35: Wedding & Celebration Cakes – Interview with Shelly from La Belle Cake Co

Today we talk to Shelly from La Belle Cake Company. She’s been running a cake business for 10 years in Bedfordshire, UK.


Tell us about yourself and your company!

Hi, I am Shelly Shulman and I run La Belle Cake Company. We are Bedfordshire’s leading creator of award winning wedding and celebration cakes. Over the last 10 years we have created award winning, bespoke cakes for private, celebrity, corporate, and royal clients.

Working from our established studio location we have extensive experience in creating a wide range of cakes for a variety of occasions from weddings to private parties. Our creations have given great satisfaction to our customers and the positive feedback we receive is testament to the quality of our work. We are proud of the reputation we have established and strive daily to maintain and improve it.


What would you say makes you stand out from other companies?

We believe that our clients deserve the highest quality products and are proud of the creative and bespoke design service that is our unique selling point. This delivers cakes that are original, unique and which feature 100% edible decoration, including hand piped detailing and delicate sugar flowers. It is this dedication to originality, quality and sugar craft sets us apart from others. Our high standards and luxury products have created a brand and reputation that is recommended by some of the finest luxury venues and providers – locally and nationally.

How many years are you in business? How has the business changed throughout the years?

This year we celebrate our 10th Birthday. Over the years we have gone from being a home baker to being based in a gorgeous studio. We have also rebranded to represent the luxury and quality products and service we offer to our clients.

What was your most interesting project?

My most interesting project was my most challenging. It involved creating a 75ft long cake for the 75th birthday of London Luton Airport. Working out the logistics of both making and delivering such a large cake really took us forward as a company.

What would you recommend other entrepreneurs? How to get started?

To other entrepreneurs I would say go with the flow and don’t expect too much too soon. A business takes time to grow. I have a number of wedding suppliers asking me how I got recommended here and there but its been through taking the time to build relationships with people. Success doesn’t happen overnight.

How do you acquire new customers?

We get a lot of new customers via recommendations from both previous clients and other suppliers. This can be verbal and by social media. We are lucky that by having a shop location in a town location we have a high footfall of passing trade which gets our name out. However a great piece of advise I was given was to go after new customers last. Its all about forming long lasting relationships with your current client base.

How do you use LinkedIn?

I use LinkedIn to network with other suppliers, post press releases and images of my latest designs. It’s a great way of reaching out to those people who aren’t on Facebook and Twitter in a more professional setting.

What is the best business decision you’ve ever made?

The best business decision I have made is rebranding. After being in business for 8 years changing a company’s identity can be risky but it’s paid off. Our company has gone from strength to strength and features in more high end publications.

How many people are involved in your business?

I am the main person in the business but I do have people who help me out so I can focus on what I do best which is making the cakes. I have someone who helps with my social media, someone who bakes the cakes and also a business mentor who looks over my business and spots the little things that make a huge difference.

How do you stay productive and not get distracted?

Customer Satisfaction is my goal and if I get distracted than it shows in my work so I alway keep the customer at the forefront of my mind and that keeps me focused. I also find time management helps and setting certain times for certain tasks like emails etc means I focus 100% on one task at a time.

Any books about setting up a business you can recommend?

I love business books. I have read books by Karen Brady, Duncan Bannatyne and Lord Sugar and take a little bit from each. Every business is unique so there is no one definitive book that I would recommend but I think keeping an open mind and taking other peoples opinions and suggestions on board is always good. There is always room for growth.

What inspired you to start this business?

My nan was a fantastic cake maker and my mum used to make all of mine and my sisters birthday cakes as a child so when I had my own children it was a given I would make their birthday cakes. At one of their parties another parent asked me to make a cake for their child and the business grew naturally from there. When it started to interfere with my day job then I made the decision to do one or the other and I chose cakes.

What is your daily routine of running your business?

I get into the studio at 8.30 and first things first – the kettle goes on. Then I answer any emails and make sure all admin is up to date. My tasks changes daily, Wednesday I focus on making the decorations that will adorn the cakes that week and Thursday and Friday are spent covering and decorating the cakes. Saturday is set aside for wedding cake consultations as well as delivering that weeks creations.

What are the best and worst parts of running your business?

The best part is the customer satisfaction and the lovely emails we get. The looks on children faces when they come and collect their cakes. The worst part is being where the buck stops. Being self employed everything starts and ends with me so that can be overwhelming at times.

Are there any blogs, podcasts or Facebook Groups about business you follow closely?

