The Edible Flower: Three Years In

This weekend, on 26th July 2019, The Edible Flower became three years old. Yay! We’re still here, still standing and still smiling.

It’s become a tradition that on our Edible Flower anniversaries I publish a little financial summary of our business. It all started when, after our first year of business, I wrote this. It was surprisingly popular – despite containing graphs and a whole section on VAT!

I’m writing this at home, with our babies asleep upstairs, while Erin is out catering a wedding for 80 people. The highlight of the year was, of course, the birth of our two gorgeous twin girls, Forrest and Frida in October. However, I don’t think either of us have ever done anything as tricky as balancing running your own business and looking after babies. It’s so easy to feel like you’re doing both badly – all the time. And having enjoyed almost two years of running our business together, it’s also been incredibly hard to never have any time to work together. One of us is always working and the other looking after the babies. Or we try and do some work together while both looking after the twins – and the result is you do it all badly, or very very slowly.

Suddenly going from a family of two, to a family of four, puts pressure on the business to actually start making some money. And on that front, there is good news and bad news…

Three Years In – A Financial Summary

To date we have cooked 5,876 meals and have a cumulative gross income of £160k (£39k in Year 1, £61k in Year 2 and £60k in Year 3). That’s a a little of £27 of income per meal. The costs of cooking all those meals was £59k – that is for ingredients, travel, non-core-team staffing (the “core team” is Erin, Jo, Shannon and Clare), and other job specific costs – giving us average gross profit margin of 63% (we now aiming for 65% so that’s ok). The overheads of running the business during these three years were £69k.

That’s given us a cumulative “profit” of £32k (“profit” here is on the basis that Erin and I don’t get paid). I’m really very proud, not only that somehow we’ve created £160k of work over the last three years, but also that we’ve actually walked away with £32k of cash.

chart-1-total-income-1.jpg

But, can two people live on £32k over three years – an equivalent salary of £5,300pa? Well, no. Probably not. We’re incredibly lucky to be still surviving on savings (from selling up in London), handouts from our parents (I know, we really are too old for that) and plenty of leftovers!

So, the good news is that we’re really busy, but the bad news it that we’re still not actually earning enough money to live. And it feels like the only way to get to that magical point of earning enough to live is to do way more work – and we’re both so exhausted already! You can see in the graph above that Year 3’s numbers are pretty much the same as Year 2 – But to achieve that we have had to work even harder.

We regularly talk about giving it all up and one of us going to get a proper job (one with a salary). It would be so much simpler, so much easier and so much more profitable. That is still the backup plan, but we haven’t bailed out just yet. And here is why:

  • We have total control over what we do. We may choose to do things in a ridiculous, time-consuming, not particularly profitable way but there is something glorious about being in total charge of your destiny.
  • Life is a big adventure. We have done a crazy number of mad, extraordinary jobs that we would never have been part of if we hadn’t set up this business. Even if we only hang on for another few years, we will have experienced so much, learnt such a lot and have absolutely no regrets.
  • We get to hang out here at 121 Middle Road. We live where we work and work where we live. It’s a tangled mess but (particularly when the sun shines) it’s a lovely place to be and I would hate to have to go somewhere else to work every day.
  • We eat well. This is probably an understatement. Looking back at what we cooked and ate when we had proper jobs back in London, I realise that our never-ending obsession with sourcing ingredients, experimenting, tasting, cooking and eating and the fact that we do it every hour of the day, day of the week, and week of the year, means that we eat pretty well now.
  • We meet awesome people. It’s a good thing that we meet the most awesome people at The Edible Flower because we’ve got very little time outside of the business to be making new friends. The people we work for, people we buy things from, people we employ and people we partner with are a brilliant bunch of people and we’re very lucky.

Are we getting any closer to making a living?

In summary, I think so – but we kind of messed it up by having twins.

In my Year 2 financial summary I said that if you had paid Erin and me minimum wage (£7.83ph) for the time we spent working on events in the first two years we would be running at a loss of £28k.

