Interview: Hannah Culley
Hannah runs her own business, with a love for baking. Since she set up her business, it has flourished with quirky designs and delicious flavours. I was lucky enough to have a little chat with her about her cake business.
Hello Hannah! Thank you so much for letting me interview you. How are you?
Hey! Thanks so much for interviewing me, I'm really well thank you!
I adore your cake business. What made you decide to set up your own business?
I have always had a love for baking, it is something that I can come home to and just do, if I ever had a bad day at work/college/school I would just come home and bake some cupcakes and I would feel totally relaxed and chill again. When my twin nieces were born back in 2008 my sister gave me the challenge of baking their Birthday cake every year and really that is where the business started! I Googled many different cakes and every year would try my hand at designing & creating, my business has been running properly for 2 years now and this year has been my most successful yet and I already have many bookings for next year!
How has your creative process changed since the start?
I am completely self taught, I have never been on any courses and have no professional qualifications in sugar craft. My creative process has changed massively over the years and I would say this is down to Social Media... YouTube and Instagram being 2 of my main inspiration platforms. The internet has broadened my horizons on many aspects of cakes and gives me access to a varied amount of suppliers. I am not arty at all, I cannot draw or paint for the life of me but with cakes the creativity just flows!
How did you manage to learn and hone your craft?
Again, being completely self taught I have to very much go by the internet as well as this, I have a friend who has been in the business for 30 years and she has always been a great helping hand, almost my Grandmother to baking. My cakes are never perfect as there is always room for improvement but I think I have a very unique style of cakes and I think over the past 6 months I have really seen this.
Have you always been into baking and cooking?
I've always loved to bake a cake, cooking not so much, I can cook but very basic meals but recently have been inventive with them. Baking on the other hand has always been an enjoyment, it doesn't run in my family at all, my Mum likes baking cakes but has never passed anything onto me neither did my Granny! Many people say "ahhh I used to bake with my Granny as a child and she has given me many recipes" but for me this wasn't the case! I loved Food Tech at school and always loved making pastries, pies and cakes, it was the only subject I used to put 110% into and I think the only GCSE I got an A* in because I loved it so much!
What equipment do you use for your work?
Since the start of my love for Baking I have always used a hand mixer, at first this was a supermarket own one which then conked out on me so I invested in the Kenwood K-Mix hand mixer which was amazing, super fast and always did the job. All of my cakes were hand mixed even when baking over 150 cupcakes! However, recently this summer I made the decision to purchase an Artisan KitchenAid and it's the best purchase I've ever made! Having made more cakes this year than any other year and many have been Wedding cakes it has been a godsend to me! I also use many other tools and utensils when baking and always buy something when I'm in the shops!
What tools or materials could you not live without?
Without a doubt a spatula, a good old rubber spatula is 100% the cheapest and best utensil I own, it just cleans a bowl so well and is the best for mixing cake batter! I think now I've got my KitchenAid too that is something that I could never be without, it would be weird making a cake without it I have become that attached to it! The KitchenAid just makes baking a more pleasurable and quicker experience!
Why has social media been an important platform for you to use?
Social Media for me has been integral for my cake business, the only way I advertise my business is through Facebook Pages which now has over 500 likes and is how I take on most of my orders. Instagram is also my favourite for sharing images; it is my personal account but is full of my bakes. Other than word of mouth through my family, friends and work colleagues Facebook allows me to advertise to such a wide demographic of people, male & female, young & old which is brilliant because it is so easy to use!
Who inspires your work?
I follow an amazing blog called 'Afternoon Crumbs' which is such a lush blog and Nicole is an amazing baker, her cakes are incredible and give me amazing ideas for my own bakes. I follow many people on Instagram that give me the inspiration for designs of cakes. CupcakeJemma on YouTube is another one, she owns the gorgeous Crumbs and Doilies in London and her YouTube videos are amazing, her cakes are just incredible and I always try to visit one of her stores when I'm in the capital!
Do you have any favourite recipes that you adore at the moment?
I have a favourite go to recipe, which is just a standard Vanilla cupcake recipe, I love it, so easy and makes the most delicious sponge! My other favourite recipe is the one I have for a Chocolate sponge, my friend gave it to me and it is just the best, it always goes down so well, it's so moist and really chocolatey! These are both very basic and standard recipe but they are the best.
What do we hope to see in this up and coming year for your Facebook page and your work?
Throughout the next 12 months will see hopefully an even more successful year, I have many more wedding cakes so I cannot wait to get creative with them, as well as this, Christmas is round the corner so I hope to crate some really cool bakes. I really want to experiment with Christmas flavours, it's my favourite time of the month and Christmas food is just the best!
What are you currently working on?
