Well hello, this is my first blog post on this here brownie site. Some of you know me from Recipes from a Normal Mum, some from the Great British Bake Off, some from supplying brownies to St Martins Coffee in Leicester or In Haus in Stoneygate (again in Leicester). And some of you won’t know me at all. You might have been sent some brownies by a well meaning friend or family member and found yourself wondering who this Mrs Bell lady is. To all of you; hello, welcome and thanks for stopping by. Do you want to hear a bit about the first 10 days of trading and hat is was like? Do you want to know if this kind of thing is up your street? Okay, sit down and I’ll tell you a few secrets.
I think the best way to go about this is in a list format. I’ll keep it snappy and then I can always come back next week and elaborate on the areas you find interesting.
- Business doesn’t happen overnight, but then sitting and procrastinating for 2 years is a fool’s game (erm hello that fool would be me!) I have been thinking of doing this for some time but it took getting divorced and needing to make more money to push me to make the website live. And my boyfriend putting a date in our shared diary saying that was the launch day.
- To run a business online you need to understand a certain level of the tech side. But you also need to cut yourself some slack that you will never know everything. It’s no good having to pay someone every time you want to add a new variety of brownie to the site, but equally, learning to code is just not for everyone. Find a good tech person and factor them into your costs.
- DO NOT use Braintree as a payment gateway (google this if you wish – it has dreadful reviews on trustpilot and is owned by Paypal which makes it seem like a good option). I used Braintree to start with and had so many issues. The help desk at Paypal basically refused to help and I lost some money. It’s so infuriating I am typing this with gusto! Try Stripe or something else. If you are using Woocommerce as your method of selling on your site (which I do recommend) then please contact them and have a chat with them – they are incredibly helpful. And google everything to see reviews. I know it’s boring but it’s your business. You need to get this stuff right.
- Do your research. Buy the competitors products. I have already had some competitors buy my brownies. I take this as a compliment. Years ago I bought brownies from many of the competitors and that’s what led me to use a tin rather than a box. Research is everything.
- You can’t please all the people all the time. One person was quite critical of my choice to use tins and not give the option of a cardboard box. That’s fine. Move along. Don’t start an argument. They are entitled to their opinion, it just so happens in these social media times that they feel the need to share it with you. Move along and say thanks. (And curse to your partner/friends/the goldfish).
- You will get a lot of contact from people asking for details of your suppliers, your costs, your recipes, your web person, who designs your tins. You DO NOT have to share this information. As a people pleasing woman I know I am prone to trying to help people and be ‘nice’. You don’t have to be nice all the time. Why should you share all the information you have gathered? Spend time on YOUR business. You are not google.
- Now, costs. It is very hard to put costs up once you have set them ,so be careful that you factor everything into your retail price. Think about your rent or mortgage, you gas or electricity, your ingredients, your hardware and the wear and tear (mixer, tins etc), your web costs, your cleaning materials, your packaging, your insurance (you need special business insurance – google it), your petrol, your time baking, your time buying ingredients, your time packaging. Your prices will always be too high for some people. That’s okay. Others might think you are too cheap. Just keep on carrying on. But know your costs. I know the EXACT amount every tin costs. To the penny. You need to know this stuff. And keep records. Spreadsheets. Buy a spike for your receipts. Simple stuff, but useful stuff.
- Royal Mail, when they work, are ace. When they deliver brownies late or lose stuff (thankfully not happened yet but of course it will) they are infuriating. In my first week of trading a customer did not receive their brownies. I sent her another tin. She then let me know when her brownies did turn up (the originals and the new ones) and she seems happy now. I apologised. It doesn’t matter that it’s not my ‘fault’. It matters that someone felt a bit upset after ordering and not getting the thing they ordered. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Be the customer. But also, not every customer is right. Sometimes you will receive helpful but brutal feedback and it will make your heart sink. Move on.
- Get some Ikea bags for taking your orders to the post office. They are strong and easy to carry and waterproof.
- Prepare for those around you to feel a bit pushed aside. My sons definitely felt it when I started trading. They had some sandwich teas and maybe watched a bit of extra TV that week. It has evened out and calmed down and now I know a few things about managing my time better.
- Sleep is everything. Try not to compromise on it too much. I slept about 4 hours a night in my first week. I am now feeling pretty wretched from that sleep deficit. Then again I really need my sleep.
- Get your product right. Test, test and test! I know that my brownies are good. I know that sounds arrogant, but hey, they’re the best thing I make. I know that I can’t sell bread for instance. I’m okay at it. Some of my bread is lovely, but it’s not my ‘thing’. And don’t get pushed into stocking something you’re not happy with. SO many people have asked about vegan brownies and GF brownies. I don’t have a recipe I feel is good enough at the moment. Similarly I have been asked repeatedly about mixed tins. I am not going to do that until I can guarantee I have all the brownies in stock (I rarely do – it’s just me baking and demand has been high) and that I can service the extra level of admin required to package up three separate packages. Mixed boxes also mean inevitable wastage as I don’t bake in trays of 4, I bake in trays of 24 which I split into two tins. Can the business afford that wastage at the moment? Hell no! I am not breaking even yet from all the investment. I can only do what I can do, it’s just me. So if you can’t do something, just say. You might be able to one day.
- Shop around for your ingredients. And be prepared to be asked why you are buying 300 eggs in one go. (Sometimes I just stare blankly and say I really like eggs, just for fun. I know, you have to get your kicks somewhere though). Wholesalers make buying large quantities easier. They have large car parks, large trolleys, barely any customers and always a good degree of stock. But you pay for this. Neither Makro or Costco are the best place for me to buy anything. They are way more expensive than any supermarket locally. I say this as I think it’s exciting when you start a business and there’s a feeling of wanting to have a Makro card and be part of that exclusive club. I have a card but only use them as a last resort when I am desperate for something and nowhere else has it. (VERY rare).
- Think about how you run the business and how you handle demand. In my online shop I don’t allow people to just order anything. I stock the shop with however many packages I have of each flavour and then when they’re gone, they’re gone. I don’t allow back orders either. I can’t be in a situation where I get 400 orders in one day for next day delivery. I have a family, I am a single mother, I have to balance my life. I know some business owners don’t run their online shops like that, but each to their own. I am not great with stress so this is how I minimise it.
- Get some really good bath stuff (bath bombs and nice bath oil) in before you press go on the business. (I think I am sponsored by Lush at the moment). Chances are you will be lugging around heavy stuff and not sleeping a huge amount. You need to look after yourself and your aching muscles.
- Celebrate your victories. You started a business! You are the boss of you! You rock! Well done and have a big glass of fizz to celebrate (or whatever is your thing). It’s not easy, but you’ve got this.