Paige Common – Eatin’ Alive
Paige started Eatin’ Alive seven years ago hauling produce around town on her bike to the King Farmers Market, whipping up fresh, local, raw, grab-and-go snacks and meals. She has seen Eatin’ Alive through seven years of business ups and downs.
She came to Mercy Corps NW for help to develop her business skills, through Business Foundations I. We followed up with her to see if she had any advice for any inspiring entrepreneurs.
What inspired you to start your business?
It’s funny I never really cared much about having my own business. What mattered most to me was making sure that families had healthy and convenient meal options. Eatin’ Alive does that, I get to be creative in the kitchen and come up with new nutritious and delicious recipes. When there is the time I even get out and teach parents how to prepare the meals.
What is the hardest lesson you learned during your first year in business and how did you overcome it?
Learning how to deal with uncertainty, sales were all over the place in my first year and I was stretched pretty thin. I was still working nearly full-time and was quickly getting burnt out. In my first year, I had to learn to find balance. It became abundantly clear that 80 hours a week was not sustainable. I’ve since made sure that I keep time for myself to decompress.
What was the most useful lesson or advice you learned at Mercy Corps Northwest?
I enrolled in the IDA program (matched-savings business grant) and one of the requirements of the grant is to complete a business training course. This was in my second year of business and life was pretty hectic so I had to walk away from the grant program but only after I had finished Foundations I, taught by Bill Horton. He was a game changer for me, he pushed me to think different about my business and coached me through some pretty rough patches.
Foundations I was great because I met a lot of other people that were working to start a business. I took the class five years ago and I still talk with the people I met there, in fact, I recently hired one of my classmates to do photography for my business
What excites you about doing business in Portland?
The business environment has changed so much since I first started. In 2010, Portland was pretty deep in the recession, so many people were unemployed and bootstrapping businesses to get by. It was a town of scraping, creative, makers. I ran my business very much the same way. Riding my bike around town getting fresh produce and setting up shop wherever I could. As raw food business, I was one of the first to the scene, the bike culture was taking off and raw food movement was close behind. Fortunate for me it didn’t take long for the business to get traction.
Since then the scene has changed A LOT! There are so many people moving here and the competition has really ramped up. I’m hustling again to make sure I keep my name out there. It’s exciting though there are so many new ways to share my story I’ve really stepped up social media game especially Instagram (@eatinalivepdx)
If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give your pre-business self?
LEARN QUICKBOOKS! For me getting my bookkeeping straight has been such a challenge and what’s more is that the issues don’t go away. They build on each other. I still find myself trying to figure out which farmers markets were the best for business and which products did the best. Honestly, if you can’t figure it out I think it worth the money of hiring someone from the beginning to get at least a system put in place. I have a bookkeeper now it’s a big help.
How have you personally grown since starting your business?
When I first started Eatin’ Alive I wanted to do everything! I didn’t always write down the recipes I came up with and was really disorganized. Eventually, it all got to be too much to handle so I hired on employees and through trial and error figured out how to be a good boss and effectively delegate tasks. I was awful in the beginning, though, it’s amazing that those first employees are still my friends.
Over time I learned my limits. I figured out what I am good at and what I’m not and hire people that can help fill the gaps. I also have become more organized; simple things like making sure to label my files or planning my calendar. I make more thoughtful decisions about the outreach event that I do. I used to say yes to everything now I take the time to figure out what is going to best serve the needs of Eatin’ Alive. All those little changes have helped me show up for my staff. They rely on me to make sure the business is going off so I need to be there for them and I am getting better at that every day.
What lies in the future for Eatin’ Alive?
I am so excited to share that we just recently partnered with the Timbers/ Thorns at Providence Park to provide catering for their suites. You know things happen when they need to, this past year has been tough. I was starting feel like the competition was drowning out our voice and I wasn’t sure what was going to keep us afloat. This came at just the right time.
Also, we are experimenting with new product offerings and even expanding the menu so keep your eye out at the Farmers Market at Portland State or if you happen to be at Timber’s game.
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