7 tips for business planning in a pandemic

7

“Toasted Coconut” – Original Miniature by Amy McIntee c. 2012

I have finally 97% nailed the  Sticky menu and its recipes and I am finally working on the financial forecast.

It has not been a straight path – here are a handful of ideas about the process I’ve followed, sometimes with purpose and other times because I  had no clue.

1.If you can, take time to let things percolate 

Often during  the 9 months since PGB closed I have just wanted to get on with whatever is next- at first that was going to be PGB 2.0, then  nothing entrepreneurial  at all, and then the idea of a bakery making only  sticky buns.

None of those ideas felt quite right  and often I felt stuck. In hindsight I am glad that I didn’t force a decision and instead kept wandering around in the dark. Wandering and wondering were key words in the fall 2021 Aritzia campaign which is a long story I won’t bore you with. Both words summon up a vision of meditation and candles but for me, “wandering” in my business planning meant stuff like  sitting on the floor with my brownie cookbook wondering why brownies are called brownies and  that maybe there is a better name.

  1. In the meantime, get a real job.

It is all well and good of me to suggest that entrepreneurial projects need time to percolate but not everyone has a partner or spouse who is (1) gainfully employed, and (2) highly supportive. I am really lucky and privileged to be in that position. So suggestion #2 is coming from the realistic perspective that rent needs to be paid and groceries bought: the budding entrepreneur needs a real job in addition to sitting around thinking.

On top of the money issue, for me it would be hard to have too much  time set aside for “thinking” – that gets really boring really fast to me, and maybe to you. Whatever is happening in one’s inner world, it is important to have external structure to not only pay bills  but to stay sane.

Since PGB closed,  my psychotherapy practice has provided me with that structure. I enjoy it immensely. I find the virtual platform more conducive to doing therapy work than meeting in an office and of course it is just a whole lot easier to meet clients from a quiet place at home than trekking out to an office.

It’s less about what the structure is and more about keeping in mind the paradox that creativity often runs more freely when we have tangible work to get done while we are thinking.

  1. Follow your nose.

Years ago I bought a cookbook called Sticky Gooey Messy Chewy by Jill O’Connor.

It has recipes like Deep Dish Baklava and Outrageously Thick Spanish Hot Chocolate with Churros. Yes, it does.

One day as I was flipping through my cookbooks, I landed on this particular book and I realized  that my business name, Sticky, was in the title….hmm, I thought, maybe I could expand my sticky concept to include  gooey, messy and chewy too.

Old habits die hard and I immediately wondered if cupcakes could fit into that rubric, leading me to testing High Top Cupcakes: chocolate cupcakes with  meringue topping dipped in melted chocolate + coconut oil that cools to form a crisp shell.

I will say this about High Tops: yes, they are certainly sticky, chewy, messy and gooey.

They are also a lot of work and only garnered a 5 out of 10 on the  Wow Taste Factor.

Which brings me to my next point.

  1. Think about the old.

PGB taught me SO MUCH. Last time around when I was developing recipes for Prairie Girl, I didn’t have the constant hum in my head, how would this get done in a commercial kitchen? 

Because I had never been in a commercial kitchen before 2011, much less worked in one, it never dawned on me that every little step needed in a recipe must be done a gjillion times at a high speed in a commercial setting.

I know now that even the fastest bakers would find making chocolate dipped meringue topped cupcakes daunting. For a fine dining setting or a high end patisserie, terrific, but neither of those concepts are my lane.

Thanks to my past experience, that idea – and many others –  was a pass.

  1. Think about the new.

Onward to other products that were sticky, chewy, messy, and gooey, and the related packaging and presentation. Here’s what I found out while doing that: there was/is a well-worn track in my mind called “Prairie Girl Bakery”:

  • here is how to do packaging,
  • this is the brand voice we use,
  • that’s the perfect approach to social media
  • over here is how to decide on prices.
  • etcetera 

Time and again over the last few months, I’ve realized that I was thinking like the owner of PGB. And I don’t have that business anymore, sadly it’s gone. And so, moving on from Prairie Girl, maybe different ways would work better now, for this idea, and for this unique time in the bakery marketplace.

What I’m suggesting is a balance between remembering the objective lessons learned from a previous business while resisting the inclination to follow the same basics as before. You’re no longer that person or that business.

  1. Talk to people- ask for help.

Oh my God, people are so great and helpful if only we will ask them! Most people don’t mind being asked to try baked goods (lol) and offer up their opinions, or even just give their thoughts on a concept. I’ve found my friends and family so gracious and kind about giving really thoughtful and candid feedback. THANK YOU to all, you know who you are!

  1. Go.

Inertia is the biggest enemy to a business idea.

Here’s the thing. If you want to start a business, it doesn’t exist right now so you have to do something  and there is no formula or textbook to follow, just you and your ideas and your long-suffering friends who are willing to listen to you drone on about whether banana pudding must have bananas in it.

So my advice on this one is to err on the side of doing rather than not doing, and in the early days that usually means you gravitate to the fun stuff, that which comes easy for you.

For me that is always in the kitchen, not at my desk. Over the last few months there were many days when my plan was to really get down to it and start costing out the recipes I had completed and writing the business plan and yada yada. But in the first few minutes after I woke up, I would have a big idea:  maybe I can address a tester’s comment about one product by using marshmallow cream instead of marshmallows – or maybe  marshmallow cream and marshmallows – and then I would get up and head to the kitchen instead of my desk.

My point is, until your momentum is going.doing something toward a business idea is better than doing nothing.

Those are my tips for starting over. Stay tuned. More Sticky, Chewy, Messy, and Gooey news ahead.

 

 

About the author

Jean Blacklock

Jean is the president of Toronto's best cupcake and cake bakery - Prairie Girl Bakery. Read more about her background in commerce, law, and entrepreneurship here.

By Jean Blacklock

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