Listen to your heart more and your head less.
Francesca Montillo is the founder and owner of Lazy Italian Culinary Adventures. As a native Italian, she now designs culinary adventure weeks in her native land. The weeks are geared towards foodies who enjoy fine food and wine as well as learning some new culinary tricks from the locals in Italy. The weeks include cooking classes, winery visits, stops and honey and cheese farms and other excursions that relate to Italian cuisine. She is also a contributor to Foodies of New England, a print magazine available in New England and New York as well as a regular blogger on her website.
In addition to the culinary tours, Francesca also runs small cooking classes in the Boston area. As an avid home cook, she wants to show as many people as possible that home cooking can be quick and delicious!
Where did the idea for Lazy Italian Culinary Adventures come from?
I grew up in Italy and moved to the US when I was 11. We always traveled back every year and I really enjoyed the return trips and they were always the highlight so I knew I wanted to work in the travel and tourism field. Unfortunately, over the years, I worked my way up in the hospital administration world instead and my love for Italy turned into just a yearly trip and not my profession. I obtained a BA in Sociology and later my Masters in Healthcare Administration and figured I would always be working in a hospital. As I got older, I realized that my trips back weren’t enough to satisfy me. While I felt the most alive when traveling to Italy during my vacations, I always came back to a mountain of work, overwhelm and despair and that feeling I had while in Italy, the feeling of enjoying life, was short-lived.
As I got older, I finally decided to go for it and start a touring business offering exclusive, personalized and bespoke culinary tours. I now offer several public group trips a year as well as “Italy by Design” in which clients form their own group and select the region and excursion. I focused on the culinary theme because I enjoy food and believe that the best way to get to know any country is through its cuisine. Yes, Italy is filled with beautiful art and history, but its via the food that one gets to know how locals live. It’s not surprising though that there is a lot of history, and even art in its cuisine!
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day depends on whether I am in Italy or in my home office in Boston. If I am in Boston, it starts around 7AM and despite what the experts say, I always check email 1st thing in the morning. I really have to because Italy is 6 hours ahead, so if I am communicating with my vendors in Italy, it’s already early afternoon there. I usually search for new possible vendors for my excursions, get back to clients, respond to inquiries that might have been received overnight, meet via Skype with vendors, write blog posts that market the business or I will be busy designing a bespoke trip for a private client. I break for meals and some form of exercise, usually walking, in between my workday.
If I am in Italy on a tour, there is no set routine, but the days are usually filled with cooking classes, winery visits, leading culinary walking trips in which we stop and all the small family-run shops, visit an olive oil mill, honey and cheese farm, or other similar excursions. If I am not on a tour, I may be meeting new vendors, scouting new contacts or just enjoying a gelato at a local café. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it!
How do you bring ideas to life?
I am a visual person, so I visualize everything, especially how a trip might go. I can’t leave any stones unturned with these trips since clients are relying on me for a most memorable experience. This might be their first trip to Italy, so their opinion of an entire country is pretty much in my hands. If a driver is late, the food disappointing or even if it rains, they might decide that they now hate Italy! While I can’t control Mother Nature, I can certainly make sure that everything else goes to plan!
What’s one trend that excites you?
Home cooking! Thanks in part to meal kit delivery services and 30 minutes or less recipes, I see more and more people gravitate towards cooking meals at home. I hope this trend continues because we all know home cooking is healthier and cheaper than anything you can buy at a restaurant or quick-take out place. I’m a big advocate for home cooking and will favor it over a restaurant meal any day.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Home cooking. I know readers may be wondering how this helps me at my work, but I cook just about every single meal at home. I don’t waste time waiting at restaurants for dinner, driving to and from to get there, getting ready to go out… I am such a big advocate for home cooking that it’s not even funny. It’s such a time saver, despite what many others might think!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t stay at unfulfilling jobs for so long. Start that business as soon as you can and follow your dreams fully. Listen to your heart more and your head less. I would also tell my younger self not to get a Masters degree in a field that doesn’t lift you up. I got a Masters in Healthcare Administration, even though I didn’t love the field, I did so because I figured, if I am going to continue working in a hospital, I might as well work my way up. I did work my way up, which made it all that much more difficult to leave to start my own business!
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
That entrepreneurship is risky and a steady 9-5 job is safer. There is no such thing as a safe job, nor a safe business for that matter. Both are risky in their own way. A business can fail, and you can get laid-off tomorrow. I have seen people working in the same company for 20 or 30 years, even more, than be given a lay off notice with two weeks to “tie loose ends” and they are let go. If you want to start a business, than start one already, don’t not start one because your 9-5 is save, it’s not, just like your own business may not make. Both have risks, it’s called life.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Treating clients like gold. You can’t bite off the hand that feeds you and every client should be made to feel like you are only working for them and that they are your only client.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Being relentless. At the beginning, I could have quit, easily. My business was an expensive hobby costing me money. I kept at it and said, one more year, one more travel season, one more attempt. I finally started seeing some traction and it made me realize that this was a viable business model.
I also blog regularly and have gained the attention of several online companies that repost my blog posts so I was able to grow my mailing list via them. That has been a huge help. I honestly don’t know how a new startup gets the word out about their business without blogging.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When I first started, I sold only two spots for one of my tours. I knew I couldn’t possibly run a tour with two people so I had to let the two clients know. They had gone ahead and purchased their air travel, made all arrangements and even purchase another tour in another part of Europe after my Italy tour. It was so devastating, and they were pretty upset, rightly so. It was a sad situation all around and it took some time for me to get over it, as I am sure it was a huge headache for them. Now, when I start marketing a group trip, I tell the first two clients not to purchase airline tickets until the tour is confirmed to run. Lesson learned for sure!
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
With all my travels, comfy shoes are a must. But to this day, I have had a hard time finding stylish shoes that you can wear without socks, that don’t make your feet sweat and turn clammy! I know sweaty feet is not a glamorous topic, but someone, anyone, please, create some nice looking shoes made for walking and to be worn in warmer months!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I just joined my local Chamber of Commerce. It was just slightly more than $100 but believe the connections I will make will make the membership worth it. It’s great to network within your community and meet other like-minded individuals.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Canva – I am able to create great images and add text without much fuss.
Weebly – I built my own website, and I am not at all techy, but Weebly has made it very easy to drag and drop everything I need to build a great site on a budget.
WhatsApp – I communicate with vendors in Italy on a regular basis and this free app is convenient for both parties.
Amazon – It’s such a timesaver, I buy everything there, even my light bulbs and batteries. Anything to save me a trip to a store!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Oh there are so many great books, I am an avid reader but if I had to pick one, I would say an oldie but goodie, Venice Bloodworth’s “Key to Yourself”. It’s filled with so much wisdom and if you are in doubt about anything, it will help you sort out the situation. Guy Finley’s The Essential Laws of Fearless Living is also great for the same reason. Both of these books, I have read numerous times and practically every word is underlines!
What is your favorite quote?
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. Edmund Burke
• Listen to your heart more and your head less
• Treat every client like gold
• As soon as you identify your passion, follow it, don’t wait for perfect timing
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