Ela Teague: 'I had to learn quickly. But the online support from business.connected made running a business much easier.'

Ela Teague: 'I had to learn quickly. But the online support from business.connected made running a business much easier.'

Posted: Mon 14th Mar 2022

We partnered with Vodafone to launch business.connected, helping 150,000 small and medium-sized businesses take their digital skills to the next level.

Business owners can take part in e-learning modules, digital workshops delivered by business.connected advisers and Lunch and Learn webinars, and have a free consultation with a Vodafone V-Hub adviser.

The business.connected programme covers a range of core digital topics, from SEO and e-commerce to cyber-security and connectivity.

We’re catching up with some of the business owners who have been taking part in the initiative to find out about how it’s benefited them so far.

Here, we talk to Ela Teague, whose business Cook Eat Joy teaches Indian cookery. Ela explains how online support provided by programmes like business.connected were invaluable when she was starting up her food business.

You were a schoolteacher for many years before you started Cook Eat Joy. What made you switch careers?

I taught IT and computer science in secondary schools for 18 years. During that time, I had children and went part-time at work. But I began to feel sidelined and frustrated.

I wanted to focus on my family and still have a fulfilling career. So I gradually reduced my working hours, to the point where I had a full day off every week. That's when I purposely started to think about what I wanted to do, because I knew I couldn't sustain teaching for another 25 years.

I'd spend those days off cooking Indian food. I was thinking how much I enjoyed eating the food I grew up with, which is Gujarati Indian. My mum taught me how to cook from a young age, and I really wanted my children to learn more about our family food heritage.

When did the idea for the business arise?

At that point, pre-COVID, I started to go to face-to-face networking events. I live in Enfield, North London, so I found some that were local. I didn't really have a business idea, but talking to the women there, I realised many had been in my position, working in jobs but feeling dissatisfied.

Some of the businesses they'd started were really random, and I thought if they can make a go of it doing something I see as super niche, maybe I could do it. So I started to research.

Where did you go for your research?

There's an organisation here called Enterprise Enfield, which helps people who are considering starting a business. Through them, I accessed a programme called Inspiring Women. That was a three-month crash course on all aspects of business. It gave me a great starting point.

And of course, I found Enterprise Nation and the business.connected programme. All the workshops and webinars and e-learning courses. I spent a lot of time looking at all the online resources – articles, blogs and so on – and they were really helpful.

When did you commit to starting the business?

I reached a point where I needed to decide whether to do this as a side business or really commit to it. I spoke with my husband about whether we could afford it, and he said just go for it.

With teaching, you can always go back. I could do the business for a year and if it didn't work out, I could return to my old job. So that's how it began. I stopped teaching in July 2019 and by September had started the business.

Did you feel ready? What were your strengths and weaknesses at that time?

I didn't feel ready, but I thought if I don't do it now I'm never going to. I knew there were things I'd have to learn as I went, but I felt I had enough knowledge to get started. There was so much support online, like the business.connected courses and workshops.

My strengths lay in my cooking and knowledge of recipes. My IT skills are good, because I taught it for so long. I did my website myself. I also thought I could write a business strategy and work through it to develop a full business plan.

My weaknesses were in understanding business finance. I could create a spreadsheet, but keeping on top of it and making sure I had all the right information and calculating costs according to portions of ingredients was very difficult.

I also struggled with marketing and PR. I hadn't used Instagram before, so I had to learn what kind of content to post and how to vary it to keep things interesting.

How did it go in those early weeks and months?

I was doing supper clubs in the beginning. Catering wasn't my focus, but it was a way to get people interested in my food and perhaps wanting to learn how to cook it.

By February 2020, I was in a local café doing my first cooking lesson, for 12 people. They cooked some dishes then we sat and ate them together. Many of the women who attended were single older ladies who didn't usually get chance to eat with anyone else. So that was a nice benefit I hadn't expected.

Once COVID came, I had to move the classes online. But I also did a local takeaway, which started because a neighbour was bored of eating from the nearby takeaways and asked me whether I'd mind cooking for her. She posted it on her social media, loads of people saw it, and suddenly I was offering takeaway food! That was really good in terms of sustaining the business.

What's a typical day like now?

I don't have one as such. But I always try to plan social media posts at the beginning of the week. If I have cooking lessons booked, I spend a lot of time in the supermarket, sourcing ingredients.

Then I devote time to gathering recipes and testing them. On Fridays I'll try getting through my admin, making sure I'm up to date with all the food regulations, logging orders, transferring everything into my spreadsheet.

I also work with a couple of charities. I help an Enfield charity called Cooking Champions provide food parcels for people in the community. And once a month I make lunch for a local dementia group.

What does the future have in store for your business?

Short term, I'll keep pushing my local classes. I'd like to find venues where I can host bigger classes more regularly. At the moment, I teach either at home or at people's residences. But I have a family and I can't keep shoving them out of the house every time I have strangers round for a cooking lesson!

I also want to focus on corporate business. I've done a few team-building events for local companies. I'll keep trying to get more corporate clients as it's a nice way of earning money. Ideally, I'd use some of that money for the charity work as it's good to give back.

Eventually, I'd like a premises that serves as a community kitchen. There are lots of people in London living in temporary accommodation and they don't have proper cooking facilities or places to sit and eat. To be able to provide a kitchen where they could do that would be great.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone who's considering starting their own business?

If you have an idea, don't wait for the right time. Because it never comes. If you have something you're passionate about and you think could work, go for it. But remember to do your research – understanding your audience is key.

Another thing to embrace is networking. I found that really useful. During the pandemic, there was a lot of online stuff, but now face-to-face events are starting up again. There are so many free networking groups you can join.

And what I've found is that you don't go there to sell, you go just to meet people. They may not be your target market, but later they might mention your business to someone who is your target market. It definitely works.


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