Tips And Tricks To Starting Your Own Small Business, From The Owners Of We Are Food

Turn your hobby into your career!

Women's Health |

Building your own small business relies heavily on having the passion to put in the hours and create something that you’re not only proud of, but that people can’t live without. Founders and owners of We Are Food, a frozen-food delivery service based in Durban, Amy Weare and Jane Bisset have passion in bucketfuls. They also have great advice for newbie small business owners who are looking to up their game. Get ready to take some notes…

1/ Describe your journey to becoming successful business owners. Why did you start your business?

Jane: I started the business from my parents’ kitchen, back in 2013, after family members requested quick and easy meals to feed their families. After a few years of working from home, the business organically grew, so we took the plunge and moved to an industrial kitchen in Durban North. This gave the business a little more legitimacy and meant that I had to take my hobby a lot more seriously to ensure its viability.

In 2016, my sister returned from a stint in Australia and joined me as a full-time partner. We began to ramp things up and focused on growing a national footprint, building our retail offering with amazing stockists and our own We are Food stores, launching a new website and upgrading our kitchen, to name just a few of the projects we undertook.

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2/ What were the three most important steps you took when starting your business?

Jane: What started as somewhat of a hobby on the side slowly gained traction thanks to a few key points (which my Mum, Didee, a great entrepreneur herself, instilled in me throughout those early days):

– We kept a meticulous database of all customers so we could get in touch with them later on and entice them with new meals and special offers.

– We focused on customer service, something which is so damaging if done poorly, yet so easy to get right by maintaining great communication. If someone didn’t enjoy their meal, a replacement would be in their hands within 24 hours.

– We kept set-up costs as low as possible and everything we bought was secondhand, or we searched for great deals, and we only spent on flashy new equipment when we absolutely had to. This is a principle we still try to maintain today when purchasing anything for the business, as it reduces the financial pressure we have to deal with and helps us sleep a little better at night.

3/ What’s the most important thing you’ve ever done for your business?

Jane: I reached out to a similar business in the UK which I admired from the early days and has been operating for over 25 years. It was a real shot in the dark, but they responded and we promptly visited their kitchen in Kent where we gained invaluable insight and now have lifelong friends and mentors to turn to. This is a wonderful gift for any entrepreneur.

Amy: Personally we made great sacrifices for the business in the early days and kept our personal expenses really tight to ensure that we could invest time, energy and cash into the business. Fortunately we work in a food business, so we were always kept well fed, but all the usual beauty, entertainment and luxury splurges become much less of a priority.

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4/ How did you upskill yourself in the ways of running a business?

Jane: I joined every entrepreneurial group out there and attended loads of motivational talks. This is a great way to meet like-minded people, and learn from experts in various fields who provide incredible real life examples and share war stories – and boost motivation when I’m feeling a little flat.

5/ What is the one thing you will not compromise on?

Amy: As a family, and a business, we have strong ethical values when it comes to how we treat other people, whether it’s our customers, our team or further afield in the community. Our team is the most important element in the business and we’ve worked really hard to create a company culture we’re proud of.

We are incredibly proud of our pledge to pay our team a living wage – this is above minimum wage and is set by international standards, allowing for basic human needs, as well as saving and money left to live a comfortable and secure life. We’ve also implemented a development plan where we focus on our team members’ personal and professional development, mental health, financial skills and other areas of development that will help to ensure that they are fulfilled at work and at home.

6/ How do you make sure your business stands out from your competitors?

Amy: We are a small business with a big heart that combines a team of people with loads of passion. We aren’t perfect and we don’t run a slick operation, like our big corporate competitors, but we have a story with a real human element and we believe that our customers appreciate this.

7/ What drives you to keep going when things get really tough?

Jane: Our team and their families. We now employ 26 people, who in turn support over 150 people. The thought of failing them keeps us motivated during the toughest days.

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8/ How do you make sure that each of your voices is heard/represented in your business?

Amy: We are very fortunate to both be rather vocal (and opinionated), so we always ensure we are both heard! But, most importantly, from the day I joined the business in 2016, it became evident very quickly that we each had very unique strengths and weaknesses that complemented each other so well, and distinct roles for each of us became clear.

This, balanced with our shared values and ethics in life, means that 99 percent of the time we are in agreement. But when we’re not, we always turn to our mum to be the mediator so we’re able to talk everything through and reasonably come to a decision.

9/ What’s one thing you wish you’d known at the beginning that would have saved you so much grief?

Amy: Focus on the focus! One great thing about running your own business is that you are incredibly agile and have freedom to make decisions and changes as you see fit. We get rather excited about new ideas that we may not have applied enough critical thought to, and have been steered a little off the pathway more than once, which has cost us time and money. Rather apply razor-sharp focus and self-control to perfecting your business model without allowing too much distraction. Once you’ve built a viable core offering, then you can start to build on other concepts and ideas.

10/ What’s the best advice you’ve received and how has it helped you?

Jane: One of our mentors warned us to “be careful of the suits”. What he meant by this was to be mindful of advice we received from “sensible” corporate gurus, as “sensible” advice can remove all joy and fun from your business.

Remember you have to work harder than you’ve ever worked before to build a business, so focus on doing what you do with passion and determination and the countless hours won’t feel like a chore, but rather a real investment into your future.

Looking for more advice from Amy, Jane and other businesswomen on starting your own business? Get your copy of Women’s Health now!

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