I follow a lovely lady called Bite Me Marketing who always shares helpful tips and advise. The Girls mean business is also great. I think it is good though to have faith in your own ability – following too many blogs too closely can give you conflicting advise and you can end up doubting your self. Its always good to follow your own heart and your gut.

To learn more about Shelly’s cake business please visit Labellecakecompany.co.uk.

34: Bespoke celebration cakes – Interview with Jennie from Jennies Cakes

Today we feature Jennie Turnbull from JenniesCakes.co.uk who makes cupcakes and bespoke cakes.

Jennie Turnbull from Jennie's Cake in Wyboston
Jennie Turnbull from Jennie’s Cake in Wyboston

Tell us about yourself and your company!

You could call me a workaholic but I just like to be the best at what I do. If it involves cake then there is something I do. Along with bespoke cakes, cupcakes, cookies, bakery cakes, tarts, tea boxes and other treats, I also cater for serviced tea parties and buffets. Adult and children’s parties for cupcake decorating and teach private and group classes for baking and cake decorating.

What would you say makes you stand out from other companies?

Cake decorating is a very competitive market to be in, so I do offer a lot of things that other cake makers don’t. In this market you have to be constantly evolving to stay in business.

How many years are you in business? How has the business changed throughout the years?

5 years I have been in business and it has changed massively. For the first couple of year I just made cakes and cupcakes just to see how things went but now I am catering for whole weddings and teaching other people baking skills.

What was your most interesting project?

There have been so many challenging cakes that I have loved doing and I also appeared on DIY SOS with cupcakes but I think the most interesting thing is where I can take my company next.

What would you recommend other entrepreneurs? How to get started?

Research everything; trust your gut and you must have a passion for what you do

How do you acquire new customers?

I do use social media but mainly Facebook and I post on groups and things if I want to concentrate on, like Mother’s day orders or special offers, I also run a few competitions. I also have a website which does well and I am on a local website for recommended business. It is not something I really have to worry about now as I have worked hard to build up my reputation and most new customers are recommended to me and they come back for all their special occasions.

How do you use LinkedIn?

I’m on there but really don’t use it, I don’t think it really fits in for my profession.

What is the best business decision you’ve ever made?

Jumping in with 2 feet and becoming my own boss.

How many people are involved in your business?

Just me, I do everything then I have a team of ladies for functions. Hard work yes and I have thought about hiring but that is a bit of a headache at the moment with no time to train anyone.

How do you stay productive and not get distracted?

I am a workaholic!

Any books about setting up a business you can recommend?

Never read any, I basically did a lot of the learning in my jobs. There is nothing like on the job experience, you can’t get that from a book.

What inspired you to start this business?

Someone gave me the idea after I made my daughter’s birthday cake, it took me a while to think about then one day decided to go for it.

What is your daily routine of running your business?

Organisation, double check everything, paperwork, baking, decorating, cleaning and then more of the same, every day. Keeping to appointments, time scales etc all done with lots of tea and the radio on.

What are the best and worst parts of running your business?

The best bits are seeing the looks on people’s faces when they see what I have created for them, also that I can (and should more often) work when I want. The worst is if I have got something wrong, which is not often but it kills me and take me ages to forgive myself, something I don’t think I will ever learn.

Are there any blogs, podcasts or Facebook Groups about business you follow closely?

I follow the big cake makers and anyone that puts up food related recipes, tutorials etc. I also like to go to the gym so I also follow a lot of keep fit people as well as it makes me feel better about eating so much cake!

To learn more about Jennie’s cake business please visit JenniesCakes.co.uk.

33: Japanese snacks – Interview with Rich & Malc from Taste Japan

Today we feature another subscription box business. This time Japanese snacks from Taste Japan.

Taste Japan - Dark Red Final

What kind of business do you run? When did you start and where are you based?

We run a subscription box business that focuses on Japanese snacks and candy. We’ve been going for about a year and a half now and thankfully, we are going strong despite new services popping up all the time.

We are based in the city of Nagoya in central Japan and hand-pick all of the contents for our boxes locally. At the moment the contents are exclusively snacks and candy, however we are in the process of including other Japanese food such as Miso soup, noodles, etc.

What are the biggest challenges of running a subscription box business?

One of the biggest challenges we face is how to keep our boxes “fresh”, so to speak. We like to have something new every month, so that all of the snacks in the box haven’t been featured in previous months. That way, both long term and new subscribers can both enjoy the surprise of trying something new. That means there is often a lot of virtual and physical legwork to find products that we think all of our subscribers will appreciate.

