Like many business owners, Lyn Waddington was knocked sideways by the pandemic, which hit just as she officially launched The Tasteful Cake Company But her quick reaction allowed the Crickhowell-based entrepreneur to outpace the fast-changing environment.
Previously Waddington owned a boutique hotel, wedding venue and fine dining restaurant, as well making a career as a university lecturer and department manager. So, she knew a thing or two about making decisions under pressure and upskilling to successfully counter adversities such as lockdown.
“I’d spent two years training professionally, gaining accreditations, and achieving a 5* Food Hygiene rating from my Local Authority, and I’d just invested in a bespoke commercial bakery, so I wasn’t going to fail. But big tickets items like wedding and celebration cakes weren’t viable when people put plans on hold as the hospitality sector shutdown.”
Having set herself up for exactly this purpose, Waddington had paid to attend food and wedding festivals and events, and for her branding and website to be professionally designed. With everything shut, she realised she needed to pivot and operationalise the shop so people could buy online.
“The hard work wasn’t totally lost as my website had a shop feature; it just wasn’t live. But COVID made it difficult to rely on more elaborate celebration cakes because they could only be delivered locally. So, I added brownies, afternoon teas and smaller bakes, which have a smaller margin but are popular, quicker to make, and can be posted all over the UK, including Inverness!” she explains.
“The pandemic forced my hand”
On their own, the smaller bakes wouldn’t offer a sustainable income but combined with enough orders of celebration cakes, Waddington had a plan. She would initially launch and market the business online, locally for celebration cakes, and more widely for the lighter bakes.
“The pandemic forced my hand. I was using Microsoft 365 and OneDrive to run my business, Xero for accounts, and was taking orders using a card reader or BACS. But I didn’t know how to reach customers online. So, I soaked up the free Social Media Basics and Advanced, SEO, Digital Marketing Basics and CRM webinars from Superfast Business Wales.
“They were really good, but it was the free session with the business adviser and her report analysing the functionality of my website, that helped make sense of what I’d learnt. Cath really understood me and what I was trying to do, which made the difference between having a great idea and creating a great business,” Waddington says.
She now has a 40-60% income split between celebration and smaller bakes. With more creative cakes ordered for local collection, and delivery further afield, when her radius extends past the Vale of Glamorgan and into Bristol in between restrictions. The split will grow wider still when she builds up the wedding side of the business by attending the food festivals and events that had been cancelled.
“I hadn’t planned to produce postal treats, but I’ve found the wide variety of flavour combinations really interesting and the joy people get from receiving inexpensive crafted treats in the post is priceless! This is evident from customer feedback and I wouldn’t want to lose that side of the baking business.”
“The website and social media were really important during lockdown”
But she warns, “The website and social media were really important during lockdown, especially for the launch. I posted organically, instead of paying for advertising, on Instagram and local Facebook community boards such as Brecon and Crickhowell. And more recently I joined the Wales online food market, which is just £20 for three months.
“But Cath, my Superfast Business Wales adviser pointed out I was missing a trick as people often use Google to search for businesses and my website was getting lost. I claimed the business on Google My Business and added some images and a link to order cakes which takes customers directly to my online shop. Then I named the images on my website to improve my search rankings.
“Cath reviewed the website and her advice was outstanding. On more than one occasion I dropped her a quick email to ask for help and she’d always come back with suggestions. It’s like having a personal mentor and with her help, I can see that I need to look at analysing what does and doesn’t work.”
Waddington still markets The Tasteful Cake Company on Facebook and Instagram to drive potential customers to her website. She says videos are getting more traction, particularly ones that show people how to make a cake or decorate it. “It’s a symbiotic relationship, I give free tips and I get free marketing which generates click to order enquiries; and I did have my daughter’s help,” she laughs.
“Online sales have taken off”
Celebration cake orders usually start from Facebook and are followed by an email exchange, a phone call, then a sketch and proposal. Surprisingly, the offer of video consultations on Microsoft Teams hasn’t been taken up. But Waddington stresses, “Online sales have taken off. They can be done Covid-safely and me being certificated for Health and Safety adds another layer of reassurance for my customers.”
To help her manage the upswing in sales, she uses the free version of Trello to project plan and communicate and has linked it to the free version of Squarespace CRM. “I do need to do more with my CRM to retarget past customers, as I know Cath will say I’m missing a trick if I don’t!” she says.
“I’m looking to the summer to trial this approach but it’s a balancing act. I need to market on social media and maintain high website rankings on Google, so I can build my customer base, secure repeat orders, and at some point, attend wedding fairs to gain exposure in that market. I’m going hell for leather and I can’t sustain that without taking on someone in the local area in the future.”
“This year is going to be bigger and better”
Almost a year to pandemic D-Day, Waddington reflects on being a one-woman band wearing multiple hats. 12 months ago, she felt like she was running to catch up and this year she says she feels in control but needs to breathe and work out what her plans are for the next six months.
“I wouldn’t give up the baking hat, but I’m hoping to hand over the accountancy side to my daughter if the business continues to grow. I’m more ready; I’ve got my stock, my packaging and can use the digital tools that provide a helping hand. Weekends are reserved for me time, the odd cake collection, and planning what to create next and bake. This year is going to be bigger and better,” she says.