Acquiring Business Skills
It's a good idea to study up on basic business skills such as cash management, computer skills, proposal writing, and sales and marketing techniques. You don't want to learn about them after you've started your own business; a trial-by-fire method will only waste your time and money. Either take a practical class or get a part-time job where you'll be able to learn and apply these skills.
Some colleges and universities offer courses specifically geared toward aspiring caterers. Take classes in both food preparation and catering management. You'll learn time-saving kitchen skills, as well as how to run a profitable business.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that the catering business is mainly cooking skills. It's not. It's a profession that requires a multitude of skills.
You'll need to know how to keep bank accounts, how to invoice customers, track accounts receivable, negotiate with vendors, and prepare costings for each menu and profit and loss statements for each job. Speak with your bank to find out what programs they have to help you manage your accounts. Some banks even provide training for small business managers.
In this day and age it's unrealistic for anybody starting a business not to use a computer. You'll need to know how to use a word processing program to write proposals and marketing materials.
Caterers need to be Internet-savvy to survive in today's business climate. Clients will most likely want to correspond with you electronically, and your Web site will attract clients to you.
Easy financial management and bill-paying software programs can make managing your business easier. Consider accounting software, calendar management programs, or special catering software.
Good writing skills are a must. You won't be able to sell your services if you can't write a solid, succinct, and creative proposal. Check with local colleges and universities to find out whether they have any proposal-writing workshops or classes.
You'll need to understand the basics of marketing — whom to target, how to price your services, what kind of products and menus to offer, and how to understand your customer. With this knowledge, you will be able to compete in your area and find a defendable niche. As with proposal writing, see if any local colleges or organizations offer basic marketing classes.
If asking people to buy something from you makes you queasy, you'll need to overcome that feeling to be a caterer. Having a catering business requires you to sell yourself. You must first believe in yourself and what you have to offer. If you don't have confidence in yourself, you can't expect anyone else to have confidence in you, either.
You'll need to know the basics of selling strategy and technique. Learn the mechanics of a sale: how to approach a prospective customer, ask questions, and listen carefully to your client's needs; submit a proposal; close the deal; and follow up after the sale is completed.
It's crucial to be honest with yourself about the skills you lack or need to improve. If you strengthen your skills, you can avoid nasty surprises after you've launched your catering business. Identify your skill gaps, and find ways to educate yourself. There are many resources to take advantage of and many opportunities to gain knowledge, from local community colleges and cooking schools to adult education programs.
Another way to gain skills is to seek a part-time job or internship at a restaurant or catering company. Whatever route you choose, make sure that you get some hands-on, practical training. Distance learning via the Internet is not recommended for learning how to debone a fish or assemble a wedding cake!