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Topic: Crafty Business Interview #3 - Margaret aka CraftyChef  (Read 7666 times)
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« on: October 23, 2008 10:32:41 AM »

If you've spent any time around the business boards you'll recognize the name CraftyChef.  She's always around to give sage advice and honest opinions about anything and everything business related (and I thank her a million times over because she has much more patience than I!).

Alright, the first and most obvious question is: Exactly how many businesses do you operate, missy!?

I actually own only two businesses: Chef Margaret Personal Chef Service, and Crafty Chef Graphics. Under those two names, however,  I operate different divisions, and in Minnesota you can do that as long as you declare The Mother Ship in all your comminiques. So right now I operate:

My etsy shop, www.CraftyChefGraphics.etsy.com
My blog, www.CraftyChefGraphicsBlog.com
My handbag shop, www.ThePocketShop.etsy.com

At CraftyChefGraphics.com I sell clip art, handmade cards, and logo/graphic design to people in the food businesses. My target audience is self-employed personal chefs and others who are/will be running mostly small enterprises like catering companies, cafes and coffee shops. I like working one-on-one with owners. I dont do work for large companies simply because they make the process convoluted and there are too many decision makers.

In the works I have Dinner and Massage Twin Cities, which will eventually just bounce over to the Chef Margaret site. Im getting too old to lug groceries and equipment to make 5 meals at a time for folks, so these dinner-for-two events mean a lot less physical effort, not to mention planning. I can whip up a fancy-schmancy dinner for two with my eyes closed!

The Pocket Shop is a new Etsy shop where Ill be making fun, small, and efficient handbags, wallets, bags made out of oddities like pillows, curtains, table clothsum, with lots of pockets! Im perfecting my construction and assembly line techniques you have to start somewhere.

Ive also been named one of the managers for the Graphic Gurus Team at Etsy, and just for kicks I joined Etsy Bloggers, too.
I also have a health insurance job, 24 hours per week. Ive been working for a non-profit for about 11 years and my position there now allows me very flexible hours along with no phones or meetings.  Its like a crafters dream part-timer.

Basically I started to play with the idea of self employment in the mid 90s; late 90s actually went into the chef business; 2004 I officially started the design biz and 2008 Im playing around at Etsy.

Ive always been artsy/craftsy, so it was just a matter of time and technology before the graphics came along, but it all started withChristmas cookies. My sister was always the cookie maker, and one year she was traveling a lot for business. No cookies that year unless I made them myself. Thing is, I was completely ignorant in the kitchen. I made bread way back in my teens when whole wheat wasnt available at the store  (I was on a diet, of course!), but since thennothing. I lived out of pre-packaged everything. So I buckled down with Betty Crocker and was amazed what could happen when I followed a recipe!

Eventually I needed to make real dinner food, too, and then came a hankering to cook for a living. I was considering going to culinary school, and got as far as having my application approved, but at my age getting funding was a bit of an issue. If I had to spend $40K on an education, it should be for my daughter. I would find another way.

I took a bakery job at a local grocery. Wow was that ever painful. Theres a reason why bakers are fat. They need that bulk to lift those man-sized mixing bowls, doughnut racks, and dough batches that could star in a remake of The Blob. Im only 5 tall, and there wasnt a lot of me to boot, so I discovered quickly that wasnt the job for me. I also learned that cooking commercially doesnt even come close to providing that warm, home-cooked feeling.

Oh man, I'm tired just reading that! Cheesy  When did you decide to go into business for yourself? Was it gradual? Or did you jump in feet first?

A bit of half and half. I started doing research about what I could and couldnt do from home. Very few states allow you to produce baked goods out of your home kitchen my first thought and desire - and that was a no-no in Minnesota. The food industry is regulated to an insane degree, so I had to find another way to cook for people. I recalled reading waaay back about a guy who went to peoples homes to make them special dinners for two. After a bit of looking, I found an entire new industry had sprung up in the past few years: personal chefs were cooking all over the country, in peoples homes, and it was legal!

I went into business with my sister Katy because she liked to cook and was looking to give up her corporate life, too. We started  without a plan, cooking for people I knew from my office job, and eventually were cooking for others. A year or so later, we became official: Oasis Dining Personal Chef Service.

We were still working other jobs, and it was hard to market that business in our middle class area. Eventually I had to find out how to market, who to, where to find them, and all kinds of other things, which led me to create my own brochures, postcards, and all the things I needed to get those tasks done. I started to enjoy the designing part quite a bit.

Since Im a member of a chefs organization and active forums, I came into online contact with many other chefs needing the same things, plus logos for their businesses. I started volunteering to create them for people and it just went on from there. I named my business Into the Pan.

Since I have a niche design business, every graphic I create has value the logo rejects, for example, could be used for subsequent customers, or slapped on things available at another site Id been hearing about: Cafepress. I opened up a shop there, put a few things together, and subsequently ignored it for about a year and a half. I was busy, I was still working 32 hours at my office job, plus Katy was desiring a change shed been in the computer industry for 30 years and now wanted to make websites. Fancy that - all my graphic design customers also needed websites. Another good match for the sisters! I changed the chef business to Chef Margaret, and we officially split that business.

