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Dream of a design-based business that takes off online?
From cash flow to finding customers, the founder of Plumb and Rabbitts shares a candid insight into growing her bespoke cake and design startup, all while raising her five children in Northumberland.
Autumn Rabbitts took the skills she learned at art school and combined them with her love of baking.
Now she creates the most jaw-dropping cakes and bakes. With her insight, we’re going to focus on how you can take your creative flair and use it to start a business.
Here are the topics we cover:
Your business idea can be your creative outlet
Can you tell us a bit about how you got into cake making? Where did it all start?
It was in the final year of my MA, which was quite a traumatic time for me. I became pregnant and scraped through to pass my MA.
I stopped making jewellery and being creative.
I miraculously met my now-husband, and after moving north and having my eldest biological child, I needed an outlet.
I made a wedding cake with some sugar flowers and thought it to be quite fun to do. I had a few orders and said to myself I quite like this. It just grew from there.
Your first customers may well be from word of mouth
How did those first orders and customers come about?
My first customers were word of mouth, via local friends, friends of my husband, and people he worked with.
I started taking pictures of my work and set up a Facebook profile and business page, which people found me through. It grew from there.
I tried to remember to document everything, which as a cake maker, is difficult because quite often you’re working to tight deadlines. You forget to take pictures.
I’m sure many cake makers are listening who think, “Yes. I’ve done that many times.”
With this business, I know you mentioned you’ve got something exciting coming up.
Did you ever have ambitions to make it big, maybe before you had the idea for the new thing, or was it always the idea that you would have it as more of a small business with a manageable size.
Not growing too big and taking on staff, for example?
When I started it, I just wanted to add a little bit extra to our household income. When I met my partner, he had two little girls as a single father, and I had my baby daughter. I was just aware that our family was likely to grow.
I’ve always worked, so I had to be creative in some way.
I knew that if I were creative, I would have to be doing it at home because of school runs, school pickups and working around my baby, who was disabled.
I needed to be at home. At the time, it was just to earn some money to help our finances at home, help us get through. Pay for school shoes, for example, which cost a bomb. It’s maddening.
As time has gone on, I’ve slowly realised that I love running my business and love what I do.
I’m 38 this year. I don’t feel any time pressure, but I do feel like I’ve been doing this for such a long time that now is the time for me to grow and share what I’ve learned and train up other people and have a bakery and my premises.
I have to move out of my home for work because I have outgrown it.
I think my stress that I’ve had over the past week has been from realising that I’ve outgrown my space. Even though I’ve got this gorgeous new kitchen, I’ve just outgrown and need more space.
I didn’t plan to go bigger. I liked the idea of having my shop when I was little. I used to draw pictures and stuff, but it wasn’t about cakes; it was about other ideas when I was small.
So it’s changed.
Look at using transferable skills with your business idea
When you started scaling this business, were you working on anything else at the same time? I presume it was a full-time job raising your kids.
But were you transferring from a different career?
Yes and no. I was finishing off a few jewellery projects and personal commissions that had been on hold since I had my eldest biological daughter.
They were lovely, sparkly things like wedding bands and engagement rings. I quickly finished those and then went full dive into the cake world.
What were the transferable skills that you could bring from that learning in jewellery?
Well, there’s loads.
When I was at art college, it was about learning how to be a designer, transforming your passion and love of being creative into products for jewellery—some of the people I did a masters with ended up doing art installations.
But it’s just basically about transferring your passion into a tangible item.
Skills that you could use in new mediums, which for me were things like icing, sugar paste, the cake itself, and learning how to carve the cake.
I spent a lot of my MA wax carving. So, I did a lot of modelling work, which directly transfers into the sugar paste and the sugar fondant work I do now.
Managing the business administration side may be a challenge
Was it challenging to learn the business side?
You’ve got loads of artistic flair and skills, and you were able to bring that to baking. But what about accounting, cash flow and forecasts?
How did you manage that side of growing the business?
I’m still learning and had to learn quickly.
I’ve learned the most about myself in this time running a business because being dyslexic and dyspraxic means that I struggle to hold on to information.
I’ve learnt that I have to place all of the information that I have for any commission, if I have or any work agreements that I make with anyone, it has to be put into my phone, my calendar, written into a diary, and then doubled up on with a computer calendar.
