Lessons on how to run a business with award-winning author, celebrity chef, and Food Network star Ina Garten, who shared her secrets to success at the recently-concluded Forbes’ third annual Women’s Summit. Written by Natalie Robehmed for Forbes.
Ina Garten, beloved host of Emmy Award-winning show Barefoot Contessa and author of bestselling cookbooks such as How Easy Is That?, knows a thing or two about cooking up a storm with a smile.
“You want to do something you love doing, whether you are getting paid for it or not, if you can,” said Garten, speaking at Forbes’ third annual Women’s Summit, a gathering of hundreds of women entrepreneurs and leaders in New York with the aim of changing the power imbalance in the business world.
As Forbes Woman publisher Moira Forbes told a packed house at Manhattan’s Chelsea Piers, Garten transitioned from working in the White House on the budget for enriched uranium programs to running her own small business, a specialty food store in her adopted home in the Hamptons.
Garten described her fatigue with Washington, and her motivation for switching careers: “I was thinking, life has to be more fun than this.”
Encouraged by her husband Jeffrey, who is often the quiet star of Garten’s home cooking show, Garten decided to pick something she enjoyed. “If it’s fun, you’ll be really good at it,” Garten assured.
Garten bought a small store after making an offer she didn’t think the proprietor would accept: “She called me and said ‘Thank you very much, I accept your offer’ and I went, ’Oh, shit.’”
The audience erupted in laughter hearing the composed Garten swear, but took note as she shared small business advice.
“Starting small and buying a business already in progress made it possible for me,” Garten said, recalling that she would find herself working many long hours perfecting new recipes. It wasn’t all a piece of cake – Garten was selling food in store and catering, but eventually stopped the latter because it was too draining. After two decades running the Hampton staple, Garten decided to change everything – for the second time.
“I was 50 years old and I thought the best years of my career were over,” Garten, 67, said. “It wasn’t stimulating to me and I tried to figure out what to do next.”
So the Barefoot Contessa sold her store to two employees, bought an office above it, and did nothing for the first time ever.
“Type A people think they can figure out what to do next while they’re doing something, and they can’t,” Garten advised, beaming at the crowd. “An important part of changing and figuring out what to do next is you have to just stop. I had to get good and bored before I could decide what was next – I thought maybe I’ll write a cookbook while I figure it out.”
Garten invested heavily in her first publication, 1999′s “The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook,” by hiring her own photographer and publicist to retain control of the project.
“Marth Stewart said, ‘Go to book stores and ask to sign books,’ so I went to the head of this book store in Newport, California, and said, ‘I’ve written a book, would you like me to sign it?’” The manager agreed, but realized the store had already sold out for the day. “That was the moment I though, ‘Oh, this might work.’”
From the cookbook, cooking show requests followed. But it was not until 2002 that Garten transitioned from print to small screen. “I just didn’t think I would be good at it. I’d seen Martha [Stewart] and Nigella Lawson and I just never saw myself as a teacher,” recalled Garten, in an important reminder not to underestimate oneself.
Garten, who has published nine recipe books to date, remains modest about her television success: “I do the TV because it’s an important part of the business, but it’s the cookbooks I love writing.”
She reminded the accomplished audience that ‘no’ is a complete sentence and making time for oneself is equally important.
“I think when we’re young we say yes to everything, but when you realize your brand is working, you start making choices,” said Garten, who says she turned down frozen dinner and dog food deals among others because they did not fit with her fun cooking style.
“Oscar Wilde used to say, ‘work is easy, fun is hard’” Garten pointed out. “You know what you need to do for work but it’s the personal life that gets what’s left over, rather than vice versa.”
To avoid burnout, Garten suggests planning downtime a year in advance, and credits these breaks with giving her some of her best ideas. “Jeffrey and I go away two weeks at a time two to three times a year.”
As the conversation came to a close, Garten gave poignant advice to her twenty-something self: “Do what you love. If it’s fun, you’ll be really good at it. And don’t worry so much.”