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How to Start a Food Business at Home

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Wondering how to start a food business at home? Locally produced, handmade and artisan foods have grown immensely in popularity and the demand continues to rise. The possibilities are endless, of course. You may want to work with a local u-pick to harvest, can and sell old-fashioned heirloom tomatoes at their peak of freshness, bake organic oatmeal and raisin cookies with healthy virgin coconut oil for overnight delivery across the country, or supply local restaurants with your secret recipe for apple pie. Whatever your vision, you can use a straightforward process that takes you from step one of starting a food business at home to the point of receiving that very first paycheck.

Practice. This may sound too simple, but it's a time-honored first step for developing a successful food business from home. It allows you to work out the kinks you don't yet know you have without the pressure you'll have once you've started a business and your reputation is on the line. This means to set yourself goals with your food product beyond just making it when you feel like it and serving it to whomever happens to show up. Set yourself several specific goals where the food product must be made and delivered on time. Offer to donate a certain amount to a charity bake sale, or decide every business in town that ever did a good job for you will get some delivered on a Friday afternoon. Note people's responses, and if you have more than one food product, which ones they like the best.

Develop a "working" business name, logo and slogan and make a mock business card with them either by hand or on your computer. "Working" means they can change later, so don't hire an artist yet. By creating these three upfront, an energy will begin to form. Carry the pretend business card around with you in your wallet, take it out now and then, and allow your intuition to work on it for a week or so. After a week, tweak it if you want. It may still change after today, but now it's time to go on to step three.

Write a quick overview. When you write a business plan for your at-home food business, you discover your strong points as well as the blank spots that need to be filled in. It's nice to start with a quick overview first to keep yourself motivated and better prepare for the actual business plan. Visit SCORE.org for their Quick Start Business Plan and fill it out. Unlike traditional business plans, this one is very short and gives you and others a clear, focused snapshot of your future small at-home food business. You'll also sharpen your ideas, and the act of writing it down will access areas of your brain that can help you succeed. It can help you decide or make sure your idea of selling to retail stores at a discount will pay off. If not, you can readjust now instead of after it's too late, and find ways to sell direct to customers for full retail.

Finalize your business name and get legal. Contact your county health department to see what rules apply to start a food business at home. If they say your food product must be prepared in a certified kitchen, find out what the rules are for such a kitchen. If it's something simple you can do to your own kitchen, complete this step. If not, find a local church, university or school that allows you to use their certified kitchen on Saturdays for free or for a low price. Also contact your county extension service, as they're sometimes aware of certified kitchens for farmers who want to make food products from their crops for sale. Contact your Chamber of Commerce to see what other local, state or federal business permits or licenses are required, and complete their requirements using your now-permanent business name.

Get financing if necessary. Some people prefer not to finance with loans. They either find grants or just start from the bootstraps, working only from what they make with every sale. However, if you need either grants or financing, go to SCORE.org and look under "Financing" in the "Topics" section and you'll find how to get loans and other ways to finance when opening a small business. If you want formal financing, on this same website, you'll find tutorials for writing a longer, more detailed business plan which will help you make sure the cost of financing will eventually bring in a profitable cash flow.

Get a personal business coach for free. Using SCORE.org or other sites you may find in a Google search, find and choose an experienced volunteer business coach that will help you with customized concerns every step of the way when opening a small business. Find one that has experience in your type, or a similar type of business. They are in every geographical location in the country, but you can also correspond online. Along with any customized questions you have, find out if you should get extra liability insurance and operate as a sole proprietorship, an LLC, a small corporation or another form of business entity that will protect you and your assets.

Complete your final business print materials and online presence. With the help of your business coach, finalize the look of any print -- such as business cards -- promotional materials you'll hand out, and set up a website. If you won't be selling or marketing online, you may simply want a single-page low-cost description and contact information for a Web presence. If you're planning to have your Web presence be your main marketing tool, as well as the main place where people will place orders, look into hosting services to create a more elaborate site for your at-home food business.

Market your business and begin. To start a food business, unless you plan to sell only online, make sure you get your marketing materials to all the possible outlets that apply to your food product or products: local restaurants, local B&Bs, personal chefs, caterers, gift basket businesses and event planners, among others. Consider getting yourself known by offering your food item as a prize for a drawing where many people will see it. For example, work with a non-competing food-related merchant, such as a kitchen shop, where you can make up a beautiful gift basket full of your food item and allow people to enter names in the drawing for free, or buy a raffle ticket with the money going to a local charity. Send a press release to the media about this project.

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