Reality Bites: Interviewing Julia from The Business Bakery

I’ve known about Julia Bickerstaff  from The Business Bakery for a little while now, mostly because I noticed a whole lot of my baking industry friends were either part of her facebook community or sharing links to her blog articles. Plus I thought her online business program, the Kitchen, looked pretty cool so I wanted to find out more about it. I started following and reading her work and found that she and I were on the same wavelength about a lot of things, and then I found she shared a few of my posts! (cue loud squealing and carrying on).   When I took the leap and asked her to meet over lunch I discovered she is as nice in real life as she ‘reads’ in her publications. I thought it would be great to interview her and get the point of view of someone who is involved in the industry but from an entirely business point of view – someone who hasn’t sold a single cake in her life (unless you count helping at her kids’ bake stall or something). She has some really interesting, USEFUL stuff to share with you (especially that last question…) so please read on and enjoy.

Take it away, Julia!

BoB: Can you introduce yourself to the readers of BoB? I know you say that you are better at eating cakes than making them – what involvement have you had in the baking industry in your capacity as a business coach and creator of The Business Bakery?

Hello! It’s lovely to be here. I’m the founder of The Business Bakery and the author of a book called “How to Bake a Business”. But I’m not a baker!

The ‘baking’ bit came about like this. When I was writing my book I was struggling to find my “voice”. At the time I was working as a partner in a big consulting firm. After one very late evening at work I got home exhausted. I had to make a birthday cake for my son but I really didn’t feel like doing it. I was fretting about writing my book. I was super-grumpy! I reached into my bookshelf, got out my Nigella Lawson “How to be a Domestic Goddess” and then it just kinda hit me! My book should be a collection of (business) recipes! It should have a baking theme!

After the book was published I got a ton of calls from people running cake businesses. The title “How to Bake a Business” had sent out a signal that I was some kind of baking-business expert. But jeepers, I wasn’t! The book was about how to build any

profitable small business, not specifically a baking one. I kinda felt guilty that I didn’t know more about baking so I thought I should get learning! Some fabulous friends found me a couple of thriving ‘baking’ businesses to have a peep around, and some struggling ‘baking’ businesses to help. And that’s really where it all started!

I now run The Business Bakery. We help women make a Healthy Income from their handmade, home-based, boutique or other intentionally-small business. We’ve got a thriving community of well over 20,000 small businesses. And about half of them are in the baking industry!
BoB: Now more than ever it seems like people are getting into small business, and specifically women are getting into small businesses. What about the current climate (economic, social, or otherwise) is making this more possible? Is it just a trend, or is the ‘makers movement’ going to be around for a while?

Interesting isn’t it. More women start businesses than men!

On a practical level, the internet has made startinga small business insanely easy. I don’t think it’s made it any easier to make a profit, but that’s another story. The media has also made having a ‘small business’ kinda cool. Like it’s an accessory. I think that’s gone a bit far. But what’s great for most of us is that running a small business is now a proper alternative to getting a job!

We’ve come a long way!

Back in the seventies Martha Stewart had a small shop called the Market Basket. She sold handmade products – lots of cakes and craft. The produce all came from local women, many of whom would have liked to have run a small home-based business but it was super- tough to do so back them. Many homes didn’t even have a phone! Making products for the Market Basket was as close as most women got to a home business.

Fast forward to now. No-one needs a “Market Basket’ to sell their products. We’ve got websites! We’ve got Facebook! We’ve even got phones! We can be our own boss,! We can do it ourselves!

While it’s not easy to make money from a small business, we can all give it a go.

As for the future, I’m not sure how it will pan out. The world probably has more cake and baby clothing businesses than it strictly needs. But a lot of us wander a little way down the path of turning our business into a hobby and decide it’s not for us. And there’s nothing wrong with that! 
BoB: One of the harder parts of being in the baking industry at the moment is the low barrier to entry – it seems like everywhere you look people are starting up baking businesses because it’s pretty easy to get into business. As we’re all learning though, it’s much harder to actually STAY in business. As someone who has seen many a small business thrive and many a small business fail, what’s your top tip for people considering starting their own venture?

