What Five Qualities Does A Personal Chef Need To Run Their Own Business?
Chefs who know me know I don’t cook — but they know I’m tough. That’s what we have in common. And it takes toughness to survive these days. Despite my toughness, these last six months I’ve needed a plan to help me navigate my day-to-day — and sometimes, even my hour-to-hour.
I’m fortunate that I have a job that gives me purpose, but I’ve still been struggling to keep my ‘thought-life’ sane and hopeful. And a lot of really tough chefs have it even worse — because they’re unemployed, underemployed, and are afraid to take the next steps to call their own shots and get paid what they’re worth.
This blog isn’t all sunshine and lollipops. Things are tough. But these times require chefs to muster a different kind of toughness than they use in the kitchen. A new kind of toughness.
So let’s look at the ‘Five C’s’ tough-as-nails chefs need to navigate these times and their future.
Yeah, many chefs see this cream-puff term and roll their eyes. But know this: if you have piss-poor communication in your life (or your work) you feel it: Your relationships are suffering, your job sucks, and you may even dread getting out of bed in the morning. It doesn’t have to be this way, chef; the importance of good communication cannot be understated.
(Think you’re not the one with horrible communication skills? Check out my previous blog, 7 Characteristics of Truly Terrible Chef-Bosses, and find out if that’s the whole truth.)
The quality of how you communicate — how you get what is inside your mind to those around you, with clarity — has the power to affect your mood, your spouse, your kids, your coworkers, your team, your life.
An unspoken expectation is nothing more than a thought. You have to speak your desires to those around you (and sometimes to yourself) to get the results you want. I know you love to cook — but imagine how much less ‘old school tough’ you’ll have to be when your kitchen runs on smooth communication. That’s the ‘new tough.’
Being Able To Effectively Communicate Doesn’t Mean You Have All The Answers, And Sometimes You Have To Communicate That Too.
Bonus: The DO NOT DISTURB button on my phone is a valid communication technique. It allows me to filter the incoming communication so I can communicate on my terms — when I am ready. I don’t get caught off guard, so I never send that text I wish I could get back.
Communication doesn’t mean you don’t get to tell like it is. Just transform your rants into something positive and well-crafted on social media. Tough-as-nails chefs communicate the positive image of hard work. And people respond to them because of it.
Tough chefs think they have to ‘do it all on their own.’ They pride themselves on things like their ability to endure, to slug it out, to ‘get by.’ These chefs are mistaken; they’ve forgotten that collaboration opens doors.
- One of the (many) COVID-19 collaboration success stories I’ve heard involved a gal whose work revolves around weddings. But, with the pandemic, her business was dying. Wedding after wedding was cancelled. She needed to act fast to save her ship. So she collaborated with as many people as possible, reaching out to influencers across her community to keep her team working and to stay in business. (It did a lot of good too.) She talked with everyone she knew, got ideas, action-oriented gameplans — and started a GoFundMe for an ‘Adopt a Medical Worker’ program. In her first week alone, she served over 650 lunches. Because she asked for help.
Here’s why this collaboration was so effective:
- She was open, with herself and with others, about needing to stay in business. She was not ‘too proud.’
- Even though ‘lunches’ weren’t directly related to her wedding-oriented business, she expanded her reach to a larger community in need. She was adaptable.
- She positioned herself in her community as a leader (and a generous one at that). And people took note of her.
- Her actions created good will and gave her tons of good press and publicity. (For free.) And it established a certain altruism to her brand — all while keeping her staff working, getting paid, and keeping her business going.
- Because of this collaboration, she added a new stream of income to her business — one that now, moving forward, is integral to her company. To maintain her income stream (weddings will happen again someday) she adapted this plan to respond to future emergencies such as fires, hurricanes, and floods. (Quite the woman.)
Talk about ‘new tough!’ Collaboration saved her butt — and her business.
Let’s get real. Business is competitive, so compassion is often seen as a weakness rather than toughness.
But tough-as-nails chefs know when to be compassionate toward themselves. They also understand when an act of compassion will serve others and produce better results than an insistence of being ‘old school tough.’
Getting caught up in being tough clutters the mind. Your survival (and your prosperity) depends on clear thinking, clarity of mind, peace of mind. It’s not some ‘external pandemic problem’ that’ll take your personal or private chef business down — it’s an internal thinking problem that will. Compassion helps you rise above it.
Allow negative thoughts to come (we’re human, they will) and then allow them to go. You’re not invincible, and you’re not perfect. No one is served by expecting of yourself more than should be given.
By seeing opportunity in everything, you can adapt in the moment and treat yourself (and the world) with compassion. Give a little grace to yourself and you’ll be better equipped to give some grace to the next guy (they’re going through the same shit now, too).
Your mind is a muscle. The more time you devote to its development, the better your mind will perform. Compassion for yourself is one of the toughest exercises. Practice it to ‘still your mind’ and allow your best nature — and business — to come forth.
The legendary actor Gregory Peck says it this way: “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” Compassion ain’t easy, but it gives you a staying power that competition does not.
When it comes to being a chef in business, we know the ones who thrive have found ways to solve the tough problem of getting and keeping customers. The pandemic created a unique opportunity for independent chefs who were willing to think creatively. One catering company I know changed their ‘one day a week oven-ready meals program’ to three days a week and began including everyday necessities like toilet paper, paper towels, eggs, and other items they could buy in bulk. A catering company selling toilet paper? Genius. Creative.They still do catering and to-go meals, so they kept their business model intact. They just got creative. Because they had to. They remained true to their brand to avoid confusing their customers — and used the power of creativity to stay front-and-center in their community. That’s the ‘new tough’ of tough-as-nails chefs.
So here’s the thing: any chef who isn’t actively fulfilled by their purpose will dismiss this entire article as bullshit. I know. I know because I’ve been there. If your soul is dying because you’re not living the life you’re called to live, then communication, collaboration, compassion, and creativity are nearly worthless. That’s why this list of Cs culminates with Correction.
When the shit hits the fan, you want to be standing up wind! If you’re poorly positioned now, don’t wait to correct it. Take a step back, gain the perspective you need, and make some moves.
This pandemic has shown us a lot, not the least of which is the rich getting richer and the poor relying on unemployment — and the scraps of the biggest wealth transfer in human history. If you find yourself on the wrong end of this transformation, there are three easy steps you can do to correct it. For these tips, check out my blog from last week, The Biggest Wealth Transfer in History: Chef, Are You on the Right Side of It? If something is wrong, correct it. If you’re not making what you deserve, if you’re tired of working for someone else’s dream instead of your own, if you need to take the next step to running your own independent chef business, do it. Correct your life to fulfill your purpose. You can.
Why do chefs need to possess these characteristics?
Now, more than ever before, the lives of many chefs are in financial danger. These 5 C’s of Survival will help chefs to see the opportunities that can transform their careers and craft into the security and promise they deserve. (You’re an artist. A business person. A bad-ass. And it’s your future.) But taking action is up to you.
Now is not the time to sit around and numb out. Don’t wait for someone else to put you to work. It’s your responsibility to give yourself a future of purpose and pride. (And profits.) Navigating this future will require a new kind of toughness.
Chefs who ‘get by’ on their tenacity and endurance alone won’t reap the benefits that ‘new tough,’ tough-as-nails chefs do. Communicate, collaborate, get creative, correct — and emerge with grit to invest in yourself so you can take radical action.
Chef, I know you are talented, generous, artistic, and tough in so many ways. I also know that incorporating ‘The 5 C’s of Survival’ are a universal key to opening the door to a future of fulfillment — and to get paid what you’re worth doing work you love.