Making life sweeter one bite at a time
Quitting your job to start your own business can be both daunting and rewarding at the same time. Tamara Jayne chats with Pang about her journey thus far and some of the challenges she has faced.
Why did you decide to bake?
I have been interested in baking for a long time, but only dabbled in it when I moved to Kuala Lumpur for college.
I bought a small basic oven and started baking for friends and housemates. Over the next few years, I baked on and off for fun and whenever I receive small orders.
During that period of time, I also worked part-time in a few cafes and found that I really enjoy being in the service industry. Eventually, I went on to work in a few different industries, but I somehow always gravitated back to food.
I took a year off to travel and experience life abroad. Upon my return to Malaysia, since I was not tied to any prior commitments, I decided to give baking a chance—to make customised cakes my full-time career—and I haven’t looked back since.
What were some of the major challenges you faced?
I’d say resources—not enough time, lack of manpower, and maintaining the quality of products. It is not easy to meet different people’s needs and expectations. Every cake order I have ever taken was a risk, including current orders.
Is there something that you dislike about your job?
I enjoy the process of creation but I do struggle with paperwork, like managing my finances.
My sister, Su Yen, helps me by handling that part of the business. I still oversee most parts of the business and I try to help with the paperwork every now and then, but she understands the struggles I face.
What are some of your likes about this job?
From the point clients contact me right up to the time they pick up their cake, is a journey that I really enjoy. To see the smiles on their faces, that makes all the long hours spent on a cake so much more worth it. It is so rewarding to know that I have played a part in making their day extra special.
Another high point is when a client gives you “full creative freedom” to design the cake. Those three words are a bakers’ favourite words to hear. There really is no end to learning and experimenting in this field, so whenever a client utters those magic words, the possibilities are endless.
Furthermore, it is never dull. Every order is different. The theme may be the same, but the end results are never the same.
This keeps work exciting all the time. I love meeting and getting to know my clients. Some clients have even gone on to become friends! I think that is pretty cool!
What are some of the mistakes you might have made and how did you learn from them?
Unfortunately, poor time management—not allocating sufficient time for each order, accepting too many orders to the point that it becomes difficult to juggle all the orders—which in turn, compromises the quality of products.
I have gone through days of sleeping one to two hours a day just because I overbooked myself. Those were terrible moments where I almost burnt out. Now, I learn to allocate days for work and arrange my orders into slots per day.
I have learnt that it is acceptable to say “No” when my schedule is packed. I do make exceptions every now and then, especially when I have an interesting order. There is still room for improvement, but now I have more time for myself and I can get more rest.
What are the lessons you have learnt in the process of taking a risk in starting your own business?
Nothing is what it seems to be! It is difficult; the hours are long; and you go through days where you worry if you’ll make enough to sustain yourself.
But, it is all worth it. The more you invest into the business, the bigger the returns! The initial few months, upon starting my business full-time, was a scary period. Patience is important. It takes A LOT of time and hard work to build your brand i.e. business model, routine, clientele and getting your name out there.
It is very important also to be disciplined—this is still a work in progress for me—and to be driven. I have gone through moments where I questioned myself if this was really what I wanted to do because it seemed like it wasn’t going anywhere.
Thankfully, I have my family and friends who continuously encourage and remind me of my goals.
Building a good relationship with your clients is key to a strong foundation for your business. Go the extra mile. A little thoughtfulness goes a long way.
How do you handle difficult clients?
I have been very blessed to have met some of the nicest clients.But I believe clients react a certain way based on their past experiences.
I have had some clients who commented that cake prices are a bit on the steep side, but I take it as an opportunity for a “cake education” i.e. how much time is spent on decorating the cake, the different elements or materials used, time and money spent on classes to improve on certain skills and many more.
They have never reacted negatively and thanked me instead for taking the time to explain.
What are the goals you have achieved so far?
I am able to make a living from my business!
I have had the opportunity to bake for some influential people and had the chance to work for some big corporations.
I cringe every time I look back at pictures of the first cake I sold, but it also serves as a reminder of my humble beginnings, which is to constantly improve and learn new skills, to produce better and nicer cakes.
This is all thanks to the amazing people like my family, friends and clients, who have played a part in bringing It’sBakedbySuli to where it is now.
Don’t be afraid to chase after your dreams. Stay connected to those who have supported you.
Take the setbacks you face head on as it will not only help you grow into a better person, but also a better entrepreneur and business partner.
Su Li is a full-time baker, specialising in cake decoration, and founder of It’sBakedbySuli. Feel like a sweet tooth coming, drop us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tamara was previously an assistant editor and writer with Leaderonomics. She loves thought-provoking conversations over cups of tea. If she is not writing, you might find her hiking up a mountain in search of a new waterfall to explore.