I have three top tips. I can never just do one!

1. Be different. You just can’t start a business doing exactly the same thing as a ton of other people and expect to get customers. You need to do something usefully

different. Good useful products kinda sell themselves….. but not totally……

2.Be a marketer. People need to know you exist! You HAVE to do marketing. Lots of people – especially makers , don’t feel comfortable with the whole marketing thing. And I get that. But there are ‘nice’ ways to do it. You’ve just got to keep looking for a way that feels right to you. A while ago I heard someone say ‘Today you have to be a better marketer of what you do than a doer of what you do”. I think it’s a bit extreme but it’s got a lot of truth in it.

3. Be determined. Hands down the BEST small businesses I’ve met are the ones run by people who are super-determined to make it work. When you really need your business to be profttable you try that little bit harder to find a way!
BoB: I always tell people that the ‘work/life balance’ or “superwoman” concept is a myth and that you simply can’t have everything at the same time. I believe that you CAN have it all, just not all at once! As a Mum to four gorgeous kids who also runs an online course, does media appearances, writes a weekly newsletter, looks after a thriving facebook community (and so on)…do you agree? What’s your take on the whole work/life balance concept?

Oh goodness, I think the Supermum thing was invented to make us all feel a little inadequate!

As far as I’m concerned, I wanted to have my own business and I wanted to have a large-ish family. So I just had to find a way to make it work! I do have a strong work ethic. My Grandmother (born in 1910) was the eldest of 11 children and was expected to stay home and help raise them. She ran away to work in a bank and her sister escaped to run a factory!

Can you run a business and have a family? Well of course you can. Women have been working while raising families, for centuries. It’s not easy though.

I’ve tried to design my business to fit around my family. Much of my business is online and global so I can work at weird times. But the media/ public speaking isn’t flexible and jeez, I have had some monumental stuff ups in that department!

I think if you want to run a business and spend time with your kids, other stuff has to go. I get up crazy early (4 am) and get a good 2.5 hours of writing in before I do the kids-breaky-school thing. I then work 8:30am till 3 ish. Then I do kids sport (three of them do a LOT of sport, and one is still a pre-schooler) and the whole dinner-bath-bed thing. Kids all asleep by 9 and I follow at 9:05. I don’t watch TV, I don’t sloth around, I don’t go out much socially. I’m fine with that. I love my work and I love my family and that’s pretty much all I do.

The thing that does get me cranky is the OTHER stuff. You know, the grocery shopping, washing, cooking, tidying up…… That’s what I call WORK. In the work/life balance equation my business and my family are my life and all that other crap is work. I would like less of it. Please. 
 Bob: What (in your opinion) is the biggest obstacle to small business success?

Hmmmm, Honestly, I think if you’ve got a decent product then the biggest obstacle to success is being persistent enough. Building a profitable business is tough. It takes way longer than you’d expect so there is ample opportunity to have a complete crisis of confidence! You just have to hang on in there!

I know that’s easier said than done. It’s kinda why I put some of those motivational quotes on my Facebook pages. Sometimes we just need a little prod to keep going!
and finally….

BoB: The two things I get asked about most often are pricing and marketing – any “quick tips” you can share with us on either of those?

I’d really, truly, like you to be a bit bolder with your pricing.

There’s a phenomenon* called the 1 % pricing secret. And it goes like this. For most businesses a tiny 1% increase in price generates a 10% increase in profit. It’s true! I won’t go into the maths now but if you are super keen get in touch and I can explain! Get this. It works the other way too. Drop your prices 1% and your profits will fall 10%. Indeed. Think before you discount.

I know, I know, I know. You think your customers will disappear if you pop your prices up. They won’t. I once worked with a restaurant business which hadn’t made a profit in years. Hadn’t made a loss either. Just made big fat zero. They put up their prices 10%, made no other changes and a year later made a profit of $500,000.

Keep your prices up. You’re not a community service. And if a customer won’t pay what you are worth, they are not your customer.

(*It’s not really a phenomenon, just plain old maths , common sense and the knowledge that the world is not as ‘perfect’ as economics would have us believe)


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