This Cooking School Has An Amazing Business Model — Can You Copy It?

My wife and I both love to cook and, if I may say so, we’re not too shabby at it. But we can always learn more. So, when we moved to a new city last year, we started looking for a place to boost our cooking skills, and that’s when we stumbled upon a local cooking school with a business model I’d never seen before.

(Disclaimer: maybe it’s not unique. I’ve just never seen it before but I think it’s brilliant, and something a lot of businesses may be able to borrow. And if you own a restaurant, and no one else is doing this in your city, you should seriously consider it!)

It’s called Schoolhaus Culinary Arts and it shares a building with a restaurant and a catering company, which is a smart way to double-up on your space and infrastructure for a related service.

You go to their website and look at their upcoming classes. Every day of the week is a class on something — from a type of food (i.e. bread) to a regional cuisine (i.e. Moroccan) to a specific type of cooking (i.e. cooking with beer). There’s something on offer just every single day.

You sign up for the class, pre-pay, and then show up on your selected day. The room is smaller than I thought it would be but it holds about 16 students, with enough equipment and counterspace for everyone. You tie on an apron, sign a waiver, and then the chef instructor leads you through some basic skills you need to know and tells you the order that you’ll be cooking the food in. Then the class is unleashed to begin. Everyone has their own place — including a knife and cutting board — at a table for 4 people. And you work with that group of 3 other people to prepare the dishes. Some dishes you eat as you finish them, others you save until the end.

Throughout the evening the chef instructors circulate through the room to give you tips and advice; oh, and there’s beer and wine for purchase too. Classes are 3 hours long, and at the end of the night the tables are pushed together and you share the food with everyone else in the class.

It’s a great time!

Janelle and I went to one class about Spanish Tapas, and later went back to Global Street Food. (We would have gone to more but our schedules haven’t allowed it, plus the classes sell out very fast so you have to book early — which is a lesson I’ve learned!) Not every recipe is a winner but you’ll end up with some things you love, other things you don’t, but it’s really the experience that is the highlight — as you make new friends and learn new skills and try recipes you’d never normally try. It’s very social.

LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT BUSINESS MODEL

It’s a great business model. It converts an empty space into a revenue-generating space. At about $75 per person plus drinks, it’s not out of the question to have people drop an average of $100 per person per night, so you’re looking at $1600 for a full class (and these classes sell out). You’ll need to buy the ingredients, supply the recipes and equipment, and pay for a couple of instructors and a clean-up person. But essentially you are guiding a sitting of people through the process of cooking their own meal.

It’s popular, which makes it a consistent money-maker.

Will the same business model work for you? Can you build separate brand in your business where you teach them to do what you do? Some businesses naturally do that already (I see that all the time in the real estate space that I work in) but I think this is a new concept to restaurants.

Maybe you own a restaurant and you’re busy in the evenings… but what about weekends? Can you offer a weekend cooking class? Or maybe you’re in the commercial district and you have a heavy lunch crowd but you close down for suppers… can you add a teaching segment? Or maybe you own a large building that is too big for your current restaurant, can you partition it off and run a culinary arts school on one side? Look at your potential clientele and figure out what works for them — you might do a 3 hour session like the one I’ve been to, or maybe you cut it back to a one-hour session that people can prep and then bring home. The details can be tweaked.

And, this extends beyond restaurants. Grocery stores could do this too. Or what about an accountancy that teaches people bookkeeping or business strategy? What about a daycare that teaches parents parenting skills? What about a garden center that teaches people gardening?

I think the sky’s the limit here. Sure, you’ll have to tweak the model a little for your industry and client-base but it’s very powerful.

‘The Professionals’ By Owen Laukkenan

I read a lot but normally I don’t post about the fiction I read… (unless it’s financial fiction). However, this book was really enjoyable and I wanted to tell you about it because I think the secret to good fiction is that every sentence compels you to read the next one. Or it should anyway. I think this book does a great job of doing that.

The Professionals is about a group of young adults (recent college grads who don’t want to enter the workforce) and they kidnap people for ransom. They’re careful, mobile, small time, and don’t ask for a lot of ransom, which helps to ensure that they don’t attract a lot of attention. But in this story, they kidnap the wrong person and things go awry and they’re pursued by gangsters, by state police, and by the FBI.

