It’s National Small Business Week, and there’s no better time than now to consider taking the plunge and starting your own food truck business. If you’ve had an idea rolling around in your head but aren’t sure how to take action, here is a checklist of places to start.
Conduct market research.
Believe it or not, 42 percent of small businesses claim that they failed due to a lack of market need for their product or service. Don’t be one of these…this is the time to ensure that you are on target with your idea.
Many cities now have food truck pods, so survey existing customers to see what sort of menu item is missing. Same with fairs and festivals—becoming the only food truck serving a specific sweet treat or specialty sandwich can become a gold mine, so see what fare your competition is serving up and how you can offer something unique. Just make sure you know what market niche isn’t being covered and make that your point of differentiation.
Create a business plan.
Every business—no matter what size—should have a business plan, but it’s particularly important if you are seeking outside funding from a bank. A business plan should include:
Consult with an attorney and accountant.
Seeking professional advice from the start is wise—it’s far cheaper, in the long run, to make sure that your business is on a sound financial and legal footing. These professionals can also help you decide on a structure, such as LLC or C-Corp; assist in setting up all your business processes, such as your Employer Identification Number and banking needs; and ensure that you won’t face any future nasty tax surprises.
Many businesses are small enough that they can be “bootstrapped”—that is, started with your own personal funds. But if you need more capital, consider a bank loan. Small Business Week is the perfect time to look into all the benefits of a small business loan, and find a local bank that specializes in them.
Look into office space.
Many small businesses don’t even need office space, but having a coworking space can offer a nice break from your own four walls.
Your office is likely your truck, but setting aside designated space at home can give you a go-to place for paperwork and other records.
This is a must to keep your business safe. Talk to an insurance professional to make sure you are adequately covered.
As a food truck owner, you’ll want to find out if you need insurance such as bar and restaurant, commercial liability and worker’s compensation.
Obtain necessary permits and licenses.
Often these will include a business license for your city and/or state, along with specialty licenses.
Find out what sorts of permits you need, from food handlers license to vehicle license and potentially sales tax permit.
Hire employees (if needed).
In most cases, it’s best to start small, but it’s also important to realize that often you can’t do everything.
While you don’t want all your profits walking out the door in terms of employee compensation, you also don’t want to be understaffed, which can lead to poor customer reviews and word of mouth. Figure out when your busiest periods will be and staff up as needed to cover them.
Begin to solicit business.
And now, you’re ready! Turn to the target market information you created before and start reaching out. With the help of the marketing suggestions below, your first customer (of many!) is just around the corner.
Create social media accounts.
It’s true…social media is the best way to reach potential customers in a cost-effective way. While building your audience to share your message via organic reach is important, there are many budget-friendly alternatives for boosting your posts to a very niche audience via targeted marketing options offered by the social media platforms. Then make sure that you keep your content engaging—try real-time videos, polls and giveaways to keep it fresh.
Create a logo, website and marketing materials as needed.
A catchy logo painted on your truck can be its own advertising. If your budget permits, consider putting the logo on serving items you dispense with your food items. Then make sure your website guides visitors on how to contact you if they want to hire you for parties or other private events. Include plenty of photos and customer testimonials.
Begin following influencers in your space.
There’s a reason they’re called “influencers…” people turn to them for trusted recommendations. Following and interacting with their content can open the door to them following you or commenting back. Share their posts to further potentially connect with their follower base. And at the least, you’ll be aware of the latest trends and news in your industry.
Join appropriate local associations and trade groups.
Affiliate with appropriate organizations.
Don’t overlook the opportunities offered by association and trade groups—both for marketing and also networking and educational value.
It’s always smart to join the local Chamber of Commerce and business groups but look beyond that to special events planners who can help you identify upcoming events that might hire food trucks and the local chapter of your state restaurant association.
Find a complementary business for joint promotions.
Sometimes the best way to find customers is to work in tandem with another business to share leads.
Is there a type of food that would team well with yours? Maybe you make awesome burgers—that are just calling out for the milkshakes that a fellow food truck owner specializes in. Consider offering yourselves as a duo for private events to cover all their food needs.
While starting a new business can be daunting, the payoff—in terms of self-fulfillment and income—is unmatched. Make this the year your dream becomes a reality.