What baking can do

Day 4 – Write about something you’re proud of. I’m proud that I started a baking business. I’m also proud that I decided it wasn’t for me.

As a total sugar fiend, there’s nothing I like more than enabling others to join me in my filthy, delicious habit. Baking is therapeutic and rewarding- particularly when other people enjoy what I’ve made. I’d had vague thoughts about maybe trying it out professionally at some point, but it wasn’t until a friend suggested I sell my bakes that I started to think about it more seriously.

I’ve had many a half-formed business idea over the years, but this time I actually did something about it. I’d recently read about people completing epic quests by starting small, before they were ‘ready’, so instead of wasting hours on research that would ultimately give me cold feet, I found email addresses for 4 vegan markets and wrote to introduce myself.

When two of them responded asking for my Facebook page and I didn’t have one, I quickly set one up! My housemate came up with a great business name and suddenly I was baking at every opportunity so that I would have something to photograph and post on social media. And before I knew it I had an official date for my first market stall!

I was completely out of my depth but totally exhilarated. For a month I spent every spare moment preparing- completing a food safety certificate online in the early hours of the morning, making business cards, practising recipes, getting insurance, pricing up ingredients. I was exhausted, but I was learning.

The day before the market approached, and things didn’t go exactly to plan. First there was the teary panic in the post office when they nearly refused to give me lots of small change (note to self- order float money in advance!), then there was the small matter of one my cakes collapsing, rendering 1/3 of my produce unsellable. It would have been classic Penny to have a bit of a meltdown at this point, but I just about managed to stay calm and had 40 items ready to sell the next day. A modest start, but way more than I had ever produced before.

A legend of a friend picked me up at arse o’clock the next morning (who knew such times existed on a Sunday?) and helped this bag of nerves assemble itself into human form as we set up our stall. Next lesson learnt- always take pegs to a market stall. You need them for everything. 

You know what’s agonising? Waiting for two hours in the cold for your first sale when you’re £150 down. But when it finally came…let’s just say I’ve never been happier to be paid £2.75 for two hours work. Someone wanted to give me money for something I’d made?! Amazing.

Momentum gathered, I had visits from a few friendly faces, and one hour before the close of the market, I sold out. Granted, I’d had very little stock to sell, but I was thrilled. Knackered and delighted.

A few weeks and lots of failed attempts to come up with new fail-proof bakes later, I went in for round two. The baking day was just as stressful. This time I hadn’t accounted for the change in baking times when you’re making larger quantities, which left one of my cakes half raw. I ran out of ingredients for another option having miscalculated, so once again I ended a mammoth baking day with not much to sell- 50 items this time. If I hadn’t already realised, it was hideously apparent by this point that I am not a great baker.

The market was dead, and freezing. We stood there all day and sold around half of my stock, barely covering the price of the ingredients and not making a dent in my start up costs. The lovely woman on the next stall helped the day pass quicker, and she taught me another valuable lesson- her stock could be frozen. Mine was perishable, so I had no opportunity to make the money back and ended up giving away all the leftovers to friends and colleagues.

I think if I’d been truly passionate about the business, that day would have been a minor set back, instead I decided almost instantly that I didn’t want to do this again. The days of baking were very stressful and not at all the therapeutic activity I’d previously enjoyed. Instead of feeling rewarded by people’s enjoyment of my cakes, I waited for the moment where one of them would complain, and worried that I would cause a reaction with hidden allergens I hadn’t accounted for. I felt guilty about having only slightly adapted existing recipes instead of coming up with my own. I hated the early mornings. Then what the hell was I doing on a market stall?

In spite of this, I’m so glad that I did it. I learnt so much about the reality of something versus the fantasy. I’m proud of what I achieved in a short space of time. And I discovered all the elements of running the business that I did enjoy. Designing a logo. Social media. Chatting to customers. The joy of selling something I’ve made.

So here’s what I’ve decided: I’m only going to get somewhere by starting more projects. I will probably abandon them. But eventually, one will stick.



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