The Hidden Cost of Opening & Operating a Food Truck (Part 1)

I'm sure you've heard the old adage, measure twice and cut once. What if you don't know what you're measuring?

That's the challenge for many food truck entrepreneurs. You don't know what you don't know. In this series, I'm going to share with you a list of things that you should know before you get started...

  • Registering Your Business - LegalZoom.com has a service that starts at $149 but it cost us about $500 when all was said and done to file with our state (PA) & the Federal Government
  • Website - we host our food truck business site on SquareSpace which costs about $30/year for the version we use - there are certainly other options available but we loved the templates available for food businesses and would highly recommend SquareSpace to anyone.
  • Domain Registration - this one depends on if you're website name is highly sought after but odds are you can book your online home for $10-$40. Watch out if you're strapped for cash because the promotional prices usually require that you buy multiple years at a time. We used GoDaddy.
  • Website Design - it just so happens that I love to sit in front of the computer and design websites so we got away without paying for a "professional". A good designer will run you $500 + depending on the number of pages your site will contain.
  • Company Logo - Maybe you know a designer that will do this or you have some talent yourself but your brand and logo are you. Make sure you invest some time making sure your logo represents you well. We used 99designs to come up with ours. Pricing varies but we paid $599 and had multiple designers submit their ideas based on our project outline.
  • Business Cards - as ancient as you may think a business card is, people who like your food or are interested in your service are hard-wired to ask for one. We wanted something trendy and high quality so that we stood out from our local competition. Zazzle.com provided the options that we liked but VistaPrint is an industry staple. Our first round of business cards cost us about $120.
  • Phone Number - you want people to be able to book you for events, right? You're gonna need a phone number. You probably already have a cell phone but I didn't want to give mine out to just anyone so I got a new number from Google Voice. You can forward your business number to any (and multiple) phones and the voice to text transcription was invaluable for quickly checking messages. Oh, and this one is FREE.
  • Email - again, you want people to be able to get in touch with you when they're ready to spend money! I recommend using an email address that ends with your new website domain. It costs a few bucks a month but makes you look like a professional (even if we are far from it). We starting with Zoho and have now moved to gsuite.
  • Payment Processing - the whole point of starting a food truck business is to make some money! There are a ton of options out there when it comes to processing payments on an iPad or your phone. You can even go to your local bank to get set up and processing payments. We opted to use SquareUp for a number of reasons. They weren't the least expensive on processing fees (around 2.75%) but they were the easiest to use and offered a host of other options including the ability to set up online ordering - check out our online Square store that has served us well the past few years. We did invest in an iPad for the business and the Square Stand kit that includes a cash drawer, receipt printer, receipt paper and swiping stand. All told, just shy of $1,000.
  • Menu Printing - our truck doesn't have a printed menu because it changes every week. But if your menu isn't revolving, it's a good idea to have some copies available to hand out. It's also a good idea to just put menus in every order when you first get started. It gives your food fans the ability to easily share their newfound food love with friends & co-workers. It doesn't have to be fancy. Get copies at Staples for $0.11 each. If you build your menu properly, you can even fit two up on a page.
  • Location Posting - this one doesn't have to cost you any real cash but it's going to be an investment of time. Food trucks are famous for providing their location updates on social media, and for good reason. Social networks make sharing and marketing easy and measurable. Take the time to set up a Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & SnapChat account. You could set up more but these should cover most of your target market. It would also be wise to invest some time in an app like HootSuite to post to most of them at the same time - that's $10/month.

In the next installment, we'll dig into the actual costs associated with purchasing a food truck and getting it ready to hit the streets.