Michaela Hanna is a private chef and founder of With M, a food and activity retreat business in Yorkshire. She’s a former MasterChef: The Professionals contestant and has worked in professional kitchens throughout her career. Michaela spent over 10 years working in events management before starting her own business. Now, she fuels her passion for food and feeding people whilst combining her love of hosting amazing events.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I’ve had a varied and interesting career. As I climbed further up the ladder, I felt more frustrated at feeling unable to influence change, so decided to take full responsibility for my work and direction. I launched a private chef business, and from that, With M was founded to provide active gourmet getaways and immersive food and activity events.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
Private chef work is wonderfully varied, but I missed client interaction and spending time with people. What better way to address that than developing the private cooking lesson service I offer and bringing people together to do an activity they love, as well as cooking for them and helping them to develop their cooking skills.
How did you achieve awareness?
Through every possible marketing stream I could think of! I wrote to media editors, sent e-mails to former clients, embraced social media, and collaborated with activity coaches and guides. I also work with a digital marketing company and PR company, so I can concentrate more on my day job and learn from their expertise. Wearing every hat in a business is a challenge, so, it’s important to decide which hats you should ask others to wear on your behalf.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
I’ve secured funding through Digital Advantage. This has been invaluable to the development of the website and digital marketing – the support they’ve given has made a huge difference.
What are the key successes?
The marginal gains – this is a totally different business to that of being a private chef, it won’t grow simply through word of mouth. Every booking, every new holiday or event added, every step forward and every bit of progress is a success.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
My enthusiasm and impatience can be a challenge… I’ve learnt to be more considered in decision making, not to rush things, and to allow the business to evolve organically. It’s a significant financial investment for me, but I see progress and the results – even the tiny ones. I’ve learned that by being honest and asking for help, people can support you in ways you hadn’t thought of, and there’s no shame in showing some vulnerability.
What are your plans now/for the future?
Continue collaborating with coaches, guides and teachers to create meaningful retreats and explore areas I’m unfamiliar with. I want to progress the gentler, more relaxing retreats alongside the higher level of activity breaks.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
The freedom of creating a business that allows you to live the way you want to is extraordinary and revitalising. It can be scary, but achievements feel so much greater when you made them happen. The joy of having people invest in your vision is worth all the sleepless nights. It’s not always easy to have the self-belief, but just keep going – one step at a time.
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
Explore every aspect of what you’re interested in offering – try things – if they don’t work that’s not a failure, it’s just not right for what you’re trying to achieve.
Ask for help, advice and opinions, and guidance. You can’t know everything and have all the answers, but if you explore the possibilities, you’ll make progress. Have your daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, 5 yearly goals – they’ll change, but having them offers direction and momentum.
Look after yourself. It’s easy to end up working every hour there is, but schedule in breaks and holidays. Otherwise, time passes you by and you’ll get so swept along with the ride, you’ll forget why you’re doing it.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
My maternal grandmother, had an incredible work ethic, courage, fortitude and belief. Also, my paternal grandfather – sadly he died before I was born, but his service record during World War II makes me so proud to have been related to him. I’m inspired by anyone who’s courageous enough to live a life in service of others. My father also served in the Armed Forces – growing up in that world helped shape my values and character.
Valentine Warner. His cooking is out of this world and I strongly relate to his position on sustainability and provenance. His books are an inspiration to me – I read The Consolation of Food and was astonished by our similarities. He’s my number one food hero.
Rachel Auty – founder of Women on Tap CIC and owner of Raucous Agency. Rachel is an advocate, positive disruptor and the finest example of a person able to affect change through having a clear vision, belief in progress and what is right.
Mo Usman – I worked with Mo at Help for Heroes. He managed the Recovery Centre I worked at in Catterick Garrison. I hadn’t come across leadership like it before, and it was a revelation. This influenced my decision to become self-employed as no manager after him came close to his standards. He worked so hard to ensure everyone had the freedom to achieve what he knew they could and for that, I shall always be thankful.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
Maya Angelou – “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’
Winston Churchill – ‘Never, never, never give up.’
What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?