How to Start Your Dream Food Business

Sarah Hancox noticed her love for the food industry when working as a second job as a waitress.  It excited her more than her day job at the Evening Standard.  She signed up for an HND in hospitality and went on to run a restaurant with her brother.  But her love of Adelaide lured her and her husband back home – where she arrived – ‘emotionally exhausted and in a broken-down state.’

“Shattered, I took six months out and eventually recovered and got a temping job. But the days dragged, so I went into real estate”



Researching the market

“While in real estate I had started thinking about the food busi­ness again and as we became more familiar with Adelaide and the market, it seemed to become a real possibility.

“I started as a small stall in a food court within a shopping mall.  I cooked in the morning and served the food, and it was all gone by lunchtime. It enabled me to have a really good look at how Adelaide worked, how it dressed, how much money people had. It was a great insight into the market. Without realising I was doing it, I was looking in the Businesses For Sale section in the paper and came across a very cheap food outlet in the city centre.

“We were sitting in the back garden one hot summer night, drinking a great bottle of South Australian wine, lamenting the fact that it was very hard to buy something other than Asian fast food for lunch in the city centre. I already knew what type of dishes people liked to buy from my experience in the restaurant and wondered if I could produce that type of food for the price that people were prepared to pay for lunch. My husband works in marketing and I have always been a believer in strong market­ing. By the time we finished the bottle, we had a framework – the name, how the shopfront would look, the menu and what equip­ment would be needed, who the customers would be and how to reach


Researching the food court

“I sat every day for a week just watching what went on in the food court – when it was busy, who was purchasing, what they were purchasing, what they looked like, who was just walking through, where else they shopped.

“I then approached my bank. Having an appropriate qualifica­tion and lots of experience is always a good thing when talking to banks. And they definitely will want to see a business plan. Put everything into it – it doesn’t matter how trivial it may be.

“I spoke to all of my friends and associates who buy their lunch in the city and I ate at a lot of different outlets to see what the quality and pricing was like.

“I did approach a local business enterprise council but for some reason they were very unhelpful and told me that there wasn’t a market for what I wanted to do. True to my character, I ignored everything they said and pushed it to the back of my mind.


1. Know your trade. These days you need to know your strengths, whether it is cooking or in other parts of the business. If it’s not cooking, take a back seat and let your chef do it but be able to fill in for them if for any reason they can’t.

2. Understand your target market. Know who they are, how to reach them and what they want.

3. Know your key performance indicators. You need to understand your KPIs very well, especially your food and labour costs. This will help you understand your cash flow and what’s happening in your business, including whether someone is stealing from you.

4. Quality products almost always produce a quality dish. People are very educated about food these days – many through watching cooking reality shows – so don’t scrimp on quality.

5. Focus on customer service. Too many in this industry forget about the customer and instead think they are the stars of the show. If no one is buying your product because they are not getting the right service then the venture is pointless.

6. Value your staff. Not only should you reward good work but you should not be afraid to get rid of poorly performing staff. By looking after staff you get low turnover and consistency of product.

7. Plan your menu well. Stick to your skill set and remember who is going to be eating your food as well as where and how.

8. Get a good accountant. You need someone who is proactive; they don’t have to understand your industry but they need to be able to make suggestions. You should also outsource anything that you don’t have skills in, especially marketing.

Could you be your own boss?  Read more inspiring stories from ordinary people.



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Excellent Customer Service will Build Your Dream Business

People laugh at me, for many reasons – but one of them is for my love of excellent Customer Service.  It costs nothing but makes the world of difference.   If you do something you love, or are managed well, you will provide great customer service.

Life, such as it is, meant a visit to a funeral directors this month.  A sterile experience that got straight down to business and the paperwork.  72 hours since being bereaved and no offer of condolences?  But this is your business?  Surely you would know how to handle death and provide exceptional customer service.  But it never materialised.


