'Covid Has Evolved My Business, This is How I Rose to The Challenge' - Women's Health

‘Covid Has Evolved My Business, This is How I Rose to The Challenge’

One flamboyant baker's recipe for success.

by | Oct 8, 2021

A small Melbourne-based home-baking business Sweet Bakes, shot to stardom, largely thanks to a nationwide phenomenon called Cake Mail. Here, female founder and H&R Block SMB Ambassador Alisha Henderson explains how she kept the momentum going through a world-wide pandemic.

If you had told 18-year-old Alisha fresh out of high school, that in 2021 she would be celebrating 8 years of a thriving baking business … she would have laughed hysterically (in fact I’m certain I can hear that cackle from here in the future). Not only was running a business never the intended plan, but one in the food industry. Absolutely unthinkable! 

Working & training as a professional dancer whilst studying a journalism degree, certain a career in media was where I was headed was how I entered my adult working life. Baking treats for friends was a fun little hobby that I began to share across Instagram in any spare time I had. Very quickly & much to my surprise I had strangers asking how they could order my very amateur baking. Never one to shy away from an opportunity for extra pocket money (because let’s be honest the dancer wages weren’t very cushiony) I decided “Okay, let’s bake for the people of Melbourne!”  The momentum that was to follow can only be described as full steam ahead, and I have not looked back since! 

Sweet Bakes has evolved from a wedding & event cake supplier to an author of children’s books and prior to covid an edu-caker both online and in person, which became my full-time income. Teaching others to bake & make both in Australia and overseas was a true thrill & saw my days in the kitchen physically dwindle. This was a business structure I loved & was certain was set to continue! 

Once that first lockdown hit, those opportunities ceased to exist & the mood around of course felt somber. If there is anything I’ve learnt on this sweet ride so far, it’s that all problems can be solved with a slice of cake. And so, the revival of Cake Mail Club began!

Cake mail originally was a concept I created early in my wedding cake making days, as a way to streamline the cake tasting process for potential brides and grooms. Once a month I would send out a box of delicious samples in various flavours via overnight post. The excitement for cake mail I truly think outweighed that of the actual wedding cake!

I knew this was the ticket to baking people’s days a little bit brighter & one that could keep Sweet Bakes a float. The first dispatch sold out faster than I could have ever expected, which I baked from my old, registered kitchen I had set up at my parents’ home. With the dreaded feeling that lockdown wasn’t going anywhere & the need for cake was only going to ramp up, I moved myself into a new commercial premise and my world of shippable sweets took off like a rocket!  

Alisha Henderson, Founder of Sweet Bakes

Here’s how I rose to the Covid challenge 

1. Read the room 

Listening to my clients, audience or just the general feel of the world around me was crucial. Australians were desperate not only to order sweets to bring a touch of joy to their own lives, but to also send cake as surprise gifts to friends, which was truly beautiful. The appreciation I have for feedback & instantly taking those things on board has really been pivotal to the success I’ve encountered the last 18 months.

2. Community is key

Establishing a community of those who are in your same industry that you can reach out to for support is crucial. Those are your peers, community over competition ALWAYS. There is truly enough work around for everyone to have their own piece of pie, a scarcity mindset will not benefit anybody & the connections I’ve made within my own industry (which can very often be extremely isolating) are friendships that I treasure. I encouraged ALL bakers to jump on the cake mail bandwagon, created a hashtag where all treats could be found for potential customers & was thrilled to share hundreds of other bakers work on my Instagram platform. This helped us ALL to connect with sweet tooth’s!

3. Work with experts

nvest in an accounting system and find a tax preparation firm (like H&R Block Australia) that works for you, whether that be something quite visual or a stellar spreadsheet, it’s important to know what you need…particularly in times of stress! The covid period has added new revenue streams & advice from my accountant relating to covid based business grants has been invaluable!

4. Give & receive

I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to give back. This doesn’t have to take the form of charitable cash donations but giving any resource or experience to your community that’s going to improve their day! For me, this can be sharing recipes, baking tips, giving out a free box of cake mail, or just offering up a bit of entertainment online like a court jester. I am so grateful for the abundance of support I’ve received during Covid & love being able to give that back at any opportunity I can! It’s a beautiful loop of the more I give the more I get back in return. 

5. Know your strengths

It’s important when running a business to understand most aspects of its daily functions, however wearing EVERY hat is not wise. My strengths lie in the creative aspects of Sweet Bakes, inventing new flavours & putting my energy into creating a fun, happy & uplifting social media space. Outsourcing roles, like the entirety of my accounting to experts, gives me so much more freedom to focus on what’s important to me. Particularly at the quarterly BAS time where H&R Block take care of all those lodgements for me so I can dance about in the kitchen. 

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