Forget diamonds: Chocolate is a girl’s best friend. If you’re the kind of gal who whips up a homemade box of chocolates and makes chocolate dice as dessert for your game night party, a career as a chocolatier might be in your future. This week, in our How to Quit Your Day Job series, we chat with San Francisco-based chocolatier Wendy Lieu about her store, Socola Chocolatier, and crafting delicious sweet cocoa bites.
Meet the Chocolatier Pro: Wendy Lieu
Socola Chocolatier was a family affair that started in 2001 with Wendy and her sister Susan. Teenagers at the time, they experimented with making truffles and would sell them at the farmers’ market in Santa Rosa during summers when Wendy had breaks from the University of California Davis. After graduation, Wendy worked at a management consulting firm while her younger sister left for college on the East coast. Wendy continued to make chocolates on the weekends and sell them online, until her sister convinced her a few years later to develop her own chocolate business. “I was very settled in at my job and I enjoyed the work, but had always longed to one day be able to work on my business full time,” says Wendy. As her side gig of selling chocolates grew, she eventually started working part-time at her day job and went full-time into Socola Chocolatier in December 2012.
1. Create a sustainable business. Through her years of selling her handcrafted chocolates at farmers’ markets and online, Wendy had a customer base that she knew loved the product she was selling. Armed with that base, Wendy took a business planning course at Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center and wrote a business plan with full, two-year financial projections. “Think of where you want to be and figure out what you need to do to get there, and set a timeline,” says Wendy.
2. Start small. Instead of rolling out thousands of chocolates, see how your sweet treats fare in the marketplace first. Gradually build your business. “Only buy equipment or supplies when you really need it,” says Wendy. “For example, I cut ganaches by hand for a long time before I was able to afford a confectionary guitar, which at the time was a $2,000 investment.”
3. Connect with your roots. Several of Socola chocolates are infused with unique ingredients, such as passion fruit, beer and sriracha. Being of Vietnamese descent, Wendy wanted to bring flavors like Vietnamese coffee and sriracha into the fold of her work. Wendy also finds flavor inspiration from traveling, like when she and Susan went to Cuba and had their first taste of homemade guava jam. “It was the best. I decided it needed to be paired with chocolate, and that’s how Give it to Me Guava truffles were born,” says Wendy.
4. Ask for help when you need it. Forget the “I have to do it all myself” mentality, and rely on those around you who can offer you assistance along the way. “From lending their commercial kitchen space to lending their hands in late-night production before we could afford to have employees, family and friends have been a tremendous help along the way,” says Wendy. When Wendy used a Kickstarter campaign to open her first retail spot in San Francisco, her friends and family contributed financially.
5. Believe in yourself. All sorts of self-doubt can arise when trying to branch out of your career comfort zone, and it can be easy to freak out. Wendy shares some foolproof ways to boost your self-confidence as you move forward. “Surround yourself with a great support group of other entrepreneurs to bounce ideas off of, understand your financials and price your products correctly so that you are actually making money,” says Wendy.
Perfect Your Skills
1. Truffle Making Classes ($125 per class): Over a course of three classes, learn the differences between chocolates and make and decorate homemade truffles and ganaches. These intimate eight-person maximum classes in Saratoga, CA even include taking home a batch of chocolates you made in class.
2. Kickstart Your Business With Crowdfunding Online Class ($39): Like Wendy, Kickstarter or any crowdfunding source can be a great way to fund raise when you’re starting your new biz. This beginner-level class will help you understand the basics of crowdsourcing and connecting with your potential customers.
3. Travel to the Perugina Casa del Cioccolato ($10): Named one of the top five destinations for chocolate lovers by CNN, the Baci Perguina Casa del Ciccolato in Perugina, Italy allows visitors to get a peek inside the factory’s production line and a chance to make chocolate. If Italy is a bit too far, there are also Baci classes in NYC and Chicago.
What’s your dream career? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know, and we could feature it in the next column!
(Photos via Socola Chocolatier and Marta Felix Photography)