After drawing steaming frying  pans and tomatoes for about 5 years, though, it was time for another change. I love the creativity of crafters and felt I could really enjoy the design end of things. So I decided to change my name from Into the Pan to Crafty Chef Graphics, opened an Etsy shop, and I provide design services there, plus Im planning to sell things like hang  tags, customer thank you cards and other things for sellers of stuff, plus embellishment type objects for scrappers and card makers. Ive also invested in a 2.25 and a 1 button maker, so a few promotional product offerings and embellishments are possible there, too.

The handbag thing is just one more passion Ive developed, but really has to do with business, too. The Perfect Handbag has to hold all the things I need to market on the street. Its become a quest for pockets, hence The Pocket Shop.

How do you manage to get everything done?

I have a pretty stable week as far as getting work done goes. Mondays I get a good start on projects, then Tuesday and Wednesday I whittle away at them a bit more. Thursday through Saturday I finish up projects and send things off to customers.

I keep an Excel to-do list for each month which is also an invoice reminder among other things. Every time I get an idea or need to get a task done or have to send an email to a customer, it goes on the list. It is my brain.

Which endeavor is your favorite / your passion, and why?

I have to say I love it all. When Im cooking someone dinner, I like that best. When Im sewing, I like that best, and when Im creating a logo, I like that best. The great thing about being self-employed is that you can do the stuff you love to do. I think I just love the act of creation, whatever it is.

Focusing on your personal chef business, what are your favorite things to cook and why?

I love to make soup. Any kind of soup, and Ive talked plenty of clients into eating it for lunches and dinners!

I personally am a very plain eater. I like simple sauted chicken with a bit of salt and pepper and plain veggies with a bit of butter. I love comfort food pasta and meat sauce, mac and cheese, pot pies, meatloaf, and I can gobble down a bowl of green beans and call it dinner, too. I eat salads because I should folks, dont be afraid of salad dressing if thats what it takes to get you to eat raw veggies. I love fancy food dont get me wrong but I think I overdosed on it when I first started cooking!

What are the most popular catering items requests?

If by catering you mean preparing a meal in the clients home for a dinner party (which is where the difference between a personal chef and a caterer comes in caterers bring the food already prepared), there are only two foods in the world, apparently: filet mignon, and shrimp. For dessert theres only chocolate and crme brulee. Ive probably only done 5 dinner parties in almost 9 years where they requested something else.

Any great advice for those who want to use more local and seasonal ingredients without going broke?

My best advice is to create combination dishes with grains and liquids as much as possible so you can spread your expensive produce and meat around to several dishes instead of eating a big chunk of meat and a pile of veggies. Also, back to the soup thing, add liquid to make your meal bigger! If you can buy in a larger bulk, you can get a better price and freeze what you dont use now. Frozen vegetables and fruits are always an option, but you dont want to leave them in your freezer forever. Im not a big fan of frozen vegetables, but with my busy schedule I find I just put up with them!

How can a normal, busy person eat real, healthy food?

First you should ask yourself what you can be EXPECTED to do. For example, if my raw veggies and greens arent cut up for me when I buy them, I simply wont eat them. I decided I would rather pay a little extra for cut up veggies and bagged salad and they may not be the best tasting than go without. Ill divvy it all up into single-serve containers along with bits of cheese or meat as soon as I get home from shopping. It only takes 10 minutes, and if I dont do it then, it will not get done.

Single serve containers, by the way, can be your best friend if you find youre rushing out the door a lot. Plan ahead to eat right. A container of soup and an apple is an easy grab and a good meal.

I make sure I have either plain rice or pasta available in the fridge. If I dont get enough carbs I can go on doughnut binges! I can always toss something together with rice or pasta and heat it, but it takes time to boil the rice and pasta, so I make a few things like this in one day and dont have to worry about it later.

Any great ideas for ordering for a nice event on a budget?

Its never about the food! People will come to your party because they like you and want to have some fun, so dont worry about the food too much. If youre on a budget, youre on a budget, and food for a crowd is expensive. Put out a couple pans of lasagna or bowls of a pasta dish, some good bread and butter, make a salad, and have a good time! A caterer or chef will cost you plenty, big or small event.

Any guaranteed hits to take to parties that always go over well?

Just about anything in pastry will be gobbled up, either in a pie-like dough, puff pastry, or phyllo. You can put just about anything in them, but my favorite is finely chopped mushrooms with thyme, sherry, and sour cream in puff pastry. Even the folks who dont normally eat mushrooms will gobble them up.

Focusing on your graphic design business: How much time do you need to spend with a client before you know what type of package to create for the business?

I usually spend an initial half hour talking to a client about their needs and preferences though a lot of that can be just chatty. Many have visited my site(s) and have looked around at my packages and decide what they can afford, but I do ask them how theyll be using what they request; sometimes theyre even convinced I know what Im talking about and decide to go with item B instead of item A!

Are there certain standard questions that you have to know in order to be inspired to create a custom design package?

