How I Started an Artisanal
Cake and Sweet Treat Company
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! I’m Shiksha Gill and I started Sugar & Spice at the beginning of 2020. We are still a very new company however the response I’ve gotten so far has been phenomenal! Sugar & Spice is an Artisanal Cake and Sweet treat company. Everything is made to order in small batches to ensure high quality and a personalised finish.
We also use the best possible ingredients, such as real British butter, free-range eggs and the best quality chocolate. Sugar & Spice provides classic sweet treats such as cookies, cupcakes & brownies. We also cater for larger occasions such as weddings, with our custom-designed cakes.
Sugar & Spice is currently a small operation offering delivery to Coventry, Birmingham, Leamington and Warwick. However, we plan to expand our offering as the business grows so we can get more treats to more customers!
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I’ve been a keen baker since I was 14 when I made my first wedding cake for a family member. I also come from a family with a strong appreciation for food. Professionally, however, I am not trained and I actually studied Psychology at university! At the end of 2019, I quit my corporate job working in Central London as I was feeling unfulfilled. I wanted to be more creative in my work and do what I do best. That’s when Sugar & Spice was born.
I realised that there was no-one in my area of the Midlands offering artisanal treats like those we now provide. So I decided to move back to my hometown and start my own!
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
There are always a number of challenges to face when starting your own business. Thankfully, I have a few friends and family members who have businesses themselves, and offered to pitch in with support and advice! In terms of finance, Sugar & Spice is completely self-funded, and I’m very glad I was able to do this. There are a lot of pressures when starting a business and thankfully I had saved enough to manage my start-up costs.
In terms of competition, I knew that the Midlands had a few similar businesses with very loyal customers, who would take some convincing to even try Sugar & Spice. The best advice I can give here is to persevere. There have been weeks where I’ve really felt like I’m not making my mark, but I keep with it. Hard work will pay off!
I also enlisted the support of social media influencers, local to my target audience. This has been a very successful way of campaigning. Often, customers will just need a friendly face or an honest review to take the leap and try your product. I now have a number of repeat customers who really enjoy my treats! The great thing about repeat business is, often, it builds more business organically too. I truly believe that if you have a quality product, it will sell.
Who is your target market?
In general, my target market is foodies and often range from the age of 20-50. My products have been described as “grown-up” treats, which I agree with to some extent. This is reflected in some of our more refined flavours like our Chai & Pistachio Cupcakes. That said, I do believe that our product can be enjoyed by people of any age, and we certainly have some young fans!
Our products and packaging are aimed at the luxury end of the market. We give some extra touches, such as our signature pink tissue paper, hand-written labels and carefully decorated treats. They are of the utmost importance to our overall image. Sugar & Spice gives that little bit of extra decadence that works fantastically as a gift or as a special treat for yourself. One of my main mantras for the business is to focus on making people smile. This is one of the most rewarding things about what I do.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
We’ve found that the best way of marketing has been through social media. This encompasses a number of methods such as keeping the business pages updated with new information/pictures to interest customers and posting on our Facebook and Instagram stories daily. We have also enlisted the help of bloggers/influencers to promote or review our products. We always try to stay at the forefront of our customer’s minds.
Being consistent with your marketing approach is incredibly important. I have found that the amount we are posting and promoting our product, directly correlates with our site traffic. This, in turn, correlates with our sales (and I have to say, my Psychology degree has helped here).
Another way I’ve managed to establish myself is by attending Food Markets. I regularly attended the Warwick Market Place Market, which was held every Saturday (pre-COVID-19). Many of my repeat customers have said that they initially tried my cakes and treats there, which made them want to order again. A physical presence always helps and I hope that Sugar & Spice will eventually grow to the point of having permanent premises!
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
I can’t stress this enough but quality is key! With food, if it’s good, customers will come back. We also have a number of product launches in order to keep our existing customers engaged and interested. For example, we have recently released an ‘Afternoon Tea Box’ for people to enjoy at home. The package includes scones, mini Victoria sponges, mini-tarts and (of course) tea, cream & jam! This was released just in time for the spring weather and has had a great response so far. We also make specialised treats for occasions such as Easter & Christmas.
Since we are still a small business, when customers contact us, they’re speaking directly to me. I think this helps. Not only with the sales process but in times when people are deciding what to order. I can always support and recommend products, which you don’t necessarily get with a large corporate business. We also hand deliver everything with a smile!
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
As I currently run the business by myself, it’s very important that I maintain motivation at all times, even through all the stress! As baking and patisserie have always been huge passions of mine, I try and channel the way they make me feel into all aspects of the business.