I have a calendar on my wall to mark off when I shouldn’t be taking any extra bookings to stop myself from getting too stressed.
I make mistakes on that quite often because I hate saying no to people, which, as any business owner will know, is one of the most fundamental things that you can learn—when to say no.
I think it’s just come as trial by error.
Accept some coping mechanisms may not work
You strike me as someone very organised because you have a system to make sure you don’t forget anything.
But are you very much an analogue person with scribbled notes everywhere? Or are you a spreadsheet person?
I don’t have spreadsheets, which I probably should have. I do scribble notes, but then I immediately write them up because my being dyslexic means my handwriting can be illegible.
I struggle to read my notes if I don’t reread them the same day. If I go back to something the next day, I might not be sure what certain words mean anymore.
I tend to type it up straight into my phone after I’ve had a conversation with a client so that I keep that information.
I often ask my clients if they haven’t already emailed me to email me everything they wanted. I often find that sometimes my interpretation of what someone wants can be different from what they require.
This is fascinating because I know many people who have dyslexia and put off starting a business because they worry that it’ll get in the way.
So, hearing your hacks will be helpful and inspiring for them to know it’s not a barrier.
I think I threw myself into the work because I didn’t find out I had dyslexia and dyspraxia until I was doing my MA.
I had gone through the entire education system, struggling and working ridiculously hard, often thinking that I didn’t understand or didn’t get it or there was something wrong with me.
Then suddenly, I got to my MA and thought, “Maybe I should probably have a test.” And they said, “Look, why don’t you get tested?” which they did for me.
And then I found out what was going on.
From there on out, if I push it to the side, I have coping mechanisms and ways of trying my best to go through, no matter how much of a struggle it is. It sometimes works and keeps me afloat, and sometimes it doesn’t.
Social media can be transformative—look at paying for posts
I want to go back to when you were talking about how you got your first customers. How did you turn word of mouth into a reliable pipeline of work that was enough to sustain you financially? How did you make that jump?
I started my Facebook page for business when the organic reach on Facebook was still quite large. I didn’t pay for adverts and easily reached a thousand people a day with my posts without paying for them.
That made a big difference to my business.
A small business would not afford to spend £60 for a three-day post to reach 9,000 people or something. And then not have a guaranteed return for that.
My business jumped a level when I decided to invest a little bit of time in Instagram.
Instagram is all based on imagery and allowed me to upload my thought process constantly, what I was up to, videos, and images of my work.
I grabbed people’s attention.
I also learnt that if I paid for a post, it was wise to direct my paid posts to my website so that my website had lots of activity, which meant that I came up higher in Google search.
That has helped me massively, learning that little trick of not just sending people to my Instagram page.
I have learned how to manipulate my marketing so that it’s correctly working for me. That has been important in building my business.
It’s incredible how big social media is now, given that it’s only been around for maybe a decade. Now it’s the cornerstone of marketing for so many businesses.
Have you figured out a way to make your actual cakes a marketing tool?
It must be subtle, but I can imagine that someone goes to a wedding and sees one of your breathtaking cakes. Is there any way to let those people know that you made it, or “take a business card?” Is that possible, or is that too hard to sell?
What often happens is that I make assumptions. I assume that all the guests at the wedding are close friends and they’re all going to be talking.
I have had quite a few referrals from people’s weddings, which is brilliant. But what particularly helps, I’ve noticed, is when venues take a picture of my cake.
For instance, I did a very large flamingo, brightly coloured and covered in sweets. Arguably it is one of the most popular cakes. Everybody loves it and got me tons of attention.
It’s modelled on a cake by somebody called Katherine Sabbath, who is Australian and massive. She makes an iconic drip cake with a melted ice cream upside down on the top and then all sprinkles.
I also paid for advertising in Rock N Roll Bride Wedding Magazine, which got me quite a few orders. I think I’m lucky in that my work just speaks for itself.
It’s pretty hard because many people say to me that they know that it’s mine when they look at a cake. But I’m so lost in my creative process that I don’t notice my style.
After I scroll through pictures on Instagram and look at everything that I’ve done, I can see my creative input and style in my work.
Yeah, that does make sense.
When you’re working hard, it isn’t easy to take stock, review, get some perspective, and get a feel for what you’ve enjoyed doing or what direction you want to go in artistically because you’re just ploughing forward all the time.
