Formerly a publisher with a corporate lifestyle, Claire Preen went from being a self-confessed workaholic to following her dream of becoming a chocolatier.

Following the sudden loss of her father in 2003, Claire took stock and made the life-changing business decision.

“After the initial shock and grief, I had time to reflect and what slowly dawned on me that I was always working hard to be rewarded later, whenever later may be. It made me question every aspect of my life,” says Claire. “I realised that although life is a journey, the worst thing that you can do is focus on the destination and miss the trip.”

Claire’s father had always had a sweet tooth and had taught his daughter how to make chocolate from a very early age. She had always had a passion for blending chocolate and creating new recipes, so Claire decided to focus this creativity into a career as a full-time chocolatier.

“I put away my business suits, put on my chef’s whites and opened my first boutique chocolate cafe in Katoomba,” says Claire, of the award-winning Blue Mountains Chocolate Company. The business then expanded to include The Hunter Barn in the Hunter Valley, where Claire works as Head Recipe Developer creating gourmet handmade treats on a daily basis.

Claire shares the pros and cons of starting your own business with SheSaid:

1. Question your passion

If you are doing ‘it’ for 20-30 (to 40) hours per week, week in week out, will it still be a passion? Could it destroy a passion? Or will it remain a passion and possibly grow?

2. Be objective about your passion

Understand that not every passion is commercially viable. For instance, if you love to breed rats, ensure there is a large enough market that can sustain a business in rats. Don’t base it on ‘Well I love rats, so everyone will probably want to buy one’.

3. Look at other similar businesses

A bit of business espionage is not only informative but can also be extremely satisfying! Work out why they are successful (or not), look at the number of staff they have, the sales price, the size of premises. Talk to the staff or owners – glean as much information as possible.

4. Do your numbers

Keep your objectivity in mind when projecting sales and research as much as you can for all your costs. Don’t forget hidden costs such as credit card interest and bank costs.

5. Think longterm

If the numbers add up and you know your passion will stay strong but you are wavering between making that jump – ask yourself how you will feel when you are 60 (70? 80?) if you’ve not given yourself a go.

6. One of the biggest problems can be staff

They are unlikely to have your passion therefore driving and motivating them can be exhausting. Also understanding and staying on the right side of Australian employment laws can be tricky.

7. Understand a balance sheet and a profit and loss

Even if you don’t plan on being your own bookkeeper it is imperative you understand your own accounts to be able to make good business decisions. You will also need to understand cash flow. Therefore I would recommend an evening course in accounts before you start.

8. Financing the venture

Most small businesses are self financed so it’s your money you are risking. Some people put everything into a venture – but nothing ventured, nothing gained! And nothing guaranteed, so make sure you have done your research and numbers properly.

9. Staying motivated

It hurts when you’ve worked your butt off day in and day out only to find out you’ve lost money that month and it’s cost you money for the pleasure to go into work. Don’t let it dishearten you. Look at your numbers, look at your business and adjust accordingly.

10. Switching off

It’s easy to bring your work home with you (especially if you work from home!!) but if you have kids and/or a partner remember it’s probably not their passion as well!

Check out Claire’s new, RRP $14.95.