What began as a love for hosting has transformed into a bustling charcuterie business for Brooke Hohlbaugh, the business owner of and personality behind Boards by Brooke.
For the past two years, Brooke has been honing her Instagram presence, creating consistent, high-quality content that resonates with her followers, all while holding down a full-time job as a teacher! Learn about how she’s leveraged Instagram to grow her business and what she’s learned does (and doesn’t) work.
What is your full name and business name?
Brooke Hohlbaugh, Boards by Brooke LLC
Give us a summary of your business in 200 words or less.
I’m a cheese and charcuterie board business based here in Columbus, Ohio. I specialize in individual platters as well as catering for events. I also host workshops where I teach people how to build their own charcuterie board.
How did the idea for your business come about?
I’ve always loved hosting people, and making cheese boards was a great way to provide snacks for my friends when they came over. It soon became a big creative outlet for me, so I decided to try and sell them. I officially started in February of 2020 but then set it aside when the pandemic hit.
I’m also a high school teacher, so this has always been a side gig for me, but I re-launched this past May, and it’s been growing ever since!
What pushed you to turn your personal passion into a business?
I think the pandemic has caused a lot of people to re-evaluate what they do day in and day out. Life’s too short to not do what you love!
The more I made these cheese boards, the more I realized what a huge stress reliever it was, as well as a creative outlet. And then I had more and more people asking if I could make one for them as well. I figured it could really be something cool and decided to turn it into a business.
Was there a moment you knew you had something special?
The biggest turning point for my business has been offering public and private workshops. This past summer, people were craving fun things to do with their loved ones, and offering them an experience like this has been so fun! It’s brought me so much joy to watch people get creative as they build their boards in class.
What does it mean to you to be an entrepreneur and business owner?
Being an entrepreneur and business owner was honestly something I never thought I would want to do, so it always feels strange to call myself one!
Over the past year, I’ve pushed myself and worked harder than I ever have in my whole life. I think being a business owner has taught me that I’m capable of so much more than I thought and that I have potential I never even realized I had.
How’s juggling your full-time teaching job with a side business?
There are definitely weeks where it is insane! I’ve had to learn how to set really good boundaries with my business, learning when it’s a good time to say “no.”
In the beginning, I was saying yes to every order and every event that people inquired about, but over time, I’ve learned what my limits are and how far I can go without feeling burnt out.
What does the city of Columbus mean to your business?
I wouldn’t be where I am without this place! Over the past few years, I’ve really started to dig deep roots in this city, and I’m so grateful for the personal and professional growth that Columbus has offered me.
I’ve made business friends and met people who have inspired me, pushed me, encouraged me, and supported me every step of the way, and I couldn’t imagine doing this in any other city.
Are you from Columbus?
I was actually born in Akron but grew up outside of Pittsburgh. I ended up in Columbus after college when I was first hired at the Ohio School for the Deaf. Ultimately what made me stay was that most of my family now lives here and I found a church and a community that I love.
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to anyone wanting to start a business?
Just start! If you have an idea and a dream… just do it! Even if you don’t have all the answers, just start anyway and learn as much as you can along the way.
Last year, I felt like a complete sponge. I absorbed all of the information that I could about how to run a business (and I’m still learning!) but don’t let that stop you from getting started.
What are some of your best resources from that year of intense learning?
I love listening to podcasts! The Heart + Hustle podcast is one of my favorites.
My favorite book that I’ve read so far this year that really helped me make some big mental shifts is We Should All Be Millionaires by Rachel Rodgers.
What do you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before starting your business?
I knew it would be hard work, but I didn’t realize how much behind the scenes happens inside of a business!
All of the admin work (bookkeeping, tracking inventory, price analysis) is extremely difficult and time-consuming. I’ve slowly learned my strengths and weaknesses when it comes to running a business, along with knowing when it’s time to ask for help.
What’s the most challenging part of your business?
All of the financial administration that goes along with running a business. I’m FINALLY comfortable with using QuickBooks! Even after over a year of trying to learn how to use it!
Every business owner has a flaw. What’s yours?
Procrastination. I’m definitely a “get things done last minute” type of person, but no matter what, it always gets done on time! Even if I’m up late or super early in the morning to finish a project.
Why do you think most business owners fail? What’s made you different?
Perseverance. I think a lot of business owners fail because they aren’t willing to keep going or they give up when things get tough.
What are sources of inspiration when you’re feeling burnt out?
The charcuterie board community is the most supportive group of businesses. I’m currently a part of a Facebook group of other businesses like mine from across the country, and we are constantly encouraging each other, helping one another, answering questions, and just cheering each other on!
