- How do you start your day?
My day is started by my two little boys (Barnaby age 4 and Bertie age 2). They arrive usually carrying an assembly of toy cars at around 6.15am in my bedroom. I am not in any way a morning person so this is the one time they get to watch cartoons for 30 minutes so I can wake up and just cuddle them. We have it down to an art now although my 4 year old has worked out that if he arrives with a wet flannel in hand, mummy makes breakfast a whole lot faster!
- You previously worked in the city, what prompted such a dramatic change in career?
Children. I worked for 11 years as a city lawyer in two of the biggest law firms in the world. Part of early days training involved learning to work very long hours and I rarely left the office before 10pm at night so my stamina when it comes to work is a bit higher than normal. This has meant that cake life – where you often work really long hours – has come naturally.
I changed careers as I was spending so long in the office that I was just not seeing my little boy enough. I was paying someone else to look after him all the time. One day, I thought “why am I doing this – this is crazy”. So I left. At that time, I had never baked a cake in my life and had no intention of running a cake business or a cake school let alone streaming cake videos all over the world!
- How long did it take you to set up your business from the idea to running courses?
I set up my cake business in 2010. Originally I planned to just make cakes part time whilst looking after my eldest child but it went crazy almost immediately and within months I was receiving up to 20 emails a day from people asking for classes. At that time, no one was making novelty characters with cupcakes and so that was my niche. I started out with some children’s classes and then had the first adult classes in 2011. They were fully booked from day 1 so I was very lucky.
- How important is it to trademark your business?
In the early days I don’t think it is too important if you are small. But if you grow and become successful, there will be many people out there who will want to piggy back off your success. I trademarked Pretty Witty Cakes because I have worked incredibly hard and very long hours for years to build a Pretty Witty Cakes brand and I want to ensure that my children benefit from that hard work.
- What are the pros and cons of working from home?
The pros are that you can work in your PJs, eat when you like, and get up later (if you don’t have children) as you don’t have to commute.
The cons are that you never switch off. As your work is there all the time, you find that you will do it all the time. You also tend to get cabin fever as there is often no reason to leave the house all day if you are working from home so you have to ensure you do actually get out.
- You have 2 small children and have managed to launch a successful business in this time, what advice would you give to other mums looking to set up in the same position?
My advice would be to remember it isn’t a race and it doesn’t really matter what anyone else (competitor wise) is doing. Too many people get caught up in what their competitors are up to and that tends to be their downfall.
When I had my second child, I went back to work after a matter of days because I didn’t want to fall behind. When I look back, this was crazy. Business will have its ups and downs, highs and lows but overall it stays constant. Children don’t – once they grow up that is it – there is no second chance.
It took me a year to realise that what other people are doing is irrelevant. If you have an entrepreneurial mind and you enjoy what you are doing, you will be successful. You have to believe in yourself.
- Do you have people working with you?
Yes. I have 2 full time employees and one part time, 24 Guest Tutors working at different times from different periods, a 3 strong IT team, a graphic designer, a photographer and film team. We also have to work with lots of other companies such as a sandwich delivery company for lunches in classes, couriers for our shop parcels and various affiliates of Pretty Witty Cakes working in different countries around the world, people who supply content for the Magazine and many more. When working on the book I also work with the publishing team supplied by the publishers.
It is pretty much a railway station in terms of activity here – I don’t think I ever have a “quiet” day!
- Having been in your beautiful home, your business takes over your kitchen, how do you switch off at the end of the day?
Being honest – I don’t! I have a strict rule that from 6.30 to 8.30pm I am with my children. I rarely miss this time and that is my “down time”. Even if there is a class running with another tutor, I will be upstairs with them at this time. At 8.30pm I am back in the office and I usually work until gone midnight. Since the launch of the new website, we now have subscribers in over 40 countries around the world so the website is a hub of activity day and night due to the different time zones all drifting in and out. We always notice when the USA wakes up as there is a surge of traffic on the website at that point and as I like to keep up to date with everyone all around the globe I tend to be online at weird hours!
- What challenges have you faced in setting up your business? Are there daily challenges you face?
The biggest challenge for me on a daily basis is juggling the children with work. It is not easy and any working mother will know you work really hard to make that balance. For me, every single business decision is based in part on my children. For example, the reason I decided to not exhibit at the Cake and Bake show this year was purely because my children both start school the same week. That is a hard call to make – but the challenge is learning to make a decision that works for you and then sticking to it even when others try to talk you out of it.
When business is thriving and getting busier and busier – it feels counter intuitive to slow it down at times but when you have young children you face that challenge all the time.
- Have you managed to achieve a good work/life balance?
I have managed to learn how to survive on very little sleep! I only sleep around 4 hours a night and that allows me to have some children time and some business time.
Achieving a good work life balance is the ultimate goal and there are some weeks I think I have cracked it but most weeks I would confess that the work side is winning over the play side.
- What do you do to unwind?
I talk the ear off my husband over a glass of wine. Thank god he is a good listener. He is my best friend and has been for 12 years during which time we have been through more than our fair share of of life changing experiences so he can see when it is time to suggest we both step back and watch a movie. I love watching movies but I can never remember them as I always fall asleep half way through!
- Do you have a favourite TV show?
I hardly watch TV except Peppa Pig and Scooby Doo every day (not by choice I should add but because my kids love them).
- What do you like to do as a family?
My kids are both big foodies and despite their young age will eat anything (squid, olives, octopus, eel – they love it all). We therefore take them to restaurants as much as possible and walk in the forest near our house whenever we can.
- What is your number one top tip you would give to another cake maker?
Decide on your skill set based on what you love doing and stick to that. Everyone has a style (even if you don’t know it) and the best cake makers are those who limit their cakes to their own style and stick with it for a life time.
- Where do you see your business in 5 years time?
Now that will be telling!
I have the book coming out next spring and a few other things in the pipe line. I plan on filming many more tutorials myself in 2014 as well as introducing some new Guest tutors and growing the website further.
We are also looking to move to bigger premises for the cake school so we can run classes in the evening as well.
Oh and I might just try and fit in another child if I get a spare moment
Pretty Witty Cakes Ltd, Fir Trees, Rannoch Rd, Crowborough, East Sussex TN6 1RB
Phone: +44 (0) 7976 32 72 78 or +44 (0) 1892 611 710
Interview by Emma at Array of Cakes and Sada at Flutterby Bakery