Making it as a Home Baker
We’ve been in conversation with Najwa, master home baker and super mum of four, to talk about how she launched her cake business, Sofra Cuisine & Cake, from her home kitchen.
Starting a business is not easy, especially when you have four children to look after. But Najwa is living proof that you can have your cake and eat it!
Mix together incredible time management with a passion for baking, plus a sprinkling of excellent customer service, and you get a thriving home baking business like Sofra.
We hope you might feel inspired by this conversation to do the same!
Najwa – could you introduce yourself and tell us about Sofra, and how long you’ve been in business for?
My name is Najwa, and I am the owner of Sofra Cuisine and Cake. I have been running the business for 3 years, going onto 4 years now. It started from a love for home cooking and baking. I was always eager to start my own business, so I took the plunge 4 years ago, and haven’t looked back.
What support did you get when you first started, and what motivated you to become your own boss?
I was always passionate about cooking food and sharing it with people. But the thing is, I was always a worrier about how to start. Luckily my housing association assigned 4Lunch to support me in the beginning. It was a match made in heaven, and that helped Sofra to flourish. I had cooking experience, I just needed the business know-how.
How did you decide what you were going to offer to customers? You make wonderful cakes, but you also make Libyan food. How did you consolidate your menu?
My first idea was to promote Libyan food through Sofra. I saw a gap in the market, there really wasn’t anything else offered like this in Manchester. Everyone that ordered Libyan food enjoyed it, but actually, I found it difficult working from home. Savoury food preparation requires more space than what I had available.
I found that making cakes was a lot more doable, given the space in my kitchen. I felt well equipped, and cakes have been really popular, so that is now the focus of my business.
I still want to push the Libyan cuisine, but since the cakes are going well, I am focusing on this for the moment.
How did you transition from being a hobby baker to a professional baker?
I would consider myself a very kind person, so I found it very difficult in the beginning to charge friends, family and even customers for my work. But because I have four children, I have to provide for them through my work at Sofra.
I had to think deep within myself about valuing my creations and charging my customers appropriately. It took me a while to digest the idea about charging the right prices. This was a key step in considering myself a professional baker.
Can you talk about your use of social media, marketing and branding in making that transition?
Yes, I had a lot of battles with myself about how to approach this side of things. I do believe that 60% of a business being successful is about marketing and targeting the right people.
I also do believe in offering little kind gestures to people. I made cupcakes for the children affected by the Manchester arena bombing, and the BBC made a film about me from that. And that spread all over Manchester.
Social media is a big aspect of my work. That’s how I get more orders in, so I can spend more time baking.
A lot of people go into starting a food business thinking they will be cooking most of the time. How would you say you split your time actually baking versus doing the promotion?
There isn’t a set day of the week when I do the marketing. It’s in the days I don’t have any orders in, that’s when I market myself on Facebook.
By the week after, I will have more orders coming in. It took me a while to understand that in order for the ball to keep on rolling, I need to bring clients in constantly. Baking is the easy part, marketing is where the work comes in.
I like the fact that it works this way. Because I have four children, I like that I have a little downtime. If I overdo it, I also might not produce as nicer cakes than if I had more time.
My children are now all in school, so their school hours are my work hours. I work around them and when it suits me.
Were you always comfortable marketing yourself and promoting your work?
Before I came to live in the UK, I did work for a marketing company for a while and that gave me some experience in selling. I always believe in giving a little bit of a taster to people, and that definitely gives you a foot in the door.
Even if they don’t want to hear the marketing, if you offer them a cupcake, they will still smile at you! This builds to having orders come in.
What kind of things did you need to do to make sure that your home kitchen was suitable for commercial purposes?
I asked the housing association who I pay rent to whether they had any objections. They said it was fine. I paid for insurance. I did health & safety training. I completed a food hygiene certificate. I got Environmental Health to inspect my kitchen and give me a food hygiene rating. All in all, it took about 6 weeks to get sorted. I couldn’t believe how easy it was in the end. In my mind, I thought it was going to be so difficult.
Would you say that becoming self-employed has helped you to create a lifestyle of your own design?
Definitely. I do things in my own time, I take orders when I want, I have happy customers and I feel happy in myself.
What are your customers like?
My customers are lovely. My customers appreciate how hard I work being a home baker and mother. They also appreciate quality and uniqueness. Everyone can find a Victoria sponge in a supermarket, but nowhere else sells a honey cake like mine!
What has been your proudest achievement?
It’s been teaching people how to make cakes and sharing my skills with other people through my baking classes.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
It was definitely at the beginning, actually starting Sofra. I couldn’t look back and say that I could have done it on my own. If you don’t understand something, you will struggle. I could have kept going, but wouldn’t have reached the pace I’m currently at.
I knew how to cook and how to bake. But I didn’t know about marketing, paying invoices, accounting… I needed help with all of that. Things have got a lot easier for me since the first year of business.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting their own home food business?
Don’t leave it too long. Take the plunge. Try and find the appropriate help and just go for it.
I was a worrier. It felt so difficult to start. But once you start, you think, what took me so long? What was I waiting for? That’s a question I always ask myself.