Starting a business while studying nutrition – my story as the founder of Eli’s Granola
Starting a business is exciting but challenging. If you’re thinking about starting a business while studying a full-time degree, there are lots of issues to take into consideration, especially time management and finding the balance between work, study and everything else in life. Having your own business is often glorified on social media, with glamourous entrepreneurs using phrases like ‘girl boss’, but what you see online is really just the tip of the iceberg.
My story begins when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s (an autoimmune digestive condition) at the age of 8. I’ve always been very aware of nutrition and health, noticing that what I ate had a major impact on how I felt. I started my Instagram @elibrechernutrition to show people that healthy eating could be easy, delicious and accessible to students like myself. To reach a wider audience, I launched a product-based business (Eli’s Granola) during the first year of my nutrition degree.
I’ve been making my own granola for as long as I can remember, and giving it as gifts to friends and family for years. Growing up, it was difficult to find granola that was suitable for all my intolerances (including dairy and gluten), that actually tasted good and wasn’t full of artificial ingredients. When I launched Eli’s Granola in 2019, the initial feedback was amazing – I knew the product was great. However, I had no idea where to begin in terms of setting up the business and the next steps to take…
The Next Steps (and Mistakes to Avoid!)
I decided to register as a limited company and wrote a rough business plan, which really helped me clarify my goals, consider my marketing and pricing strategies and all the finer operational details. As a new business, mistakes were inevitable at first, but that’s the best way to learn – and I’m still constantly figuring things out as I go forward!
After ordering some very basic packaging from Amazon, I designed my own labels using the first website that came up on Google and added some ingredients to my weekly supermarket shop. When I finally created a cost analysis spreadsheet, I realised that I was actually losing money on every bag! And that was before factoring in any overheads such as public liability insurance. I spent a while researching wholesale ingredients and understanding where I could cut costs – an important factor to consider as a start-up!
I chose to keep the business as lean as possible, putting every penny I earned back into it – raising funds from investors was not a priority while still doing my degree! Eventually, I invested some of my own savings into working with a graphic designer, who helped to bring to life my vision for the beautiful packaging I have today. While the up-front costs were not cheap, and the minimum order quantities for printing personalised packaging were huge, the economies of scale were obviously beneficial as the cost of each bag dropped dramatically. Taking that first step was scary, but I believed in my product and my mission: to help as many people as possible enjoy a nourishing breakfast, that’s good for you, good for the planet and absolutely delicious! Since then, I’ve fulfilled every order myself, from baking the granola to packing the boxes, usually with a handwritten note for a personal touch – and I’m excited to hire my very first team member next month!
Finding a Support Network
When I came across a support group for founders of small food businesses, I jumped at the chance to join a community of like-minded entrepreneurs. It has been so helpful to have people to bounce ideas off, ask for guidance or even just talk through my problems with (and there have been many!)
There were so many things that needed doing at first – ordering business cards, setting up a business email address and registering for a web domain to start building my website on, so that I could stop taking orders through my Instagram DMs! It was also essential to get the relevant certifications in a food safety and hygiene course as well as an allergen course. Despite all these tasks, everything was so much easier by having a network of people to go to for advice!
Balancing Work & Study
I’ll be honest – for the first year of Eli’s Granola, I truly felt like I was running on a hamster wheel and couldn’t keep up. Managing a business is a rollercoaster in itself, but trying to succeed in my full-time nutrition degree at the same time meant I was heading towards burnout.
Stress is a huge trigger for my Crohn’s so I had to prioritise my health – the reason I started all of this in the first place. I had to implement boundaries, such as going to bed earlier so that I could wake up earlier and enjoy a full hour to myself – and enjoy a walk in nature, some gentle yoga and a nourishing breakfast. This hour of ‘me-time’ has transformed the way I progress through the day, making me so much more focused and productive. By working efficiently on my business, this creates more time in the week for my studies.
One trick I’ve picked up is to divide my days between the right and left brain – the right side of the brain is more creative whereas the left side is more analytical and methodical. I aim to separate studying days from granola business days, as well as factoring in time for content creation where I focus on recipes, photography and editing videos for my social media accounts.
The truth is I’m still striving to find the perfect ‘balance’ and often end up catching up with my to-do list on weekends and late nights. This is a reality for many business owners but it is a sacrifice I’m willing to make as I’m so passionate about both my business and my nutrition degree.
3 Top Tips for Starting a Business
- Make sure you are extremely passionate about the business you’re starting – there will be highs and lows but it’s that deep-rooted passion that will keep you going through the tougher times.
- Try to get experience in a small business or shadow someone self-employed to make sure that starting your own business is the right path for you.
- Starting your own business can become all-consuming but it’s essential to learn how to switch off, especially if you work from home where the division can easily become blurred. There is no such thing as being productive 24/7 so give yourself a chance to recharge, socialise and do the things you enjoy. You’ll thank yourself!
Eli’s Granola is available to order from www.elisgranola.co.uk
Have you started your own business too? I’d love to connect on Instagram @elibrechernutrition so drop me a DM and let’s chat!