Companies in Japan do, however, often run seasonal variations of their products. It makes this kind of subscription service model absolutely perfect for this country – almost every few weeks there will be a limited run of unique flavored beer, crisps, gum or chocolate. The only problem then is sourcing enough of them to meet all of our subscribers needs!

What is typically in a box? How much do you charge per box?

Usually we try to include a good variety of products. This means one or two gummy sweets, one or two chocolate bars or pieces of chocolate, some potato crisps, some hard candy, a cookie and one or two novelty items (DIY kits, joke sweets, traditional Japanese candy, miso soups etc). Generally there are 9 or 10 items per box, and we charge £15 GBP per month (which is around $20.80 right now). That includes free shipping to almost all countries worldwide.

What makes you different from other similar companies?

Because we’re smaller than some of our competitors, it’s easier for us to get time-limited or seasonal products in large enough quantities to meet the needs of all of our customers. Just last month, we were able to include some very limited strawberry shortcake potato crisps which have recently been featured on a few different blogs around the internet. We also like to think that we’re much more personal, being approachable with questions or requests at any time. We’ve had a few custom requests for boxes of soda, packs of miso, Japanese beer and even green tea in the past. We’re more than happy to go out of our way to try and get these if asked. Also, our monthly newsletter is full of great trivia about each month in Japan.

I’ve seen you have set up the site fairly simple with WordPress. Did you require outside help to design the website?

As we are such a small outfit, we didn’t want to involve anyone else in the design and set-up phase of Taste Japan. We did literally everything ourselves which we believe made the process much more rewarding and motivating. Neither of us had a great deal of experience with creating websites, so WordPress was an obvious choice – it is a great tool for anyone and we highly recommend it.

Within a week or so we had a simple but very functional site up and running ready to take orders from subscribers.

We did consider getting outside help to set up a more professional site like other Japanese subscription boxes obviously have, but we thought that by doing it ourselves we’d find more enjoyment and learn something new along the way.

Do you think it’s a problem to use a .net domain? Did you try to buy the .com domain?

When we decided on the name Taste Japan we searched for the .com domain which is owned by one of those companies that buy up addresses in hoards. If i remember correctly we were offered it for $50,000 after contacting the company directly. Obviously that kind of money wasn’t and still isn’t an option for us so we decided to go with the .net domain.

For us it has worked out pretty well – we bought the name through WordPress which was an extremely easy and painless process which is simply renewed every year. In terms of traffic it hasn’t really affected us – we still have visitors in the hundreds of thousands and all four corners of the world.

One thing it may have had an affect on is our Google ranking. If you type in ‘Japanese Subscription Box’ we only show up on the third page which is obviously not ideal. But happily a ‘Taste Japan’ search ranks us at number one of 7,530,000 results.

Which resources to run your business do you use most?

We only use a few. Our database and accounting is updated by ourselves on our own systems. However, we obviously use WordPress and our social media accounts such as Twitter and Facebook a lot.

In terms of the back end, we use a service called Moon Clerk (highly recommended), Stripe and in certain cases PayPal to collect subscription fees.

But for us, probably the most useful tool we use to run the business is Dropbox. This tool is absolutely essential for us as it allows us to work on documents from a variety of places. For example, at Christmas one of us returned to the UK for the festive period which meant we could work together from both the UK and Japan.

Other tools we use include Skype and Japanese messaging system LINE to keep costs down.

What are the best and worst parts of running your business?

The best part is doing everything ourselves and learning along the way. We pick up new things all the time – how to fix little glitches, how to maximise our time, streamlining processes, etc.

The worst part is when we get fraudulent purchases – for us it is difficult to check the legitimacy of the transactions due to the fact that we sent boxes globally. We leave that up to our collection service however sometimes fraudulent transactions slip through the cracks. The result is usually dealing with banks/individuals who have had their card charged without them knowing. Luckily the problem is not too common!

Do you get a lot of business from Social Media? How do you get new customers?

Social media has been great for us. We decided from the outset that we didn’t have a big enough team or budget to spend a great deal on advertising. As such, in the early days we would just send out a few free sample boxes to famous social media celebs and hope that the redirects from their postings / videos would lead people to sign up to our subscription service. Luckily, it did, and within a few months we were up and running.

We try to keep the social media ball rolling by posting regular pictures, updates, competitions and discount chances on all our different branches of social networking service (SNS).

Ready to start snacking? Head over to tastejapan.net.

