying to understand why or how something worked so that you can replicate it as needed. In terms of which one metric, well that really depends on what their goals are and what tools they’re using to try and achieve them. Whatever it is though, before you start using a new marketing tool I often urge entrepreneurs to set out in advance how they’re going to measure success and what those metrics will look like.
What’s the one thing you hate doing but still force yourself to do every week?
I’m terrible at making sales calls. I’m not sure I know anyone who actually likes cold calling but there are certain people who are born salespeople and there are others, like me, for whom it’s like pulling teeth. Thankfully I don’t have to make too many cold calls now that I run Small Food Business but when I do I literally have to mentally prepare myself in advance. And sometimes reward myself with a cupcake afterwards! :)
Continuing with the theme of Bad Things, what’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a business-owner?
Time! Can someone tell me how I can squeeze more time out of every day? As evidenced by the fact that I’m responding to this interview while I’m on vacation and will be sitting down shortly to edit a new book I have coming out early next year, time is my biggest nemesis. Too many ideas and not enough time to execute them!
Let me know when you solve that problem! And speaking of solutions… what’s the most important piece of advice you’d give a small-business entrepreneur?
It will always take more time and more money to get your business to where you think it should be. So for that reason create a solid business plan (every year — not just once and then forget about it!), go in with your eyes open, and have an undying passion for what you’re doing. Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster and but if you love what you’re doing it’s absolutely worth it.
Wise words, these. Thanks for answering our questions, Jennifer!
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