How to set up your own bakery - advice from Maria Goodman from Molly Bakes

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Victoria Gray
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When the daily grind becomes too much, our mind can wander to throwing in the towel and doing something whimsical like writing novels, illustrating children's books or even baking as a living. 

But how realistic is the idea of setting up a bakery? With baking popularity at an all time high thanks to shows like The Great British Bake Off and a series of cookbooks from famous bakers being launched seemingly every day, the baking world is fiercely competitive. How would you survive if you had no former skills?

We spoke to baker Maria Goodman, who was made redundant from a job as a talent agent in 2009 and now runs Molly Bakes, a successful East London bakery, creating made to order cakes, cupcakes and layer cakes for occasions.

Maria says she "didn’t ever want to be in an office job, but fell into the comfortable trap of having a monthly salary." So when she was made redundant, the day before her 29th birthday, her first thought wasn't 'I'll miss this', but "great, I've got some time to bake some cupcakes for my birthday party."

Over the next six months, she used baking as a habit to relax herself around trying to find a new job in fashion styling, but when that didn't work out, she thought she'd try selling her cakes at a market stall after friends had commented on how amazing they looked on Facebook. Investing the last of her savings to buy ingredients and baking out of her parents kitchen, Maria managed to secure some orders for cakes from customers at the stall to support herself.

Over the weeks the popularity of her cakes crew and Maria's Brick Lane market stall led to a concession in Selfridges and eventually a successful made-to-order bakery. Maria has now written two books, one on cake pops and another on chocolate. Having rarely baked before starting the business, Maria says "it feels weird to have people coming to me for baking advice, but it's definitely a rewarding feeling to be in a position where people appreciate your advice."

Maria spends most of her days in the bakery, fulfilling orders with her team of bakers, as well as taking care of the marketing side of the business, but loves that "no two days are ever the same - it's such a varied job that you'll never get bored."

She spoke to exclusively to reveal the secrets of her success and give advice to any budding bakers wanting to take their habit to the next level.

You don't need to have years of experience to start up a business like a bakery

"I literally invested the last of my savings - £300 - on ingredients and baked out of my parents' kitchen. Although my family have always baked, I never really did it before I had the time when I was made redundant but I learnt fast and people liked what I did. If I knew what I did now, I might have gone to get a job in a commercial bakery and learnt how it all works but I never really had a plan or a base for my business. After getting a deal with Selfridges I started sharing a commercial kitchen in Hackney and when you invest in things like fridges and ovens you realise it is a real business."

Do something original

"I started doing cake pops, which were slightly more original as they were new at the time and doing something different gave me a bit of an edge. At the time (2009), cupcakes were starting to take off as a trend and bakeries like Hummingbird and Lolas were the big names for those, but my cake pops were something different - but still delicious!"

Have a thick skin

"The first couple of weeks on the stall in Brick Lane were hard, when people don’t know your name or trust that you're any good, but it became fun quickly. After eight months I had to give up the stall to make time to fulfil orders. I didn’t even have a website for two years, even in this digital age it all spread through word of mouth. I don’t know how I got away with it!

"It was hard for years, sometimes you thinking ‘am I going to make money’ and even now, because orders don’t usually come far in advance, we can start the month with an empty diary and I panic, thinking ‘no one likes cakes anymore, are they going to order’. I think a lot of business people who do things based on demand feel the same."

Be flexible and listen to what customers want

"Listen to customer feedback – it’s so important, and will help you shape the business to what your customers want which might help you survive. What I liked about having a market stall was seeing people’s responses and reactions to the cakes. I don’t see that as much now but 75% of my customers order more than once, and we have a few who order a cake from us for every birthday or occasion which is lovely."

Prepare to focus and make sacrifices for a while

"I had to sacrifice a lot, I didn’t buy clothes, have a holiday or much of a social life for a year. You have to be prepared to make sacrifices. I didn’t even care what I looked like, I was just so focussed on getting it all done. You can’t afford to treat yourself when you’re starting a new business, but it's worth it in the end. When I was given a book deal in 2011 and just six weeks to write it, was when I started hiring extra people to help out and from there I could manage my own time more."

But also value your own time - it's the most precious thing

"I definitely underpriced the cakes at first – especially for bespoke ones. But you learn that you have to be paid for your time. And that’s factoring in all the other costs of the business – electricity, rent for your building, booking couriers – it all takes time and costs money, and you need to value that you’ve done that to make a profit. You’re not doing someone a favour. For bespoke cakes for instance, however long you think it will take needs doubling and that should be factored into how much they're worth."

Recognise the little successes

"It was around a year before I started getting decent sized orders but one of my favourite stories is that I made some cupcakes for a newspaper’s birthday party. They asked me to send in some samples, and then phoned and said they’d tried samples from five different bakers including some big names, but they liked mine most. It was then that I felt like something of a success. I’d only been in business for two a couple of months and thought ‘yes, I can do this.' Since then I've made cakes for names like Lady Gaga, Lindsay Lohan and Fearne Cotton so people must like something!"

Be aware you might not succeed financially at first

"One thing I would have done differently is take a part time job at the beginning – I had a few orders a week, and it was taking off at my stall, but I could have supplemented my income with a part time job. But then I might not have had as much time to bake so the business probably grew faster and I was lucky I could rely on my parents so it’s knowing what to prioritise."

But always keep trying

"I approached Selfridges after a year of working on a market stall and taking orders. I then sold wholesale for two years, which was when the business reached a cost. I just called the buyer after finding out her name and guessing her email address – Google is your friend in this situation and you won’t know unless you try. I went in for a one to one meeting, which wasn’t at all like the meetings you see in The Apprentice or Dragon’s Den but I managed to get them to buy my cake pops. I think that because I was passionate they liked me – when you've got your own product and you’re passionate about it, you’re naturally confident about it."

Believe in yourself - and your cakes

"A lot of people have started businesses because what they’re making is trendy but if the product isn’t good, they’ll fail. You have to make sure you believe your product is as good as the best ones out there. If someone has talent and believes in themselves, they should do what makes them happy – and doing something like this will make them happy, as it’s made me."

Images: Chris O'Donovan, Molly Bakes Words: Victoria Gray

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Victoria Gray

Victoria is a contributor for She covers lifestyle and food pieces for the site. When on the internet she can be found tweeting feverishly about Great British Bake Off, and offline she is never happier than when in the company of some wine and cheese.