Don’t be afraid to show authenticity on social media
I did an Instagram post yesterday of me crying, which I don’t do very often. But I think it’s important for people to see that it’s just me when they’re ordering from me.
I do everything—my admin and ordering. I create everything from top to bottom. I felt like it was necessary to show people an authentic side of my business.
Yesterday, everything just got on top of me, and I think I was a little bit nervous about today about the podcast.
I also have quite a few orders due for tomorrow morning and today, so I was stressing about getting them all finished. I snapped a fair bit at my poor husband, so I feel a bit guilty about that.
But yeah, it is a real struggle.
I think people often mistake owning their own business for some level of freedom. It does give you freedom, but it also chains you massively because when you’re running your own business, absolutely everything falls on you.
There is no one to do your wage and ensure that goes into your bank. There is no one to ensure that someone has paid you or create deliveries for you.
Unless you’re lucky enough to have a partner who works for you and within your business. I don’t, because my husband works full-time, so we’re entirely separate in our work lives.
I think it is a real struggle. I got loads of messages last night from other business owners saying, “Oh my God, I understand what you’re saying. I’ve been feeling the same way.”
That’s good you’ve got support and people saying, “I’ve been there, you’ll get through it”. That’s what you need to hear when you’re floundering and overwhelmed.
Managing finances will be one of your biggest challenges
You mentioned that no one else pays you and that you’ve got to pay yourself. Do you mind me asking how long it took from your first few orders before you started giving yourself a salary?
I technically don’t give myself a salary. My account has a balance where I know what’s coming in and what’s going out, and then I use the money when I want as a sole trader.
Sometimes I do fantastically in my finances, and sometimes it’s an absolute nightmare, where I say, “Oh, I have not budgeted for that. Why did I do that?” I’m looking at changing how I manage everything, such as getting an accountant to take care of it for me.
I’m getting to the point where I’m so busy I can’t keep track of everything that’s coming in and going out. I need to start handing responsibilities over, I’ve realised over the past week.
You can start a business with little money but get paid what you’re worth
How expensive was it to get going?
Because you’d think with a craft-based business, that wouldn’t have to spend so much. With a few bags of flour and some eggs, you might be able to mix by hand at the beginning, and off you go.
Is that the truth, or was there a significant overhead with spending on things like mixers and branding? How expensive was it to get going?
Because I’m creative, it was easy. Cake ingredients are cheap, so what people are paying for are time and experience.
As soon as I got to a level where I felt I was confident in what I was doing, I knew that I could knock things out quickly to a high level.
I thought, “Now I need to be charging more because now people are paying for the level of experience I’ve gained and my knowledge.”
If you asked my mum, she would say, “You should have been paid for that from the beginning, because you’ve been to Central Saint Martins and you’ve been to the Royal College of Art, and you have a very extensive career in artistry.”
But the level of expertise that I had in terms of cake making wasn’t as high as some of my peers, so I didn’t feel comfortable doing that.
But now I’m at a point where I think, “I need to be charging double what I am.”
You shouldn’t apologise for that. You’re 100% right.
Once you’ve got skills and experience, you can deliver on time. People are usually happy to pay for that level of trust and reassurance, especially for big events.
You make wedding cakes, where people need them to look perfect for that one day.
With a creative business, give back to the creative community
In terms of starting up and not costing a lot with branding, I think I did my first logo, and then I found an independent illustrator on Etsy who I asked to do a little logo, which I then used for around nine months.
Then I found an independent designer who focused on branding. She did another logo for me, which ran with me for probably about four or five years.
Then I decided I wanted to change, as I felt it didn’t reflect who I was as a person.
So I found another independent illustrator, but this time on Instagram. She created the branding for me and is now developing the branding for an extensive project that hopefully will be launching towards the end of this year.
Oh, that’s cool. So you’re looking at unusual sources for creative partnerships. You’re not going to Upwork, or Fiverr for example. You’re going elsewhere.
Yeah, I do. I do that because I know what it’s like as an independent creative to have other people support your business. I think it’s essential that independent creators give that back and do the same.
Also, it helps you create a network. Through Bee Davies Illustration, I’ve met other people off of her platform, so I now follow a whole different group of illustrators.
