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

Aaron Hoos

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.

 


Aaron Hoos, writerAaron Hoos is a writer, strategist, and investor who builds and optimizes profitable sales funnels. He’s the author of several books, including The Sales Funnel Bible.

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

Here’s what you should do if you want to start a business but are stuck in a job

A lot of people have a job but would rather start a business. Problem is, they feel stuck.

… They feel stuck in their job because it pays them a predictable paycheck every week and they need to pay the mortgage and put food on the table rather than risk starting a business and not knowing whether they’ll be able to pay their mortgage during the early start-up days.

Friends, former coworkers, potential clients — many of the folks I know are in the same boat. Just recently someone reached out because they were facing exactly this scenario: They want to start a business, they have entrepreneurial aspirations, but they weren’t ready yet to give up the predictability and assurance of a paycheck.

HERE’S THE ADVICE I GIVE TO EVERYONE WHO IS STUCK IN A JOB AND WANTS TO QUIT

(The good news: It’s easy and fun to do, and there’s ZERO risk).

First, decide what problem you want to solve and determine what target market you want to serve. (Check out this blog post about how to research niche markets).

As well, start thinking about how you’ll solve this problem and serve this target market. You do not need to nail down a specific product or service that you’ll offer, although you should start thinking about it. However, you do not need to have a product or service yet, nor do you need to figure out price, etc.

Second, build a website about that problem and the solution. You can create a free website on a site like blogger.com or wordpress.com, although it doesn’t cost very much (and it looks way more professional) if you build a website that you pay for (i.e. buy a URL and get it hosted on a server). It’s simple and affordable (maybe $100 a year) and it gives you a ton more credibility.

Once you’ve built the site, just start writing about the problem and solution. I recommend a blog, although you don’t have to use a blog. But I do recommend that you blog about the problem and the solution regularly. At least twice a month, although you should probably blog about it a little more frequently than that. (Once a week is great).

Blog. Blog. Blog. Just keep blogging. Keep it simple, have fun, and most important, be helpful! Don’t worry about giving away your secret sauce too early; just add value to your audience and get them reading your site and listening to you.

The reality is, you probably won’t get much traction in the early weeks or months. That’s okay. There’s a few things going on here:

  1. You’re building a great foundation of content that will benefit you later
  2. You’re positioning yourself as an expert
  3. You’re testing the water to make sure you enjoy it and can sustain talking about it

… and of course you’re doing all that without quitting your job; you can do it about half an hour a week, in an evening. Easy!

Third, start sharing your content on other sites. Slowly start building marketing accounts at sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and start participating on industry forums. Don’t aggressively market, just start building content and interacting with people who find you there. Expect this to take a few weeks or months. That’s okay. Just keep working and having fun building this foundational component.

Fourth, assuming you’ve done the first three steps correctly, and a few months have passed and you’re now starting to get some traffic and some people listening to you, then you can decide what to do. I would consider building an email list at this point using a service like Aweber. Sign up for Aweber and add a contact form to your website. Then website visitors will add their email address to the contact form and you can start emailing them to connect with them on a deeper level. Again, expect to take a few weeks or even months to do this. There’s no rush.

Fifth, at this point, you should start thinking about something to sell. If at all possible, start with a content-based product that you can create and sell for passive income (such as an ebook or video training). That’s the best option, because it allows you to do this all while you’re still working.

If it’s impossible to start with a content-based product (for example, if you want to start a service-based business) then you need to make a decision:

  • Are you able to provide the service in the evenings and weekends? If so, you might consider starting that way. Lots of businesses start that way and it doesn’t take long to ramp up from there.
  • Are you able to outsource your customer leads to someone who can run the business? If you can sell your leads to someone else, or hire someone to perform the service for you, then you’re good. No need to quit your job if you don’t want to.
  • Or, you might have enough work to quit… then go ahead.

The easiest way to do assess whether or not you have enough potential business to quit your job is to do this: Send out an email to the list of contacts you built in the previous step and say, “Hey, I have some availability in about two weeks. You can hire me to (… do whatever service you’re selling). If you’re interested, just reply back.” If no one replies, there’s your answer. If people do reply, give them a small discount if they pay in advance so you have some cash flow during the transition. Then march into your boss’ office and hand in your two week’s notice.

QUESTIONS PEOPLE ASK ME ABOUT THIS METHOD

How long does it take to get this going? It takes only a few minutes to set it up and only about 30 minutes to an hour each week to keep it going. But the time to get to the point where you can quit your job, that part depends on you: You could be looking at weeks, months, or even years, depending on the target market you chose, the problem they feel and the solution you offer, how much you charge, and how much you position yourself. But I’ve seen this work over and over, and I’ve seen it take as little as 2-3 weeks. If you want, you can do this over a period of years; there’s no rush.