What makes this story so good is that the characters are believable and complex. And interestingly, the titular professionals are caught in the middle between the protagonists (the police) and the antagonists (the gangsters). Sometimes you’re rooting for the kidnappers and sometimes you aren’t. Not only that, the book does an excellent job of making you feel the helplessness of the main characters; you just don’t know what they’re going to do (or, what you’d do if you were in the same situation).

But the very best aspect of the book is on page 44 of the hardcover copy I read. This, in my opinion, is the most compelling page of the book and an excellent piece of writing.

Thoughts About Life And Business On My 41st Birthday

Aaron Hoos

41. Wow.

My “forties” seemed so far away when I was a kid. Looking back from today’s perspective, life has raced by in a flash.

Don’t worry; this isn’t a blog post where I bemoan getting older or I get all introspective or whatever. I’m actually going to talk about something else: growth, evolution, and change.

MY PERSONAL DEFINITION

It starts when I was a kid: For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. Other kids wanted to be astronauts or firefighters, I wanted to write.

Every chance I’d get, I’d write. My family and teachers humored encouraged me with it, which I suspect is probably how most kids develop skills in anything. For example, whenever my family played Scrabble, we’d write down all the words played during the game and then I would go write a story with all of those words in it. And a high school teacher let me skip all of those little English writing assignments if I wrote a book by the end of the year (I did). There are many other examples, too.

As I got older, though, the reality of what I could do to earn a living as a writer started to come into question. Book authoring was (and still can be) a who-you-know industry; and journalism wasn’t for me (I tried it and felt like an ambulance chaser). Copywriting wasn’t even something I realized existed (which is probably my biggest regret — that I didn’t start studying copywriting until well after college).

I pursued a different career in college before realizing that I would die if I didn’t write for a living. So, right after college, I started my first business. (I won’t bore you with the details here… you can read about it in my blog post Aaron Hoos — More Than You Need To Know Plus 8 Random Facts About Me.)

Anyway, my point is, I only ever wanted to be a writer. I worked my ass off and I am proudly living my life-long dream today.

All has been good since I started writing full time. Sure, there were some lean years early on but I’ve built enough skill and reputation that things have been pretty good.

But things have taken an unexpected turn lately, in a way I couldn’t have predicted: business has been REALLY good. Almost too good. So good, actually, that it’s a problem.

THE PROBLEM OF GROWTH

For years, my business grew steadily and predictably. But in 2013, after I made some tweaks to my branding and services and my prices and my target market, BOOM — my business started growing exponentially. This year it hit a point where it was too big.

I should have seen the signs throughout 2015 but by December 2015 I had SO much work, regardless of my higher rates, that I was turning away many people. And it was starting to impact my clients, too. At the beginning of 2016, 3 of my biggest clients each came to me and offered to put me on 100% retainer — essentially “buying” 100% of my time. And when I turned them down, they all suggested I think about expanding my business by hiring junior writers because they had so much work to send me and I couldn’t keep up.

And here’s where the problem lies…

… there is a cluster of mental obstacles that prevented me from hiring other writers to do my work:

  • I’ve hired an occasional writer from time to time and was never truly happy with the results.
  • In a previous business I was a manager in charge of a team and I didn’t love it, and later I was an editor-in-chief of a magazine and didn’t love that experience either.
  • I’m a very fast writer with specialized knowledge of my industry, so in the time it would take me to assign a project and then edit it afterward, I could have written the content myself.
  • Perhaps the biggest challenge: I’ve always defined myself as a writer… the person who sits at a keyboard and creates copy… I was afraid I’d be giving that up to become an editor (and editing other peoples’ work is a task I don’t love doing).

These were hurdles. I could ignore them for a long time (years) because it never really impacted me or my clients.

But starting in December, and growing in intensity in the first quarter of this year, I’ve had to make a change; I was my own bottleneck and it was well beyond the crisis point. I may define myself as a writer but I have clients and they need to be served so I’m rethinking how I run and grow my business.

AM I STILL A WRITER?

I’m building a team. I’ll continue to do what I do (writing, consulting, etc.) but I’ll be rearranging my business to work on some of the higher level stuff (and the higher-end copy and consulting) while the smaller stuff gets handed off to a team member. In fact, as I write this, I’ve hired 2 writers and have a short list of 2 more that I will likely hire shortly.

