Do you love to be outside and have a knack for planning events? If so, then you may be a perfect fit for one of the most lucrative side hustle ideas in 2023: starting a picnic business.
Event planning has long been a potentially lucrative, albeit stressful, job for those that are organized and able to manage multiple priorities and deadlines. My sister took the dive this year and started her own business. I decided to help her get it off the ground.
But what I was not expecting at the time was how helpful artificial intelligence would be in getting it off the ground.
Here is what I've learned so far helping my sister start her picnic business this year.
Starting a picnic business: 15 basic steps
Getting your luxury or rustic picnic business off the ground doesn't have to be this project of herculean proportions. In fact, my sister and I were unsure where to start. So naturally, at least in 2023, we turned to ChatGPT's AI chatbot for assistance.
And while we didn't follow its proposed steps verbatim, we did use it to prioritize and keep track of the steps needed to get the picnic business off the ground.
To be successful, you'll want to follow these fifteen steps in order:
Choose a picnic business name
Establish a business
File with the IRS for an EIN
Open a business bank account
Obtain permits and licenses
Conduct market research
Write a business plan
Create your picnic menu
Build out your pricing model
Buy your picnic supplies
Build a web presence/social media presence
Explore other marketing channels
Find customers and throw picnics
Get customer feedback
Manage customer data
1. Choose a picnic business name
A good way to get started is to choose a business name that helps others to recognize your brand and offerings. You may opt to take one of two different paths here. You can either:
Pick a whimsical name that is memorable: Alliteration works well here. And while these names can be difficult to think of, they tend to be more recognizable and work better in the long run. Thankfully, AI tools like ChatGPT can prove helpful in helping you to come up with your picnic business name. For this piece, I did ask ChatGPT to come up with a list of creative business names that included my geographic area of Connecticut. It suggested some pretty creative names, including Connecticut Picnic Co. and Perfect Picnic CT, both of which I really like.
Choose a name with your name in it: Sometimes, entrepreneurs like to create business names containing their names. This is somewhat riskier, in my opinion, but if you're a budding social media star comfortable being the face of a brand, this strategy can work!
My sister ended up going with the second strategy, which made sense for her as much more of an extrovert than I am.
2. Establish your picnic business
With your picnic business name in tow, it is now time for you to consider establishing a formal business. I recommend that you consider establishing yourself as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), which will help protect your personal assets in the event of a bankruptcy or legal litigation against your company.
This is not legal advice. In fact, you have a number of other options to consider.
Sole proprietorships are owned by just one person and involve the owner paying personal income tax on any business profits. The main disadvantage to sole proprietorships is that any business liabilities are lumped into those of the individual. This means that business debts could ultimately lead to the seizure of your personal assets.
Partnerships are similar to sole proprietorships, except for having two owners rather than one. These two owners share financial responsibility for the business, and they will share in the business's profits and losses together.
Corporations come in two varieties - C corps and S corps. They are far more expensive to establish than practically all other types of organization, though they do offer the strongest protection to owners looking to shield themselves from personal liability.
Another con of corporations is that profits are effectively taxed two times, both when a company makes a profit, and again when any profits are paid in the form of dividends to shareholders (fancy word for owners).
After browsing our options and using my knowledge from establishing The Student Debt Destroyer, we learned an LLC was the right option for us.
Setting up an LLC is not expensive, either, though costs can vary somewhat by state. I've used Northwest Registered Agent in the past and would highly recommend their services again.
If you keep your relationship active, they'll also file your ongoing annual reports and other reports required to keep you in good standing with your state. All in, I think it cost me about $200 to establish my LLC.
3. File for an EIN
After officially launching your picnic business, you'll want to register with the United States IRS. Doing so will get you a unique employer identification number - EIN for short - that you'll use to file your business taxes each year.
There are also other needs for your business EIN, as you'll see in a minute or two.
Getting my EIN for The Student Debt Destroyer was actually a far simpler process than I expected. To do so, just follow these five simple steps:
Determine eligibility: EINs are reserved for those that have established businesses, nonprofits, estates, and trusts.
Go to the IRS website: This link will take you directly to the site where you can apply for your own EIN. Just click the "Apply Now" button to proceed.
Choose your business structure: The IRS will ask you whether you've decided to establish your picnic business as an LLC, sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation.
Complete the rest of the application: You'll be pleasantly surprised to learn that the rest of the questions are easy to answer and will ask you for basic information, like your business name, address, and contact information.
Submit your application: It's that easy! Once your application is completed, the IRS will issue you an EIN.
4. Open a business banking account
Next, you'll want to establish a bank account that will help you to get paid and pay any other vendors you may do business with as you launch your picnic business.
