What Can A Falafel Truck Teach Us About How To Do Business?

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My name is Bryan Clark and I am a professional writer and blog editor in the tech, entrepreneurship, finance and digital lifestyle fields. I have written before for Entrepreneurs Journey in 2007 and I’m happy to say I am back with a new column starting today.

In this article I will talk about what is needed to produce a quality product, which includes four main elements:

  1. location
  2. branding
  3. marketing
  4. customer service

I’m never sure what the appeal is, but every time the falafel truck pulls up outside my office I’m inexplicably drawn to it. This isn’t a bad thing when I’m hungry, but the falafel truck holds its spell on me even after I’ve put down my lunch for the day. Well, two lunches is better than one, right?

Maybe it’s the television coverage, or the shift in thinking that local is better. Whatever the reason, food trucks have become a powerhouse. Busy urban meccas such as New York and Los Angeles have long known the value of food trucks and street vendors, but others are catching on quickly.

St. Louis – where I live – has never had much of a street food scene until the last two years. Now there are trucks everywhere, even though our local ordinances ban street food or food trucks. The mayor agrees the ordinance is dated, so it has selective enforcement at best. This blogger may or may not have pulled out the ole’ Android phone and snapped a photo of the mayor with a Chicago-style hot dog in his mouth. Oh, the humanity. Doesn’t he know that St. Louisans can’t be messing with Chicago-style anything?

But I digress.

Food trucks are a hit, and they don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

A successful food truck can teach you a lot about how you run your business both online and offline. Notice that I use business and blog interchangeably. Most of Entrepreneurs-Journey’s readers fit one of the two categories: bloggers or marketers. The tips aren’t mutually exclusive and the two heavily rely on each other. Hence, the interchangeable use.

1. Location

For offline business that caters to the public, or requires a great deal of walk-in traffic, location is everything. For others, such as the venture capital group I work for, location isn’t nearly as important, as most of our dealings happen online. That’s not to say we work in a bad location, we just so happen to be in one of the best locations in the city. Bonus!

Most would say that location isn’t as important for the online marketer, and it isn’t; at least in a traditional sense. If you map out the internet like a street map though, you’ll begin to see that location is just as important. Think of blogs as territories, and each territory has certain roads leading from one site to the next site. This is the power of alignment. Who you align yourself with – or – who you keep your roads open to can bring you a great deal of success in your online ventures.

2. Branding

Branding is huge in the food truck business. These trucks, or the carts you see on every corner rely on brand recognition whether they realize it or not. The trucks, and their fancy paint jobs, realize the power of marketing.

The street vendor with the plain hot dog cart and a list of prices might not realize it on the same level, but he is marketing every time he leaves the house and opens the cart. People start to recognize the vendor, and they’ll go out of their way to return to them if they deliver a quality product. So, even though the guy with the hot dog cart doesn’t have the fancy paint job, he has still created a brand, or at least an impression on people that frequent his spot.

The same is true of bloggers and marketers. Whether we’re attempting to brand ourselves and our product – or blog – or not, we’re doing it every day. Those who have success are the ones that are better at branding and put more effort into it than those who think that one day their content will just bring in thousands of pageviews.

Look at all of the top blogs and you’ll notice something amazing. Most of these guys aren’t writers. About 90+% of the content you find at these top blogs are at a high school level at best. What makes them different from you? They brand themselves well and they excel in their marketing efforts. This is something I learned from the other Brian Clark, over at Copyblogger.

The same is true of your online products. The same marketers are on every blogger’s tongue once a year or more when they launch the next great product. Why is this? Because they’ve branded themselves as authorities, and you trust them. Yaro is a great example of this. Anything Yaro says is a great product, becomes a great product. Why? Because Yaro said it was, and Yaro knows what he’s talking about. This is the power of branding.

Not only can you sell products – or hot dogs – your recommendation becomes just as important. If the local falafel truck runs out of pita bread, and they tell me I can get a great falafel down the road, you better believe I’m listening.

3. Marketing

Food trucks have the edge on this one, as they produce intoxicating smells and draw people to them. Your blog or product doesn’t have the same appeal. Instead, we substitute the smell for something tangible, like a name.

Your goal – and this coincides with branding – is to put your name in the air. You want to produce the same intoxicating aroma as the food truck and draw people to you.

This is generally done by doing what you’ve been taught since you started your blog. Comment, guest post, network, link up, attend conferences, and just generally get to know those around you. Internet marketing is “rubbing elbows” with those around you.