I also try to create an environment that is efficient, organised and positive too. One of the key things in business is to make sure you don’t lose your nerve. Aiming to be positive really helps this! As I expand the business, I will aim to keep these values at the heart of my business. I aim to have a team that shares my passion and my “get up and go” attitude – which is very important in the kitchen!
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
Squarespace and Squarespace Analytics, with integrated sales platform. Squarespace is the platform I use for my website. The user interface is brilliant and it got me going very quickly. The analytics are also incredibly helpful to keep track of how sales are going, forecasting busy periods and seeing the most popular products on my online store!
Facebook Page App & Instagram Business: Again, the analytics on both of these apps are really helpful. Seeing which content is popular/engaging is very important in this digital age. I have used both of these apps to refine my content and make it more appealing to my customers.
Canva – It’s a great, versatile app that I use to create graphics for the business. Canva also has a feature that makes it easy to switch your branded content sizing really easily, which makes all of my business pages look really uniform.
Starling Bank– A great business banking option, and everything is online!
Expense App by Bookipi– To digitally manage all of my invoices & receipts- makes accounting much easier
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
If I was starting the business today, I would market through social media influencers right from the beginning. Both to gain more momentum and a larger following more quickly. I would also put more into researching my competition and target customers. I’d aim to find out exactly what they like about other businesses and use this to create more elevated products from the beginning, rather than through trial-and-error.
When I started, I also didn’t realise how unstable business can be sometimes, for example, the recent Coronavirus outbreak which has caused the UK-Wide lockdown has had a knock-on effect on business. I initially didn’t have a contingency plan and it looked like Sugar & Spice would have to close temporarily due to legal restrictions.
However, as there aren’t any other employees at risk, I decided to introduce contactless deliveries as the only option during this time, to ensure that the business was complying with legal guidelines. We also introduced the ‘Stay Sweet Box’ which encourages our customers to stay home, and have some treats delivered to them! This has been a hit so far- I think the Stay Sweet Box is a great pick me up, and often our customers will gift this to their friends too!
The best quality you can have as an entrepreneur is adaptability.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I have mentioned this before, but making people happy really is at the heart of what I do. When I quit my job last year, I was in a senior position and was at the beginning of a very promising career but it felt unfulfilling to me because I was lacking that feeling of making people happy- something I had always gotten from baking in the past.
You just can’t beat seeing a smile on someone’s face when they open a box of their favourite treats!
I also love being my own boss. I care about the business so much that I probably overthink everything and work more hours than I need too but I believe that the more you put in at the beginning, the more it will pay off later on, and I’ve never been more motivated to do so!
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The stress! Initially, it was so different to be the only person accountable for absolutely everything, but I have learned quickly how to channel the stress into productivity. Of course, as the business grows, my responsibilities will change and that will bring different challenges – one of the most important lessons you can learn as an entrepreneur is to channel your stress appropriately, don’t let failure be an option & always persevere!
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
This is a great motivational read and I initially read it last year way before I decided to start the business! One thing I love about this book is that it highlights how the little changes can support your productivity and mental state. The underlying message of the book is that failure is all around you, but you can’t live in fear of failure, or you’d get nothing done! When you’re betting on yourself in business, it’s very easy to sweat about the small stuff and let it stress you out but rising above this is what can make someone incredibly successful!
I would recommend that anyone (entrepreneur or not) read this book! Michelle Obama’s book is witty and easy to read. She is also a brilliant female icon too. As an ethnic woman, I found a lot of her stories very relatable, particularly those about her family dynamic’s and relationships, which ultimately shape you as a person. Michelle describes the role of a first-lady as a job role without a title, which I think is something I can certainly relate to as the owner of a business. You never really know what is going to be thrown your way when running a company, but it’s how you manage this that makes all the difference!
I also read a number of baking blogs, recipe websites and watch a lot of Youtube (particularly CupcakeJemma)! The best thing you can do for your business is immerse yourself in it, so I’m always up to date with food trends, new recipes & what’s hot!
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
At the two year mark, I would ideally like to have my own premises. In my head, I’d like this to be an artisan cake shop, where people can come for brunch, afternoon tea, treats & to get great pictures for their social media!
Ideally, I’d have up to 10 members of staff and a larger delivery capability across the midlands. This seems like the next natural step for the business. However, it will require significant investment and I’d like the business to grow organically to this point so that we have a naturally larger number of customers too. In my mind, I can certainly see this very clearly, and hopefully, you will too soon!