online business

A Year In Review for Queer Chocolatier

Happy Birthday, Queer Chocolatier! 

Queer Chocolatier shares a birthday with my late grandmother who would be 88 years old today. I launched the business on this day to honor the person responsible for molding my early chocolate experiences. Today, one year after opening up and professionally working with chocolate, I am light years from where I thought I would be. 

And I couldn't be happier. Or more exhausted. Or more nervous. Or more determined. 

Basically, I'm more of everything. I'm turned to all the way to eleven.

As we approach the opening of the Queer Chocolatier Chocolate House in the next few of weeks, I am taking a few moments to reflect upon this past year of all the growth and shaping of Queer Chocolatier. 

Enjoy this video review of our first year of being #outandopenforbusiness

Cheri and I knew it would be important to start a business that we weren't finding as customers. We appreciate good quality products made my passionate folx, but we also wanted to become a business that would take those key components--quality and passion--and add them to our political mindset and be unapologetically transparent to those who engage with us.

We started as an online business and added farmers' markets as ways to meet people and sell our products as well as our vision. It was an incredibly endearing process to make new friends and to be bare about who we are and what we stand for. I used to study farmers' markets as a sociologist so being a vendor at one was a complement to another chapter in my life. But being a scrappy young business the first few weeks led to a quick spurt of growth by obtaining a retail store front, despite still renting a kitchen and having lots of office supplies still at home.

Having a retail space and weekly markets allowed me to add more truffle flavors to my offerings. In addition to my every day flavors, I incorporated monthly and seasonal flavors as well, along with the occasional fun flavors to play with. We started to receive a bit of press, first with the Ball State Daily News and, just before Christmas, Cheri and I were featured in the Wall St. Journal. What an extraordinary wrap up to the end of 2017!

We also started offering Guided Chocolate Tasting Events in our cozy retail space. We wanted to make the experience of eating chocolate to be intentional, enlightening, fun, and more thoroughly delicious. During these events, we were even more transparent about where our chocolate comes from, our philosophy regarding business, and we were able to deepen relationships with folx in and around Muncie. There are doubtlessly individuals with more expertise in chocolate than I have, but I am endlessly curious and passionate about chocolate and I want to share that with anyone who might be in arm's reach or shouting distance.

As such, my wife pushed me beyond my limitations and encouraged me to leap to the next branch in our business evolution: finding a brick and mortar space to build out my very own kitchen. A Chocolate House to call our own and to make everyone's. With a Chocolate House, we could expand our chocolate offerings, spread more knowledge about chocolate, and hold space for those who just want to be welcomed as they are. 

I loved the idea but I wasn't sure I had the confidence to accomplish this on my own. I was scared. I don't have any experience in opening a Very Serious Business and I don't have much in the way of mentors or all-important resources. But my wife believed in me enough to keep pushing and came up with our financing idea of opening our business up to microinvestors. We had eleven separate $1,000 investments plus an angel investor join us in our journey.

Excuses and feet-dragging were replaced with YouTube and asking questions and getting comfortable with being ignorant in a lot of areas of regulation, construction, and business-to-business relationships. I decided to be open about not knowing things and trusting professionals who are paid to know the things I don't. Granted, this leaves a person vulnerable, and I was and am vulnerable, but in most cases I ended up being helped by trustworthy individuals. Even when I run into challenges from other folks, it isn't necessarily because they aren't trustworthy, but maybe they are in their own journey of transparency and are vulnerable to being seen as not knowledgeable. It is frustrating, but I have grown in my ability to be persistent. I am proud to say we will be out and open for business within a few weeks. 

Going into my second year of business is not really much different than when I was about to launch. I still feel like I'm in over my head but I love chocolate and don't want to stop working with it. I also love people and want to cook for them and share with them my passion for food. I hope those things about myself never change. But this upcoming second year will be marvelous and I am eager to discover the ways in which I will be surprised in how Queer Chocolatier grows.

Small Business

Small Business Shenanigans: How to start a small business, Myths and reality


But, really, it isn't easy. 

