If you’re a regular reader of our site, you’ll know how important we believe it is to start a business doing something you love. (We’ve even put together a free checklist for you to help you do it.)
So we were delighted to come across Anjula Devi – a mum who has turned her lifelong passion for food into a growing home business. And to help inspire other women to do the same, we asked her to share her experience and journey with us – explaining why she chose to start an Indian food business and the steps she has taken to bring it to life. This is her story.
I’ve always loved food
I really do love food! Every day starts with me wondering ‘what can I make for breakfast?’ Lunch and dinner are no different. I am always thinking about food, and trying to inspire others to enjoy making it, eating it and sharing it with loved ones. I try to achieve this in exactly the same way that my father taught me. He would always say “Anjula, to cook great food, all you need is heart”.
I started cooking at the age of 10 years old; my father was my food inspiration. I was brought up in Southall in the early 70s where Indian spices were not as readily available as they are now. I remember travelling on the bus (the 207 along the Uxbridge Road) with my father, to Shepherds Bush Market where we were able to buy a selection of spices, fresh fish and Indian vegetables. I loved coming home with all those ingredients, intrigued with what I was about to be taught.
My early childhood memories are of sitting on the kitchen floor, at my father’s feet, with a pestle and mortar, making my own spices and masalas. My father taught me how to make an authentic traditional Indian curry, with as few as three or as many as thirty spices, each with a perfect blend and balance.
He told me that “One day this will be like gold dust in your hands”. This deep love of creating authentic and traditional recipes was priceless in helping me to eventually found my own authentic Indian food business.
I started my business on a limited budget
I decided to put my personal Indian food business dreams firmly on the back burner until my boys had both left secondary school. Although this was a good decision, with the benefit of hindsight and especially in the age of social media, I could have done this earlier at no detriment to the boys’ upbringing.
When I eventually set my business up, I did this on a limited budget. The central strand to my business is an Indian cooking school, which I set up after doing some work on my home kitchen. This has worked incredibly well, and I am convinced that if you have a proposition that people want, you don’t have to acquire a purpose built unit, or an expensive property to make it work.
My small kitchen benefitted from a central island to enable four people to cook around it, and the installation of my beloved Falcon range cooker. My husband thinks that sometimes I love this more than I love him; but thankfully he still smiles when he says this.
How I use marketing and social media
With the kitchen now fit for purpose, I had to consider effective marketing. My website became operational at a very sensible cost. You can spend a tiny or a large amount on your website. Mine was at the lower level of available spend, but I think it is really effective, although as the digital world has evolved so much in recent years, it is probably time for a refresh now.
I then had to consider social media, and I probably delayed a little too long on becoming active on social media. What I have learned is that if your content is good, and your followers are engaged, this is a very powerful and low cost business tool. I have over 6,500 Twitter followers, built in under 18 months. This is where I expend the bulk of my social media energy, however, I do use Facebook and Pinterest, as well as posting the occasional blog.
My USP is individuality
Having a USP – something that sets you apart from other similar businesses – is important. I have needed to remind people along the way that I am not one for following the crowd. Added to this I have always had an enterprising and creative streak, and I love making something from nothing.
This has fuelled an interest in charity shops and many odd and quirky places, and I have collected an incredible range of Indian artefacts for very little money. I have even made my own rickshaw to take to food festivals, and built my ‘inspiration shack’ in the back garden.
I don’t want to be reliant on one income stream
When I set up my business, I decided to target a small number of different business streams to avoid being overly reliant on any one. They are clearly very closely aligned in nature, rather than disparate, and include providing dinner parties, BBQs and corporate events.
As time has evolved, I have also become Brand Ambassador for TRS Foods, the world’s largest Indian food company, as well as becoming the Associate Editor for Good Things Magazine, and being invited in for the occasional ‘guru’ slot on BBC Radio Asian Network, with listeners ringing in and asking me questions.
Volunteer work is also important to me
My love of authentic and traditional Indian food is only matched by my passion for helping children with special educational needs (SEN). I am carer and appointee for my sister’s family (she and my niece have moderate learning difficulties), and I do volunteer work helping children with SEN to learn through cooking.
On another occasion, I can share some stories of the incredible difference which cooking has made to those children. I was so proud in 2012, when I was chosen to be an Olympic torchbearer because of my carer and SEN support work.
My dream is to publish a book
I do plan to publish my story and life journey through food. Setting up my own business is clearly just one element of one key chapter. I have the content and the recipes, I just need to find the right publisher who ‘gets me’.
I would encourage everyone to follow their ambitions and dreams. You can set up your business at a sensible cost. You will need to make choices on what to spend on and what not to, as well as deciding how to phase your spend over a period of time. Social media should be invaluable if you get it right, and build a truly engaged community of followers.
Above all though, stay focused on your core proposition and make sure that it is sufficiently unique and different to stand out from your competitors.Anjula Devi