Maria Betts, food entrepreneur, is the self-made owner of Maria Lucia Bakes, a gourmet and gluten free food brand which specialises in tasty granola and muesli cereals. Before leaping into the food industry in 2013, Maria enjoyed a varied career in business coaching and even dabbled in trading. Now with a wealth of experience under her belt and almost seven years of building a business from scratch, Self Makers was lucky enough to chat to Maria about her career and what helped her succeed. Here are some of her entrepreneurial tips and see which ones resonate most with you.
1. Get inspired
“I brainstormed 300 names when I was creating my brand” Maria said, “I did an awful lot of desk research, I looked at cereal companies from all over the world and I tried to get a feel for smaller brands. I looked at how they tend to package and brand themselves. I also met lots of other food businesses as part of my wider research. I went to Harrods to look at everything. I took lots of photos and bought products where I liked the packaging. It’s important to get the whole look and get inspiration, because it all coincides with picking a name and developing an overall brand and story.”
2. Engage in trends
“We have had a massive breakthrough in one of our products because we’ve successfully hit on trends. Reading and studying industry publications is a big help – most of these are free and you can just sign up to get them once a week. Innovation, new products, mergers and acquisitions within your industry are important to know. So, I think carry out wider research and then niche research in your specific area. Don’t look so closely at your own product that you miss everything else around you. That’s really important.”
3. Make use of resources
“In the food industry, there’s Bord Bia with a ‘Thinking House’ and a wonderful team in the library. Here you can learn absolutely anything about trends and competing products in other countries. They will gather together valuable information that would cost a lot if you tried to do it yourself or got a third party to do so. We also use the Bord Bia offices in other markets which is a wonderful resource and I’ve used them all along the way.”
4. Research, research and research!
“Research has been something we have focused on since the beginning and that will never change. Look beyond the immediate, engage in deep research and be analytical. From day one I knew I would need to export to make the business viable, so from the very start I would look at what’s happening in America and the UK, and since then have looked at other markets.
I didn’t spend enough time at the beginning with my food product, really analysing what was on the shelves. What I ended up with was a product that was unnecessarily premium. I would say to anybody, really be an expert in your customer and your competition. What is it about them? Have a spreadsheet, benchmark all of the USPs, and understand that it’s not all about the price – what makes you different?”
5. Trust others
“Other than that and in ways of working, our business is an outsource model so we contract other people or separate businesses. This has been a good model and allowed us to scale up. It involves trusting others – doing it yourself is a good way to start but when growing a business it means hiring people or outsourcing. I coached a lot of managers and noticed that some people are afraid to delegate and afraid to let go which signals the underlying message to their employee is ‘you need to be told or I don’t trust you’. I’ve learnt that people will rise to a challenge generally, so I hire for attitude and I train for skill.”
6. Maria’s book recommendations
“A great book is The E-Myth by Michael Gerber. In essence, it says that if you run your business as if you’re going to sell it, even if you don’t ever sell it, you’ll have a really good business. When you start a small business, you can be sloppy because it’s just you. Adopting the idea that you’re a much bigger business, or that you report into a scary MD, and having systems and strategies in place means that when you want to scale up or you need finance, everything is in apple pie order. This way you’re going to come across as a lower risk business, as opposed to being all over the shop where you are not going to instill confidence.”
What about you?
Thanks to Maria for these valuable tips. If you are looking to create your own business, this advice is definitely worth taking on board. We’d love to hear about your career journey – get in touch and chat to Self Makers today.
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