From concept to line-around-the-block busy, here's how to get your culinary creation up and running in a hurry.
6 min read
Just a few years ago, people thought eating “street food” meant you were taking your tummy down the road to Riskyville. Not anymore.
Today there are more than thirty thousand food trucks operating in the U.S., with thousands more hitting the streets every year. Cities now actively market their “food truck scenes” to draw in young, urban, and increasingly suburban customers with the variety and convenience of food trucks.
If you’re ready to take your food truck idea and make it a reality, we can't wait to try it out! So we put together this down-and-dirty eight-step guide to tell you what you really need to know to start your own food truck business.
Let’s get cooking:
Step 1. You need a plan
Write a business plan: Although you may want to get your food truck up and running as soon as possible, a well-thought-out business plan will certainly help you in the long run. By thinking out your long-term plan ahead of time, you’ll have a guide to follow as you continue through the process of starting your food truck.
The first step in writing your plan is not actually writing - it’s research. At a minimum, you need to research:
The location(s) you plan to set up, particularly the city or town’s friendliness to food trucks and what kind of customers you’ll find there
Who is your competition, what are their concepts, and how busy are they
What suppliers are you going to use - don’t forget to get prices and quotes from several options, whenever possible.
After your initial research is done, you can start writing your plan. A good plan should include a description of your concept, a reasonable budget and forecast (your prediction of how much money will come into and go out of the business over time), and a detailed marketing plan (how you’ll reach your customers.
You can just write out a plan on a sheet of paper, use a free resource like the one at the SBA, or use a paid software tool to make your life easier (more about that later).
Step 2. Figure out the money
Writing your business plan’s budget section will give you a good idea of how much money you’ll need to get through the first few months of your business, including all of your startup costs.
Now you need to figure out where that money will come from, and how you’ll get that funding. If you’re using your own savings - that’s great. Just be sure you set and stick to a budget.
Some other common options for getting startup money for a food truck: loans or investment from friends and family, bank loans (usually require some collateral), or tapping into equity in your home. Whichever you choose, be sure you understand the terms of the deal and the risks that go with it.
Step 3. Create your brand
In your business plan, you should have selected an overall concept for your food truck - maybe it’s the freshest seafood, or Cuban/Chinese fusion, or something else. Now you need to start building your brand around that concept.
Your brand starts with a name - and while the name is important, it’s not the reason your business will succeed or fail, so don’t stress too much about it. More importantly, be sure your name fits with your planned domain name, and doesn't conflict with existing names or trademarks. Use a tool like Startomatic’s Find a Company Name guide to walk you through this.
After the name, your logo will probably be the next most visible piece of your business. You could design one yourself, or use available software to help come up with something unique and cool. This tool is free and easy.
What else goes into your brand? Lots of things: selecting and registering an internet domain (www.yourcompany.com), getting custom company email addresses, and standing up your first website all help to create an image in the public’s mind.
Step 4. Make it legal
You definitely want to have an LLC or corporation for your company. It may seem daunting, but it’s an important step to protect you and your personal assets from liabilities of the business. A legal entity also makes your business look more “official” in the eyes of the public and regulators like health departments.
Using a lawyer to set up your new company is probably the most expensive way to go here, but also gives you peace of mind that it is done right. There are also a number of online options to help you here - but check out Startomatic for getting an LLC or corporation in any state, getting your EIN, and even filing an S-election if you need one. It’s inexpensive ($199 plus state fees) and fast.
Important: You’ll probably need a business license from your city or town, and probably permits from your local health department. Start on this soon - it can take a while to get what you need from these agencies.
Step 5. You’ll need a truck (or a cart, or a tent…)
Yep, for your food truck business, you’re going to need… a truck! But not just any truck, you’ll probably need to either buy one already customized, or pay to have one customized for you. This will be the largest part of your budget, as the customization and equipment can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 or more. And that’s in addition to the cost of the truck itself.
Some options to save money if a purchasing fully-customized truck is out of your price range? Leasing or financing the vehicle, or consider a trailer that you could pull with a pickup or SUV. Even a food cart or just enough equipment to set up at fairs or festivals until you’ve made enough to buy an actual self-propelled vehicle could be a viable alternative.
Step 6. Connect with your customers
Every business needs to market itself. Reaching your potential customers with the message that will turn them into actual customers is critical to success.
Looking for cost-effective ways to get the word out about your truck?
Get a website up, and do it soon. Even if it’s just a “coming soon” placeholder, start getting the word out now.
Make your menu board BIG and bold. It needs to be legible and clearly show off your concept and best dishes.
Social media accounts are free, and help build trust in your brand. You need to be on Facebook for sure, and probably Instagram and Twitter as well. Twitter is also one of the best ways to tell people where your truck will be located on any give day.
Find several good locations for your truck and use them often - this will build awareness and help create loyal customers who live or work in that area
Merch! Get some t-shirts, beverage koozies, and stickers made up and start selling them - let your customers be walking advertisements for your business. Win-win!
Step 7. Get cooking!
You’re ready to go - get started perfecting existing recipes and creating new ones. Before you know it, they’ll be lined up around the block for your new food truck!
No business starts without some challenges - there will always be things you need to learn along the way. We know - we’ve started multiple businesses in a variety of industries. That’s why we built Startomatic to handle the nuts & bolts of starting a new business. It’s inexpensive, fast, and automates pretty much anything that’s automate-able. Check it out!
Startomatic makes it radically easier, faster, and less expensive for starters* to launch and run a company. Starter Flow is your step-by-step guide to plan, brand, and incorporate your new company—complete with automated tasks and practical advice and answers. Learn more