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Advice For Food Entrepreneurs:  Alli Ball of Food Biz Wiz®

Accountfully has the fortune of working with good people across the country who make cool stuff, and have great ideas. Over time, we’ve grown our network and amassed interviews and conversations with some pretty amazing people. We’ll continue to publish these entrepreneurial bad-asses so you can learn from them, be inspired from them, and connect with them.

Today we’re sharing a conversation with Allison Ball, who is the host of the Food Biz Wiz podcast and the creator of the Retail Ready® course. Through her podcast and course, she helps producers of packaged products figure out how to get on the retail shelf and then thrive there.

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Why did you decide to start working with food entrepreneurs?

As Head of Grocery at Bi-Rite Market, I worked closely with food businesses while they were in their first few years of growth. I saw time and time again that food entrepreneurs weren’t prepared to be on the shelves of our specialty retail store - despite having a delicious product, they didn’t have their pricing worked out, or their packaging dialed in, or their sales pitch perfected. I saw, firsthand, that there were so many amazing producers out there, but they were failing because they didn’t see the full picture of selling to wholesale accounts. I started my business based on the idea that if I could help producers understand the behind-the-scenes of wholesale it would benefit both sides- the producers would be more likely to have success on the retail shelves, and the Buyers would have stronger, more organized, more business-savvy product-lines coming their way.  

What’s the best part of working with food entrepreneurs?

Besides the delicious food, the best part of working with food entrepreneurs is working with students who see their businesses beyond just making money - they often start their business as a way of sharing and connecting with their community. Food brings people together, and I love that. I get to see that every day.

Tell us who your ideal client is.

I love to work with someone who is in their first few years of business and has had some success in selling their packaged product (food, beverage, or taxable grocery brand), but also knows that they can achieve more - they just don’t know how. They might feel stuck, or overwhelmed, or like their confidence is waning, and don’t know how to move forward, quickly and strategically. They are a self-starter, have a REALLY good product, and are motivated to work for success. My ideal client is someone who has realized that “winging it” is no longer working for them. 

What advice can you give someone just starting out?

I have two big pieces of advice:

1) Get super, super clear on who is buying your product, and why, and use that to make decisions on your branding, marketing, sales, and channel strategy. As an emerging brand, we want you to be profitable as quickly as possible, and that comes from having a crystal clear picture of who you’re selling to, and where they are looking for products like yours. The more narrow your target audience, the more loyal and connected a following you’ll have, and the more likely you are to turn into a profitable business.

2) You aren’t expected to be good at everything in running your business. Not a great graphic designer? Don’t make your labels yourself. Not a great salesperson? Hire someone part time to do that. Don’t understand social media? Take a class on Skillshare, or hire that out. You don’t have to be everything in your business, and if you can focus on what you are good at and can then outsource the rest, you’ll grow faster and save money in the long run.

What do you wish entrepreneurs knew about accounting or bookkeeping?

Don’t do it yourself! Trust me: all of my clients outsource it eventually, and wonder why they ever tried to tackle it themselves in the first place. You’ll save time, and money if you hire a professional, plus you probably won’t be as stressed or frustrated during tax season! (Remember my #2 tip from above!?)

What food trend are you most excited about?

I’m really excited about FUN packaging coming back to the shelves! For so long we’ve been stuck in an era of delicate, sophisticated, clean, white packaging, and I’m thrilled that we now have color back on our shelves. Two favorite packaging designs that immediately come to mind are Chef Bombay’s frozen line (imagine how good they look behind a freezer door!), and True Scoops, a simple but super-fun stand up pouch filled with powdered ice cream blend, to DIY your dessert!

Beyond the changes we’re seeing in packaging, I’m grateful that we’re now finally seeing a spotlight on BIPOC and minority-owned food businesses. For far too long, our conventional food system has been homogeneous, both from a product mix perspective and a wholesale buyer demographic. We’re finally seeing retailers, shoppers and investors actively seek out more diverse brands for their shelves, tables and portfolios, and I’m eager to see this change continue. One great resource for your readers who are interested in learning more about this is the JEDI Collaborative, a non-profit dedicated to increasing justice, equity, diversity & inclusion (JEDI) in our industry. 

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Check out Allison’s website and follow along with her on Facebook and Instagram. Not only will you be inspired, but you’ll grow increasingly motivated with her calls to action for your business. Catch her podcast and join the Food Biz Wiz community here, and learn more about the Retail Ready® course here!

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Accountfully offers outsourced accounting services nationwide, with offices in Charleston, SC and Nashville, TN.  If you would like to see how outsourcing your accounting can work for you, tell us about your business and we will gladly schedule a chat to discuss more.

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