I’m on holiday this week, so I’ve got a lovely guest post to share with you, from Debbie who runs her own business, called Highland Home Cook. Here’s an insight into her business and life in the Highlands!
Introduce yourself, the area in which you live and any interesting facts about yourself.
I live on a hill overlooking the Cromarty firth, and my kitchen has a view of Ben More in Sutherland. There’s nothing especially interesting about me! We all have a ‘claim to fame’, and mine is cooking -and dancing!- with Ainsley Harriot on stage at the Good Food Show in Birmingham in 2005.
I am originally from SW London, but have lived in various places in the UK. I’ve been coming to Scotland since 1982 and moved here in 2008. In 2004 I was part of a small group of writers who founded the Highland Literary Salon, and have been writing as long as I’ve been cooking – my twin loves. My other main interest is photography, mostly landscapes, although all the food photography on my website is my own.
What is the background/history to starting Highland Home Cook?
Prior to starting HHC I worked in the community for the previous 11 years, running a range of projects. My last position as Community Outreach Worker for the Dornoch Firth Group (DFG) in Sutherland bought me into contact with a number of older people who were unhappy with their meal arrangements; people living alone who no longer felt able to cook, but wanted to eat decent food. They could do this at the DFG lunch club and at the Bradbury Centre in Bonar Bridge, but for many the rest of the week meant living on soup or buying ready meals. My own parents, who are in their eighties, tried a national frozen meal home delivery company and absolutely hated it. They have both always enjoyed my home cooking and jokingly suggested I should send them food packages. When my contract with the DFG ended in April this year I decided that whilst I couldn’t meet the needs of everyone, by preparing good quality home-cooked fresh food and delivering it for a reasonable cost, I could certainly provide some people with a viable alternative to national companies and supermarket ready meals. So I’ve combined a love of cooking my training as a chef (in the late 90’s) with something that can do some good. Of course anyone can buy my meals, but I am very happy that I can meet the needs of those who are finding mealtimes challenging.
What have you found the most enjoyable task since starting HHC? What about the most challenging?
I’ve loved all the research and set up: working with local suppliers to source as much local produce as possible; designing menus, testing recipes, visiting local markets to chat with local people. The most challenging aspect of any new business is trying to make money! I funded the business start-up from personal savings, but the business needs to be financially viable, and there’s a long way to go before that is achieved. As a self-employed sole-trader you have to have a range of skills. Fortunately I enjoy all the varied aspects of running a business, but sometimes it can seem like you’re spending more time doing other things than the that thing which your business is about – and for me that’s the cooking!
How do you use social media to promote your business?
I have an active Facebook page and a Twitter Feed. I started these at the outset and it’s been a good medium for networking with both locals and like-minded people like yourself. There’s a positive vibe about using local produce and making food from scratch. I’ve made some good contacts and had some good conversations. It’s hard to say if that translates directly into customers, but it certainly increases awareness of HHC and that can only be positive. I’ve found community on Twitter to be really supportive, and my experience of social media has been really positive. I have plans to set up my own blog on the HHC website which will be a place for sharing news and views and recipes, which I hope people will enjoy.
What advice would you give to local people wanting to start their own business?
First of all do your research and plan. It’s no use providing a product or service that no one wants. The local Business Gateway advisor was really helpful, and the business start-up course really useful for focussing effort. Secondly, make sure you’re adequately financed. Cash flow can be difficult in the first 12 months, and even if you’re doing everything right, if you don’t have the money to pay your bills you’re going to be worrying about that rather than running your business. My final piece advice would be to ‘go for it!’ There’s only so much planning you can do. At some point you have to live your dream; hand in your notice and launch yourself into that big wide world of business! Get yourself out there and make yourself known. It’s scary and daunting and exciting all at the same time. Network as much as you can. There are plenty of helpful and supportive people out there.
What’s your favourite meal to cook for others?
I don’t tend to eat a lot of baked goods or desserts, so I love to bake and make desserts for other people. My mum never tires of my bread and butter pudding, so it’s always a joy to make her a lovely souffled bread and butter pudding with a buttery toasty top and a comforting custardy middle.
What’s your favourite meal for yourself?
That’s a difficult one. Because we’re so busy here, menus are planned each week, based largely around what’s in the veg box and the fridge. I hardly ever cook the same meals, but prefer to experiment with new recipes. We eat largely vegetarian food in the week, with perhaps a fish dish on a Friday or at the weekend. Like my musical fancies, my food fancies change all the time, so this week I might get excited making some tofu and experimenting with an Aine Carlin recipe, or one of my own, and next week I might tell you a barley squash risotto is my favourite thing to make. Whatever the season, I am always excited by seasonal veg, either my own, or that which comes in my vegetable box, and I’ll always be cooking up something colourful and tasty!