Meet Stephanie Giordano, who started her bespoke cookie business Baked by Steph as a one-woman show from her tiny London flat just two years ago. Today, Steph has a talented team creating hundreds of beautifully detailed cookies every day. But Belfast-born Steph, 32, didn’t start out wanting to be an entrepreneur: she started off studying fine art and fashion and then went into a role as a digital designer. Creatively frustrated, Steph set about turning her hobby - a passion for baking - into her job. We caught up with her to find out how she did it.
How did Baked by Steph begin?
“The concept started in my head in late 2018. I’d been baking as a hobby for a year or so and had created an Instagram account when I started to receive commission requests from people that I didn’t even know, which totally blew me away. The pivotal moment was when a very large fashion brand reached out to ask if I could make 600 cookies to look like their famous shoes. This was just after I had created a series of shoe-themed cookies which had blown up on Instagram (see image). I ended up turning it down because I didn’t have the ability to produce such large quantities at the time but it made me realise the potential. From that point forward, I made it my business to figure out how to turn my side hustle into my main job.”
How did you find the business set-up process?
“I think my creativity mixed with my project management experience served me well. I knew that one without the other could lead to failure. There is a lot of admin when you set up a business and there’s only you to do it all. The hardest part was just finding the time to fit everything in. When you’re the only person on the team it can be overwhelming and it often led to feelings of failure and exhaustion. I found the best way to overcome this was to keep long-term objectives and goals at the forefront of my mind. I write down my three biggest business goals at the top of my to-do list – it helps me maintain focus and remember there’s a bigger picture beyond the day to day.”
Has the pandemic impacted Baked by Steph?
“The biggest challenge was having to close for 5 months following the first lockdown. As others started to open up again, our lease on our kitchen had expired and, with pretty much every estate agent in the country on furlough, I wasn’t able to secure new premises for another few months. Managing to secure and kit out a new premises in the middle of a global pandemic is probably one of the biggest things I’ve ever achieved.
Since we’ve opened up again, our sales have grown, primarily because we can deliver throughout the UK as most of our products are letterbox-friendly which has of course been key to success stories during the pandemic. The rise in demand for our products led to me having to hire more staff so we went from a team of 3 in August 2020 to a team of 15 by January 2021.”
Do you think your experience of setting up a business as a female entrepreneur was different to that of a male business owner?
“Yes and no. On the whole, my journey to setting up my own business has been a solo journey with the help of family and friends, so I haven’t had to engage with many of the typical barriers and hurdles that female entrepreneurs so often encounter.
Having said that, the food and services industry is very male-dominated and a bit old-school, and whilst this hasn’t created any serious hurdles for me, I do often recognise situations where I might not be taken as seriously or treated with the same level of respect as a man might receive from another man.
But on a more positive note, I’m surrounded by an amazing team, customers, followers and community of fellow bakers who are mainly women and who have inspired, supported and empowered me to help me get to where I am today and I couldn’t be more thankful for that.”
Talk us through how Baked by Steph has grown.
“Sometimes I can’t quite believe that we’re only halfway through our third year of trading when I look back at our progress over the past two years! We’ve gone from a one-woman show working from my tiny London flat with an oven that could fit 20 cookies at a time, to a team of 15 working from a 3,000 sq ft dedicated production space churning out hundreds of cookies a day.”
What has been your absolute career highlight so far?
“The highlight for me was late last year, when we had just reopened after our 5-month hiatus, and I’ll be honest, I had no idea if we would survive the pandemic. It was a very stressful time. Then one day, out of the blue, we received an enquiry from Tiffany & Co. for 10,000 cookies, our biggest commission to date. It was just such a confidence-boosting show of faith in our little company from such a world-renowned brand. I’m very happy and proud to say that we absolutely nailed it and have gone on to work with Tiffany & Co. on other projects.”
And finally, what’s your top tip for turning a side hustle into a thriving business?
“The main thing would be: don’t be held back by ideas about ‘perfection’. So, don’t wait for a perfect time to launch. The truth is, there never is one, and fear of failure will hold you back if you let it. And don’t wait for your product to be perfect, either. Remember that your product or service will constantly evolve as you grow, so the sooner you start, the sooner you can get customer feedback on board, start the trial and error process and iterate your business offering and approach. Perfection just doesn’t exist, and what might be considered ‘perfect’ by the present version of you won’t be ‘perfect’ for the future version of you. So, if you’re holding back, don’t. Just do it!”
Head over to the Baked by Steph Link opens in a new window Instagram to check-out more of her talented creations.
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