More people in my experience are fairly vague and not what you can call visual. The most frequent request I get is I want clean and professional, so I ask other questions like:
  • Do you prefer round or square shapes?
  • Do you like bright, pastel, muted, or deep colors?
  • Do you like plain or fancy fonts?
  • Do you prefer watercolors, oil paintings, modern art or whimsical clip art?

I usually just sit down with their business name after that and start playing around. Its never failed me yet!

Those are great questions! Who are your graphic arts heroes?

Not so much graphic art, but my hero would be my dear departed father who was the creative one in our family; our mom is more what Id call crafty and she gets an appreciation of a different kind. I discovered my fathers incredible talent when I found some of his drawings of soldiers and silly things in an album from his time in the army in WW2. He was always building things he built houses in those days but had no idea he could DRAW. It seems funny now that I thought drawing was cooler than building a house. So hes my real arts hero. I dont really get drooly over graphic designers. Its all subjective.

How has the internet changed the design business/good or bad?

Everyone in design talks about this, but the fact is that there are as many different kinds of customers as there are of designers. Not all designers are compatible with all customers needs or wants, budget, and vice versa.

All I know for sure is that without the internet, I would not be in business.

What customer demands do you love or dread and how do you handle them?

In the chef business I just love when people tell me they want to eat more vegetables, but it turns out only 4 vegetables qualify as edible! Also, when people think I can magically make their kids love good food when theyve been fed nothing but chicken nuggets and pizza from the cradle.

In the design business, there are always indecisive people who agonize over the fonts, colors, and photos. I try to never work with a contract, but I do have a couple pages of policies due to the very few folks who didnt understand when enough is enough already!

All you can really do is give people the facts: Yes, I can give you more, but then I need more from you, too!

How do you handle clients that "insist" that they know what they need even though, with your experience, they are way off base?

I dont think Ive ever experienced that. I hope I never do, but I get a few folks who have ideas. Most people with ideas end up with something else.

What kind of support for your many businesses do you have from your family and friends?

I wouldnt call it support, exactly. Most friends envy in a friendly way that Ive got my own thing, and Ive got a big family with plenty of their own issues going on, so though they know the Minnesota branch are all running their own businesses, theyre prettyneutral in their understanding and support!

My sister and I and my daughter live together and our mother lives in the apartment in our basement. My mom is pretty supportive; every Christmas shes poking around in my business just waiting to buy me something expensive. One year it was a wire binding machine, and I avoided letting her pay for my new custom computer table. In September I took her with me shopping and I was going to buy a new sewing machine. She whipped out her card for a new professional model and said This is your Christmas present. Well, thanks, Santa Mom!

What was the worst advice you have ever received and did not follow?

Ive had many people tell me that I should sell cookies and stuff. I mean, people pay less than a buck for a cookie. I would have to make 300 a day just to make ends meet! That would be illegally at home, mind about 20 sheets in my oven per day. People think I can cook out of my home. I cant.

What was the best advice that you received and did not follow?

I think I took all the good advice! I never seem to be able to do my bookkeeping once per week. Bookkeeping is my thorn. Somebody, please pull it out!

Is there anything you would take back or change if you had to do it all over?

Wed have to go back about 13 years to when we first moved to Minnesota. If I could do it all over I would move a lot closer to the more affluent areas of the Twin Cities. As it is I have to travel a half hour to get to the good cooking client areas.

What's the one bit of business advice you wish every Craftster knew?

That having a dream is NEVER ENOUGH. Without the right degree of determination you will NEVER make it. Determination is what gets you out of bed and ready to hit the streets and market yourself. Determination will make you improve the talent you have and surpass your current skill and business levels.

Very sage advice! So the final question is: what would you like caramelized onto your tombstone?

Finally taking a vacation.

Thanks so much CraftChef!
« Last Edit: June 02, 2010 09:07:10 AM by jungrrl » THIS ROCKS   Logged

I guess this is goodbye.

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« Reply #1 on: October 23, 2008 10:48:46 AM »

 I have been eagerly awaiting this interview..I am a BIG fan of craftychef and was very excited to read the interview..

 Great job!!

its ME!!
Soap licking is dangerous..please dont try it at home

will trade some soap for a superhero cape which will be used by the kid in my avatar ^^
« Reply #2 on: October 27, 2008 05:18:31 PM »

What a great article! Thanks Margaret for sharing all of your knowledge with us!

« Last Edit: October 27, 2008 05:37:23 PM by jungrrl - Reason: edited to comply with Craftster guidelines. » THIS ROCKS   Logged
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« Reply #3 on: October 27, 2008 05:45:38 PM »

This is an awesome interview and well worth reading! Grin

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« Reply #4 on: October 28, 2008 05:16:53 AM »

Thanks, all. I was totally surprised when Jungrrl asked to interview me. I might seem like a know-it-all at times, but I learn a lot too just by hanging out here.


« Reply #5 on: July 24, 2009 03:39:39 PM »

WOW very Informative.Thank you sooo much CHEF  8*)

Great advice

« Reply #6 on: October 21, 2009 02:58:28 PM »

Excellent posting! Thanks!
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