In preparation of World Chocolate Day, it would be rude not to satisfy your cocoa cravings and overindulge in the sweet stuff. This founder has the perfect day out for all chocolate fans, with her business Chocolate Ecstasy Tours.
Founder of two London based businesses, Jennifer Earle began her idea after putting the two things together she loved the most, Chocolate and roaming around the big smoke.
In the beginning, Earle was nervous but after taking confidence classes in public speaking she was raring to go. 12 years on, and she still has customers returning.
At a time where social media was not the big I am, Earle struggled to advertise. With flyers failing her. she relied on word of mouth and Google Adwords to get her by.
Business Advice caught up with Earle to find out what makes her business so unique and why she branched out and made a sister chain for the less social foodies.
Who are you and what is your business?
I’m Jennifer Earle and I run Chocolate Ecstasy Tours and Taste Tripper. The aim of both businesses is to introduce people to really delicious food in a fun, experiential way. Chocolate Ecstasy Tours are luxury guided walking tours and Taste Tripper are self-guided Explorer Packs.
How did you come up with the concept?
Chocolate Ecstasy Tours grew from a desire to run a business I loved. I wrote a list of all of the things that I loved doing and thought combining a tour of London with tasting delicious chocolate would be a wonderful way to spend a few hours. I also figured because so many people loved chocolate it would be an irresistible offer.
Whilst running Chocolate Ecstasy Tours for the first ten years I’d noted that not everyone could meet our schedule or even wanted to go on a tour with other people. The way I personally explore a new city is often quite different. There were lots of iterations in my head but I finally realised that a physical pack with lots of fun facts, local information, tasting notes, a map and vouchers to discover places and collect treats and deals on your own time might deliver enough of the great things about Chocolate Ecstasy Tours, but in a more flexible and affordable way, so Taste Tripper was born.
What was key in terms of getting started?
Telling friends about my idea. I was so scared for a long time because I was afraid someone would copy it. It’s rare people will have the same combination of resources and interest as you and, even if they do, telling people usually helps motivate you to start.
Also those people you tell provide help in ways you might not have imagined. Someone from my Toastmasters Club (where I was going to improve my confidence in speaking in front of groups) offered to help me with the website and business cards; another friend I met through a business support group coached me around pricing; another friend from that group took some photos of the first tour; and I paid someone else I met to help me learn about Google Adwords (this was pre-Twitter and when Facebook was only in American colleges).
What makes the business unique?
There are other food tours and even other chocolate tours now. Our tours are always small groups so you really get time with the guide and they don’t feel like a lecture. All of our guides are really knowledgeable and really passionate so you do learn quite a lot but in a fun and entertaining way. We also promise you’ll feel completely full of chocolate (or ice cream and sweet treats) by the time we say goodbye.
Taste Tripper is a totally unique concept that I haven’t seen anywhere in the world. This has its own challenges of trying to succinctly explain it to people. It’s designed to have the best bits of a food tour: tasting delicious things, interesting information, deals to buy more at the partners.
Unlike a typical food tour, it’s all done under your own steam and to your own schedule. You have nine months to travel around the city and collect the tasters. This means they can be enjoyed over a weekend adventure or one at a time when you happen to be nearby or want to meet somewhere with local friends.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when launching?
For Chocolate Ecstasy Tours it was getting people to know about us. I had about £200 I could afford to spend promoting it and I wasted £70 on very amateur flyers which I tried to hand out around Leicester Square. Google AdWords were relatively cheap then and that’s how I got some of my first customers. I realised without a budget (and pre-social media) I needed to get another source of income and try to build the business in my spare time.
Ten years on the challenges with Taste Tripper are similar, but in this case it’s finding a way to cut through the noise of social media to explain to people what we do and make them care.
What’s your biggest achievement to date?
I’m really proud that the tours are still running after 12+ years and I employ guides and still have fantastic feedback and customers that return.
Describe your marketing technique – what strategies have you used?
Mostly PR. Initially I found attending network events helpful and Google AdWords brought me some of my first customers, too. I started paying to receive journalist requests a few years ago and respond to those when they are relevant. These have led to some great exposure.
For Taste Tripper we’ve run collaborative events and I also have a personal website which I use to showcase my expertise in chocolate and while that doesn’t always get connected back to the tours when I go on TV or radio it helps my credibility on the site and led to my biggest break of having Chris Evans tell all of his listeners to go on a chocolate tour!
In five years’ time, I will be…
Launching Taste Tripper in its 12th city around the world! And hopefully still running Chocolate Ecstasy Tours as a boutique business here in London with the support from an amazing team.
Who are your business heroes and why?
Sara Blakely, she radiates positivity and honesty. I love how she’s never taken herself seriously but she gets on and achieves and she lifts other people up, too.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
- Make sure your finances are organised first as worrying about money really kills creativity and enthusiasm and potentially the business.
- Try to find out if people will pay for what you want to sell before you start building it.
- Ask people you admire in a similar industry if you can ask them some questions about what it’s like being in the business.
- On a similar vein, if possible, spend time working in a similar business, i.e. if youwant to open a restaurant make sure you’ve spent time in a restaurant to see the reality.
- Have integrity though – this isn’t about copying someone else’s business, just making sure that you really, really want to follow through on this idea.
- If it isn’t a burning itch then it might be worth waiting for the idea that is.
- And, finally, find great people to work with and to support you emotionally as it’ll make it all much easier.
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