If interest in the recent National Cupcake Week showed us anything, it’s that a huge cottage industry has sprung up in recent years made up of professional bakers working from home. It’s not just cupcakes either. A wide variety of baked goods are being produced professionally in domestic kitchens.

Take former Brooklands College graduate Erica Galvin. Having already started up a cake decoration business, she got to the stage where she "wanted to know more", so studied for an ABC Certificate in Sugarcraft over four years, before returning to fully launch her home business. "I learned so much and was prompted to do things properly as I was really just dabbling before," explains Galvin. In addition, she worked alongside an established cake decorator for a couple of years, learning the commercial business skills she needed to take her business forward.

She registered her business, Iced Innovations, with Companies House a legal requirement and had Environmental Health assess her premises. Still a home-based business, Galvin says she’s often so busy she has to turn work down. "The business has been building all the time over the last three years it’s really grown phenomenally."

Galvin says she didn’t need special equipment to work from home. However she did invest in a big mixer. In terms of start-up costs, there wasn’t a huge outlay, and she buys ingredients as and when she needs them. "You don’t need everything straight away," explains Galvin, who adds that the initial start-up cost can be less than £500. "From there, you grow as much as your finances allow," she says.

Her first orders initially came from friends and family, but soon she was getting referrals. Although she advertised her business locally, she says having a professional website was key. "I would recommend anyone starting out to get their website done professionally, as it really is money worth spending," she says. It’s important to portray the right message as, for a home business, your website is your shop window, she adds. Having professional business cards is also very important, says Galvin.

In terms of payback she says there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be a profitable business within a year, "and you start getting a return straight away". For bakery graduates thinking of setting up a business from home, she definitely recommends going for it. Although there are some down sides, such as not being able to get away from your ’office’, overall she says it’s fun and very rewarding.

Julia Bann, owner of Cake Corner, says that setting up her business was easy, "the hard part was finding customers". Bann supplies bespoke wedding and celebration cakes throughout Derbyshire. She undertook an ABC Cake Decoration course at Tameside College, before setting up her home business in April last year. Building her business while still at college, Bann was initially producing around one cake a fortnight. All her cakes are home-baked fresh to order, and depending on the time of year, she now produces up to 10 cakes a week. However, she only works part-time as she is now a mother.

Getting started
As for the initial outlay, Bann says the cost was minimal as she built up her tool kit while at college and bought some second-hand tins, from someone who was retiring, to get her started. With the money made from her first orders, she then bought additional equipment and ingredients.

Having advertised on local radio and in wedding brochures, she found that "getting out there and networking" worked best for building her brand and marketing her business. She stresses that it’s really important to do your homework before setting up a business at home, and to have an Environmental Health assessment and appropriate insurance, as for a small home business, reputation and integrity is everything, she says.

Although a good website is key for a home business, it doesn’t necessarily have to cost a fortune, explains owner of Gower Cottage Brownies Kate Jenkins. A 2008 Great Taste Award winner, Jenkins bakes 2,000-3,000 chocolate brownies a week, using a domestic oven in her kitchen in Swansea, and says she’s been making a profit since day one. Launching her website in November 2007, she now has over 2,000 regular customers and wholesales to pubs, delis and restaurants. "Turnover will be around £75k this year, and I’m hoping for £120k in 2010," she adds. Jenkins says that although her website was key to the growth of her business, she doesn’t see the point of spending thousands on it. Hers cost around £300 to set up and does the job perfectly, she says.

Cake decorator Lisa Notley, agrees that you don’t need to shell out thousands for a professional website. Running her business Lisa Notley Wedding Cakes, in Dorchester, Dorset, she is hoping to move into a purpose-built kitchen to cope with growth. Currently producing around 100 wedding cakes a year, she set up the business for around £600 and has acquired additional equipment such as new cake stands over the years. She enlisted the services of a self-employed baker to produce her cakes, and gained her initial orders through word of mouth, advertising and attending wedding fairs.

Offering total control, no morning commute and low start-up costs and overheads, it’s no wonder so many bakers and cake decorators are starting out on their own door-step.

See www.enterprisenation.com for more useful information.