If you don’t know Tea Silvestre, you’re missing out on some delicious marketing advice and inspiration. She’s an entrepreneur and small business owner who’s got her hand in many pies – oh, and if you don’t already know, she’s also known as “The Word Chef”. So you’ll excuse… er, understand all my corny references to food and cooking.
If you visit her blog, you’ll quickly see she’s much better at it than I!
She’s also got something pretty exciting on the back burner. Well, maybe the front burner because this baby’s simmering.
If you’re here reading this, you’re probably looking for some marketing advice or ideas. You’re probably familiar with those ubiquitous eCourses and webinars that sometimes make learning feel a bit… undercooked. I bet you probably don’t show up to half of them, especially if they’re free. Heck, sometimes I don’t even show up to the ones I’ve paid for, and when I do, I cop out somewhere around minute 46.
But Tea is turning the idea of learning on its head and creating a reality web series and game that teaches you how to market your business online. She dubs it “Biggest Loser meets Hell’s Kitchen” for entrepreneurs. And if you’re one of the lucky contestants, not only is it free but there’s a stunning grand prize involved.
I want to share a bit of insight from the Chef herself about the appetizing little morsel she’s got baking, so if it sounds even a little bit intriguing, you can get in on the action as a contestant, “play a hom-er” or an inspired supporter like me.
Interview with Tea “The Word Chef” Silvestre
Question: Tea, you’re recognized as “The Word Chef” and you’ve been known to make some great analogies between building a small business and perfecting the proverbial soufflé. Could you tell me how you got started in your business?
The Word Chef is actually the 2nd iteration of my business — it’s a different model and serves a different audience than my first. In 2006, I launched Social Good Marketing with the idea that I’d create an agency for nonprofits and mission-driven small businesses. It went well for a while — we grew, hired staff, worked with contractors — and then two whammies hit me: the economy and a client who never paid his $20K bill.
Question: Sadly, I can relate. A lot of small businesses have been flattened by the same rolling pin. How did you manage through that time?
I had to lay off my staff, downsize and even rent out part of my office to other consultants just to make it work. It wasn’t a fun time for me, to be sure.
In 2009, along came one of my best clients with a job offer (too good to refuse) so I became an employee again for a little while.
After a year and half, we parted ways (amicably) and I relaunched my biz, this time with an eye toward doing more teaching and coaching. This would allow me to work from anywhere and I could keep my biz small and compact.
Question: What made you choose the unique approach of combining cooking and marketing?
The idea for the branding was really a result of me falling in love with a guy who couldn’t get enough of my cooking. I knew I’d never be a real chef, but I loved food and I loved experimenting with different recipes. I think I was actually cooking dinner when it hit me that I also cook with words. Marketing, communication, storytelling — it’s all about the words. That’s where it all came together for me.
Question: So good marketing is like a good recipe. Makes perfect sense! And it’s an analogy we can all sink our teeth into. Is your inspiration still in the picture and are you still feeding him?
Yes, we’ve been together now for two plus years. We aren’t married but I do call him Mr. Spouse, Mr. Perfect or The Professional (depending on the context).
Question: Next time we’ll have to talk cupcakes and cinnamon buns… but back to business for now. You did some pretty extensive research recently into the challenges and pain points of small biz owners and entrepreneurs. Did you learn anything that surprised you?
Not really. The research mostly validated my own thinking and observations over the last six years. Most of my clients fall into one of two camps: a) know what they need to do but “don’t have the time” to get it done; or b) don’t have a clue about where to start.
Of course these two camps are complicated by things like money (or lack thereof).
I also noticed that most folks who answered the survey were women — 75%! — and apparently that does mirror some of the stats out there that most women-owned businesses are smaller, solo operations vs. those run by men that tend to grow faster and employ more people.
Question: Trading the security of a “job” for the joy of owning a business is both thrilling and terrifying. What have you found most challenging about being a solopreneur, and do you have any advice for other solos and small biz people who are feeling overwhelmed and underpaid?
For me, the biggest challenge is staying focused on the goals. And I think a lot of other entrepreneurs have this problem, too.
We’ve all heard about bright shiny object syndrome. Yes, I’m afflicted with it, too. And the more bright ideas we allow ourselves to follow, the more we dilute our own energies and focus — which results in less than great results for everything. Which can lead to overwhelm and yep — feeling the pinch of a too-small bank account.
The best advice I can give (and should follow more often myself) is to look at where my passions and values are aligned with the best possible chance of making money and then focus, focus, focus. It’s easy to get distracted by social media or taking just one more class that we think will be THE answer to our problems. At some point, you’ve got to stop and just do what matters most. And if you’re a solopreneur, it’s a good idea to have a support system so you can get a reality check when you need one. For me, it’s my mastermind group and my blog colleagues over at the Carnival.
Question: You’re currently cooking up something the world has never seen before. You deem it “Biggest Loser meets Hell’s Kitchen” for entrepreneurs. As someone who’s alternately dumbstruck by Jillian Michaels and terrified of Gordon Ramsey, talk me off a ledge, here… what are you working on and should we be scared?
