Women like Julia Child, Nigella Lawson, and Martha Stewart are proof that building an empire based on your home baking skills is not only achievable but incredibly fruitful and rewarding. However, there is a big difference between having a delicious side hustle and building a baking empire.
When it comes to creating bountiful businesses in the baking industry there is no shortage of avenues. From merchandise to recipe development, retail stores to recipe books, and of course a myriad of ways to teach.
Thanks to the pandemic, a combination between the baking industry and ecommerce means that it is easier for you to bake your way back to a healthy bank balance.
Confectionery connoisseur, dame of deliciousness and intrepid entrepreneur Grace Stevens is an award-winning TV chef and cookbook author who is here to share with you what you need to know about owning and growing a baking business.
Be a brilliant baker
Much like building a gingerbread house, building a successful baking business takes a series of steps. In my experience, there is no way around excellence, so the first step is to make sure that your baking is beautiful. The same is true for all facets of the confectionary world including cake decorating, catering, educational classes, online or counter service stores, speciality service or sit-down bakeries.
Being phenomenal does not mean needing to make elaborate cakes that take days to complete. You can start simple, with what you know you make exceptionally well until you have established a stable income stream from that product. When you draw up your basic menu, choose recipes that you can make beautifully every time. By playing to my strengths and growing from there I was able to minimize time, overhead and ingredient waste.
Match your mentors
Not all mentors will be the correct fit for your business vision. Making sure they match the industry you are entering and having more than one will help diversify your skills. For example, if you want to start an ecommerce bakery, make sure you are being mentored by people who work within both the confectionery and ecommerce space. I have had the privilege of being mentored by a few amazing business women whose success is measured internationally.
Having multiple mentors who are much better at you in your industry not only inspires you but will help you observe as they scale their businesses.
My mentors include Eunice Borchers and Suzi Witt. They allowed me to hone my craft, answered questions that I had before they evolved into costly mistakes and modelled sound, safe and stable business strategies that I still use today.
Celebrate your customers
Customer service is everything. To stand out you need unique eye-catching products, displayed brilliantly and great service. It is a common mistake that ecommerce businesses do not pay enough attention to the customer’s digital experience of ordering, buying and paying. Just like you would not open a bakery in a building that is not up to scratch, trying to open an ecommerce store that is not properly set up is a recipe for disaster.
There are two ways to properly set up your digital space. One is to hire professional web developers that know ecommerce very well. The other is to do courses until you can upskill to the point where you can build your site.
Balance the bitter and the sweet
As with any recipe, having an ecommerce bakery comes with both pros and cons. The sweeter side of the deal is that your customers can be from anywhere - which gives your product impressive reach and influence if your digital presence is up to standard. The downside is that you are running a business 24/7 which can be overwhelming.
Finding the sweet spot in how you manage your time between work, family and play will help you cope with the unavoidable stress of starting a business. You may also need a better equipped and size kitchen than what you have; planning for these investments and improvements is imperative. Until you can purchase these items, remember to keep menu ideas elegant, excellent and realistic.
Specialist skills will help you stand out from the crowd
If you can perform a skill better than anyone else in the business you will be able to charge more for your time and increase your profit. The exclusivity of your skill also gives you a concrete competitive edge over any competitor, however there are some challenges unique to running a speciality service.
I find that I often have to manage unrealistic client expectations that are an unfortunate side effect of reality baking shows. In these shows, they conveniently leave out the hours of work that goes into our craft. Handmade and custom cakes are not cheap. I find that once I have educated my clients on the intricacies of my craft we usually have a far more harmonious relationship.
Have a recipe for your success
Planning is essential to all aspects of your business and formalising it into a business plan has the power to make you feel like you are really on your way. Your business plan should start with an assessment of who your market will be and a deep dive into where your ideal customer shops, eats, travels and how much they spend. This will determine where you market your business and what the price of your products will be to place you in that market.
For an ecommerce business, your plan should detail the budget for digital expenses such as website development, digital marketing like Google ads and social media marketing. It should outline goals like how much you realistically expect to earn in the first year, what percentage of your turnover you will put back into the business and your business growth goals based on your research.
How you price your goods is one of the leading factors that will determine how successful your business will become. Being mindful of expenses like packaging, consumables, ingredients, your time and where your skill level is, all impacts your bottom line. Marketing for the launch of your start-up and the long term must be priced into every sale. Be aware too if your market is seasonal, such as wedding cakes, you need to save a little for the slower months.
Equipment needs to be maintained and replaced and included in your pricing. That way when your tools have hit the end of their life you will have the budget to replace them.
Make sure you order the correct amount of perishable ingredients and avoid the expense of ingredients going off by keeping detailed records of what you use so you can see seasonal trends and order accordingly. This will be difficult in the beginning, but once you are up and running for a few months you will have a better idea of the number of ingredients you use and order accordingly.
There may also be licensing and legal requirements for starting an ecommerce bakery in your home so be sure to phone your local municipality to check on the health and safety requirements. They are different in every area and a business lawyer or accountant will be able to help you with the legal requirements.
While now it’s easy to sit back and explain your business journey, the truth is it took years of hard work, many mistakes and lessons. There are three ingredients in the baking business you cannot go without. Butter, patience and persistence.