It’s not going to be easy because I’ve spent nearly 41 years defining myself as a writer and right now it feels like I’m giving that part up. (Okay, I’m sure I’m not fully “giving that part up” but it kind of feels that way right now.)

On the other hand, ever since I made the mental shift to grow my business in this way, and I started reaching out to other writers to hire them, I am thrilled by new opportunities that have presented themselves to grow my business in ways I wasn’t thinking about before. I have a number of new ventures that have come to the forefront in the past couple of days because of this, plus I also see the possibility of maybe being able to take a well-earned vacation (sometimes I probably should do more of but always resisted in the past).

I’m a little scared because last year at this time it certainly wasn’t where I expected to be in a year. On the other hand, we have to keep changing and growing and this could very well be the next step in my evolution.

I don’t fear change; I love it. But I also want to find a way to remain aligned with my goals and vision for my life and I’m embarking on the next step of a venture in which the path is less clear and the risk of misalignment feels very high. But I’m taking the step anyway.

Related Post: 37 Lessons About Business On My 37th Birthday

Inbox Fatigue: Why This New Era Of Anti-Email Isn’t Better, And A Prediction Of Future Communication

Slack. Asana. Voxer. We live in a time of amazing software that connects us and allows us to communicate for business.

… but is it good?

And is it better than email, which many are saying it is?

Well, at the risk of sounding like a curmudgeonly old man, I’m not convinced we’re in a better age.

I’m experiencing inbox fatigue — not fatigue from my email inbox but rather fatigue from the sheer number of inboxes I now have to manage.

Aaron Hoos Writer
This is not me. It’s a stock photo… doubtlessly of someone experiencing inbox fatigue!

THE EARLY DAYS WERE SIMPLER…

When I started my business (well, restarted my business) over 10 years ago, I had basically 3 inboxes:

  • Email was my primary inbox and in those early days I also used it as a project management system. I would accept projects in my email, work on them on my desktop, and then deliver them back through email.
  • And my phone — people would call and if they had to leave a voicemail then I’d get back to them.

These first two were my primary inboxes.

  • I also had an account on a site called Guru.com, which is a job-posting site that people would use to hire freelancers. I ran a bunch of my projects through there as well, so it was technically a third inbox (although those projects were automatically emailed to me so I could still monitor my Guru account in my email inbox).

So basically 2-3 inboxes.

Pretty simple.

…THEN THERE WAS INBOX CREEP…

Over time, things changed: There was the concurrent development of the growth of my own business as well as the advancement of technology.

So more clients, more complex clients, and more complex technology meant more inboxes to pay attention to…

  • Skype
  • Texts
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • More job boards (like Guru… including oDesk, Elance, etc.)
  • Basecamp
  • Client’s internal/proprietary project management systems

I also got my own act together and started managing my projects in another system instead of email (I tried a couple different ones but really clicked with Evernote, which I still love today).

It was a lot, and growing, but also manageable.

…AND NOW THERE’S INBOX OVERLOAD!

But today it’s become even more complex:

I have several clients using Slack, several more using Asana, and several more using Voxer, on top of the systems I’ve already mentioned above.

Yes, these all serve different purposes (some are communication-centric, others are for project management), but the bottom line is: they are all inboxes.

In short, I’ve gone from running a business with 2-3 inboxes to running a business with dozens of inboxes, sometimes multiple inboxes for just one client.

And it seems like we’re coming out with new inboxes all the time. Slack is relatively new, for example, and it’s touted as an email killer. Not surprisingly, several clients have jumped on board to use Slack instead of email. This will continue and it will grow as the next Slack and the NEXT Slack and the NEXT NEXT Slack is invented.

I’M NOT TURNING INTO AN OLD MAN — I HAVE A LEGIT POINT!

I swear — I’m NOT turning into a curmudgeonly old man. I realize that the level of client I now serve probably requires more complex communication and project management systems, and some of these systems provide value that email did not (such as versioning control). And to be frank, my business is far more complex and financially successful than in those simpler 2-inbox days so I definitely welcome the added features!

It seems like we’re in an era of “anti-email” — where communication is being done in more specific, more robust software that is more attuned to a single purpose.

But this new era of communication and project management causes me to wonder: is it better?

I don’t think it is.

In fact, I think this new era of anti-inbox communication is actually hurting us, for the following reasons:

1. We’ve reduced emails but we haven’t reduced messages: We once had inboxes that BURST at the seams with hundreds of emails flooding in every day and that was overwhelming.