How much does it cost (or, can I use free services?) You CAN do this entirely for free. Actually, this is exactly what I did way back when I first started (using a blogger-based blog and a yahoo email address!) However, I wouldn’t recommend it. Setting this up doesn’t cost much — maybe $250 a year, max — but the level of professionalism that you achieve with that investment is priceless. Plus, if your business grows really big, you’ll need to eventually switch over to a regular (paid) site and that switch can be challenging after all the marketing you built up to your original free site in the first place. So seriously consider a paid site.

What happens if someone contacts me to buy from me but I’m still working and can’t serve them? If you can, see if you can help them on an evening or weekend, if appropriate. Or, sell them as a lead to another company who can help them. Or, if neither of those two things are possible, just tell them that you’re fully booked and can’t serve them at this time.

What happens if it doesn’t work out? Great! You’ve lost nothing but some time. Consider selling the website to someone else or just shut it down and consider it an investment into an education.

NOW GET STARTED

This is a simple, painless, and even FUN way to build the foundation of a business with no risk. I would advise anyone with a job to start doing this right away, even if you love your job and don’t want to quit. This creates options for you down the road but doesn’t expose you to any downside today. You may be able to build up a business that will replace your income (or just augment it)… and it’s easy to do.

My new business growth strategy: Attend more conferences

I used to avoid conferences. I had nothing against them but when I was first starting out in my business I didn’t have the money to go, and as my business grew I felt that I was too busy to go. In my mind, I could drop some money to attend a conference or I could just stay at home and earn instead.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Last year I attended my first conference. Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t have gone except that it was a conference that a client was putting on. This was a pretty big client who I had worked with for years but never met in person, plus the topic of the conference (real estate investing) was one that I wanted to build up some skill and knowledge in. So I went.

And it was amazing.

  • I learned a ton at the conference, of course.
  • Perhaps less of a surprise to some, I made so many contacts. This might be a “duh!” moment for some readers who already knew this. I knew I’d meet people, of course, but just assumed that those contacts would be like any other contact — a name and number and we’d never really connect again. I never realized the breadth, depth, or value of those connections before. From that one weekend, I made some really great contacts — some became clients; some became friends.
  • I picked up some new clients, adding maybe another 10% of revenue to my business.
  • I got my face out there in the industry a bit, too, which is a good thing.
  • I also met my avatar. This was a huge, unexpected benefit: I met the very people I would be marketing to. I learned so much about who my clients were from the people I met at this conference.

That one conference was really powerful and had a distinct impact on my business. So this year, I’m doing more: I’m attending three conferences (and, in fact, I’m speaking at one of them). I’d love to dial in even more conferences in the future… but baby steps, right?

I’m also doing a better job this year of building out a sales funnel for the people I meet. Specifically, if they’re prospective clients, I want a way to capture that information and put them into my funnel so I’m strategically connecting with them. (I had a bit of that last year but it was very rudimentary and not automated at all).

In the future, I’d love to attend a conference every month or two — perhaps including some as a speaker.

If you aren’t using conferences to level up your business, get started now. If you are already using attending conferences, what can you do to increase the results you get from them?

The very best business advice I’ve ever received

There’s a lot of business advice out there. What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?

I can’t think of better advice than this: Solve a problem.

It seems almost too simple but I can’t think of a better way to start and grow a business than simply to solve a problem.

Every successful business solves a problem. Sure, the problems that each business solves may vary in its severity and impact on our lives but they still solve a problem. The local donut shop solves a very different problem than a life insurance company, and you could argue that the problem solved by a donut shop isn’t quite as severe or impactful as the problem solved by insurance.

This simple business advice has 3 specific applications, at least one of which will apply to you right now and can help grow your business dramatically:

3 IMMEDIATE ACTIONS

  1. Your business doesn’t solve a problem. If your business is struggling, there’s a chance that you don’t actually solve a problem. Perhaps you’ve started a business that is more of a passion project or hobby, and you might even have a couple of customers come in who share the same interest. But if you don’t have enough customers, you might not actually solve a problem. Can youarticulate what problem you solve? If you can’t, take a look at the customers who have come through the door and the reasons that they buy.
  2. You don’t know what problem you solve. Hopefully you do solve a problem. If your customer base is inconsistent and it fluctuates in terms of both income and profitability then there’s a good chance that you solve a problem but don’t really know what that problem is. Ask your customers why they buy from you.
  3. You don’t effectively communicate the problem or the solution. Often, marketing is focused on what you do rather than the problem and your solution. (This is the classic features-versus-benefits problem that exists in a lot of marketing). It’s common but, fortunately, it’s also the easiest to solve of the three I’ve listed here. Your marketing needs to hammer home the problem and establish its severity to your audience, and then your marketing needs to build a case for why your solution provides the best value to them. (And if you’re already doing this then it’s just a matter of doing more of it and doing itbetter.

If you want to grow your business (and what business owner doesn’t???) then one of these 3 actions will apply to you.