You might want to check out www.ecolechocolat.com they have an online course that specifically addresses a business plan for a chocolate based business. Their online and hands on courses are really quite good.
As a successful entrepreneur who has taken an internet company public, built and sold a furniture manufacturing company, and now own a very successful chocolate company, I can tell you that without knowing really who the people are who have given you advice in this forum, I agree with it. They have provided you some good advice.
I would like to add the following:
1. Business is about PROFIT - not emotion, passion, ego, or unicorns and rainbows. It is about making money, period. End of story. This understanding MUST be the foundation of your small business, as it will dictate what you do and don't do to generate profit. 80% of start-up business owners FAIL (NO PROFIT) in the first 24 months because they don't take this seriously. 90% of the remaining 20% will fail before the end of 5 years, largely because the business owner feels they have to do everything and burns out.
2. Track your time. Time is money, and if you had the money to burn you'd pay someone to do exactly what you are doing now - planning to build your business. Your time should be billed to your company - just as a consultant's time would be if you were rich and paying them to do it for you.
3. Work Backwards. Decide what you want to sell, and then write down EVERYTHING you need in order to make what you want to sell including pricing, suppliers, etc. Budgets are blown by purchasing gadgets that are "cool" to have, but unneccessary in making profit. When you are profitable, buy the cool stuff.
4. The most important spreadsheet for your business is a cashflow analysis - kind of like an expense statement, but shows when the cash comes in, and goes out. It can be the same as an expense statement IF you decide to not carry receivables. In my stores, people pay 100% in full when they order, REGARDLESS of the size of the order. I'm not in business to finance the purchase of a perishable discretionary product, nor am in the debt collection business. My staff have taken orders for as much as $15,000 from a single client, and everyone is fine with paying up front BEFORE the product is made.
Deciding what you want to sell, and then calculating the cost of equipment and supplies to get your product on the shelves, and doing your expense projections, will give you a very good understanding of your start-up costs, and ongoing needs as far as sales and so forth. You will quickly find that your overhead (your wage, rent, utilities, phone, internet connection, etc) will require you to sell a lot more product than you thought. Be prepared for a few very "slim" months when you first open.
There's lots more, but I hope this helps with your planning.
Well Jennifer.....you'll certainly have to make a lot of noise! Not being privy to your personal situation, I would be inclined to suggest a few:
Take samples and literature to every high end hair salon within 10 miles. A salon with 4 stylists will speak with at least 60 people each day from everywhere in the community. Just be clear that you're looking to get your name out.
Reach out to the 10 most visible and active non-profits in your community and offer them silent auction gifts for their fundraising events...again, be clear with them about your intention and be sure to provide you OWN easel-backed display and business cards.
Find a freelance PR person in your area who has solid contacts within the local media and have them send press releases to each of them every 3 months or so. There must be a hook though----why is your release topical or of interest to the reader?
And finally, put good money into the design and production of your interior and exterior signage...everything counts!
Oooops, one more thing; hire someone to do your social media...a good person will keep at you to provide them with details on what you're doing and for whom. Post consistently and pay Facebook to boost your posts----it works!
Feel free to contact me if you ever want to chat.
I tend to agree and disagree with Marc on some of these points:
Hair Salons: Great idea. Cross Promote! Each stylist for the most part is her own business person, and rents a chair. Offer her some kind of incentive for suggesting her customers come in and purchase from you. The incentive can also be chocolate.
Non Profits: Don't reach out to them. Trust me, THEY will find you. In fact, ALL of them will find you and ask for donations. Owning a chocolate company paints a target on your back for every "worthy cause" on the planet to approach you for free stuff. In fact if you are in a bigger city, you will eventually get pissed off at the number of them that come out of the woodwork with their hands out and the promise of "promoting" you at their event. I tried it several ways, and nobody at these events cares where the chocolate comes from. They just want to eat, drink and be merry, and in fact, the single person who wins the gift basket you painstakingly made... well.... That's a VERY expensive way to win over ONE SINGLE customer.
PR. I agree. Find a hook and let local foodies, food critics, and media people know about it. They are always looking for an interesting story.
Money and Signage.... That's a nebulous one. I'm of the opinion that if you spend your time and money on flavour, and not fancy signage you will do way better in the long run. Think about this for a second: What is your absolute favourite restaurant in the world - the one that you go back to time and time again? It's probably a little hole in the wall that serves your dinner on waxed paper, and NOT the fancy pretentous million dollar monstrosity in the middle of downtown, that charges you $20 for a glass of house wine. If you do your job right, and make fabulous confections you could write in crayon on your window "Best Damned Chocolate in the World" then challenge people to find out for themselves. They'll come in, and if they like it, they'll come back time and time again. YOU become their comfort food.