LOL. Yes, this is a pretty crazy endeavor, but have no fear — it’s all for the greater good. The project is called “Prosperity’s Kitchen” and it’s actually three things rolled into one: a reality web series, a competition, and an online marketing course for solopreneurs and start-ups.
Now, I’m not a huge fan of reality TV (I think there can sometimes be too much melodrama), but there are a few I indulge in from time to time. Some of these shows have hit on a great way to both inspire and teach an audience about a particular topic.
Biggest Loser for example has an emphasis on measuring results. The contestants weigh-in every week and are held accountable for their progress. Hell’s Kitchen shows some of the behind-the-scenes thinking of being a chef — or thinking creatively and spontaneously about your craft. These are two skills/tasks that small biz folks also need to learn how to do if they want to succeed.
Question: I read a post on your blog recently where you so eloquently stated the following: “I Feel the Need to Blow Something Up”. That was the first inkling to the rest of us that something big was brewing. When did your idea for Prosperity’s Kitchen really start to percolate?
Over the last year or so, I’ve taught several group classes online and found that my completion rate (the number of students who actually complete the entire course) was about half of what it usually is when I teach in person. I knew that part of the problem was that the cost (or investment to the student) was too low to keep them accountable, but I struggled philosophically with charging more when I had an unproven model.
I also feel that business education should be accessible to everyone — not just those who have a couple grand to spare. But I wasn’t getting the results I wanted and I was stumped. How the heck do you keep people accountable and engaged so they can see the fruits of their own labor?
Then I attended a conference and learned a whole lot about this thing called “gamification” and how it was working across all sorts of industries and in all kinds of companies to motivate people and keep them on a positive trajectory toward a particular goal.
That’s where the spark began.
Question: Tell me more about Prosperity’s Kitchen. How does someone get in on the game and what should they expect? Is anyone getting kicked off any islands?
Great question! We’re currently looking for the perfect 15 people to be our contestants. These folks should be in the early stages of their business (with a need to learn how to market themselves online) and have an existing website with a clearly defined target market and brand.
They also need to be willing to disclose their progress in a public way. For example, we’ll measure things like site traffic, email subscribers, and so on.
The first step is to just apply to be a contestant. There’s absolutely NO cost to participate this way. So if folks are interested, they should get over to the Kitchen right away (the deadline for the first round is September 30).
We’ll go through those applications and ask all the most promising ones to then send us a short video of themselves telling their story.
From there, we’ll select 15 contestants plus 2 alternates. The game begins in late January and everyone plays from their home office. It’s all virtual.
Oh — and nobody will get kicked off the island unless they fail to show up for a mission. This isn’t about the drama of who’s getting kicked off this week. It IS about learning and working collaboratively and thinking creatively about how to tell your small biz story using digital means.
Question: There’s also a “play at home” component. What does that mean and how do we do it?
Anyone with an internet connection will have access to every episode — the lessons and the missions. So in that sense, anyone can play at home.
We will offer a membership type option for $49/month (or $125 if you pay up front), where you’ll have access to the community forum and additional accountability and progress tracking online. That option will be available in mid-to-late December, so once we’ve got all the details worked out, you’ll be the first to know.
Question: What about prizes? Someone mentioned prizes…
Yes! Prizes. There’s a $10K grand prize package that will consist of both cash and non-cash items — so there’s also the opportunity to win some great cash and products/services to help you continue to build your dream.
I’m also hoping to put together some secondary prizes that we can award to the best team effort and perhaps even the play-at-home folks.
Question: That’s a lot of dough! But just to be clear, it’s not all fun-n-games. There’s actual work involved, right?
Exactly. The contestants will be using their own businesses for each of the missions — so this is a way for them to both learn and implement at the same time. I’ve estimated that participants should expect to put at least 10 hours per week (for 12 weeks) into this program. Some of that is for our weekly lesson and mission debrief, and the rest is for team meetings and implementation. We’ve got a jam-packed syllabus that’s available here.
Question: Other than being a contestant, are there other ways for people who think this is a great idea to get involved with the project?
We’d love to have anyone interested in helping to spread the word join us as an AmBUZZador. This a small group of volunteers who are working with us to share the project with their own networks via social media and email. Your readers can learn more here.
For those who don’t think they’d like to play as a contestant, but still want to keep an eye on things, we’ve got a “Stay in the Loop” email list they can add themselves to on our website (top right of the page).
We’re doing little things between now and then to involve the community and make sure we build the best program ever, so they might enjoy tagging along via that method. And of course, there’s our Facebook page and Twitter channel.
Whatever works best for them!
Get In On The Fun And Learning!
There isn’t much time before the deadline, so I encourage you to take a look at the Prosperity’s Kitchen website where you can get all the information you’ll need. Where else can you take an eCourse that’s this much fun AND that pays YOU to learn? Apply to play and maybe you’ll be one of the lucky 15. And remember, there’s still a chance to “play at home”. I’ll let you know about that when I have more details.
Can you think of anyone in your biz world who would make a good contestant? Share this with them! It might be the best thing you do for them all day.