As a creative person, I think it’s crucial to follow other industries because you can get so many different ideas, and it can be so inspiring. It’s essential to stay current because those industries are constantly changing all the time.
Their influences change, and the people who are in it change constantly. And I think it gives you that slight edge.
I don’t follow that many cake companies. I follow what’s going on in the industry, as in what’s popular and what techniques are popular.
But I don’t look at other cake makers. I find it often stresses me out if I’m honest.
Tell your customers what’s creatively possible
When you look at trends, I mean, do you get a bit bored to tears when the 19th bride asks for ombre, or whatever? Do you find that you get stuck in these creative ruts?
No. Any kind of colour work, I love. Anything colourful, anything with loads of sugar flowers, or fresh flowers, that’s fine, I love it.
What I do get a little frustrated with is that, when you’re getting married, you often wouldn’t have been in contact with the wedding industry before, unless you work in it, so you don’t know really what the trends are.
You don’t know that about semi-naked cakes, for example.
I am always very respectful of people’s choices because it’s people’s preference, but I do often send images to say, “Have you looked at this? Have you thought about that? There’s this new thing that people are doing that’s fun. Would you like to have a look at that?”
Because often, people aren’t aware of what their options are.
That’s an excellent tip. To be gentle and do a gentle nudge, saying, “Ah, this is also something that other brides have done.”
What is a semi-naked cake? I don’t know my cakes at all.
There was a point where just naked cakes were the height of fashion, where you bake a cake, slap some buttercream in the middle, put some buttercream on the top and then cover it in fresh fruit. Then you have maybe some fresh flowers on the side, or the top trailing down.
That’s all well and good, but if you’re delivering at ten o’clock in the morning and you’re not cutting the cake until eight o’clock at night, your cake is going to dry out.
You automatically lose a quarter or more of your servings unless you soak the outside in a sugar syrup to save it a little bit, or brush on with a pastry brush some sugar syrup.
But in general, you lose that outside because it’s been sitting there all day. It’s not pleasant, and no one wants to eat that crusty outer bit anyway.
So as a rule, as a cake maker, I say, have a semi-naked cake, where you have a thin coating of either white chocolate ganache, chocolate ganache, or buttercream, Swiss meringue buttercream so that you can still eat that outside edge.
Balancing personal and business time will be challenging
You’re on the precipice of fulfilling a lifelong dream by starting a bakery. That must feel intense, amazing, exciting and daunting and all the other words?
I think I’m more worried that what I’m jumping into is going to steal even more of my family time.
I think that’s a universal fear, and indeed a fear a lot of the female entrepreneurs that come on this show talk about.
It seems to be something that weighs very heavily on the ambitious women who want to have a great business and want to spend time with their kids.
They’ve been sold the idea that you can have it all. And yet, the reality is that there’s always a balance.
You and your husband between you have five kids. So that is an enormous amount of to-ing and fro-ing, and then fitting the businesses around the edges.
Our oldest two are pretty much out the door.
Our eldest is 22 this year and at university in Newcastle. I’m fortunate in that she’s very level-headed, straightforward and stable. I don’t need to worry about her.
She’s just applied for an MA in London in conjunction with the NHS, which fits her studies.
My other eldest has just turned 18 and is pretty much out the door to study in London at an art college there.
Then I’ve got my three youngest—Ava, who is 12 this year. And then my next, Phoebe, who is nine this year. And then Veratu, who’s six this year.
Ava’s disabled, so the likelihood is she will always live with us or near us.
I think the age differences have enabled me to survive if I’m honest. I think if they were all very young, then I think I would have struggled. But there is a lot of to-ing fro-ing because Ava goes to a special needs school.
I have to pick her up from somewhere else, and because she’s special needs, she doesn’t get wraparound care. There’s no before school club or afterschool club. I have to ensure that I’m there in the morning to drop off and pick her up.
I am lucky that the school does have a respite provision, which is incredible because most councils have shut them down.
Respite provisions are essential because they teach the children how to become independent, which you need when you’re a disabled child—to learn how to go to the next steps of life.
Learning independence of a disabled child is essential. Things you take for granted are not available if you’re constantly in your home environment, like how to pay for something when you go to the shop.
Things that as you get older, you learn, but if you’re disabled, it’s not a given. But my other two do get wraparound provision.
