This guest blog comes from Dory Ford, the head chef and CEO of AQUA TERRA Culinary based in California’s Central Coast.
People tend to forget that businesses are just people who built a dream from the ground up with drive, passion and experience.
I started as a professional chef. Ten years in Canada, over nine years in Los Angeles, and five years in Monterey. I had the experience under my belt. Passion is what pulled me into the culinary scene in the first place. It was that added drive to finally do things on my own that really pushed me to begin the makings of the company.
“A laptop and a check”
Like the rock band that practices from their garage, I too (to no surprise) began weaving the fabric of my business from my house. All it took was a laptop and my first deposit check from a client.
My first bit of advice: you need a partner that can motivate and support you. And I’m not talking about a business partner. Your life partner needs to be prepared to hold on to that railing as you tumble through the ups and downs of starting your business — because as many ups there will be, there will almost certainly be more downs at first.
I got lucky — we never hit rock bottom because fortunately my wife had a solid career and was supportive from the get-go. Sure, things were tight back then, but my wife would never have let me give up so easily. She probably believed in me more than I did.
“Understanding cash flow, brand and business”
When your business starts to take off, you begin to realize that the hard part is actually only just beginning. Those days of reaping, building, struggling with my laptop at my dining room table were nothing compared to the next steps.
Money and expenses was obviously a significant issue. I found myself spending more than I was earning. I needed to find a smart way to pay for ingredients and services without wasting my time and energy on accounting, a profession that was not my own.
I understood that in order to overcome these challenges, I needed to put my time into getting the name and brand out into the market so that enough exposure would start drawing customers to me. Even more so, I needed to delve into understanding the mechanics of the way the business works.
In the last decade, I was told that social media would play a big influence. And while it did have somewhat of an effect on how we were perceived by the market, I found that word of mouth has always been and remains our biggest driver.
“Finding your niche is less important”
Many would claim that it is important to focus on a specialty or find your niche in order to set yourself apart from the rest of the market and draw in a specific group.
I actually always found that finding your niche is less important than understanding your customer and understanding the market.
We didn’t go for a single niche. We wanted to extend into the broader market and maximize ourselves as much as possible, so we actually kept adding more revenue streams. We stuck to “focusing on the food” and never wavered from high client satisfaction.
“Get more involved in day-to-day operations”
I wanted to build the best team out there — every business does.
What I came to understand is that the more I was involved in day-to-day operations, the more motivated my team was and the more well-oiled the machine was. We focused on driving organization and consistency — perfect execution — and clients and customers would rave about us.
We’ve recently instituted some effective business principles of EOS (the Entrepreneurial Operating System) that have had a dramatic effect on how we operate as a company. Traction has helped me increase focus and accountability amongst my team so that our vision is perfectly executed, every day.
“Consider how scalable things are as opposed to just executing”
When I look at the way the business is run as opposed to when it first started, I can say that while the core values have not changed much, the vision has.
Operating with less than 20 employees gives you a different perspective and approach to the way you run a company as opposed to operating with almost 200. We’ve had to put systems and core processes in place in order to manage the growth of our team and company more effectively.
I now look at things and consider how scalable they are as opposed to just executing.
“Change is good as long as it’s not at your expense”
Our methods have improved throughout the years, adapting to changes in the market and within ourselves as we have grown.
New methods can bring new levels of efficiency, and we have always made sure this was never done at the expense of the quality of our products or our services.
“Try, test and find the right methods to increase productivity while maintaining high standards of quality”
We’ve tried new things with our services and remained open to new ideas while making sure to always keep customer satisfaction the first and foremost priority.
Our team has since grown considerably, and with that the selection process for new team members have become more stringent. While I was able to count the number of events I was serving on one hand, today we’re operating across six properties and produce over 600 offsite events annually.
If you are not constantly evolving and adapting, you become stagnant, and growth will cease.
“Personal life…? (insert ‘laugh 'till you cry’ emoji here)”
In all reality, I am driven and a workaholic. I am constantly analyzing and picking up new ideas everywhere I go. I take important business calls anytime, because customers are my number one priority.
I do still take small snippets to myself to clear my thoughts and get me back on track, like golf or self-prescribed 24-hour timeouts.
“The secret to success lies in your core values”
Our core values are Consistency, Integrity, and Initiative. No matter who you are and what your business is, be bold and continue reaching beyond what you have done before.
While we’ve built our business on these strong foundations, we’ve learned some fundamental points throughout the years that we’ve integrated into our very being — and any company would do well to implement them.
Hire good people — and get out of their way
Get over yourself
Be bold and swing for the fences
If you sell it, deliver it
Out-think and out-work your competition
Good isn’t good enough, it’s gotta be great — every time