As a small business owner in New York City, I am faced with an incredibly competitive market. In the U.S., about half of small businesses don’t survive a fifth year, let alone open a second location.
For over 22 years ago, my family’s fifth-floor, walk-up apartment served as the headquarters for our full-fledged bakery business started by my mother. When the family bakery, Make My Cake, fell into my lap, and I knew that we needed to move the business out of our home and into a storefront to take our bakery to the next level. This is just one example of the challenges I have faced as a small business owner.
Admittedly, it hasn’t been easy, but it has been incredibly rewarding and fulfilling with many lessons along the way. Here, I share just a few of these lessons in the hopes that they will inspire all hopeful entrepreneurs and small business owners!
Put yourself in the mindset of saving
When I became the owner of Make My Cake one summer between college courses, I knew that I would need a brick-and-mortar location to expand operations and that the only way to achieve that milestone was to save. Understanding this early helped me to always keep that goal in mind and work towards it.
One of the most important lessons from my mother was to save and never stop saving. She taught me that if I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I would have to put myself in a mindset of saving. For years I had saved almost all my money, anticipating growth in the business. If I earned $500 from making cakes, I’d put $400 of that in my rainy day fund and spend the rest on the ingredients for cakes. I found myself enjoying the challenge and testing myself to see how much I could save while still using the best ingredients for my cakes.
Loans, outside help and investors are also wonderful to help mitigate startup costs and help you grow.
Invest in your employees and trust your team
Your employees are your daily representatives. When you aren’t around, they are the faces and representatives of what your company stands for. They control your product, your brand and your customer experience. So, it makes sense to empower them and hire people that you trust.
Business leaders often speak about their investments in locations, equipment and start-up costs. Yet, entrepreneurs should be investing more in their employees. I knew from watching my mother that I have to treat employees well to be the job-creator and leader who I want to be. We have 10 full-time workers plus part-time employees and interns from local schools, and it’s my mission to make sure everyone feels capable and accountable through training and open book management. We have an employee credo I call the Five C’s: caring, critical thinking, confidence, communications and customer service.
Investing time into challenging and mentoring our employees creates a happier, more supportive work environment and lets our employees know that we value them. Each day I strive to incorporate my team into the decision-making process and remind them to listen and act on our customers’ suggestions. As a team, we should be growing the business every day. If the business succeeds, we all succeed.
This mentality has served us well. Having just opened our third location, we are already starting the search for a fourth location to expand our offerings. Employees have risen through the ranks and, together, we have learned countless, invaluable lessons. Make My Cake thrives thanks to hard work, determination and smart decisions.
Partner with organizations that have your best interests in mind
Organizations like the Small Business Administration and my banking partner, Chase for Business, have been instrumental to our success. While I was working through our transition to a storefront, I had to completely redo my business plan several times. The SBA helped me understand that I had set my sights too low. I was estimating projected earnings based on what we were doing at home instead of the increase in business that would happen after we opened a store. They helped me understand that some of what I was planning to do would not physically work in the size of store we had leased.
Chase for Business was also one of our first investors and helped me understand my finances inside out. I felt like they really believed in me and Make My Cake from the beginning. They continue to play a role in our expansion and lending, and each of our storefronts just happen to be conveniently located near a Chase branch. Both the SBA and Chase for Business guided me through every stage of expanding my business. After exhausting my savings and the generosity of my friends and family, these organizations helped me to reach my dream. Knowing that we have the backing and trust of our bank allows us to feel confident in our decisions as a company. New York City is a tough place to start a business, so it is vital to have a team that you can trust to help you.
Growing your business is an endless process and one that is constantly teaching me how to be a better business owner. The most important thing when expanding your business is to not lose sight of why you started it and what made you successful in the first place. With every new location that opens, we make sure each bakery stays true to our inviting, mom-and-pop culture and that our customers are at the center of the Make My Cake experience. At our core, our success is thanks to the kindness of our customers and the quality of our products.
(Article written by Aliyyah Baylor)