There’s a bit of juggling, and I do sometimes struggle. But for the most part, my children are happy and comfortable, so that’s good.
Running a business could mean big lows as well as highs
You’ve talked about the dichotomy between the freedom of being an entrepreneur, the creative output, and the ability to do your work around your family.
On the flip side, you’ve talked about how it’s a struggle, it’s pretty lonely, and it’s all on you.
Talk to me about some of the hardships that you face as an entrepreneur because I know that when we spoke before, you said that there was a point where you wanted to give it up.
Tell us about what happened.
Yeah. There’ve been a few times where I’ve wanted to throw the towel in and say, “I’m not going to do this anymore. I’m going to do something else, or go back to jewellery, or try and get a designing job.”
I’ve had some interesting experiences.
Coming from London, I was lucky enough never to question my skin colour or question being a black woman. It was when I moved up to Northumberland that I did have experiences that made me think, “Oh, people are going to treat me different.”
It was a real luxury that I had in London being in a genuinely multicultural environment.
Skin colour wasn’t an issue to a point where I thought it would affect what I wanted to do, which in itself is a luxury. I’m mixed race and lighter-skinned. So it’s colourism as well.
I probably experienced favouritism because I’m lighter-skinned than some of my friends and peers, which in itself is ridiculous and awful.
But then I moved up here, and of course, I am in an incredible minority. And I think in the town that I live in, I may be one of five black people who live here.
I have experienced very interesting responses to delivering cakes.
People assume as subconscious racism works because everything in our sphere in the media is white driven, that I’m going to be white.
They hear me on the phone, and they think I’m going to be white.
And then they open the door, and they see a black woman there. And they’re quite often a little bit taken aback by that.
I’ve also done experiments where I have been to wedding fairs and asked white female friends and my oldest daughter to stand in for me to see if the response was different.
I did find that engagement and people’s responses jumped, people signing up jumped, and people sending emails after their experience jumped.
I am very talkative, chatty and friendly and very open to people, so I didn’t think it was me being standoffish.
I think the difficulty is always just that little question mark.
When people say to me, “Did you make that?” I wonder if the other cake company where a white woman is standing—do they ask her if she made the cakes? Or do they assume that that was already hers?
There’s always this little question mark that’s there that makes me feel uncomfortable in my skin. If I could entirely rule out that subconscious racism wasn’t a thing, then I wouldn’t ask those questions.
But I think, “I’m the only person at the stand. It’s not going to be anybody else.” I believe that people see me and assume that I’m just a worker for someone else.
That’s what it’s about, really, and that makes me feel a bit uncomfortable.
There was a time where I took my picture off of my website to see if my inquiries went up, and they did.
I get more orders for people who live down south than people who live up north. But it’s starting to change ever so slightly, now that my engagement is a bit better up here. Especially this year, I’ve noticed a change.
It’s been strange. When I felt about quitting, I felt a bit uncomfortable about throwing in the towel just because some people may have possibly had a bit of an issue or a strange reaction to the fact that I’m a black woman running a cake business.
I thought, “I can’t give up just because of that.” And I think that’s kind of what’s kept me going.
It just feels unfair sometimes when I see people whose skill level is half of what I had all of a sudden have, say, 10,000 followers.
And they’ve only been running for two years, and I’ve been running for 10.
It just makes me feel super uncomfortable.
But in that, I don’t know where these followers came from.
I don’t know whether they’re paid for or whether they’ve done lots of paid posts and directed people to their profile. Do you know what I mean? I feel uncomfortable that there’s a grey area, and I wish there weren’t one.
Yeah. It’s asking the questions, the waste of energy, the way you don’t know. And then you never feel like you’ve got sure footing with people where you ask, ‘Why is this response not quite what I was hoping for? Is there something else at play?”
That must be exhausting.
I’ve got goose pimples listening to this story because it’s hard enough to grow a business and try and find customers without this other thing, the elephant in the room making life much harder for you.
I can’t imagine how you deal with it.
I suppose I’d love to know for any other business people who have had a similar response or have fears. Do you have any advice for them?
Is there anything you can share on how you handle it, or what mechanisms you have in place even in your head to get through it?
To be honest, I just keep my head down and keep working.
I’ve had to grow absolute confidence in my ability to be a creator. When I see people with massive followings, it doesn’t always equal product sales, and I know that.
