Marketing Your Business
CAROL GODSMARK food journalist, restaurant critic and consultant. She is also the author of How to Start and Run Your Own Restaurant and a caterer with twenty years experience. She is based in Chichester, West Sussex.
Marketing is one of the most important aspects of your business to get right. You need to give a clear, concise message. It also pays to keep on examining your strategies and to re-evaluate your marketing strengths – and weaknesses – regularly.
MAKING MARKETING A PRIORITY
The market is steadily becoming more sophisticated and the numbers of good catering companies to choose from are on the increase. You need to stand out from the crowd. It isn’t enough to sit back and think that your good cooking will pull customers in without some extensive marketing on your part. This is where caterers can become unstuck. Get a strategy, allocate funding and do your homework.
You may find your time taken up with just running your new business once you are up and running. If you are the sole person the business relies on you to shop, cook, deliver, wash up, do the banking, the invoices, the cleaning, hiring staff and dealing with clients. It can be very hard but you will have to carry on selling your business to prospective clients to increase your client base – so do factor in time to do this.
If you are a one-man band with few competitors in a less populated area you may be able to spend less time spent on marketing. Your business will build via word of mouth and repeat business – but you have to do the leg work in order to get those clients in the first place.
This chapter covers:
- identifying your market;
- choosing a name;
- advice on signage;
- business cards;
- menu design;
- web pages;
- launching yourself in the market;
- getting a media profile;
- expansion of the business through cookery classes and cookbooks.
IDENTIFYING YOUR TARGET MARKET
This is vital. You need to identify your customers’ ages, incomes and occupations. Perhaps there are some local businesses too? Then think about your customers’ needs – corporate functions, weddings, social events, farmers’ markets, mail order etc.
What about the competition? Look at other local catering companies’ strengths and their market share. Are there few catering businesses in the area? If so, examine why.
And finally think about trends which will affect your customer base – lifestyle changes, population shifts, and new businesses requiring catering.
There are various ways to get this information including:
- the business section of a good local library;
- your local Business Link office;
- local commerce or traders’ groups;
- professional market research services;
- talking to prospective customers, marquee companies and suppliers.
CHOOSING A NAME
How do you see your company? Mainly catering for weddings and other special occasions; for the businesses in your area; or as a jack-of-all-trades offering catering for all occasions? Perhaps you want a thriving sandwich trade, delivering to shops, offices and other outlets.
What messages are you sending out with names like Kwizeen, Grace and Flavour, Fodder Mongers, Radish, Tasty Tucker and Lushous? I would suggest not very professional ones. But it does depend on your market if you decide to go for a name that may incur a wry smile, or if you choose another which fits your aims and personality. Many caterers choose their names (Elizabeth Dunant Catering Partnership for example), link up partners’ names (Letheby & Christopher) or select an impersonal name (Regency Catering, Portsmouth Outside Catering, Cucumber Catering, Regal Caterers).
At the same time, you should avoid choosing bland a name that no one remembers. Or a complicated, tongue-twisting one which you struggle with when you answer the phone. Your company’s name is a vital word-of-mouth marketing tool, and you will not gain if customers can’t pronounce the name to pass on to their friends and colleagues.
If you choose a very French, Italian or Indian name it will pigeonhole you. Potential customers may be put off by the narrow menu that the name suggests. And although your menu may be in a French, Italian or Indian vein when you start your business you may develop it to provide food from all over the world: don’t be stuck with a name that restricts you. Of course, if you plan to stick to the offering the best in that genre, then no problem.
The sign you have outside your premises can have a huge impact on your business. It is vital to make first impressions count. Never skimp on a professional sign-maker’s expertise and make your own signs unless you have the gift. If you come across an appealing sign in your area, find out from the business who the sign-maker is in order to contact them.
Choose an unfussy, readable font and match the design and font to your other promotional material. Match the sign to your building. If it’s modern, do modern. If it’s Georgian, avoid going Gothic. Keep it simple. Light the signs. Consider carefully the colour and lettering so that it creates the right impact and is easy to read. One poorly-made sign of dark red with black lettering in my area is illegible: the business has shot itself in the foot before even opening its doors.
Add the street number in lettering large enough to be seen by a passing car. Could your business benefit from several signs for customers approaching from more than one direction?
If you have a gate, fence or wall by the entry to your premises and use any of these to place your signs on, make sure that bushes and other foliage don’t obstruct the signs.