The more you circulate your name in the online world, the more people will begin to remember it. This one tip worked wonders for me. I began doing all I could to get my name on the tips of every blogger or internet marketer’s tongue I could. This led to paid speaking gigs, info products, bigger blog revenue, and ultimately bigger pay days when I’d sell off the blog after I was burnt out.

If content is king, marketing is his crown.

4. Customer Service

Let me tell you another story about Yaro.

As a young blogger just starting out, I just so happened to run into Yaro. I had read his blog, and was a big fan. When he launched Blog Mastermind, I knew that I had to be a member, yet I didn’t have the money to join.

He launched with an intro price that was about half of what the normal membership would be. Not knowing Yaro, I figured this was marketing talk, and I’d just sign up at this rate when I had the money. About two weeks later I was ready to sign up, and was mortified when he had raised the price; just as he’d warned. I obviously didn’t know Yaro.

Being the outside-the-box thinker that I am, I decided to try and track down one of the many landing pages that had been floating around online. I wanted to find the discount price. After quite a bit of searching, I had found what I was looking for.

I emailed Yaro and told him of my discovery, and asked if I could be included at the discount price. He agreed, and even complimented me on my diligence. Good customer service is honoring your coupons, and giving the customer what they want. Lesson learned.

About two months later, I had lost my job, and I wasn’t making enough money to afford Blog Mastermind anymore. I emailed Yaro and told him that I’d regrettably have to cancel my membership. He sent me his Skype name, and we talked about the reasons why I’d have to leave. Yaro agreed to cancel the membership, but told me that my blog had a great deal of promise. He let me stay on, even though I wasn’t paying anymore. This is going above and beyond for your customer. That day, Yaro created a customer for life.

A few days later, he emailed me and asked if I could jump on Skype and talk to him for a minute. I obliged. I was thrilled to learn that after canceling the membership to his product, not only was he still a friend, but he wanted me to come write for EJ, and he even paid me quite well to do it. Solving your customers’ problems leads to loyalty. To this day, I’ll always appreciate all that Yaro has done for me. Working with him, and having the ability to chat with him a few times a week really made me a better blogger, marketer, and businessman.

Customer service is about retaining customers as well as acquiring new ones. Some do it better than others.

Provide A Quality Product

No matter how much the smell from the falafel truck makes me want to quit working and take an impromptu trip to the sidewalk; I wouldn’t do it if the food was bad.

No matter how good a product smells, the taste doesn’t always satisfy. The same is true in a world where every product is marketed to our sense of ambition. We’re told that a product will help us solve a problem – like making more money, acquiring more customers, building a bigger list, launching a product better and faster, or building links – but in reality the taste doesn’t always fit the smell.

Building a quality product gives you the freedom to relax a little, which will allow you to focus on other aspects of business rather than dealing with angry customers and refunds. A quality product allows you to promote it on little more than word-of-mouth and watch as it grows organically right in front of your eyes.

The same goes for the food truck. I can get a falafel at any number of places in St. Louis. This just happens to be the one that I remain loyal to. It has earned my business through location (it parks in front of my office) branding (it has distinctive colors and markings), they market themselves well (handing out coupons, or punch cards), providing great customer service (service with a smile), and delivering a quality product (it’s the best, I assure you).

Maybe it’s time to treat your business more like a food truck.

Bryan Clark

About Bryan Clark

Bryan Clark is a professional writer, blog editor and evangelist. He has contributed to leading news properties and blogs in tech, entrepreneurship, finance, and the digital lifestyle. Bryan has earned features on Problogger, Entrepreneurs-Journey and USA Today. Bryan works with Growth Partner, a venture fund and startup platform for web businesses.

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21 Comments

  • Raj

    Oh, that story about Yaro was touching. Thanks for letting us know. I guess, in short we can confidently say that Quality wins over Quantity. Always. Right?

    • For sure. I started my career thinking blogging as all about quantity, but revised my position as I’ve matured. Quality is all that matters.

  • [...] more from Bryan @ Entrepreneurs Journey Tags: branding, business, entrepreneurs journey, falafel, food truck, marketing, [...]

  • I latched on to the customer service section, too :-) . I think we’re all had an experience like that when a business goes so far beyond for us that they earn our loyalty on the spot. I think a lot of entrepreneurs don’t want to worry about customer service until they have a large customer base, but it’s even more important when you only have a small handful of readers/customers.