I have to remind myself to be a bit arrogant and almost say, “Actually, I probably have more talent in my little finger than they do.”
If I look at my work and the things I’ve made, it is way more interesting than what they’ve been producing for the entire two years that they’ve been running.
So I have to tell myself and say it out loud. “Keep going. You’re fine. Just keep going.”
If you’ve got kids and you’ve seen Finding Nemo, just keep swimming, just get swimming, everything’s fine.
There are sharks around you. And the water’s dark. You can’t see where you’re going. But everything’s fine, everything’s fine.
If you keep doing that and keep pushing yourself, what you tell yourself in your head is so important.
Everyone’s talking about mental health, and this is such a big part of it. What you tell yourself in your head, your brain listens to.
And I’ve had to say to myself, “You’re great. You’re fine. Keep going. Just keep creating things that you love and enjoy.”
I think through that, I’ve allowed my creativity to flow. And by allowing my creativity to flow, I’ve enabled my business to grow.
After a while, I feel like I’ve got so good that people can’t ignore me anymore. People have to order from me because I am the best option. That’s what I’ve tried to create. It’s exhausting to do that.
I have spoken to loads of other black business owners who feel the same.
It’s exhausting to have to be the very best to get an average amount of attention. But I have a plan, and I’m working on it. I’m trying to enjoy myself while I do it.
You spend almost your entire life working. I never wanted to be working and doing something that I didn’t enjoy. And I think I’ve decided to double down.
It’s excellent advice. You are a stronger person because of it.
I don’t know that that necessarily makes it any better or not, but it’s incredible what you’ve created. And it’s amazing how long I’ve spent on your website looking at pictures on your Instagram.
So I mean, the proof is in the pudding, no pun intended.
Focus on your customer relationships
Do you mind telling us about one of your highlights in your time in business?
Was there a project that was so ambitious or big, and you said, “This is the pinnacle of my career right here.”
Can you tell us about one of those moments?
I’m not thinking about a cake that I’ve made, but experiences with clients. There have been monumental moments.
I think probably one of the ones that I enjoyed the most was being a part of a specific wedding show in London for Rock N Roll Bride. And that was fun.
It was the one and only one that they’ve done, which done the year before last. That was great, and it was lovely to be a part of something about body positivity in the wedding industry, which is a massive issue.
But when you were asking me that question, I immediately thought of an experience I had, which was with a couple who, due to coronavirus, had cancelled their wedding. And luckily for me, it was the only one I’ve had to cancel entirely.
Because I was thinking of shutting down last year, I only took 10 wedding cakes—very few, which means that I was fortunate last year when everything shut down. I said, “Actually, it’s not too bad. I’m not losing too much.”
I’m probably one of the very few in the wedding industry who would be thinking that, to be honest. The groom contacted me, and he was incredibly distressed and emotional.
I could hear that straight away, and I just managed to deal with it.
I surprised myself. I thought that if that were going to happen to me when I was speaking to other wedding suppliers, I’d probably break down, and I’d start crying. And I’d be very unhelpful in terms of being able to process what was happening.
I got the phone call and knew I had to answer it because I had a strange feeling in my stomach. I just felt proud of myself afterwards for not getting cross because he was angry at me.
He just needed someone to tell him that it was okay to feel what he was feeling and that I understood where he was coming from.
I also explained to him that I could hear what he was feeling and how he felt, but that as the tiny person and business I am, it wasn’t all about me.
I said to him, “I’m assuming that most of these feelings are coming from your experience with your wedding venue.”
I know the wedding venue they were with had been harsh with clients who had to cancel and move dates and hadn’t been very helpful at all. It was attached to that.
And as a response to the kindness that I tried to show him, his partner then phoned me and said, “Actually, we’re not going to cancel. We’d like you to create something for us in the future.”
This saved my bank balance and made me feel like I need to be in a client-facing industry, as I can deal with people.
He wanted to go to war, and you managed to diffuse that and keep your cool.
It’s hard to do that because he was stressed because his wedding got cancelled. You’re stressed because your cakes are disappearing, and you’ve presumably paid for some of them in terms of ingredients.
You might’ve even started making some of them. To be able to put your feelings aside and manage that is impressive.
Thank you. Yeah, it’s an odd one, I think. Yeah, it’s strange to feel like an experience like that was, in 10 years of making, the one that stuck with me, I think.
