Allison Ball: Three Lessons I Learned From Building My Business

Allison Ball is a food industry consultant and a featured mentor on one of our InstaViser clients' platform. Based out of San Francisco, she specializes in helping producers understand the in’s and out’s of wholesale through her one-on-one client work and online group course, Retail Ready. Allison works to help small and medium-sized businesses figure out how to get their packaged product on the grocery shelf and keep it there. 

Three years ago I left my stable job, steady paycheck, and fantastic workplace to start my own consulting business. While there have been ups and downs since leaving, the freedom, excitement and challenge has made it worthwhile for me. Here I’ll share the three biggest lessons I’ve learned in building my business (so you don’t have to make these mistakes yourself!), and how you can apply them to your own company as well: 

1. Sell your audience what they think they need, not what you think they need. 
People will never pay to solve a problem that they don’t think they have. Why would they? When I first started my business, I was adamant that small producers needed to first gain a super-solid understanding of their financials before they took any steps towards growth. Turns out, many small producers didn’t see this as one of the first steps in launching their businesses. Instead, clients wanted to talk through getting their products in front of Wholesale Buyers, and how to get them to say “yes!” to carrying their product line. I shifted my thinking (and my sales pitches!) and started working with clients to help them approach buyers and get their products on the grocery shelf, regardless of whether or not they knew what their target margins were. Sure enough, more clients started coming through my doors and once we already had a strong relationship they trusted me enough to know they couldn’t ignore their financials forever! 

2. Have themes for your work days.

Multitasking can be perceived as a good thing, but I’ll argue that it slows down your productivity rate in your business. By assigning theme days to your work week, you’ll be better able to block & tackle your to-do’s. For example, I break down my work week as follows: Marketing Mondays, Client work on Tuesdays & Thursdays, New Client Outreach & Meetings on Wednesdays, and Financials on Fridays. This means that if someone reaches out to me and asks me to have a call to see if we’re a good fit for working together, I automatically schedule it for Wednesdays. I do all my invoicing & accounting on Fridays. I schedule all my social media posts & write my blog pieces on Mondays. Client work gets full days on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This schedule allows me to know exactly what my work week will look like, how to prioritize my time (and other people’s requests!), and how to stay focused during my work week. One of the biggest mistakes I see with my producer clients is that they try to accommodate their retailer’s schedules, taking orders, making product, and doing deliveries all different days of the week. Instead, batch everything so you can confidently tell your accounts, “I take orders on Monday, produce on Tuesday, and delivery on Thursdays.” Think towards the future, when you’ll need to have these systems in place! 

3. You don’t have to be an expert in everything.

 What are you bad at in your business? It can be anything from posting on social media, to calculating your taxes, to calling potential new accounts on the phone or running demos. I personally dislike creating powerpoint presentations to go alongside my in-person workshops (but love using them!), so I’ve stopped making them myself and instead outsource that to someone in my network who is better, faster, and more competent at creating beautiful, engaging presentations. I hate following up on aging invoices, and nagging clients to pay their bills, so I’ve found a person who loves doing that and gets satisfaction from tracking down missing invoices or following up on “lost checks.” By finding people who can assist me in the tasks that I don’t enjoy doing (or aren’t great at doing!), it allows me more time to focus on the things that I truly love in my business- connecting with clients, and talking through strategy for the retail environment. You’re not going to be an expert in every facet of your business, and the sooner you can realize that, and be okay with it, the faster you will grow. Find someone to demo for you, or trade your delicious product for someone to do your books, or hire expertise with someone outside of your field. There are people out there who are experts - financial consultants, lawyers, co-packers, packaging designers, brokers, business consultants (like me!)-  you just need to find them and ask for help. Be okay with having strengths and weaknesses! 

It’s taken years for me to learn these lessons, and there are still days when I still don’t follow my own rules (like today- it’s “Financial Friday” yet I’m writing this blog post and haven’t even looked at Quickbooks). The key is that I strive to follow my personal rules more days than not, keep listening to what my clients want and need from me and my services, and keep pushing myself forward day in and day out. 

For more information on Allison Ball and her business, visit her website at Alliball.com.