Pursue your dream of starting your catering business and make it work by putting together a step-by-step, pre-launch plan. Though your menu may be divine, there are many other factors to take into consideration when it comes to running a successful catering company.

Step 1 – Research

Market research is always the first step in launching any company to assess who else offers those types of services in your area. Check out your competitors’ menus, services and prices, browse their websites, each company will have to find their own unique selling points. Keep in mind, successful caterers sell more than just food; they sell the reasons that customers buy food from them instead of somewhere else. To be successful, you’ll need to also promote convenience, affordability, unique menus and a specific style; food is only just a part of what you’ll be offering.

More likely than not, your business will start off by offering “off-premise catering.” This means serving food at a location away from your food production facility. The three major markets for off-premises caterers are: Corporate clients, Social events, and cultural organizations. Start with marketplace and customer research to help you determine what type of catering service you should offer. After you’ve decided, you can start thinking about the types of food you should offer that will attract enough customers. With a wide range of additional markets and specialties, there is no limitations to what types of services you can provide. You may cook for people with dietary restrictions, or you may want to focus on brunch buffets or picnic baskets. You could go to their home and prepare meals for your clients there or deliver the food when it is ready to be served. You will have to determine your niche and develop your service to target specific customers.

Identify Potential Customers

If you have decided to target corporate clients, contact people in the business community to find out what companies look for when choosing a particular caterer. This can help you to determine what your potential customers may want. Another option is to cold call a few potential customers. Simply ask a few questions about what services or options they would like to see caterers offer. This will help you gather insight about the services that corporate customers may want in addition to food, including set up, take down, staffing, etc.  This information will help your business launch with the advantage of knowing what your customers want, instead of assuming you know what they want.

Similarly, if you are aiming for general event catering, you may contact your friends with a short survey as part of your pre-launch research. Ask if they use catering services; why the hired certain caterers; what they liked about them; and what kinds of things they look for in their next caterer. This will give you a better idea of what a typical customer is looking for in advance.

Brush Up on Small-Business Basics

Regardless of what type of small business someone starts – entrepreneurs have a number of common start-up tasks to perform. These can include getting business permits, setting up websites and emails, setting up corporations or buying liability insurance. Be sure to check to see if your business will need to meet any zoning requirements if you plan to set up shop in your own kitchen.

In addition to these general tasks, you will also need to meet regulatory requirements. These regulations determine how you go about getting a food service licence and what you will need to do to ensure that your kitchen, storage, transportation and service equipment meet the necessary standards.

Another component that is vital to properly managing your catering-business is bookkeeping. Keeping good records of operations even before your operations are launched will alert you to any cash flow issues before disaster can strike. Consider consulting a financial expert before you set up your business to help you with budget, tax implications and employment expenses to make sure that you are on the right track.

Write a Business Plan

With your catering style and target customer in mind, creating a business plan can help you guide through each stage of business development. Though a business plan is usually required when small businesses seek financing, it can also help you stay focused and reduce stress.

A business plan serves two purposes. It provides a snapshot of your company as it initially evolves, and it lays out a guided plan for growth over the next few years. The business plan defines your visions and goals, identifies potential roadblocks and details strategies for reaching your goals.

The executive summary of your business plan tells investors and lenders whether it is worth reading more. It should be a simple, concise description of your catering business, a summary of the market analysis that proves your catering company meets an identified need, and a short explanation of why your business is suited to fulfill that need.

A good business plan will also include a company analysis; industry analysis that focuses on the overall market; customer analysis, which shows who exactly your target customers will be; and competitive analysis, which names your direct competitors and explains why and how your catering company will stand apart. Your business plan will also need to outline marketing strategies and your operation/financial plan, this will explain how you aim to meet all your short-term goals as well as your long-term aspirations.

Turn your dream into reality 

The key to success for opening a catering operation is to start the process slowly and methodically. So, if you’re ready to move forward, divide your research and planning into small tasks and set a plan for completion. Work at your own pace for a stress-free planning and pre-launch period. The steps above are a part of the process, but there are still other factors to consider. Enjoy the excitement of starting your own business, read up, plan away and watch your dream turn into reality.