by Rachel Smith
22 February 2019
What do you do when you write / operate in a very specific niche and the foundations are rattled? If you’re Grant Jones, you look for ways you can parlay your knowledge, contacts and skills into another avenue in order to maintain a steady income. Grant’s career journey from cadetship all the way to starting his own consultancy, Chef’s Garage, offers some great insights for anyone who’s done the same thing for decades and trembles at the thought of having to reinvent themselves. Read on to find out how he moved from print to starting his own business, the favourite stories he’s worked on, how he measures success – and the tools he’d be lost without (I love that one of them is his other half!)
Before I started in journalism, I’d worked in a fish and chip shop and a butcher shop, as well as delivering newspapers after school. That’s when my two main interests developed. When I scored a cadetship, I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and be offered the chance to review Melbourne pubs for the old Sunday Press when I was only 23. I loved it, getting paid to write about food, with someone else picking up the bill. Of course, that’s the view through rosé-coloured glasses, there is a lot more to it than that.
I’ve done a lot in between – crime reporting, court reporting, TV current affairs, newspapers, magazines, writing, editing – but it has always come back to writing about food and hospitality.
I wanted to stay in the same space and I already had several people already ask for my advice before I took a redundancy from News Corp after 11 years, nine as food editor. I knew I wanted to do something else with all that knowledge. So, I thought why give away 30 years of experience when I can be paid to do it and help a client through the process as well.
I have several regular clients who have their own deadlines and I need to fit in with what they require, plus there are the contract jobs, new clients and one-off projects that I am involved in. The work could be anything from menu design and testing, to press releases to a EDM on food trends to editing a monthly 92-page magazine. It’s a veritable smorgasbord.
You have to move with the times and be agile, particularly in the current climate. I know where my areas of expertise lie and play to those strengths. If there is something I don’t know, I either try to learn more about it or seek out an expert in the field. This is particularly relevant in the social media space which is constantly changing. I built up a decent following on Twitter, for example, then had to start again on Instagram. Who knows what’s next.
I am not the best planner but have been working to deadlines my whole working life. If someone needs something done, I’ll do it, and find solutions to issues.
My career had been my priority for most of my life until I had a son with my partner fairly late in life. I wanted to spend more time with him: be a dad, coach his footy team, do school pick up and drop off, MC at the school fete, do cooking lessons for his schoolmates, take time out to cook for the less fortunate: That’s the true measure of my success, being able to share my love of food and knowledge of food with anyone who cares to take advantage of it.
Dealing with a project from the ground up, as I did with NuBambu restaurant at Canterbury-Hurlstone Park RSL. I helped choose the chef, build the menu, write the press releases, bios and profiles, launch the restaurant, MC the opening and take people through over time. It’s helping different people open their eyes to what opportunities there are in the food space, from both sides of the fence, either as a guest or a restaurant or hospitality operator.
It’s word of mouth. I am generally introduced to clients and I don’t do a lot of chasing. I have a lot of contacts both in hospitality and media, and they know me and trust me, which is what is key. If they didn’t think I could do the job, then they wouldn’t put me forward.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around ROI for the time and effort that goes into sustaining different platforms, from my website to LinkedIn and Instagram. Each project I have and how I secure them is different. And each of the platforms has its own pros and cons. So I treat each client and their project as an individual offering. One size does not fit all.
I have a home office, which I work in about 2-3 days a week. If I need quiet time or editing time, that’s where I do it. It’s a proper set up now, but it took me about 18 months of half-hearted laptop on desk in the ‘spare room’ and kitchen tabletop before I knew I had to work in a proper office environment, albeit in my home. But, depending on the week, I am also on site with various clients.
Flying solo and having enough time to learn business systems: Accounting, planning/scheduling, Google Sheets, InDesign. Also taking on too much work which means clients do not get my full focus.
I have built up more knowledge and contacts than I realised. If people ask me a question and I can answer it, great, but if I don’t know the answer, I usually know someone who does. I still haven’t written a business plan. I tried, but it’s a moveable feast and is changing all the time. My tip would be to set up systems, bank accounts, accounting systems, and make friends with a good accountant. They can save you thousands.
Getting decent Instagram copy written. Nom-Nom, and Yum and Amazing do not cut it. People want to know what the story is.
My other half who is my sounding board, spreadsheet guru, and HR adviser; Google Drive and Office 365.
My mum’s best friend asked me to write s story on her sister who was murdered by her estranged husband. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write, but it was tribute to her and very important in her mourning process. Thirty years later, she asked for a copy of the article to remember her sister on the anniversary of her death.
More recently I wrote about the Oyster Coast, a 300km journey down the south coast writing about the people who put these delicious bivalves on our plates. I took my family along for the ride. It’s a great part of the world to see, and there are amazing people to meet who come from all walks of life, who have found themselves living this amazing farming life.
I have interviewed everyone from movie and rock stars to farmers and builders. It’s being able to tell their story well which gives me a thrill. I may have a written something a decade ago, but people still remember how you treated them and their story.
I have travelled widely, from South America to South East Asia and a few in between, and eaten my way across them all. I’ve also lived and worked in Hong Kong and London as a sub-editor and feature writer and loved the experience of living abroad, but Australia will always be home.
Like to know more about Grant? Here’s his bio!
After a 30+ year career writing about food, travel and hospitality, I established Chef’s Garage, a hospitality consultancy and copywriting company. As the former food editor of The Daily Telegraph, I know what it takes to make the opening of a restaurant or retail precinct successful, how to tell that story and who to tell it to. I’ve also been brought in to refine or develop concepts and introduce new and exciting operators to the market. My knowledge and experience across hospitality spans everything from fine diners, local clubs and cafes, to convention centres and destination diners. Find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.