Currently working on the design of a Wedding cake for Bonfire Night, which I am so excited for, the colour scheme is Sapphire Blue, which is stunning, and the cake that the Bride and Groom have requested is just so simple but is going to be so effective. I won't give too much away but it does include 100s and thousands and I'm so excited to make it.
What has been your favourite cake to make?
Wow what a hard question! I am always satisfied with my cakes, some never 100% but I am always pleased with them. I love cupcakes, I love the way they look and the flavours you can use, Salted Caramel is my most popular flavour and I love it myself! One of my favourite cupcakes have to be my Marvel Avengers cupcakes, they were so so popular and it was great to make something for a man! Most of my cakes are so feminine and pretty but when I got asked to make the Marvel cupcakes for a lady's partner I was thrilled! One of my favourite big cakes has to be the gardening cake I made for my Aunty, I loved making all the intricate fruit and vegetables, it was such a fun cake to make. I do also love making Ombre cakes, Ombre is such a fashion now and they are so fun to make as well as looking so pretty when they are finished!
How do you go about baking your cakes?
The actual baking of cakes is an art that I've only recently mastered, when creating my own recipes it is a trial and error in the timings and temperature of the oven. A clear workspace and all ingredients out ready is key for the smooth running of baking. I use a standard home oven and never rush baking otherwise if you do it's more than likely going to go wrong!
Do you follow recipes for your cakes or adapt them?
I do yes, I have lots of favourite recipes that I can now remember off my heart but I also like to adapt and add my own ingredients too! Recently I have started to create my own recipes which is always fun and I can say that it's actually my own recipe and not something I've taken from a book!
What’s your typical working day?
Throughout the summer I was working in my office job Monday to Friday so cakes would be done in the evening or at the weekend, I would have to plan my weeks carefully and makes sure all of my orders from suppliers are done in enough time and I buy all my ingredients with plenty of time. There is also something I forget so luckily I have a small convenience supermarket down the road from my house! I am now back at University for my second year so cakes have to be carefully planned! I only go to Reading so it isn't too far to come home and bake a cake.
Do you have any exciting plans for this year?
As previously stated I have quite a few wedding cakes in Spring which will be my main focus but at the moment I'm trying to create price lists, portfolios and just trying to establish my business more, I'm currently re-branding and have a new logo in the pipeline!
What is your career plan with your cake business?
I study Business and Marketing at University so I hope to combine my degree with my business and use this in the future to open up my own shop but that will be in about 10/15 years as I am very career focused so want to focus on that and keep Hannah Culley's cakes on the side.
What’s been the biggest struggle in getting your business off the ground?
Advertisement is definitely the hardest thing about getting my business off the ground, unless you pay for advertisement especially on Facebook all the time there is limited ways of getting the business out there. I rely a lot on word of mouth and thanks to my sister working in a corporate office I have provided cakes for many business events including Thames Water and Wilton Tools. I make many cakes for friends of friends and people I know through work etc. Cupcakes and cakes have boomed in recent years and it is seen as a huge business, there are many cake bakers around Wiltshire and so competition is tough but if you have a unique style then it's a lot easier to sell your brand.
What are your career plans?
I am focused on getting my degree over the next 2 years, following on from that I want to work in Banking/Economics or branding/buying in big companies such as John Lewis and M&S. I have always had a love for Business and really enjoy my degree as it encompasses a variety of subjects including Psychology and Food Retailing. Cakes will always be a huge part of my career path and in the end I do want to open my own cake shop either in the city or in a small Cotswold village.
Do you think you would ever set up a blog for cake recipes and cooking?
I have always thought about a blog as I'd love to write about my cakes but at the moment I just can't commit enough time to it and need to focus on the admin side of my business before adding a blog into the mix. I think one day I will start one as it seems another great platform for business but for now I enjoy using my Facebook page and Instagram.
Would you ever consider running your own cake shop?
Yes 100%, it is definitely one of my goals in life and is something I will do whether that be in 10 or 20 years time I will always strive to open my own cake shop. Many people always say to me "Hannah you should open up your own cake shop!" so it is definitely on the cards in the future.
Do you have any advice for anyone starting their own business?
Commitment, passion and determination are the 3 words I would say to anyone wanting to start their own business, I have a long way to go in terms of running a 10/10 successful business but if you keep going the end result will always be worth it no matter how much stress you go through. Don't let people knock you down and if you don't get the business at first keep going, I used to hardly get any enquiries but now I get many and it's brilliant, the sense of someone wanting one of your cakes/products is the best!
What's the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given?
It sounds very cliche but my favourite quote that I've seen and someone said to me is 'good things happen to those who go out and work for it' and that to me is so true, through all the stress and hard work in the end will come success and good things will happen. I am a strong believer in everything happens for a reason and sometimes my cakes go wrong in order for me to make a better cake than ever before!
Please follow Hannah on her Facebook page ‘http://www.facebook.com/culleyscakery’ for exciting updates, images and competitions.