I have no business experience whatsoever, nor do I have many mentors in the way of opening small entrepreneurial ventures. I do have a master's degree but instead of being helpful in starting a business, my MA often led me to regressing back to the nefarious imposter syndrome that I'd contracted from literally every grad student ever.

Instead, I plunged down the track and, at each hurdle I encountered, I asked for help. My inner monologue was begging for permission from individuals, companies, agencies, the universe, but I simply asked a smorgasbord of questions.

I trusted that people who were paid to do their jobs knew more than I would about that hurdle I was about to smack with my nose. I have a sickly sweet customer service voice that I can conjure on demand. I'm pretty fucking charming when I need to be, I mean, all the time.

But I also did a lot of research. 

Balancing trust and doing reconnaissance prevented me from becoming completely naïve or completely bitter.

myths of starting an online business

There seems to be a lot of confusion and misunderstandings about opening online businesses in particular. Such myths deserve dispelling and I will do my best to provide some of my learning experiences here to help quash them.

MYTH: Online businesses don't require permits/licenses, etc.

REALITY: I had to obtain my business license from the IN Secretary of State, my sales tax license from IN Department of Revenue, my food permit license from my County Department of Health, all while not owning a brick-and-mortar. The Small Business Association website helped me outline the course of action on how to obtain these licenses and permits.

MYTH: Online businesses are "easier" than having a brick-and-mortar because you don't have the overhead costs involved in running your business.

REALITY: Overhead is certainly a barrier to entry in starting businesses. In the case of starting small businesses, especially food-related businesses, overhead can be a nonstarter. Living in a small city as I do, resources are also on the scarce side; per my County Department of Health, there are only two (2) certified kitchens that I could be permitted to use to make my chocolates.

Sure, there are some sharing relationships where a food establishment will allow small makers to use their facilities during off hours and while this can indeed be a symbiotic relationship of sorts (small maker gets to rent space and equipment much cheaper than purchasing it, establishment gets extra revenue and potential mentoring experience) it can also provide its own set of challenges. Considerations would include any time, product, and personality conflicts.

In my case, I am going the route of the certified kitchen. It certainly meets my needs and is absolutely cheaper than purchasing or leasing building space as my own independent spot. I also have the potential to forge new relationships in this capacity with the building's community and other makers who use this space. Ultimately, all of my chocolate confections are made in a certified kitchen that I have access to, but I don't have control over, and I would be hard-pressed to label this "easy."

In addition to the kitchen space, because I am an online business owner who makes and ships product, I experience a blurring of the lines between "home" and "office." All of my paperwork, shipping and packaging materials, and homo decor materials are housed in my home office (which is predominately our kitchen table and needs to be cleared off by dinner time).

I will look forward to having the level of success that would support having a brick-and-mortar base from which I can still operate my online sales. That will be the ideal arrangement and we can throw this concept of "easier" out the window.

MYTH: Online businesses are "easier" because you don't have set hours.


"Easier"? Again? What about business is easy???

If you can't manage time, tasks, and relationships, regardless of set business hours of operation, business is going to be that much harder if not utterly daunting. Here, grad school experience came in handy because I was used to setting goals, planning, consiste.... where was I going with this pack of lies?

Time management is my biggest personal challenge. I've had to develop this skill and, honestly, it is still very much a work in progress and not a linear one at that.

Set hours of a brick-and-mortar is nothing more than an illusion. Lunchtime, doubly so.

MYTH: You don't have to deal with people with an online business.

REALITY: It is a lonelier venture, but people and relationships and interactions are still key to business success, online or brick-and-mortar. For me, specifically, I am a people-person to a fault and much prefer interacting face-to-face with folx. Also, that was a huge understatement, in case you didn't realize.

Myths abound in starting a business, especially a small, online business. If you have any passion in starting your own business, congratulations! You've won half the battle in starting one! 

The next half is still a beast. Don't let myths get in your way! And, if you need a sounding board just to bounce around ideas, drop me an email and let's chat.