Just round the corner, Heather has been running her dream business: her fruit and flower business in the Lincolnshire town of Horncastle for 25 years.  She worked there since she was 12, managing it from the age of 17 and bought the shop outright for her 24th birthday.  She has been running it ever since.  Heather is always rushed off her feet but never too busy for a smile and a conversation.   She provided all the support and empathy you’d hope for from a human being  – let alone a funeral directors, at this time of distress.  We organised our flowers there and wish her business, much deserved and continued success. 

Like Heather, Dylis Guyan always treats the  customer “like gold dust.”   Dylis is one of the entrepreneurs in our new book, Start Your Dream Business.  She started from nothing, working into the night to support her two young children.  She now has 4 grandchildren and a thriving business advising companies who need to sell more:

“Always think about what’s in it for your customer.  Nobody really wants to pay for your product or service.  What they want to pay for is something that will enhance their lives, help achieve their objectives or prevent pain” advises Dylis.

People who are running their dream business find it easy to provide excellent customer service.    Do you?


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Top 6 Networking Tips from Carole Stone, Britain’s ‘Best Connected Woman‘

carole stone


Carole Stone earnt £20,000 p. a working for the BBC, but £250,000 a year after starting up her networking lunches which began by bringing 8 people together.   

  1. Spend half an hour a week on networking
  2. You will find solace in friends and friendship
  3. Take life by the scruff of the neck
  4. You need to know you can cope with the many failures you will encounter
  5. What’s the worst that can happen eg. You see someone you want to talk to but are too scared to approach them
  6. You will regret the things you don’t do more than the things you do and fail at.


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Career change: Physiotherapist to Christie Millinery Designs


‘Follow your passion’ – I used to read things like that and think they were really corny. But you can’t tell me I’m not heading in the right direction. I was on the front page of the local paper, and my ‘muse’ milliner contacted me to say she’s so inspired by what I’m doing!

Christie Stokes founder of Christie Millinery Designs

Christie is just starting out. But her story illustrates the dilemmas for anyone contemplating starting their own business. Christie captures many of the realities and practicalities of the first steps of the process.  Her life would be considerably easier if she had just stayed in her day job. It would also be a lot less rewarding and fun.


Christie is torn between a sensible job with its lure of a regular salary and a new-found passion that brings her unmitigated joy.  She is cramming millinery around her day job because she doesn’t feel confident enough to make the leap and do it full-time.

Christie is a ‘work in pro­gress’.

But sometimes you get to meet people and you sense from their drive, mindset and commitment that they are going to be successful. Indeed, Christie has already achieved much success in her short business career.

How did the change from physiotherapist to milliner begin?

“While in Canada I found myself in a hat shop and lost myself in there for an hour. I couldn’t even describe it. It was the weird­est sensation ever. At university, I used to make fascinators for the university races. I’d often thought of doing it on the side, but now I suddenly found myself engrossed in studying the hats! Then I came home for a wedding and visited the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane for a hat exhibition with my sister – and I had the exact same feeling. I just felt, ‘I’ve got to do this, it’s all-consuming – yet I’ve never really done it before!’”


I can’t do this

“I was devastated by the prospect of returning to Australia from Canada and settling down, getting married, having kids and being a physio for the rest of my life. I just thought, ‘I can’t do this.’”

Christie started looking into millinery and found a course in Melbourne.

“We were travelling, we were on the move, so packing up and relocating to a new city wasn’t a big deal. Melbourne is one of the hubs of millinery in the world and I found a course there that would allow me to fund myself through physio four days a week.


“I had been thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll do millinery part-time as a hobby.’ But that was the turning point. It’s what life’s about. We work 80 percent of our lives. So if I don’t have this kind of passion and it’s not giving me the joy that I need in 80 percent of my life, it’s not for me.” So Christie set about starting her own company.

“As a physio I’ve always worked for other people. People used to ask me if I wanted to open my own physio business. ‘Do you have that passion?’ And my answer was always, ‘No!’ But with this, it’s completely effortless. When I wake up in the morning, it’s all I think about. Pouring myself into it is all I want to do. It gives me so much joy and energy.”