I can tell you’re going to be an absolute runaway success in your bakery because that’s all face-to-face.
It’s all those moments where you’re reading the person in front of you and giving them what they want, whether it’s a sweet treat, a smile, a bit of encouragement, or some advice on a cake.
It’s all that, isn’t it?
Yeah, it is. There’s a part of me that’s looking forward to that. And it may be slightly naive because I know some people just want to fight.
It doesn’t matter what you offer them. With them, it’s: “I want to fight you today. I’m feeling cross, and I want to fight someone. I’m going to pick you.”
I think it will be fine.
With the bakery, the things that I need to worry about the most are, which I’m working on at the moment, is making sure that the products that I choose to make are manageable in terms of time processing.
In terms of how long it takes me to make them so they look great, but they’re not going to take me two or three days or something to pull out the bag.
I don’t need that. I need to make stuff that looks fantastic but has a quick turnaround time, which means that I can then balance my home life.
And also train someone up to make them with not too much stress.
Get paid to learn
How much time do you spend practising, trying out new techniques and developing ideas that aren’t necessarily related to a commission?
Usually, I don’t. What I tend to do is encourage people to order things that I haven’t done before. And then I learn that way, which is a bit risky.
No, I like that. Getting paid to learn.
Yeah. My next-door neighbours are a gorgeous couple with a little boy, and they want me to make his first birthday cake.
I have never done a cake frame—where you’ve got this internal frame that allows you to do a gravity-defying cake or something that’s standing up.
They’ve asked for a Peter Rabbit cake. Initially, I thought I’ll do one tier and maybe put some colour, which I can easily do with flowers and cabbages.
I thought, let me do a giant standing Peter Rabbit standing on his hind legs. I’m looking forward to seeing how that turns out.
I’ve watched so many videos on how to do them, so I’m not stressed out but instead excited about it.
Get your branding and products on point
And just finally, we’ve got this big trending question on Sage Advice at the moment about how to start with no money.
I know we touched on growing slowly at the beginning, but if you were going to give some advice to someone who’s got £500 to £1,000, and they are going to start their own creative business, what should they spend that money on?
What, in your experience, packs the most punch in terms of getting new customers, building revenues, profits, and all that good stuff?
I think the advice I would give is to ensure that your branding and products are on point and not necessarily panic about having a website set up immediately.
Use something like Facebook pages or Instagram to get yourself out there and spend a teeny bit of money on paid posts.
Because once people like to buy into stuff, they’re not just buying the products. They’re buying into an image.
You’re selling them a piece of yourself. So that just needs to look like you.
So you need to be authentic in what you’re doing and what you’re offering. And the only way to get out there is by images.
So just buy some card. Someone advised me to buy some MDF boards, paint them white, and take product pictures.
Cheap and easy—£10 or something from Homebase. It’s not expensive. And then spend a teeny bit of money, or hire yourself to design your branding so that it’s reflective of you.
Don’t be afraid to hire an accountant
Then I think secondly to those things, to maybe hire a bookkeeper or an accountant as soon as you start having money or paying for a package to take care of it for you.
If you don’t, then it is a real slippery slope, and it’s going to be hard to manage your ingoings and outgoings and understanding what is profit and what isn’t profit.
I feel like that’s you giving yourself a bit of advice there. That’s you saying, “I need an accountant.”
That is. That is. That’s my next step.
And just finally, please tell me that you put your picture back on your website after taking it off.
Yeah, I did. I’ve got a picture of me on my wedding day on my website at the moment.
And there are a few pictures of me working in my new kitchen and one that my friend Fiona Saxon took of me. She’s a professional, and she’s brilliant.
She just popped in and took some pictures of me working in my kitchen over Christmas.
Well, that makes me very happy. And I’m delighted that you did that.
Autumn, you are a star. Thank you so much for coming and speaking so honestly about the reality of growing a creative business.
What goes into it; the blood, sweat, and tears, but also the joys and flexibility you get out of it. I’ve learned a lot. I’m sure our listeners will too. Thank you.
Thank you. Thank you for having me. It’s been great to talk about my experience.
Thank you for listening. You can find Autumn on Instagram at Plum and Rabbitt’s cake studio. So go and check out her mouthwatering creations.
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