(In fact, I still have a few clients with whom I have frequent “Replay All” email conversations between 4 of us, and if I miss a few emails while in a meeting then it takes a while to catch up.)

I understand that the sheer volume of emails is exhausting. But here’s the point I think people are missing: we’re not reducing the number of messages we once had; we’re just spreading them across more inboxes.

So instead of one big and daunting pile of emails (which is admittedly overwhelming) we have several small piles of messages in email, text, Skype, Facebook, Slack, Asana, Basecamp, Voxer, etc.

2. We are now paying an “invisible” price for this. We think we’re reducing email but we’re not — and now we’re ALSO paying a “switching cost” to check all of these different inboxes instead of just one. We now have to sign into several different inboxes to check those inboxes, communicate, etc.

3. We still use email for “important” things. Well, I don’t know about you but this is the case for me and my clients. We communicate on projects through all these various inboxes but whenever someone wants to raise the importance of something, they send an email. So email is still valued as a way to communicate but it’s become almost a place to indicate priority.

4. Even the anti-email mindset still benefits when there is only ONE inbox. It seems like people want multiple inboxes for different things, depending on the situation. They can have project management work in one set of inboxes and communication in another set of inboxes, etc. There’s this implicit idea that a single-inbox email is inefficient and old-school. Yet, how do you stay on top of all the notifications from each of these new and diverse inboxes? If you’re like most people I know, you do so through the notifications on your phone: each inbox has an app and each app notifies when there’s a new message. So all we’ve really done is take the single inbox value out of email and put it onto our phone. (But we still pay a “switching cost” to go from one app to another).

I THINK WE’LL SEE A SHIFT BACK

There is a lot of value to these apps. I use them and I like them. For example, I’m a big fan of Voxer. And Asana is growing on me (although it feels like a lot of its features were crammed in as an afterthought without a ton of user-experience consideration — IMO).

I think we’ll eventually* see a shift back to a single inbox in the future. We might not call it “email”. I predict that we’ll have some kind of inbox/dashboard/gathering-point, where all notifications will come into a single place from everywhere allowing us to review, sort, prioritize, and then launch into the right app.

… and this single inbox/dashboard/thing will need to be device agnostic so it works everywhere — on our mobile devices (replacing the mobile device itself as an inbox) and also on our laptops (for those of us who use them for work).

(* “eventually” = I’m not sure when. It’s not going to happen tomorrow. It could happen this year but I doubt it.)

My mobile device is working just fine as a notifier but I’d like something on my laptop too (so that I can download files I need to work on, etc.) and I’m hacking something together with my Evernote inbox, email, and IFTTT. But it’s sketchy.

If you are a developer looking for a project, I think this is going to be huge. People think they want an email killer but what they really want is one place to gather EVERYTHING. Right now we’re using our mobile devices to do that, but that has limitations. What we really need is an inbox that is like our email inbox right now (everything in one place) but doesn’t seem like email… and from which we can review, sort, filter, prioritize, and manage all those messages from all those inboxes… and to be able to access that anywhere (mobile devices, online, desktop/laptop, etc.)

In the meantime? I assume we’ll just keep piling on the apps every time a new supposed “email-killer” inbox comes out. And I guess we’ll just use our mobile devices to ping us every time we get a message.

Eventually we’ll get tired of it and do something about it.

Social Media Business Hour Podcast: Learn The Secrets Of Profitable Sales Funnels And Copywriting

social-media-business-hour-podcast-aaron-hoos-201512

I was familiar with Nile Nickel’s Social Media Business Hour podcast so I was honored to be invited on as a guest. We covered a lot of ground and the podcast went by so quickly!

We talked about how a sales funnel should be defined (most people define it incorrectly), and the importance of an intentional sales funnel, rather than a sales funnel that grows organically and exists by default. We talk about how I got into sales funnels in the first place and what attracted me to profitable sales funnels as one of the most compelling opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs. Then, since the podcast is about social media, I connected it back to social media and showed how your sales funnel needs to exist even in your social content. Then I shared (overshared?) my formula for creating amazing headlines — this piece was really valuable for Nile’s audience!

Click here to listen to my interview with Nile Nickel about profitable sales funnels and copywriting

Want to interview me on your podcast? Click here to learn how to book me as a guest.