Pia CatoHow it all started…

Baking had always been part of my childhood. I would pretend to be Delia Smith. Talking to an imaginary camera crew while I whipping up an ‘interesting’ cake of some description. I hardly ever used recipes. Well Delia never did., Needless to say there was plenty of mixed results! (I will add that when I did use recipes they always worked perfectly!).  

As well as honing my baking skills and I could often be found playing ‘business woman’ in my parents antique shop. I liked to file and pretend to send faxes to my clients! (I was clearly a 90s child!).   I think I knew then that I wanted to be my own boss but I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew I didn’t want to sell antiques (sorry Dad!) but I also knew I wanted to do something I was passionate about.

Fast forward to my early teens and we had moved from my childhood home of Lewes to the small town in Kent called Edenbridge. Unfortunatly I become horribly ill with M.E. and was forced to put my my life on hold for 2 years while I concentrated on getting my health to stage where I could actively take part in a normalish life. It was my top priority but I took things one step at a time and was able to achieve 6 GCSEs, complete my A-levels, experience 3 months working in the marketing department at the Singapore Indoor Stadium in Singapore and attend university.  Although not completely recovered I know how to manage me health these days. It is still my top priority and has forced me to look at life in a different way, but it doesn’t mean I will let it hold me back. In fact it makes me more determined!

My motto for life…

The one step at a time saying has become my motto for life. I think it great as you can apply it to everything and it works for every one. Especially in the cake world, I am not sure about you but when I look at a cake I deconstruct it in my mind and simply see it as a series of shapes, objects and steps.   Sometimes what you want to make or achieve may take a few more steps that you anticipated or it may take you a different route but you will always get to your end goal eventually. Just take it one step at a time.

Back to the story…

Pia Cato winning the Bug Competition at University of Gloucestershire in 2008So I ended up at the University of Gloucestershire studying Marketing Management and Media Communications. It was a fantastic course and I loved every minute of it, made friends for life, learnt all about marketing and business management and a won a business planning competition! 

Winning that business competition set me on the path to the next stage of my life. Launching a cake business. While on a placement year, doing actual marketing for actual companies, I entered a university  business planning competition. My idea a cupcake shop (this was back in 2007 when cupcakes were just starting to get popular), after writing a book like business plan and pitching Dragon’s Den style to a panel of judges I somehow won! It was an amazing experience and I knew then that I had found the ‘how’ to being my own boss. 

Making cakes work for me…

Straight after university I decided to stay in Cheltenham and launch my business, The Vanilla Pod Bakery. But there was a problem, most of my university chums had left, my family were miles away in Kent and I basically didn’t know anyone. Let alone know how to start a business. Sure enough I had written a brilliant plan but actually doing it, well that was the scary part. 

So hustled. And used my business plan. 

I started going to local networking events. Posted my flyers everywhere. Researched all about small businesses. Sought advice from my old university, from Business Link, from any one I thought could help me.  I got a basic website up and running, joined twitter and created a Facebook page. 

Someone told me about a local fete so a booked a stand, made 100 cupcakes and sold out. From there I knew that my business journey had properly started.   It was so exciting selling those first few cakes to complete strangers, some are still clients today! I can remember it like yesterday.

Growing pains…

Within a few months I was dramatically out growing my home kitchen and needed to move to the next step. So I sought advice and applied for a grant from the council, it was 2009, the start of the recession and they were practically throwing money at businesses to move into the town centre.

I moved into a cute bakery just outside the main shopping area of Cheltenham. It was small but perfectly formed.  I took on staff, created every type of cake under the sun from wedding cakes, to birthday cakes, to wholesales as well as selling cupcakes, chocolate brownies and other small cakes at weekly farmers markets and events.   Looking back it now it was far to much to take on but I took it on as I had staff to pay, rent to pay, bills to pay, more bills to pay and even more bills to pay. All I had was bills. 

By 2012 I had lost my focus (which initially was to open a cupcake tea rooms), I was foundering, increasingly undercharging for my cakes and then disaster struct! My website crashed and completely broke down due to an external fault, new cake orders dried up, my bookkeeper took off,  summer fete bookings had to be cancelled due to heavy rain, my debts mounted up, my health was failing,  someone drove into the back of my car and I had to get ride of nearly all of my staff. It was horrible, horrible experience but one that also taught me so many business lessons. 

Getting back on track…

After that horrendous experience I had so many people tell me that you can’t make money in cakes, just give up and get a job. It did briefly cross my mind, but I set out to make my business a success and would do what ever it took to get it there. 

So I started taking note of my life motto, ‘one step at a time’ and slowly but surely got back on track. I hired a business coach, created a new business plan (this time focusing on one area that I enjoyed the most – weddings), started applying what I had learnt from university marketing degree and began to enjoy life again. But there was one thing that was holding me back, my bakery premises. I loved that little place so much but it was not allowing me to move forward so I cancelled the lease and moved the business back home. 

As first was I fearful about not being credible and that people would look down on me for moving back to were I started, but I needn’t have worried as the customers came flooding in.

But I didn’t stop there…

That was five years ago. Since then my confidence in business knowledge and operations has grown dramatically. I know now how to run a successful a cake business, I know how to manage my time, I know to price my cakes for profit, how to target to my perfect customer, how to sell, and best steps to take in order to continue moving my cake business forward. 

The Vanilla Pod Bakery is now doing better than ever and in September 2018 we have moved into a fantastic business premises in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, UK. It is huge (and I have to say the move was a little daunting) but it is so wonderful to watch the business grow and evolve. 

Make Money With Cakes..

In October 2015 I launched Make Money With Cakes, as I felt it was the right time to reach out and offer my business knowledge, advice and support to you.   

Throughout my cake business life I have constantly received emails asking how I did it. How do I make a living from cakes.

Up until 2015 I never felt I could be of any value but after helping a number of cake makers take their cake business to the next level and turn their lives around. I know I have skills, knowledge and experience to help you too.

I have so many wonderful clients who have transformed their lives in to ones they love, filled with cakes and happiness.

What about you…

What is your story?