For those of you that follow me on Instagram, I’ve spoken about my first venture into being an entrepreneur briefly, but let’s take a deep dive into it and have a heart to heart here on the blog because when I look back, there’s a lot to unpack.
I’ve wanted to create this post for a long time because I want to share what I’d do differently now, more than a decade on, and tell you about the mistakes I made in my first business because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing in relation to branding.
About 11 years ago, I was put into a situation where walking away from the office job I was in was the only option for the sake of my health, but this left me with a bit of a gap in the old work/money situation. So, I sat and thought about my passions and it was a no brainer really, I wanted to bake. I’d grown up baking with my grandma most weekends and it had been my main creative outlet in times of stress. I have Crohn’s Disease and at the time, had had to quickly adapt my diet because I couldn’t eat anything containing eggs and I didn’t do well with dairy. It wasn’t quite as easy in 2011 to grab yourself a ‘free from’ snack, and vegan snacks were my safest option with the egg and dairy situation and you saw them even less. It was a breakthrough moment. I’d create the most delicious cupcakes and cakes, all vegan, and do it so bloody well people wouldn’t even realise.
And that was my plan. That was it. My name was Nellie B’s Cupcakes (in honour of my great grandma – Ellen) and I would use Facebook to promote my goods. Alongside Facebook and the help of friends, I emailed and rang dozens of businesses in order to get stocked. I’m talking farm shops, delis, cafes, dessert parlours, I became very numb to rejection. But developed a thick skin too so, silver linings I guess.
At the time, VistaPrint was the place to go if you wanted logos, stickers and a matching website…..I know, but that was the norm at the time. So ladies and gents, let me introduce to you my logos……
The initial logo
The ‘improved’ logo
Nellie B’s was founded on a passion for baking and the desire to provide a mixture of traditional yet contemporary cupcakes that everyone can enjoy.
Our company is based on the belief that our customers’ needs are of the utmost importance. Our entire team is dedicated to meeting those needs. As a result, our Vegan/Vegetarian friendly cupcakes were born. Now, all our customers, whether they have a dairy intolerance, egg allergy, gluten intolerance or are a Vegan/Vegetarian, can still enjoy one of our luxurious cupcakes without any worries! All ingredients used in our cupcakes are of the highest quality and we will be more than happy to answer any queries relating to this.
I’ll be honest, I’m still pretty impressed with the ‘about’ section haha. But I honestly had no idea what I was doing so VistaPrint was the solution in the form of a pre-made logo. And this was mistake number 1 that I try to explain to my followers on Instagram regularly without sounding like I’m anti Canva, because I’m not at all. So let me explain.
VistaPrint back then was a kind of version of Canva in that it was a brilliant tool for someone with no design experience to get their business up and running, but, like Canva now, you could spot a Vista logo a mile off. Beauty businesses looked like wedding businesses who looked like florists who looked like hairdressers. It was a lot. So if you insist on using Canva for your logo, please make it text only. If you don’t, you’ll look like the rest of the businesses who have created a Canva logo. You think I’m kidding? Check out Etsy.
Side note: I bloody love Canva for graphics, I think it’s an amazing tool for creating social posts and shop banners (Etsy). Just not your logo.
My second mistake was not speaking directly to my very niche audience. I was speaking to anyone who would listen and honestly, there weren’t many people who would take a chance on a vegan cupcake tasting nice for their child’s birthday party back then. And the world hadn’t adapted to the vegan lifestyle yet….so I guess I was ahead of my time there.
But a prime example was who I was reaching out to. I would contact a deli in Leeds who sold artisan beers and sandwiches, I tried to get into a local farm shop, wanted to attend wedding fayres, and surprise surprise not one of them had an interest in anything ‘free from’. It got to the point where I stopped telling people they were vegan, but wasn’t that the whole point? That was my USP (unique selling point). However, I’d had my idea without market research. The reality was, at the time, people weren’t ready for my product.
Thankfully I did have friends who would order from me, and I tweaked and adapted to suit them (see the cake below) but my business couldn’t survive on sporadic orders like that.
My final (for this blog anyway) mistake was not trying to stand out from the crowd. I did my competitor research but tried to be like them rather than stand out. I thought that was key, that people only liked companies that looked a certain way so I had to look that way. That if I looked too different, I wouldn’t be given a second glance and adding that onto the fact that my products baffled people anyway, I was scared. So scared. Comparison syndrome is the worst feeling in the world, when the doubt creeps in and you just don’t know what to do to save your business.
If Instagram had been then what it is today, I think things would have been very different. I would have invested in some form of branding package before I had professional photography (which was the best decision) and absorbed everything the designer had to say.
So, what do I want you to take away from this post?
Follow your passion but do your research. I used to roll my eyes at people saying you must do your market research but it really is key. Know who you’re going to target so you can plan how to market yourself.
For the love of unicorns if you’re going to DIY your logo (vs a unique semi custom kit or investing in a designer) and you’re going to use Canva for it, make it as unique as you can. One quick scan of Etsy will show you all you need to know and what you need to avoid.
Know your competitors and know how you stand out from them. Your USP is what makes you magical, so take the time to think about this.
Follow the experts. Like me, there are tons of designers on Instagram who are giving out tips for free on how to make your small business stand out and what to avoid.
Don’t rush the process of building your brand foundation if you DIY. It’s what will keep your business stable and help stand the test of time.
If I could go back 11 years and speak to myself back then, I’d tell her to take her branding seriously and do the work behind the scenes. Don’t rush the process because your audience won’t thank you for it, if they even find you at all.
I often wonder what would have happened had circumstances been different and I’d been able to see that business through. But in the end, finances and an exciting wedding meant I went back into office work. I wouldn’t change that for the world because I love the people I worked with all those years; I don’t think they’ll ever realise the impact they had on me for varying reasons. And I wouldn’t be sat here typing this today if I was still baking. Everything happens for a reason, even if we don’t always like it at the time.