Best known as the English Cake Lady, Lucie Kenny shares how it is to start up a business whilst parenting a 2-year-old.
Tell us a little about your business.
I set up my cake-making business, The English Cake Lady, in July 2011 following a 20 year sales and business development career. In 2009, when my daughter Lara was two, I was made redundant from my 4-day-a-week and very flexible job, where I could manage my own time and tasks. After completing a part-time contract with a client, I needed to find another way to contribute to the family finances. My business experience was very general, and although I applied and interviewed for more “regular” jobs, I quickly realised that the logistics of childcare, dog walking and looking after the house would become very difficult if I went back to work. The English Cake Hubby puts in long and very unpredictable hours in advertising, so the bulk of the family/house “management” falls to me.
So I started to think about what I loved to do, and it became pretty obvious that I was happiest when messing about in the kitchen and, more specifically, making cakes. If I could find a way for people to pay me to do what I loved then that was a bonus, right? I wrote a business plan which centred on supplying cupcakes to local cafes, tested and developed my product range and researched my pricing and competitors. The English Cake Hubby created a logo, designed business cards and built a website and a Facebook page and we launched in July 2011. Of course, it didn’t work out that way. Whilst I secured a couple of orders with some local cafes, it was clear that the average Dutch customer either wasn’t into cupcakes as much as the Anglo markets, or wasn’t prepared to pay the EUR 3 for a freshly-baked, hand-made cupcake. But, in the meantime, I had sold a few children’s birthday cakes, some mini-cupcakes for a law firm’s corporate event, and I soon started picking up orders for baby showers and hen parties, whilst the birthday cake orders continued to roll in. Then I found the Amsterdam Mamas and ran a 2-month promotion at the end of 2011. I sold a lot of traditional Christmas cakes, over 500 Red Velvet cupcakes for Valentine’s Day 2012 and now average 2-3 birthday cakes per week. I'm now starting to cover weddings as well.
Describe a typical working day.
A typical working day really depends on where we are in the week. On Monday, I mostly deal with the housework, cleaning the kitchen thoroughly and carefully planning the week’s work. I’m fortunate in that I have a very large kitchen with plenty of storage space where I can keep all my work equipment and supplies separate, and a second fridge. Tuesdays and Wednesdays I’m busy with ordering supplies online, maybe a trip to the cash-and-carry with Lara who loves riding on the big trolley, answering emails, preparing quotes and sending invoices. I try to get as much done in advance as possible so the cakes themselves can be baked close to the delivery time. I do a lot of sugarwork in the weekday evenings, covering boards, cutting out letters for birthday cakes and making flowers or other decorations. Thursday and Friday are the big baking and assembly days. I often get everything weighed out and the cake tin lined the night before so I just stagger out of bed in the morning, turn the oven on, hit the mixer button and then the cake can bake whilst I’m in the shower. It’s rather nice to eat breakfast in a house that smells of freshly-baked cake!
How do you manage childcare?
At the moment, we’re in the limbo period of summer holidays, end of creche and Lara starting school in September, which is going to be a tough juggling task for us all. I have realised that there are some things I can do with Lara about (baking cakes and shopping) but others (answering emails, invoicing or tricky sugarwork) that are really hard to do well with a pre-schooler to keep an eye on. So I’m relying on playdates, if Lara has a friend over, she doesn’t need me so much, and when push comes to shove e.g. assembling a wedding cake, I have a lovely short-notice American babysitter.
How do you balance work commitments with family time?
Working from home really eats into family-time I’m afraid, especially as most of my orders are for the weekend. Mark often comes home from work at 10 or 11 at night and I’m still on my feet in the kitchen, or I have to rope him in to help me with deliveries on Saturday. On the plus side, it does rather forcibly create “Daddy-daughter” time as Mark and Lara often have one-on-one Saturdays without Mummy. All that remains is for me to have quality time with my husband once in a while and that’s the challenge for the second year of business.
What do you like best about running your own business?
The best thing about running my own business isn’t just the day-to-day degree of control and independence I have, after all I had that in my previous job. No, it’s finally having found something that I truly love doing, learn something new about every day and can use all my acquired business skills to take forward. And I love being able to be there for my daughter for all the best parts of being a parent, and being able to provide a strong, self-sufficient role model for her.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced?
My biggest challenge was Valentine’s Day 2012 when I baked, decorated and delivered 500 cupcakes in a single day all over Amsterdam. By bakfiets. I started at 4.30am and I was completely dead on my feet by the end of the day after having cycled over 30km. Next year I’m hiring a van.
How do you find time for yourself and what do you like to do with that time?
To be honest, I don’t have a lot of time for myself at the moment, and the little spare time I do have I (mis)spend on Facebook and I try to carve out the odd evening with friends. Running my own business is pretty all-consuming, but I’m fortunate that my husband is very involved in what I do, doing all the cake photography as well as the website, production (making sails and flags for pirate ship cakes) and marketing collateral, so he’s very understanding about what’s involved.
Where does your support come from? Do you have a business mamas network?
Other than Mark, I’ve relied on my own experience and common sense to develop the business, but also the input of close friends and increasingly on customer feedback. Social media is a hugely valuable resource in my case. Starting my own business is quite possibly the best decision I’ve ever made, apart from marrying Mark and having Lara.
What is the most important piece of advice you would pass on to a parent planning to start their own business?
If I had to offer any advice to prospective parent-preneurs, I’d say do what doesn’t feel like work to you, and what can also fit in with your family, and you’re halfway there.
Photo credit: Lucie Kenny