What was your biggest mistake and what did it cost you?
My biggest mistake was not making sure my business was completely legal (licenses, food safety certifications, etc.) when I first started. (Yes I’m calling myself out!) It cost me a lot of stress and anxiety that was completely unnecessary.
What tool has helped you the most for your business?
My website! Also, paying someone to teach me how to do my books! This was HUGE for my peace of mind now that tax season is coming up.
Do you want to share the name of the person who taught you how to do your books?
Yes! Kirsi Dory is her name and her Instagram handle is @kirsti.dory.
When do you see yourself expanding, such as making new hires?
At the moment, it’s still just me, myself, and I, but with the way 2022 is going so far, there will definitely be some new hires in my future!
What is something that has been a game-changer for your business?
Getting a website! Automating my orders has been the biggest game-changer.
I used to take orders either through DM or a Google Form, and having a website that is up and running and able to take orders has been huge!
What is something your business spends a lot of money on that’s worth it?
Packaging! I create all of my boards on reusable/disposable wood trays that really elevate the experience of your boards.
I used to create them inside bakery boxes but have since upgraded to the wood trays, and I’m so glad that I have. It’s been completely worth it.
What form of marketing is the most valuable for you?
Instagram. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy on growing my Instagram page and cranking out quality content as well as engaging my audience. I show my face a lot on my Instagram stories and try to share most of my life with my followers. When people order from me, I want them to know who they are ordering from!
Why makes this personal touch significant?
I think this is what helps me stand out from other charcuterie board businesses in the area. There are a lot of us! When I first started out, there was only a handful in Columbus. I realized early on that being fully and authentically myself within my business is what was going to help me have the most success.
We really appreciate how consistent you are with creating high-quality, engaging content on Instagram! How are you able to stay on the ball with this?
This is definitely something I’ve had to really work at. I’ve had to learn a lot about what exactly high-quality content is (good lighting, food photography basics, reels basics, etc.). I’ve tried in the past to use scheduling calendars and apps that post for me, but they just weren’t for me.
I find it’s best for me to post in the evenings when I have a good chunk of time to be able to engage with my followers immediately after I post (no posting and ghosting!). I think consistency is key, but it’s also better to have good quality content out there that people will enjoy! The best piece of advice I can give is to set aside a day of the week where you can create content for the next week. I typically use Sunday afternoons to film all of my videos and then each evening I’ll quickly edit, add captions, etc. right before I post.
Who do you vent to when you have a business problem?
I’m a part of a big charcuterie business Facebook group, and they are always there to lend a listening ear when I have a business problem!
Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
My biggest dream would be to either open a brick-and-mortar store where you can come in and enjoy a charcuterie board for pick up or dine-in. Either that or create a charcuterie food truck to bring to events!
How does this dream affect your relationship with your day job? Do you ultimately see yourself leaving it behind?
This is a great question. At the moment, I’m not exactly sure what this looks like for my relationship with my full-time job, but leaving my teaching job isn’t off the table.
What was the single worst decision you made regarding your business, and how’d you recover?
Ugh using eucalyptus on my individual boards! Or inedible flowers in general. At the very beginning, I remember seeing other people using these flowers on their boards and thinking it was alright to do the same, before realizing how unsafe it is. Definitely won’t be doing that again! For my grazing tables, I now make sure the greenery is underneath the paper and not directly on the board itself.
How do you go about developing your personal board style?
This has honestly been really hard! A lot of us in the charcuterie board-making world all have similar styles (there’s only so much you can do with meat and cheese).
I definitely take inspiration from other board makers but then try to add my own little touches or ways of doing something. There are certain ingredients I always use (such as manchego and brie), but I also love to get creative and intuitive, adding whatever is in season for produce and accompaniments.
When you’re stressed or overwhelmed, what do you do to overcome this feeling?
Take a deep breath, go for a walk, get outside in nature, and call my mom!
What’s one component of entrepreneurship that’s much different than what most people think?
It can be really lonely sometimes. The late nights sitting at my desk cranking out work by myself can be draining and exhausting and that’s the part that most people don’t see.
What’s your end goal with the business?
As long as it continues to be something that brings me joy and brings other people joy, I would love to just keep it going!
Who are some entrepreneurs you look up to or draw inspiration from?
There is another board maker located in Boston called Boards by Mo, and she is a huge inspiration! As well as Courtney from Raleigh Cheesy in North Carolina. Courtney currently has one brick-and-mortar store and is in the process of opening a second location. Major goals!
If you had to tell a visitor one thing to do/see/eat in Columbus, what would it be?
Check out either of the North Markets. Some of the best food and drinks, and just fun to walk around!