There are 2.3 million chefs in the United States, and a recent study shows that over 90% spend their careers working hard for someone else’s business while dreaming of starting and running their own. Sadly, the vast majority of chefs take never get beyond the idea stage. The dream stage.
Ideas are fun, but action is where it’s at. The most important part of any project, Aristotle told us, is to begin. Since it’s helpful to see how others have successfully gone before you (and not only survived, but thrived), I’m going to share a story about a real-life chef and friend, Josh. He’s crushing it in business and he did it by taking action with these three simple steps.
To Start Work in the Personal Chef and Private Chef World You Need Good Food and Better Business Skills
Let’s face it, to run a business you need Business Skills.
Whether you’re the best butcher, the most creative baker, or some super innovative candlemaker, you’d better know how to run the business side of your business. Your food won’t get you out of the kitchen. Your business skills will.
The market rewards successful business execution. Not ideas, unfortunately, and not talent. (Not even delicious food.) Business.
If you’re reading this, you already know how to cook. Chefs who own their own independent chef business apply their rage to master in the kitchen to their business. That means devotung the time to learn as much about the business end as you do about the food. Read. Do mental sit-ups. Hire a coach. Put in the time. Increase your business skills. Invest in yourself.
And, Know Thyself.
Huh? Well, it was one of only two sentences written on Apollo’s Temple at Delphi, but that’s not important right now. What’s important is how knowing yourself helps you become a Personal Chef or a Private Chef by identifying what you want, why you want it, what you’re willing to do to get it, and what you need to learn to add to the good food and skills you already have.
When chef Josh came to us in 2015 he was already a good chef. He was working in a sushi restaurant doing great work but living paycheck to paycheck. What he really wanted was to call his own shots, do what he loves and get paid what he’s worth. So he took action and came to us for help with his business.
Personal Chefs Get Paid More When They Define Their Niche
The world needs chefs. Personal Chefs and Private Chefs. (Believe it or not, most people don’t like to cook and they consider it money well-spent to hire a professional to cook it for them.) There’s no question the world needs chefs. The real question for you, chef, is who will you serve?
You gotta find a Niche. And to niche it up, you have to Know Thyself.
You have to know, exactly, how the food you cook solves a unique problem for the customers and clients you serve. In business, it’s not about big brush strokes—it’s about acute details. The super fine-point. The sword’s tip. That’s how you penetrate. That’s how you profit.
So, dive deep into a niche you’re passionate about. You don’t even have to create anything new; you just have to offer a solution to your ideal clients’ problems.
Here are some examples of niches that pay chefs handsomely for their skills:
- a chef who helps athletes reach peak performance through nutrition
- a chef who transforms a family’s eating routine after one member’s celiac diagnosis
- a chef who specializes in executing specialized diets for people who find them laborious and hard to stick to
- a chef who brings families back to the weeknight dinner table
Chef Josh is a sushi chef and he brings the quality of an exceptional sushi restaurant experience to private homes for parties. No more waiting in a line or shouting over the babel of crowds. No more drinking and driving.
Chef Josh’s offering a something people love and want in a unique way to solve a problem for his clients. Niche it up and create a business that naturally attracts your ideal clients.
It happens. Think ‘small’ niche to get big.
Successful Chefs Execute Their Business Map: Here’s Chef Josh’s Story
When Chef Josh first ditched the restaurant scene to fulfill his dream of owning his own business he started working with us at HeyChef!, my Lake Tahoe-based Independent Chef staffing business. We helped him fill his calendar with good-paying gigs and get his feet on the ground. Our systems helped him focus on his food and making clients happy while he learned the behind-the-scenes processes that makes it easy to thrive as an independent chef. We showed him the ropes and in a short time he learned how to handle booking gigs, executing them, invoicing, follow up and business management. We miss him dearly, but he doesn’t need HeyChef!’s help booking gigs anymore. He got big. And he went BIG by going small.
No website. No logo. Not even a business card. Nope, Josh had a sidewalk. And he knew how to execute a niched-out business map.
He started doing popups outside a small grocery in the shopping village at the Northstar California ski resort. And every time he prepared his sushi (selling rolls + offering some freebies) homeowners with ski chalets would inevitably stop by for a sample. It didn’t matter that Mikuni, an actual sushi restaurant, was about a hundred yards away. People liked not having to wait for a table. And people liked Josh.
Josh knew this.
With the potential clients (second home owners who love sushi = great niche) enjoying his ahi, Josh would then step into phase two of his business map: Book Gigs. He’d upsell the heck out of himself by talking about what he could create inside their home, in their kitchen, just for them. He didn’t have to be salesman-like, he was just being himself. He’d build on their desire to ‘host friends in my own home’ and when they asked for his contact info he’d get theirs as well so he could follow up. With an exchange of phone numbers and a handshake, he’d book gigs on the spot.
Josh found a niche. He went small to get big. He got out in front of ideal customers. And now he’s the region’s top Independent Sushi Chef. Not bad.
Final Truths for the Independent Chefs Who Are Ready to Step Into Business Ownership
The good news is this: the same characteristics which bring you success in your personal life transfer over to your business. Know Thyself. Increase Your Skills. Execute Your Plan.
Here’s another truth: Personal systems and business systems are inseparably connected.
So, like Chef Josh did, examine the way you manage your time, belongings, responsibilities, and people. Look at the organization of your garage or closet. Evaluate the chaos and pace of your weekday morning-routine. Be honest about the habits within your primary relationship and the manner in which you handle your finances.
The way we do one thing is the way we do everything. Chef Josh had to sort a few things out before he got the ‘popup’ execution down. (I remember one April 14th he came in to HeyChef! headquarters like a student cramming for a final, and we worked together to reconstruct some of his receipts and business records so he could file his taxes before the deadline.) He made the changes. He learned new skills. He took action — and off he went.
The areas in which you currently ‘fall short’ are sign-posts for trouble spots in your business. Change them by increasing your skills. Change them for the better and fast-track your business. Know Thyself — or you’d better pray for dumb luck.
Chef Josh didn’t rely on luck. He got his shit in order and made a business map. He invested in a coach, found a niche, began, executed.
Now he calls his own shots. Gets paid what he’s worth, too.