Christie is busy getting her next collection ready.  You can read more of Christie’s story.    The stories of 15 other dream business owners who started from nothing is available at Foyles.

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How to be a successful woman in business

I met several people today who are in the midst of a career change.  They are working either full  or part-time  and  doing what they love as a side line.  One year in they need to make that leap and take a risk.  But will they?

I started a back bedroom project 5 years ago.  Today my co-writer Carole Ann Rice went on a panel for BBC Woman’s Hour to discuss what makes a woman successful.  Woman’s Hour have interviewed successful entrepreneurs who gave reasons as to why they have got to where they are today.    Taking risks is an important part of being a successful entrepreneur.

The films, which include Tracey Emin and Kanya King, are here:

In a nutshell the tips are these.

Be Ambitious
Be Resilient
Be In Balance
Be Connected
Be A Leader
Be Yourself

To get our book on the bookshelves we had to keep going.  Reasons to give up were many, varied and tempting.  But, if you listen to these entrepreneurs, never giving up is a key ingredient to success – and half the battle.

On the panel:  Carole Ann Rice, Life Coach, Columnist and Author of Start Your Dream Business, Ruby McGregor Smith CBE,  Karen Mattison MBE, Founder of Timewise Jobs, Sarah Veale Head of the Equality and Employment Rights at the TUC


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How to Thrive in a Man’s World by Eve Pollard

At the Sound Women Festival at the BBC Radio Theatre in central London,
the first lady of Fleet Street gave her top tips for success in your dream job:

    For a woman with a job & children, a good haircut is essential

    For a woman with a job & children, a good haircut is essential

  1. Ironing – don’t get good at it.  Sit on your children’s clothes to flatten them.
  2. Marry the right partner – I have, twice.  Someone who will support you.
  3. Live near work.  Children need you, more than they need leafy suburbs.  Apply for a council flat.
  4. Every woman needs her running away money.
  5. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t fuss over the bed linen.  People want to be together and feel well.  Have a friendly, open house and sit together.  It’s ok to get a ready meal.
  6. Don’t be judgemental about other women.  Your neighbour, who’s never worked a day in her life, might be the person who talks to your father when he visits.
  7. Worry about salary.  It buys you time so you can outsource.
  8. Be straight forward; be charming; be well read; be yourself.
  9. Have a very good haircut.  When you have children you’ll have no time to blow dry it.
  10. Women have to work harder.
  11. You have to network and go to the pub and when you do, do it with gusto.
  12. Never use the ‘s’ word.  Men never say sorry.
  13. Whilst men are spending all that time thinking about sex, you can be thinking about being clever.
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Start Your Dream Business


I have been lucky enough in the last few months (erm years) to have interviewed 16 fantastic and successful entrepreneurs.  It culminated in our event this week to launch our book #Start Your Dream Business.

We wrote our first book Find Your Dream Job in 2009.  Stories of people who changed from jobs they hated to jobs they love.  It appeared that the sacrifice of having a dream job, was a decent salary.  In our follow up book I wanted to know – can you have a job you love and earn shed loads of money doing it.  The answer is ‘yes.’  However, what surprised me, as I talked to high flyers from the business world, in no single case, was it about the money.  Everyone was determined to put right a social wrong, educate, had found a gap in the market, wanted to do something better or simply, to pursue their dream.   They were driven by their passion NOT money.  And as the cliche goes ‘the money followed.’

We were beside ourselves that entrepreneurs from the book inventor Shed Simove and Rosie Wolfenden from the amazing cult jewellery company @tattydevine joined us to help our book launch and celebrate with us.

Start Your Dream Business Cover hi res

The book is for anyone who harbours a ‘dream’ business idea on the back burner.  But doesn’t have the confidence, business experience or know how, how to put it into practise.  Having interviewed a ‘dream team’ of successful #entrepreneurs, I can say with confidence, that with all due respect, when they started out, they didn’t have a clue what they were doing either.  They learnt on the job and learnt from their mistakes.

It’s available here

and should you read it, do let us know what you think, and what you’re planning on starting up.

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