Contact your local authority for permission for signage and lighting prior to having the. sign made. It may not be passed due to size, colour or lighting, so play safe and make sure you haven’t wasted your money if the local authority says no to your signs.
Promotional material can include business cards, printed paper, flyers, menus, sample menus to take away, newsletter and web page. Depending on the type and size of business you may not need too much, but some things are necessities. Decide what is necessary for you. A small catering company may only need business cards and make their own menus and headed paper via a computer, for example.
When designing your material, take the following into account:
- Choose a font very carefully. A funky, angular one may look good but is difficult to read. A clean, simple one is approachable and inspires confidence. Choose the same font for all promotional material for consistency.
- Will you have a logo? If so, you could design it yourself although it is well worth paying a professional to come up with something simple and effective.
Make your business cards stand out via design, and perhaps colour. Remember to include the name of your business (easy to forget!), address, complete telephone number, website (if applicable), perhaps bullet points of strengths (you specialise in Moroccan banquets, your canapes are simply sublime, you offer the full works – staff, flowers and equipment hire for business events).
This will be used for letters and notes. Have a heading, registered office (if applicable), address, telephone/fax, email, website and logo.
These are handy for sending menus or confirmation of an event or other information by post, but they’re but not essential for the small catering business. (Position the ‘with compliments’ carefully to give you room to write.)
Flyers are useful for leaving information at various places, for handing out, and for passers-by to take away with them. Have all the relevant information (where, what, who) plus a sample menu and bullet points of strengths (see business cards) on the flyers. They can be A5 or compliment slip size,
Brochures are an essential marketing tool for large catering companies. Wait until you have established yourself and know your market before your produce one. When you do, add photographs, sample menus and information, a map if you have dedicated premises and details of parking.
A big ‘don’t do’ in my book is photographs of smiling people, usually models, who look like the cat’s pyjamas as they gaze at one another over a perfectly groomed table awash with lobster tails and stemmed glasses. You wish your business to reflect your style but you don’t want to alienate customers by inferring you only cater for models or a younger crowd, for example – or serve food that is not for them.
Keep the menus simple with the name, address and contact details as a heading. You can have your menu printed if it varies little or seasonally, or hand-written (clearly) or computer-printed if the menu is small and changes more regularly.
Thanks to computing skills, it is easy to create your menus and print them off on a when-needed basis. A dirty menu gives out the wrong impression immediately and may indicate a less than sparklingly clean, hygienic business.
Sample menus are an excellent marketing device. Don’t forget to put the name of the business and other relevant information on these slips. Have these, flyers and business cards accessible if you are working from a dedicated space where customers visit to discuss their catering needs, and replenish regularly. (As a compulsive collector of menus and flyers I am surprised how often basic details – name, address, number, website, times of opening – are omitted; the information is useless.)
These are a great way to keep regular customers informed of local and calendar events, with suggestions of menus to match the event or time of year. Or you can offer a special menu such as one that ties in with a tight schedule, menu changes, new produce, a range of wines new to the list or a celebration of the first year of opening. They can be as personal or restrained as befits your market and can keep your business in your customers’ thoughts – a mail out often results in new orders and enquiries.
Customers are increasingly looking to the internet for information and having a website is a boon for business. It is relatively cheap and good for small businesses which have a minimal marketing budget.
The traffic to your site is dependent not only on the website address on your promotional materials but also via search engines which will make your marketing even more productive. Searchers will either have your website address or may key in one specific word or group of words such as ‘caterers in Norwich’.
Research other people’s websites and either design it yourself or choose a designer whose work appeals to you. Look at a variety of websites for design inspiration. Get several quotes before committing yourself. Ask about the success of the designer’s work, for example how many hits the website attracts.
Include on your website:
- who to contact;
- what your business offers;
- sample menus for a variety of functions;
- a wine list (if applicable).
Keep it updated – either do the upkeep yourself or agree on a monthly/retainer fee with the web designer. Above all, keep it simple and easily navigable. A static website, i.e. one which doesn’t change or isn’t updated, can send out the wrong signals and can arguably be worse than no website at all as it may demonstrate a slack approach.
Put yourself in the shoes of the potential customer. Is your website welcoming? Practical? Professional looking and geared towards the customers you would like to attract?
Take photos and keep menus to put into a photo album to show perspective customers. This is a real bonus to your business as some customers don’t have the ability to imagine what you are offering; pictures are a very effective way of showing what they can enjoy. Take photographs of the food, your staff, the layout of a buffet, smiling, contented customers (but do ask their permission first).