Sole trader Catrin didn’t plan for her love of baking to turn into a career, but three years after graduating she’s successfully running a business and earning enough to rent her own home. She talked to TARGETjobs about how she reached this point.
When and how did you start your business?
I started my business three years ago; I was just out of uni and had no idea what I wanted to do. A family friend had opened a craft shop in a village near us and I thought wow, people can make a living off of stuff that they made! I was really into this idea. That family friend said to me: ‘If you ever want to sell anything here, you’re more than welcome,’ so I went back to my mum and said: ‘What can I make to sell in the craft shop?’ I’ve always had a keen interest in cooking and baking, but obviously cakes have a short shelf-life. But I’d been making fudge as Christmas presents for family and friends for years and my mum said: ‘Oh, that’s easy; just make fudge.’ It started very much like a summer project while I got a full time job in weddings, initially as a waitress, and did the two alongside each other for two years.
What products do you make?
I make fudge in a number of different flavours, which is the largest part of what I do. I sell them pick ‘n’ mix style; it’s very much ‘build your own box or bag’. Then I do a longer shelf-life project, which is jars of salted caramel sauce for desserts and drinks in multiple flavours.
Do you sell them just through the craft shop?
No – I actually don’t sell them in the craft shop any more. Over time I’ve worked out what kind of selling style works best for me and what’s most profitable. Food festivals are probably the biggest part of what I do when they’re around, but they’re quite seasonal. Then there are farmers’ markets in between, and then obviously Christmas – anything with the word ‘Christmas’ in it you’re onto a winner! I offer the option of online sales and a bit of wholesaling, and I do wedding favours when I get requests for them, but these are not a massive part of what I do.
How did you get the money you needed to grow your business?
In autumn 2016 after I’d been running Fwdge casually for a couple of months, I went travelling with one of my brothers, who is self-employed. I was wondering what I was going to do with the business and he said: ‘Catrin, you should give it a go; being self-employed is the best thing ever.’ When we came back it was the beginning of December, so I booked as many events for Christmas as I could. I made more profit in that month than I’d ever made in any job before, so I paid off all my costs and kept a bit for myself, then opened a business bank account and put in the rest, which was about £500, and it’s grown from there.
When did you go full time on Fwdge?
Last October. At that point I’d worked my way up from waitressing to coordinating weddings but when wedding season ended I was asked to go back and coffee waitress in one of the company’s hotels for the third year in a row. I thought, I don’t really want to do that, I haven’t given my own business a full chance over a Christmas period before. So I decided to pack that job in and went full time.
Is it just you at the moment doing everything, or do you have staff?
It is just me – I do everything. For the bigger food festivals, I do rope in family or friends, but it’s on a very casual and intermittent basis. I’m fortunate that I live in a house with a fairly large kitchen, so I’m able to make all my products here. The environmental health people are very supportive of food production from home businesses up to a certain point.
Have you had to learn everything about running a business from scratch as you’ve been going along?
Pretty much. I have friends who are like ‘Whoa, you do all the accounts!’, but I wouldn’t call any of it very technical; I’m just using Excel spreadsheets and plugging in numbers. In terms of tax returns for HMRC I’m quite fortunate as both my brothers are also self-employed and they’re both older than me, so they’ve been doing this for a while. However, I was really surprised at how easy it is as long as you have all your numbers and your details and you don’t leave it too late – the website just calculates your tax for you. Things like social media and taking pictures for the website I quite enjoy anyway, so I wouldn’t call that a very stressful part of what I do.
Before I started I didn’t have a very accurate idea of what was needed in terms of regulation. This is specifically from a food business point of view, understanding the things you need, such as the different levels of public liability insurance and environmental health checks. But that was just a case of ringing people up and asking: 'What do I need to do?', 'Am I okay doing this?' Some things sound really intimidating; for example, they say you need public liability insurance up to five million pounds, and you think: ‘Okay, how am I going to get that?’, but then you Google it and it’s just standard insurance. It’s not all that expensive.
How are things working out for your financially – are you making enough to pay your bills and rent?
Yes, which constantly amazes me. Some months are better than others. I’m coming up to my second Christmas doing it full-time, so I now have a rough idea of cash flow over the year, and I’m not taking any massive risks, because I’m confident with what I’ve got. Obviously, you are subject to a lot of conditions that you can’t control; in August, for instance, a lot of events were cancelled due to bad weather and in these circumstances you don’t get refunded. But I haven’t had another job in a year. When I decided to go full-time, I figured, I’ll see how it is over Christmas – just before Christmas is an ideal time to start. January and February were pretty quiet, and I’ve learned now that most people take January off, because there’s not really anything around for food. But then it comes back into its own in summer, food festivals and stuff like that. It’s quite mentally challenging sometimes. I’ve learned more about mental health in this last year than I ever had before and that’s been a massive learning curve, because you have to be okay with that uncertainty – it always works out, but it can be quite testing at times.
What advice would you give to students or graduates who are thinking of setting up their own business?
I’m so enthusiastic for anyone who says: ‘I want to give this a go’. I always say: ‘Just do it, if you have the means to do it.’ It’s a great feeling to make a living off what you make and be self-sustained, in that you’ve earned every single bit of money that comes back through the company and you’re in charge of how that money is spent.