I recently had a chat with Jess from Little Bee Bakes. She makes cakes but not just any cakes. Heavenly homemade and crafted creations; brownies, blondies, cookies, flapjacks and more. And she sends them right to your door.
There's much more to Jess and Little Bee Bakes than sweet treats though, so I asked for a little about her time and she kindly agreed to share with me.
We talk about testing the market, growing a subscription service and fighting anxiety...
Stacey, Stacey Tillott Marketing : What made you start your business?
Jess, Little Bee Bakes: I was actually studying to be a mental health nurse, having a lot of experience with anxiety and depression myself. My own mental health took a bit of a turn for the worst and I had to take a break from university. I was at a bit of a loss and really struggling, and my mum suggested maybe I could do something with my love of baking to help me.
It started out as a stop-gap as I was planning to return to uni, but when I realised that wasn’t likely, I focussed all my efforts to really building the business and that’s where I am today!
Stacey: I know from your Instagram stories, you did do stalls for a while with (to quote you) 'mixed success' - are you purely a postal order business now?
Jess: Yes I purely do postal bakes now, it’s what works best for me and the business.
Stacey: Did you always intend to be a postal order business or was it a case of trial and testing in the early days?
Jess: I actually never intended to! I started off just selling cakes locally, mostly to friends and family. It was close to Christmas and a friend who lives a way away asked if I could send some mince pies. I said I’d try, and it all started from there!
Forever grateful for the request to send mince pies in the post!
Stacey: You said in your stories stalls were a good experience. Do you think that even if somebody intends to be a purely postal order business, they should experience stalls?
Jess: I think it’s a good place to start in that it gives you something to build on. You can get a feel for whether people like your product, if they come back each time. I think it would be quite difficult to just launch a postal business without a bit of something behind you to start. But really for me it gave us some income in the first couple of months of starting out.
Stacey: What made you start subscription boxes?
Jess: Food sales can be quite seasonal, with a lot of people buying for Christmas, chocolates at Easter and then not so much in the summer when everyone is on diets! As I’d found stalls to be a bit hit and miss, I was really missing that sort of consistent income.
I thought that running a subscription would be a good idea to be able to get business all the year round. That, and I just thought it would be quite a novel idea and something that customers would really look forward to each month.
Stacey: In your stories, you also talked about photography - how would you rate the importance of photography? Any tips for any new food business owners?
Jess: I think it makes a huge difference. The photos for Little Bee Bakes weren’t good at all to start with, and it’s hard to sell a product through social media when it doesn’t grab you within a few seconds.
When I really started to focus on the business my mum offered to start doing the photos (and I’m not sure why she didn’t offer earlier!). It’s really important to get good lighting for photos, to have a good clear backdrop (we use photoboards which are great) and to make sure you take good angles of the products to really show them off.
Stacey: You're open about dealing with anxiety, which I think is fantastic! How have you managed the ups and downs of running a business? Any tips for others who struggle, particularly on the tougher days in business?
Jess: Thank you! In the early days, I really struggled with it on bad days. It was tough when things went wrong or I was stressed out with things. There were a lot of tears and a lot of people picking me up.
3 years down the line it has taught me to be so much more resilient. There are times where my anxiety gets bad and the first thing I struggle with is my social media. I think my tip for that would be to plan ahead, try and schedule a few posts, even if it’s just planning the photos or just the general idea of the post.
I think another important thing to think about is processing times. We’re not all Amazon Prime and can’t all turnaround things at lightening speed; if you know you might struggle then make sure you set realistic processing times for you, so your customers know what to expect and so you don’t run yourself into the ground. I know this is something I have to consider at busy times, so I’m not giving myself unnecessary anxiety.
Stacey: How do you find Instagram as a platform? Do you get a lot from other bakers and food makers on the platform and do you feel there's a good supportive community?
Jess: I think for businesses, it’s such a great platform and there is such a great sense of community. I’ve found lots of bakers and foodie businesses through the platform which is really great – it’s inspiring seeing people do so well and growing their businesses and to share in the ups and downs.
I’ve also found a huge support in the Just a Card community, championing small businesses. It’s so good to know that people are all going through the same things, no matter what craft they have.
Stacey: Any general tips for other who want to start a subscription postal business within food?
Jess: It’s a funny one for me because I sort of fell into this, and less than a year ago my business wasn’t really going anywhere. So knowing what I know now is to do your research. The biggest game changer for me was my packaging, so definitely spend time working on not just your product but the way it’s packaged and how it looks to the consumer.
I think in an age of social media, especially Instagram stories, you want something that grabs someone as soon as they see it.
If you want to start a subscription business then definitely look for a gap in the market, what isn’t there. When I had the idea of the cake subscriptions, a quick Google search told me there were very few and so I knew it was something that was fairly unique.
And also just remember that you can adapt and change things as you go along, followers and customers like to join along in the journey – so if you need to adapt things don’t be afraid to do it.
Find Little Bee Bakes:
Jess from Little Bee Bakes