I cannot think of any brick and mortar or online banks that will allow you to open a business account without a registered EIN, so you'll very likely need to wait until you hear back from the IRS before you proceed with this step.
Most importantly, I recommend that you use a bank without any monthly fees. We use BlueVine as our bank of choice. They have an online-only presence, but do not assess monthly fees.
They also do not charge ACH transfer or overdraft fees, and there is no monthly transaction limits either!
5. Obtain permits and licenses
As a picnic business, you may need a number of permits or licenses in order to operate your business. This may involve permits to host picnics in a public or private space, as well as state/county/town licensing in order to serve food or drink.
Of course, requirements can vary drastically by area, so if you're in doubt, I recommend that you consult with your state's Secretary of State website and your town's Chamber of Commerce regulations as a starting point.
Then, you can obtain any permits required to assure compliance.
6. Conduct market research
With all of your business logistics figured out, you'll want to pivot and conduct some market research. Starting a picnic business without a niche could be a recipe for disaster.
But before you pick a niche, you'll want to understand the size and scope of your target audience. I recommend that you start by researching:
Existing picnic businesses in your area
Their offerings and prices
As you start to gain familiarity with how others are doing business, I found it helpful to keep two questions in mind:
What can I do differently than what is offered on the market today?
Is there sufficient demand for my unique offering?
For instance, let's say that you live in a community where a number of companies offer luxury beach picnics, so you decide to explore more rustic themed park picnics instead. In theory, this is a great differentiator, but in reality, you'll want to make sure there is sufficient demand for your different offering.
But I also encourage you to think outside the box. Your niche does not need to be based on a theme, for example. You may opt for more of an event or experience based niche, such as:
Romantic events (honeymoons, anniversaries, etc.)
Friends/family (reunions, brunches, etc,)
Wedding related (bachelorette parties, bridal showers, engagements)
A good way to validate hypotheses like these in the market research stage is to talk to others in your target customer base. This can be done live through conversation or electronically with polling or survey-based questionnaires.
Ideally, you want to accumulate as much data as you can before you write your business plan out.
7. Write a business plan
With your market research in hand, it is time to pen your business plan. Remember - this is a first draft in a document that will likely evolve over time, so your goal here is not perfection, but rather to start outlining what will be the operating principles for your picnic business once it is started in earnest.
It is important that you outline this information as a starting point:
Your business objectives
How you plan to serve customers
How you'll earn revenue
3-year financial projection
Business strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT analysis)
Ultimately, as I'm learning, the revenue projection is unlikely to prove accurate. But what it does provide you is a benchmark to measure yourself against.
8. Create your picnic menu(s)
Presumably, you'll serve food and drink at the picnics you host. As prospective clients decide to schedule your services, they'll likely expect to see their food and drink options at that time.
There are a number of different avenues to consider here. You can always opt for traditional picnic fare like sandwiches, cookies, chips, and fruit, or you may consider something a little more elegant.
Again, my sister and I turned to ChatGPT here for some advice. Some recommendations that we received are:
Hummus and dips
Sliders, skewers, and other finger foods
Individual quiches or frittatas
I liked these recommendations because they check all the boxes on picnic food. They are easily transportable, don't require many utensils (salads aside), and most importantly, are delicious.
One decision that you'll need to make at this stage is whether you're going to handle food preparation yourself or whether you'll partner with someone else that specializes in food.
It really comes down to trust and control. If you've done your due diligence and the finances work, it can be easier and a time saver to let another company handle this for you. But if you have quality concerns or think you can do a better job yourself, then by all means go for it.
Just keep in mind that you may need special permitting and small business insurance to serve your own food.
9. Build your pricing model
As you plan out your menu and food options, it is important to start thinking about pricing. Generally, I recommend offering 2-3 different options, each at their own price point.
For instance, you may offer a base package with an assortment of sandwiches, wraps, and other traditional picnic foods. But for those looking for a more upscale experience, you may opt to consider some of the foods I mentioned a minute ago.
Though it is advisable that you offer 2-3 different package options to your prospective clients, you will want to make sure that you're staying true to your brand and niche that you validated through your market research.
Your picnic business's pricing model should take into account a few main variables:
The amount of time the event will last (in hours)
The amount of preparation that you'll need to do
The cost of the food
Your transportation time
It is okay to experiment with a couple of price points, especially from the onset. Remember to get client feedback, which will allow you to adjust accordingly.
10. Buy your picnic supplies
With many of the startup logistics behind you, it is time to buy your supplies. I recommend that you purchase a variety of items that, while dependent on your exact business model, are likely to include:
One word of advice here - you do want the supplies you use to match the aesthetic of your picnic business.
For example, if you're taking the "luxury" route, you likely won't want red solo cups and plates.