31: Gourmet Marshmallows – Interview with Oonagh Simms from The Marshmallowist

Today blog post features Oonagh Simms who runs a marshmallow company in London.


What kind of business do you run? When did you start it and where is it based?

I make gourmet marshmallows in unexpected flavours, from strawberry and basil to blueberry and sipsmith gin. These are sold in luxury retailers as well as bars and restaurants throughout the UK.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I moved to Paris at 18 and trained as a patisserie / chocolatier. After 4 years I returned to the UK to live in London and began working for a luxury chocolate company. It was then that I realised something was missing in British confectionary. You see, in Paris I would make perhaps 4 different types of marshmallow a week. They were used in the famous Gateau Royal, brought along to dinner parties or served as a petite four. But in England they were just pink and white puffs. I started experimenting after work with different flavour combinations, using fresh fruits and herbs and spices. Some were successful, some were less so. But after a while I had flavours that I felt tasted incredible and a product that tasted unlike anything else.


What inspired you to start this business?

I managed to blag a Saturday market stall on Portobello Road and alongside a friend, we started to sell the marshmallows. I would make them at night and we would work the stall together on a Saturday. At first it was just a way of me testing new marshmallow flavours (and making a bit of extra money) but very quickly the marshmallows started getting lot of attention – Vogue magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, the BBC.

That was 4 years ago and a lot has changed since- The Marshmallows are now stocked by Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. I have my own bakery and have taken on fantastic staff to work alongside me. I’ve just finished my first recipe book which comes out soon, have some really exciting collaborations and I’m finally starting to feel as though I might just be getting there.

What is your daily routine of running your business?

Although years of working in bakeries and kitchens meant that I had to be up at the crack of dawn, thankfully, I don’t have to do that anymore. I wake up at 7.30 and I’m in the bakery by 9. Being a ‘marshmallowist’ sounds quite soft and fluffy but I seem to spend most of my day carrying out extremely heavy lifting. Attaching large mixer bowls to a one ton hobart, fixing broken strings on my ganache cutter, lifting 25 kilo bags of sugar from my van.

The marshmallow process takes 3 days from chopping fruit to make the fresh puree, to whipping up the sugar, pouring , setting, cutting, conditioning and then packing.

Our online shop sends alerts to my phone so as soon as someone places an order, it comes straight through to the kitchen. Making sure that customers come to our online store and are happy enough to order again is really important- 70% of my business is through our web shop. So I had to very quickly get out of the ‘chef’ mind-set and think about design and creative aspects of the company. How we package and wrap the marshmallows how customers feel when they get them.

I take all the photographs for our Instagram account and social media so I always have to remind myself to stop what I’m doing and take a picture of it instead. It isn’t something that I gave much thought to before but over the last year it’s become increasingly important- it’s also a great way of connecting with food lovers, food producers and chefs. Being in a kitchen all day can be quite isolating – so being part of an online community, even if that’s 100 people liking a new flavour you’ve made makes it a lot more satisfying.

Events take over a lot of my evenings – I offer a pop up stand and S’more station for corporate parties, weddings, street food markets, I love doing these and am never happier than when selling or serving on a stall. If I’m not setting up at one of these then I’m catching up on emails, invoicing and accounting – this has really crept up on me. At first it was easy enough to manage but as the business has grown I had to get my head around spreadsheets a lot faster than I would have liked.

What are the best and worst parts of running your business?

The perks of the job are unimaginable – I get to decide who I want to work with, how I want things to look, sound, taste. I also realised that I couldn’t do it all by myself so, last year, my sister Jenny came to work with me – being able to do this together means that the downsides (the lack of money and lack of social life) aren’t quite so hard.

What would you recommend new entrepreneurs? How to get started?

I never set out to be an ‘entrepreneur’ I just learnt a craft and thought that I would be quite happy doing that – making chocolates, creating new flavour combinations, working in a kitchen as part of a team.

Any books about entrepreneurship you can recommend?

Quite unorthodox but, Peter Hook’s autobiography Hacienda- How not to run a club. A brilliantly written account of setting up and running the famous Hacienda nightclub in Manchester in the 80s and 90s. Of course it was a genre changing behemoth and was set up through sweat, passion and creativity but it ended up costing them a fortune. Bankrupting all of the owners more than once. A lot of very important lessons on falling into owning a business to be learnt. It is also a really fun read.

Want to learn more about Oonagh’s company? Please visit Themarshmallowist.com, to buy her book please click here.