The last 2 weeks has been a whirlwind of food events, from fun to educational. How to recap it all? I realized most inspirational are stories of those who have made big leaps forward by “winging it,” sailing along as events unfold through smart, rapid decision making. (Or officially: “to accomplish or perform something without full preparation or knowledge; improvise.”)
To most effectively “wing” something, you must have a vision of your end goal. Your vision lets you think and act quickly as opportunities and pitfalls arise. Read through these stories and you’ll see how you can master The Art of Winging It In Food and Business:
There’s nothing like a “hard deadline” to force a project launch, and the semi-annual food trade shows such as ExpoWest and the Fancy Food Show are the ultimate, for food entrepreneurs ready to make a splash.
While many booths screamed with glossy backdrops, glowing displays, and sexy packaging, the most memorable to me was Gardenbar, a new savory meal bar from the maker of Garden Burger. One of the team members offered a cellophane wrapped sample, running to grab mockup of their yet-to-be-printed packaging. No matter. The bars, which they’d worked to develop for 2 1/2 years, spoke for themselves.
Sure it’s easier to make an impression when you have a track record of a successful previous business, but when good food is involved, being genuine and personable is just as good as glossy, if not better. Not to mention, getting feedback on product before printing packaging from all the attendees is an invaluable opportunity.
Preserve a Bumper Crop (@ California Farm Conference)
My life revolves around farms, food products, and connecting the two. So it was only natural that in the last two weeks I heard from a couple of people whose lives also revolve around these:
Todd Champagne from Happy Girl Kitchen spoke at the Value-Added Products session at the Small Farm Conference. I didn’t know that they can co-pack for organic farms, transforming produce into preserves, without the hassle, cost and regulation of doing it yourself. But they can and do!
At ExpoWest, I learned that Just Tomatoes really does have a tomato farm, which is how their freeze dried vegetable business got started. They dry the tomatoes right after picking. Nothing like a crop of produce to get you to wing it, not to mention a crop of sheep (see Bellwether Farms‘ story) or goats (see almost every goat cheese maker’s story!)
Make Fondue Without a Recipe (@ Cochon 555)
See how you can wing it with this quick fondue making session with Ray Bair of Cheese Plus (a San Francisco shop), at the Cochon 555 event in St. Helena. Note how well he wings my questions!
Start a Small Street Food Festival (@ Delilah Snell’s in Santa Ana)
Patchwork, in Southern California, has got to be one of the coolest websites and neatest art / craft / food street fairs I’ve heard of.
While the logistics and cost of getting permission to block off streets might seem overwhelming (to me!), Delilah Snell – master preserver and manager of the first Eat Real Festival in Los Angeles – has it down:
Find a block and a timeframe that overcomes any obstacles the city may find to granting a low cost, effortless permit. Essentially, do not block major traffic through-ways and avoid inconveniencing local businesses and residents. For huge festivals, it becomes more of a challenge. But this approach makes a seemingly difficult aspect of a small street food and craft festivals very wing-able.
Start Selling Your Candy (@ dinner with p.o.p. candy)
There’s nothing more interesting to me than hearing how a successful, growing food company put the stake in the ground to get started, let alone choose what they’re making. It was to my delight that p.o.p. candy, Santa Monica-based maker of nut butter crunch run by an uber-organized team, followed the time-honored method: winging it.
In fact, their name, branding, and step into the public eye at the Mar Vista farmers’ market followed happenstance. Rachel Flores had been making the butter crunch for years, as holiday gifts. Several times a respected shop keeper suggested that she sell it. The opportunity arose to share a booth at the market and test the public’s reaction.
Several heated brainstorms later, she and her partner Bill had settled on the name, pulled together packaging, made a few batches (which they do themselves on a stove to this day), and took flight. The rest will be history.
This is how so many small food companies get started, is exciting, and it works. Totally inspirational for the winging-it inclined.
5 Ways to Wing It While Reducing Risk
I wrote these 5 ideas in a general way as they truly can apply both to your business and life.
- Ask for feedback from your target customer / audience before making the leap. I recently had 20 people taste and review some new food products, and fill out a survey along with a discussion, as a reality check on what seemed like good ideas.
- Minimize expenses – Borrow, rent or share whatever resources you’ll need to get the job done. Again, ask others how they’ve done it. When a local cookie maker lost her commercial kitchen, she knew she needed to keep baking – wherever – and tapped into me and her network to quickly find a location.
- Have a Plan B – What if winging it doesn’t work? While you may not want to think “negatively” from the get go, a Plan B may help you realize Plan A isn’t so scary after all, and really go for it. Know that Plan B does not signify failure, but learning, adapting, and capitalizing on unforeseen opportunities. Note: The development of Twitter was not a Plan A.
- Focus – Know your key objectives for what you’re trying to accomplish. Back to Gardenbar, they wanted to get their new bars in as many mouths and their story in as many ears as possible. Wowing people with finished packaging was less of a priority.
- Question perfectionism – The most artisanal food entrepreneurs I know master the art of perfection. The only downside is this may slow you down if you’re not ready to leap at opportunities. The upside of course is making an impressive first impression. Ask whether perfection outweighs winging it, and if you can achieve the appearance of perfection through “hacked together” means. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
How have you winged it in food and business for success…or as a learning experience?