Social Media.... It should only be PART of your marketing strategy. I know a thing or two about internet marketing. Yes, social media spreads the word. However it is real bad for the most important part of the marketing process: "Call to Action." I have had great success with sites like Groupon, LivingSocial and so forth. Once you get past the shock of just what you are getting out of the deal they offer, and calculate how much return business you will get from the deal, it makes very good sense for this kind of business. I also agree that keeping your FB page up to date and fresh is very important. It doesn't have to be anything serious. For example this morning I covered my face with corn starch, held a bowl up to it full of fresh marshmallows we use for our confections, took a picture, and wrote in the caption "Got a little carried away testing my fresh marmallows this morning. OMG they are good! I hate my job." We're getting tons of likes, and it's light and fun.
Hope that helps.
Disagreeing makes for great discourse and I'm all for it! I have a Chocolatier client who has an "intense dislike" for nonprofits because of having been through exactly what you describe. And while that has not been my personal experience, your position has merit.
In my case, I donated an "in home chocolate tasting for 20" (valued at $400) and it turned into a $1500 25th anniversary event for 40 complete with local congressman and community leaders in attendance. It worked well for me and that's why I suggested to make it clear why one is making the donation. It may have helped that I was present during the auction and offered to dress as an Aztec warrior if the bidding when to $1000....thankfully, it only went for face value :)
I believe that everything comes down to very clear communication....clear expectations and questioning for understanding. Having served on boards of nonprofits ("community benefit organizations" is the emerging moniker), I have made connections with some of my region's most influential leaders.
You're right. Clear communication IS crucial. Events are a great way to donate to non profits, and we do exactly that. In the past 5 years I have hosted over 400 events in our store called "Choklat Snobbery 101", and usually donate the proceeds of one event per month to a non profit. Essentially, they sell the tickets ($40 each), and keep 100% of the proceeds. I host the event, and get 2 hours of dedicated time from each person who attends. At the end of the night, each person has hopefully become a customer.
Also, from a marketing perspective, chocolate and wine events are fabulous ways to generate customers. We just ran a groupon promotion for our events, and sold over 2,000 tickets just for the Calgary store alone! This has my team hosting one every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evening for the next several months. Booking is now being taken for January events, and at the end of the night, almost everyone buys product as well.
This one promotion that I had to pay nothing up front for, will generate over $100,000 in sales just by itself over the next 12 months, and create tremendous word of mouth.
The events are a great "handshake" for a chocolate business and a non profit. In both cases, each party wins every time.
As a business owner with only four years under my belt, how do you get businesses like Whole Foods, Williams Sonoma and Marmaxx to pay you when they send a P.O.? I am insanely curious as the best I can get out of any of them is a 3%NET10 or 15. Most are NET 30-90. I think we could all learn a lesson from you?
Here's your answer: "Look sir. You are buying a perishable product that must either be restocked or discarded long before the "net 30/60/90" you are offering. If you feel this is a good product for your stores, I'll be happy to sell it to you based on a PO, and subject to payment in full being available on or before delivery. I can send your payables department an invoice as soon as we get the PO. I'm simply not prepared to go down the road of doing battle with your accounting department if they decide to give the product back after it doesn't sell, thereby dishonoring our sales agreement. We made it on good faith. It's up to you to sell it before its shelf life comes to an end."
If they can't agree to your terms, don't sell to them. Too many people get all excited and giddy when a Big Box retailer comes knocking on their door. They see dollar signs in their eyes and forget that business is about profit and cashflow. Sometimes doing business with a Big Box retailer is a really bad thing for a small business. I personally know of one chocolatier who went out of business because of a single bad deal with Costco - a deal that had them dishonor their HUGE PO and return almost 20 pallets of crappy chocolate truffle THEY asked for against the advice of the chocolatier.
Sometimes it's perfectly OK to walk away from a business deal.
Essentially what "net 30" means is that you deliver the product on day one, and then get paid 30 days after the product is delivered. Some companies pay 60 and 90 days after they receive the product (90 is very rare).
3% Net 10, essentially means that the purchaser gets a 3% discount off the invoice if paying within 10 days of getting the product instead of the standard 30 days.
Hope that helps.