Wow, that was some hiatus! It’s taken me a lot longer to get back in the swing of things, post-baby, than I anticipated. Which is not to say that I’m actually IN the swing, as of yet, but I’m aiming to be. Summer’s the slowest time of year for personal chefs, so it’s been easy for me to stay laaaaazzzy and just keep floating along with my handful of clients. But as we head towards fall, I figure it’s time for me to get off my duff, since it’s always a back-in-the-saddle kind of time anyway. Parents eyeing the whole school/work/activities treadmill, knowing they face another year of what-am-I-going-to-get-on-the-table-for-dinner, often choose this time of year to send out those inquiring emails and start Googling personal chefs. So this is great time to be sure your web site is up to date, and all your other ducks are in a row, in order to best position you to add new business this fall.
Here’s what I’m doing to make sure I’m ready for fall, and new clients:
– Click thru every page on your web site. Look for broken links, outdated content, missing photos etc. Update your content and fix any problems you find. If this whole activity causes you to start cursing and throwing things b/c you hate trying to update your web site more than anything, make this the year you hit up Craigslist and offer a few bucks to a college student to either make your updates for you (cheap), or redo your web site so it’s easier for you to do (pricier but still not crazy expensive.) Don’t forget, EVERYONE could use some extra cash these days, and what was out of your reach a couple years ago may not be now. Everything is negotiable! And don’t be afraid to barter.
– Review your pricing. Make sure you’re comfortable with it; it should be somewhere between “I can’t believe someone would pay THIS much!” and “I can’t believe I’m bothering to leave the house for this much.” What I like to do is estimate how long it takes me to prepare X number of meals, say a 3/4, and set a per-hour figure in my head that seems fair for the skilled labor I perform (we’ll call this Y). X*Y=my price for that service. On days that I’m faster than that time, I feel like I’m making extra. When I’m slower, I lose money (mentally). Keeps it interesting! Also: don’t lower your prices trying to chase business. It’s a slippery slope that will leave you demoralized and resentful, which, if you recall, were feelings you were trying to avoid when you left corporate life/quit teaching/got a divorce/started your own business after your kids were out of the house, and decided to become a personal chef. Offer specials and deals, do temporary bonus things where you’ll throw in a baked good or breakfasts or snacks for the kids onto your regular service – add more value, instead of dropping the price. For businesses like ours, value is everything – we don’t compete on price.
– Make sure your client materials are up to date. Sample menus, client forms, questionnaires, etc. Fix typos, update designs, get rid of stuff you don’t use. Pare down your new-client forms as much as possible; less is always more – your clients are busy people. I’ve hacked my client questionnaire almost in half from it’s original 8 PAGE LENGTH. What was I thinking? (What I was thinking is that I needed to know absolutely everything in advance before I started…but I’ve realized over the years that you’ll learn from your clients as you cook for them, so you might as well wait until the information is useful, instead of abstract and almost theoretical. For instance, my questionnaire used to ask them for their favorite salad dressings, but over time I’ve realized that that really wasn’t important information to have at that point. I make the dressings that go with the salads – just because they love Thousand Island doesn’t mean I’m going to make it to go with their Roasted Beet Salad or whatever. If they want you to prepare just salad dressings for them to use with their own salads, they’ll ask you. Or you, because you are paying attention, will see how much they love salads, and offer to do it for them – as an add-on, or a periodic freebie that you’ll do without being asked or charging, to make them love you that much more.
– Restock and refresh your kit. Whatever it is that you deem essential to bring with you on cookdates – whether it’s just your knives, or everything from your spice kit to garbage bags and everything in between, now’s a good time to freshen it up. Top off your spices, replenish your cleaning stuff if you bring it, sharpen your knives. Look at whatever vessel is toting your gear and see if it needs cleaning or replacement. I looked at my backpack the other day and noted for the first time how grungy the back of it has gotten. A good 409ing took care of it, but ick. (I use a backpack b/c I HATE HATE HATE that feeling of an over-the-shoulder bag swinging down and bumping into the other stuff you’re trying to pick up when you bend over, causing you to have to hike it back up with your other hand, which for me is usually already holding at least 3 other things…grrr. Backpack = happy. I stuff it with my towels, apron, cooling fan, spices for the day, mini food processor, and a handful of other never-want-to-be-without-them tools.)
– Go shoe shopping. Who needs a reason? Just go! 🙂 But really, make sure you like the shoes you chef in. You should have nice comfy sturdy ones with good support – I’m a fan of Merrells myself, especially these. Please don’t ever wear open-toed shoes or, God forbid, Crocs in the kitchen, or if you do don’t tell me about it. Sharp things can be dropped, pots of boiling water can be spilled – plus, I’m sorry, but naked feet don’t belong in a client’s kitchen, any more than nail polish or your long lovely hair drifting down across your shoulders and into the fish tacos. Keep your flip flops in the car and change when you’re done. You should also be happy with the rest of your cheffing outfit; I bought a couple dozen v-neck shirts at Costco several years ago for $5 each, and had my logo embroidered on them. I like this b/c I don’t ever have to think of what to wear that day – like school uniforms. Many chefs put their logo on their aprons; also a good idea. I wear my shirts and rotate a few pairs of work-ish cotton pants in dark colors that hide splatters.
With an up-to-date web site, spiffy client materials, current pricing, a well-stocked bag and new shoes, you are now a force to be reckoned with! Go forth and cook. Happy fall!
Chefchick Says: Take one of your reusable grocery bags and stuff it full of towels, and keep it in your car, so you’ll never run out or forget to grab them. Buy your towels by the dozen at your favorite discount store – and as I learned from my hair-salon-owning-sister, dark ones last longer, since they don’t show stains as soon as white or light colors. I finally switched to black aprons too, for the same reason.