Company Growth: Know Your Dreams

One challenge our members are often faced with is how to grow.  The Northern Virginia market is expensive and crowded.  Standing out in that crowd seems to be impossible.  

The "Valley of Death" is a real thing.  It is that point after the excitement of owning your company wears off and the equilibrium of business management kicks in.  It kills many, many companies.  Mostly because the owners do not know how to plan and cannot see their way out.

I am often shocked by how many business owners do not know what they want to do with their companies or are afraid to admit that they dream big.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to create an empire.  Equally there is nothing wrong with striving for financial and physical freedom.  Both are great dreams.

Once you admit your dreams, now you need to plan for them.  Creating your vision is easy...when you close your eyes, what does the fantasy look like?  Why do you want your company?  

Strategizing how to get there can be hard.  There are so many roads to take...and most of them end in a dead end.  Figuring out those dead ends is the art of doing business.  The best tool in your toolbox for figuring it out?  Numbers. 

Numbers--and knowing how to interpret them--are what make big companies big and why small businesses remain small.  The vast majority of small business owners do not see the value of reports and analytics.  But, if you look closely, your numbers are your magic ball.  They can tell you how to be profitable, what you spend money on, how to maximize your profitability and how to change your company strategy to allow you to thrive.  

As a small business owner, the best piece of advise any expert should give you; learn your numbers.  How to look at them, how to calculate them and what they mean.  Take a financial projections class.  Take a pricing and costing course.  Take an accounting course. 

Frontier Kitchen has worked with over 150 companies in our 3 short years.  If I had to boil down the difference between start ups that make it and those that go out of business, it would have to be numbers.  Those owners that understand how to use their numbers to create the company of their dreams, do.  Those owners that do not, close. 


Regulatory Licensing for Food Companies in Virginia

To be clear, food licensing requirements vary by state.  The information below covers our experience and our members' experiences specifically with the Virginia Commonwealth government.  

Your licensing requirements are fully dependent on what you make.  So, lets go by category.

1. Baked goods/non-hazardous food items.  Virginia has excellent cottage laws for brand new businesses looking to get started.  If you make cupcakes/breads/cookies (and more) you are permitted to make them from your home and sell them at farmers markets (excepting if you live in Arlington and Alexandria jurisdictions).   This is a great way to start without adding overhead into your budget.

A word of caution, however...from personal experience, you are likely to run out of room very, very quickly.  Plan your startup funds to include overhead by no later than month 3 if you are interested in growing as quickly as possible.

Once you are ready, you will require licensing from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Commerce (VDAC).  Sometimes you can get your home licensed to produce but, again, space and equipment are always an issue.

2. Catering.  Due to time/temperature/sanitation requirements, it is never a good idea to make ready-to-serve meals from your home.  No counties in Virginia permit you to do so.  This is important because if you try to do so, you cannot get insurance on your company (and, even if you could, if there was a food handling incident your insurance wouldn't cover it because you are working illegally).  Don't do it.  Save up money enough money for at least 3-6 months of kitchen overhead and startup fees and join an incubator that can help you with proper licensing.

3. Prepackaged Meals. Ok, this one is a little more challenging.  If your desire is to sell prepackaged meals to grocery outlets (or any other reseller) AND your meals contain animal protein, you will require USDA inspection while cooking.  This is an expensive and time consuming process that we do not recommend for new companies.  However, there is an exemption in the USDA regulations for direct-to-consumer sales that states [paraphrased] if the consumer is buying directly from the manufacturer, USDA inspection is not required.  So, find direct sales outlets--delivery and subscription services are popular--at least in the beginning.

4. Drinks.  In Virginia, this is also handled by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Commerce.  You may be required to take a course called the "Better Process Control School" that will help you understand dangers and mitigation of spoilage/foodborne illness with shelf stable products.  

There are always exceptions and opportunities, no matter what you would like to make.  If you have further questions on what it would take to put your specific idea into production, contact us today.


5 Reasons to Start Your Company

Almost everyone dreams of being their own boss.  But less than 5% of people will ever really take that leap.  Here are 5 reasons that tell you when you should take that leap..

1. You feel awful at the end (or beginning) of everyday.  The cubicle grind is tough--terrible commutes, backstabbing coworkers and terrible bosses.  Being on your own means you are in complete control of your day providing levels of freedom that you can only imagine!

2. You are the hardest worker at your job but are unappreciated.  Starting your own company is the hardest work you will ever do.  

3. You want more for your family's future. Whether it is teaching the fundamentals of business to your kids or just taking control of your family's finances, starting your own company puts you in the drivers seat.  The car may be difficult push start it up hill, but once it gets moving--watch out!    

4. Your energy and knowledge are your best resource.  Here in the DC area, many of us work in government industry jobs.  You likely have a great looking resume and an unfulfilling, boring job.   Even if you have never cooked professionally, ALL of your previous skills matter when it comes to running a company.  

5. You are ready to learn and challenge yourself.  Owning your own company is a steep learning curve.  No matter how much you research, read and work with others, being in charge yourself and spending your own money is very, very different from anything you have done before.  Everyday brings new challenges and, if you are open and honest with yourself, will shape you into a new person.  Being the boss is as much about being a student as it is being a leader.