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My first year in business: Blue Ginger Picnics

In May 2017, Tania Usher decided to take a break from her home-based digital marketing business to try something new. 

That something was Blue Ginger Picnics, a food tourism venture which stages upmarket alfresco events for groups of two or more. Picnickers are treated to premium local produce, minus the plastics and disposables.

Usher’s flair and business acumen saw her fledgling start-up beat off stiff competition from a string of established operators to net a prestigious Silver at the QANTAS Australian Tourism Awards. Here she discusses the ups and downs of her first year in business.

What prompted you to go into the food tourism business?

My family has always loved the outdoors and picnicking, going somewhere beautiful and making an occasion of it. Over the years, people have seen us doing it in our elaborate way and some of them started asking me whether it was something I did for others.

Is it easy to turn a personal passion into a viable business? How did you go about it?

Not necessarily. There’s no point thinking you’re going to do something you love if the market doesn’t want it. That’s a hobby, not a business. You need to validate your idea by determining whether it’s something people are actually willing to pay for. I didn’t make assumptions about that – I went out and asked people and staged some sample events before jumping in.

How long did it take you to get your first paying customer?

Not long – I was holding a test picnic for some friends on the beach at Kingscliff before I’d launched, and a guy walked past and admired what we were doing. I said, jokingly, “We can do anniversaries.” And he said, “My anniversary is tomorrow, can you do that?” I didn’t know how much I was charging at that stage, so I just blurted out a figure and he said, “Ok, no problems.” That was as crazy as it was.

What did you do to get the word out after you’d launched?

I posted some photos of that first event in a couple of local Facebook groups. Just from that, we got 350 likes, 100 comments and 60 enquiries. People shared it and a few people started making bookings. Then I aligned with some tourism bodies and we started getting media attention.

Featuring in Australian Traveller really raised our profile. Getting that exposure is so important for start-ups, and so is forming relationships with compatible businesses and organisations.

There’s no point thinking you’re going to do something you love if the market doesn’t want it. That’s a hobby, not a business

How did you manage to scale the business, given your picnics are very labour-intensive?

It wasn’t very efficient behind the scenes in the first year, and I realised that I had to put systems in place. I have all my place settings organised, I have a booking system, I have my Instagram posts automated – sorting those things meant we could do four events in a day.

As a business owner, you need to spend time in the trenches in the early days, to work out what you need to outsource, or get rid of or include in your operational procedures to make things run efficiently.

What was the biggest mistake you made in the early months?

We made things too complicated. I had too many props and lugging them around was very time-consuming. Paring everything back so our picnics were elegant but simple solved that problem.

Another thing I realised a few months in was that I needed to rejig my marketing.I started out thinking women were the target market, but it turned out men were making most of the bookings. I had to refocus the imagery I was using and work out how to get it in front of the guys.

What advice can you give to others who are pondering whether their bright idea is worth pursuing?

Validate your concept, know your customers and be very clear about the values you want your business to stand for. That can be hard when you’re starting out. It might be tempting to cut corners and go for cheaper options, but that doesn’t work in the long run.

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