I lost count of the number of times my parents told me this rather irritating expression when I was small. However, recently I have met two women entrepreneurs who demonstrate just how true this old saying is. Both have used their skills in and love of cooking to create successful businesses.
Escaping from an unhappy marriage, Lely arrived here from the Far East with a tiny baby. How was she to earn a living? For the initial few years, she set up a stall in a market, baby in tow, selling culinary products from her native Thailand. Gradually the business flourished. She rented a small shop, and started producing Thai food. The combination of her excellent cuisine and her warm personality, no doubt seasoned with a hefty dose of determination, ensured a steady growth in clientele. First one restaurant, then another opened, and now Lely has a thriving chain, despite the recession, serving excellent oriental dishes.
Redundancy of her husband, who had been the main breadwinner, was the reason for Sue’s business start-up. She had been a nursery school teacher, but realising that the family needed more money than this would produce, she decided to combine her love of cooking with her teaching skills. Sue transformed her garage at home into a large kitchen, where she could accommodate a small class of students. Cleverly she marketed herself not to the bored housewife wanting to know the finer points of an asparagus souffle, but to those who might not have any cooking nous, or indeed any domestic skills at all. She now has a steady stream of students, such as kids leaving school or uni, or kitchen-incompetent guys, and provides practical, useful guidance at all levels. She also makes it fun. Now there’s a challenge!
If you have an idea for a business and want to progress it, you are probably thinking in earnest about your business plan. If you are looking for outside finance, you are no doubt keen that the business plan will be a great marketing tool for your idea to banks or other investors.
Years ago, when private equity was still called venture capital, I was involved in funding start-ups. I would look through countless business plans, trying to sort the ‘possible’ from the ‘dream-on’ varieties, with a view to investing in the best. Some plans were back-of-the-envelope affairs, with enthusiasm but no financial viability analysis; some described in depth inventive products, but showed no realism with regard to cost of production; others assumed world domination in a few months.
But what really put me off was the business plan that plainly had been written by someone other than the people who were going to make the idea happen. However slick the document, with every possible detail carefully analysed in beautiful spreadsheets, if the words do not reflect the essence of the entrepreneur – his enthusiasm, her conviction the idea will succeed, their commitment to the project – then the proposal will lack that essential ingredient that is the reason for making an investment. The basis of our decisions was mimicry of estate agents’ ‘location, location, location’ replacing the key word with ‘management’. Yes, of course we wanted to see that the projections made sense, and that the amount of investment required was adequate and would be wisely spent; that there was indeed a market for the product or service, and that it would be sold appropriately. But the key was always: is this the right person to make the proposed business succeed?
So if you do use professionals to help compile your business plan, make sure that the final result is imbued with your DNA, and that it convinces the reader why you are the one to turn the plan into the success you describe.