You can find upscale plastic utensils and dishware online or in store through retailers like Amazon or Party City.
11. Build a web presence
You'll now want to turn back to your business plan and use it to establish a web presence for prospective clients to find your services. Don't get frustrated - it can take some time for you to regularly build an online following.
But once you do, you'll find client acquisition will become much easier. And over more time, as you boost your visibility online and start to capitalize on word of mouth referrals, the sky will become the limit.
You really have two options to build your web presence from scratch:
Building a website
Leveraging social media
I recommend that you do both.
Build a website
Ideally, your future customers will find your website when looking for professionally thrown picnics in your area. The real draw in this is that any web traffic that you get is assured to be from prospects with at least some level of interest in using your picnic business to throw an event.
I recommend that you use ChatGPT to help you here. I prompted the service to help me design what pages should be included in this picnic-oriented site, and even asked the chatbot for help in writing copy and text for these pages.
And while you don't want to necessarily cut and paste anything that the system spits out, paraphrasing the output will assure you touch upon all the right points without posting text that is not your own.
Once established, you'll likely find it worthwhile to spend some time studying search engine optimization to further boost your site's legitimacy, navigability, and reach.
Leverage social media
Ultimately, your social media goals should be two-fold.
First, your posts should showcase your brands with beautifully set-up picnics, in order to spur interest in your picnic offerings. And secondly, you should use social media as a way to locate these prospective clients in your area and drive them into your sales funnel.
Whether this is getting them to schedule an introduction call, fill out a support form, or jump right into scheduling an event depends on your exact business model, but it should be the goal.
12. Explore other marketing channels
There are other ways to market your business too! Can you think of any?
We were struggling at first, so we decided to leverage ChatGPT's artificial intelligence once more. Here are a few of the best ideas we were given:
Local partnerships: Consider partnering with local hotels, wineries, and other venues in your area to offer picnics to their guests. You'll gain greater distribution, and these venues are likely to have happier guests that were offered more amenities.
Attend events in the community: Your town's local farmers' market is the first idea that came to mind here. It could be a great opportunity for you to give away samples of your food/drink and connect with others in your community about your picnic offerings and business. Other than that, fairs and festivals in your area may also work well.
Create listings in local directories: Since the picnic business is one that depends on finding clients in your area, it is important that your business is listed in any and all local directories. This means creating profiles on Yelp, Google Business, TripAdvisor, and any other sites that you may be able to think of.
13. Find customers and throw picnics
Finally, the moment every entrepreneur waits for - making money! With your marketing strategies in place, you'll soon have your first customers planning their picnics.
The first couple of picnics that your business throws may feel a little stressful, but that is only because of the logistics you'll perfect as you gain more experience. For example, you'll need to think through a number of challenges, such as:
How to transport food to/from the picnic
How long a picnic will take to setup
Coordinating vendors, flowers, or other variables
Needless to say, these first clients are among your most important, as they provide you an excellent opportunity to gain some favorable reviews and let word of mouth referrals start to flow.
14. Ask for feedback and track data
One of the hardest parts about owning your own business is dealing with negative customer feedback. And while you hope that the majority of your feedback is positive, negative reviews give you a great opportunity to improve your offerings in the future.
Flat out asking for feedback or sending a survey has a number of potential benefits to your picnic business:
It gives you the chance to make things right before negative reviews are posted online.
You'll earn respect from past and current customers that may be more inclined to try your services a second time.
You show that you truly care about the customer experience.
All of these things are good for your picnic business.
The best part is that you don't even need to spend time making this survey. Just write a prompt to ask ChatGPT to do this for you!
15. Manage your clients
As your operation grows, you'll likely need a new solution to keep track of your clients. There are a number of small business software solutions on the market that can help you to handle tasks like:
Customer relationship management
Adding clients to an email list
I am a fan of HoneyBook, Quickbase, and others.
At the onset, though, you'll likely want to save money and invoice manually using Microsoft Word, since it is unlikely that you'll be throwing more than a couple picnics per week anyway.
Using AI to start a picnic business
While I've embedded many of my learnings in the content above, I need to give another shoutout to ChatGPT. In my mind, this AI chatbot has absolutely changed just about everything about the best practices needed to get a business off the ground.
Sure, your objectives are the same and you still need to take on many of the same tasks to get up and running, but artificial intelligence has made the process so much easier.
Projects that used to take hours can now be done in just minutes, which means that you can work through this process so much faster than you used to be able to. This, in turn, will allow you more time to pay closer attention to more value-adding activities such as sales, relationship management, and other activities best performed by humans.
Now, I want to hear from you. Have you started or thinking about starting a picnic business? What questions do you have? Tell me in the comments below!
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