  • All the four things mentioned are required !

  • Theres alot to learn from any successful small business. The hole-in-the-wall type places are usually the most inventive!

    • The hole-in-the-wall places that last longer than 6 months to a year are definitely doing something right. On a side note, all of the best meals in my life have come from these types of places. Interesting.

  • I love falafel…and I’ll travel a distance to eat good falafel. I think my blog readers come to my blog(s) to get good “falafel”– good content and information. And readership is growing. I’ll pay good money for good falafel, too. But my readers don’t yet buy much from me. Hmmm. My name is out there as my brand, could it be that my blogs don’t have as recognizable a brand? I don’t use custom themes. Do I need a brighter and shinier falafel truck? Is it all about image? Does the truck (brand and packaging) attract more customers (buyers and readers) than the falafel (content) itself?

  • Bryan-
    5. great story~telling,,
    & really enjoy and agree with the comparisons, so true.

    • Thanks Kara. I love the artwork on your site!

  • I don’t make it into the city much, but one thing I always hated about STL was the lack of food trucks (go to Philly, NYC …everywhere!).

    I enjoyed the article and the points you drove home…however I’m pretty stoked about finding some excellent street grub in STL!

    • I’ve got your lunch next time you’re in the city Ryan. We’re long overdue to scarf down some grub. It’s been a while.

  • I love falafel and will travel a good distance to eat it. I’ll also pay a decent price for it if need be. Now my blog(s) have a fair number of readers — growing every day, but they aren’t buying anything much. They seem to like the smell of the falafel, they are eating the free samples (posts), but nothing else. My brand is out there as my name, but I wonder if my blogs need a shinier and brighter falafel truck? Trucks that show of their names… I use standard themes — nothing flashy or unique. Is it more about the truck (brand and appearance) than the falafel (the content and the information)?

    • You don’t have to have a flashy or premium theme. You are the brand, not the blog. The blog is just a place where people go to hear from you. Although, at a glance, your blog looks more than adequate.

      What are you doing to grow your brand and sell your products? It seems to me like you could spend less time blogging, and more time promoting yourself on various social media outlets. Just an idea.

      I hate using a generic answer here, but it’s all about experimentation and perseverance. I wish there was an easier way.

      • Actually I spend a good bit of time tweeting (and posting my blog posts to Twitter, FB and Linked In…and now Google+), posting status updates on FB, sharing links, retweeting info, and commenting in groups on LinkedIn. I try to get out and comment on other people’s blog posts, too. I post articles in ezine directories (slacked off in the last 9 months and just about to pick up again) and to the media via my account with Expertclick.com. Is there something else I should be doing? Of course, I spread myself a bit thin with so many blogs, but I’ve been focused on the two writing blogs mostly, and one landed me a book deal — all the more reason to gear up. But I do need to make some money from all this writing.

        • I’m not Yaro, but my advice would be to connect more with other bloggers/entrepreneurs. There are great “groups” you can join on LinkedIn that help you with this. Tweeting and sharing your posts doesn’t do any good if you have a non-active audience. The goal is to reach more people. I was told once by someone very wise that if you shake 10 hands in a day, and have lunch with one new person a week, success is a virtual certainty. Once I learned to apply that to my online work, things started to get easier.

          • Great advice. Thanks Bryan.

  • Great post, i agree location matters. If you are in a bad location no matter how good your content it’s going to be a struggle

  • I actually had to google what a Falafel truck was… LOL.. We don’t have those too much here in Tampa.

    Great article. I loved that quote “If content is king, marketing is his crown.”

    I just started realizing how important your brand is. I recently turned off all the auto stuff on my branding twitter site and started others.. This is after reading the book Crush It.

    I’m going to keep your article in mind from now on.

    Thanks and have a great day/night

    • I love Gary. I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel with him and he’s just as awesome and exuberant in person as he is on the web.

      Sounds like you are moving in the right direction by turning off the auto stuff. If you want to grow as a brand, you have to interact. That’s something that software just can’t help you with.

      If you ever make it to St. Louis, falafels are on me.

  • Hi, I am new to your blog, and am really finding good value here. We teach small-scale rural farmers organic methods, and mentor and support them through to ultimately offering them a guaranteed cash market for their organic produce through the establishment of their own farmer’s co-operatives.

    This produce gets marketed under a social brand – Kumnandi – meaning delicious in Zulu. I am exploring ways to market and promote what we do in a cost-effective manner, and am finding great value in your blog.

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