Can someone who writes recipes create a thriving recipe business? Yes.
Aviva Goldfarb founded the The Six O’Clock Scramble in 2003, a menu planning service for busy moms. Now she’s a Today Show and Washington Post contributor, and author of several Six O’Clock Scramble cookbooks. She frequently appears on the The Katie Couric Show and in national publications including O magazine, Real Simple, Working Mother, and Prevention. The American Diabetes Association will publish her fourth cookbook in January, 2016 .
I discovered Aviva’s recipe business when researching my new chapter on making money in Will Write for Food. Here’s how she got started and why her business works:
Q. What is a menu planning company?
A. I make busy mom’s lives easier by planning what they have for dinner and what they need to buy at the store. These moms aspire to cook more so I try to take all that stress out of the process and make it more turnkey for them. I give them a weekly menu of recipes, very focused on what they need to make dinner happen. Everything has a grocery list so they know what to buy or order.
So I can be saving them three to five hours a week and anywhere from $50 to $100 per week, and making them the hero at dinnertime where the family can eat dinner together more often.
Q. How many subscribers do you have and what do they pay?
A. I have about 5000. They pay $5 to $9 per month. Some are discounted because corporations will buy bulk memberships or make special offers to their employees. The average membership is 14 months.
Q. People probably fanaticize that this is an automated, passive business where the money just comes in.
A. I’m not sipping pina coladas on a beach. I am extremely fanatical about quality and making things better constantly. I’ve been around for 12 years, and I can never just relax and say okay, we’ve got it all figured out.
Q. You started The Six O’Clock Scramble in 2003. How did you know that busy moms needed more than a cookbook and that they would be willing to go to their computers?
A. I was a new mom. I knew moms were on their computers connecting and sharing information. I tested the idea and then shared it with others, who responded very well. I created just a pdf at first, taking the decision making and searching out of the process. I started small and tested. Once I got traction, the next step was to make the menus customizable for dietary restrictions and preferences.
I kept costs low. I’ve learned that people spend a lot of money building the idea before they test the market. Your business looks different six months later because you’re going to get feedback.
Q. How did you know how to create this service online?
A. I didn’t. I talked with everyone I came across to get feedback. I got a graduate student to build my website at $15 per hour. I learned to build in flexibility, so when I want to add a new feature, it’s easier.
Q. What did you do before?
A. I was in media relations and public relations. My skills helped me get the word out in the beginning.I did not have a technical background. I had no formal training as a cook.
Q. Were you the first to provide this service?
A. There may have been another one that started at the same time, Saving Dinner. A lot of little ones popped up after that.
Q. What did the web look like then, in terms of services for home cooks?
A. It was going against the trend to pay for content. I didn’t want to have advertising, and I thought since my service saved moms time and money, it would be worth the price.
I thought that if they’re just searching for recipes and trying recipes, people are going to have a lot of failures. I wanted people to only have successes. I created family-tested, simple recipes that didn’t take a lot of time. I can’t afford a recipe that doesn’t come out well. When people start to trust me they see the value in the product.
Q. How did you know how to start an online business?
A. I didn’t. I just thought it was a good idea. I put up a Yahoo website, people paid through PayPal, and I kept records of payment on a yellow legal pad. When it started growing, then I got advice and help and people to step in.
Q. What kind of people did you hire?
A. I’ve always been the sole recipe developer. I have recipe testers. People who wrote me and said they couldn’t afford the fee are testing recipes in exchange for a free membership.
Everyone I’ve hired is a consultant. My first was a developer who built a database of recipes and subscription info. I’ve hired marketing people on and off over the years. I hired someone to help with the finances part-time, processing payments and doing the accounting and taxes. I did my own customer service at first and now I delegate it. Seven or eight years ago I hired a part-time assistant. My development team in Columbia does the graphics for my website, newsletter and email.
We had a photo contest where people took photos of their meals, based on my recipes. One person was so good that I hired her, a military dentist, to take photos of the dishes for the site. My customer service person also takes photos. My Canadian slow cooker expert lives in Mexico and my registered dietician is in Washington.
Q. What was your most successful year and why?
A. I had huge early success when I was written up in Oprah’s O magazine. That was a game changer. Right before the market crash! My membership service was going really well, and I had regular paid writing gigs for publications. But those all went away in 2008 and 2009.
I had a really good year when Groupon started and I used it. But later we found that people didn’t renew at the same rate, and people got burned out and overwhelmed by too many coupons.
Q. What advice would you give today if someone wanted to start a menu planning business?
A. Today the best angle would be to have a specialty, like gluten-free or paleo, or if you have a following, like Weelicious.
Got a comment or question for Aviva or for me? Write to us below.
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