If you repeat the calculation at the end of Year 3 we’re running at an overall loss of £24k. So that’s £4k less bad. And that means that the jobs we’re doing now are, on average,  paying us more than minimum wage. To be exact, over the last 12 months, the jobs we’ve done have paid Erin and me an average of £9.99 per hour. Great I hear you shout!

The problem is the amount of time Erin and I spend working on jobs has decreased. A good proportion of our time has always been taken up with “non fee earning” work. i.e all the stuff that needs to happen to keep the business going, the admin, the finance, preparing so many quotes that go nowhere, writing up recipes, social media, IT issues, fixing the printer, washing and ironing endless nasturtium aprons, growing vegetables (yes, the business still gets all the vegetables for “free”). And of course, we now have two babies to look after. Erin and I basically job share now – just look how little project work Erin and I do from Q3 2018 in the chart below! One of us is always looking after the babies while the other one does all the “non fee earning” work, and then has to fit in a catering job or supper club too to earn some money. 

Chart 2 - Working Days.JPG

So what are we going to do about it?

I’d like to say we have a cunning plan, but really our grand plan is to just keep going and see what happens. I think when you believe that what your doing is a good thing, you have hope that it’ll work out somehow.

Please note: That is terrible advice to anyone thinking about setting up a business. Yes, we don’t have a grand plan, but I do analyse in great detail how it’s all going and I know exactly how far away from financial ruin we are. We’re not getting close yet. Hence, the decision to keep going.

In fact, over the next couple of years we’ll be investing yet more time and money into The Edible Flower. It’s become very apparent that running a catering business from your domestic kitchen gets tricky once you have children. We’re seriously looking into converting an outbuilding into a kitchen for the business.

We’re also putting the twins into nursery for two days a week. This costs us slightly less than £10ph for childcare. But we’re very excited about being able to work together again. And we’re quietly confident that we can add more than £10ph of value to the business, so in the end it will make financial sense.

What else has happened this year?

  • We’ve cooked about 200 wood-fired pizzas in the clay oven we built last spring. It’s always such a joy to cook with.
  • Clare McQuillan joined the team to cover Erin’s absence in the kitchen during her 6 months’ maternity leave. Obviously, Clare never left.
  • We planted 71 trees in our field – the start of a 7-acre Edible Forest. The very first step in a life-long project to explore perennial food crops.
  • We killed (not personally) our 2 pigs and had them butchered. It was quite a journey and we definitely didn’t know how we would feel about it. But it’s a journey that we would both be happy to repeat sometime.
  • We got 4 chickens. We now have 3 chickens. We get between 10 and 15 eggs a week at the moment.
  • We launched a lovely little AirBnB self-catering studio room and have welcomed friends, family to stay and 5 paying guests/couples so far. It’s a bit of work to clean, do the laundry, make a breakfast pack but now we’re all set up it feels like it’s definitely an easier way to make money than catering. A good side project – if it gets a little busier that would be perfect.

What next?

Erin said to me the other day “I hate that I am the worst version of myself with you”. She was referring to the fact we are both absolutely exhausted all the time, and we push ourselves to our limits all the time, so can sometimes be a bit grumpy or snappy with each other when something doesn’t go well.

Erin couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, we’re tired, but we’re still so full of ideas and things we want to do. The days and weeks are just not long enough to do all that we so desperately want to achieve. We’re exhausted but we’ve never been more alive.

Giving up your job (and salary) and starting a life doing the thing you always dreamt you might do is the easy part. It’s the next five (ten?) years that is the tricky bit. When in doubt we always say ‘Just Keep Going’.

I recommend it. You might end up somewhere extraordinary.

Sprucefield 2019

PHOTO CREDIT: SHARON COSGROVE PHOTOGRAPHY
FEATURE IMAGE PHOTO CREDIT: CATHERINE FALLS COMMERCIAL

 

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