Powering forward with Alice Bennett
From self-confessed sugar addict to running a baking business full-time, Alice Bennett is taking the cake with her startup, Miss Trixie Drinks Tea.
If business is slow, remember that success stories take time.
Alice Bennett’s Melbourne-based baking and cake business, Miss Trixie Drinks Tea, is a great example.
And her success of late is undeniable: The Herald Sun, Pedestrian TV and Urban List have recently featured Miss Trixie and Bennett even hand-delivered a Halloween cake to Hamish and Zoe Foster Blake.
It wasn’t always so busy for Bennett, though. As a self-confessed sugar addict, Miss Trixie Drinks Tea was once a simple blog showing off her delicious desserts.
Key learnings from a cake queen:
Starting a business as a side hustle takes a lot of work, but it’s even more work to develop it into a full-time gig
While the pandemic is creating more opportunities in online trade, the fundamentals of good business bookkeeping must be undertaken before you can expect to prosper
Valuable lessons can come from any corner, so pay as much attention to your customers as you do business mentors and even your competitors
From side hustle to cake boss
While beginning as a passion project, friends and family helped Bennett realise Miss Trixie’s market potential.
“I just wanted to share my recipes, and it slowly turned into people asking me to make cakes for them,” she said.
”It turned into this weekend side hustle as I worked full-time in events for the last nine years. This year has slowly turned into my full-time thing.”
A big part of that growth has come about as a result of Bennett’s skills on social media -- particularly Instagram.
“When I see inquiries come through, like 85 percent of them are because they've seen me on Instagram.
“My brand and the cakes are a really visual thing and, luckily for me, Instagram is a very visual platform... the minute I bring out new things, the inquiries come immediately because I posted it on Instagram.”
Bennett’s experience is a great lesson in business owners finding gaps in the market. But even by her own account, it took a while to see Miss Trixie’s business potential.
“I had so many people telling me for years ‘that's what you're meant to be doing. You'll probably find a lot more happiness in that.
“And not to say that I wasn't happy in my full-time job. I truly was. But I think not working for anyone and being my own boss has just been the most rewarding thing.
“Because now I'm in charge of my time and I'm in charge of my future. That's a really, really nice thing.”
How COVID affected Miss Trixie
Success is never without its problems, though. For Bennett, running a business during COVID was bittersweet.
“I think one of the measures of success last year with COVID has been the fact that I've actually been able to keep the business going,” she said.
Much of this is due to Bennett transitioning into Miss Trixie fulltime in 2020 – a tough ask even without a pandemic to contend with.
“When Miss Trixie was a side hustle, there was no accounting, no finance management. My personal and my business account were the same.”
But with COVID-19 forcing her to refocus efforts on the fledgling business, Bennett found plenty of time and energy to invest in working on it.
“So, come July this year, I properly set up a new account for Miss Trixie Drinks Tea.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t as simple as that. Like most Melbourne-based food businesses, strict sanitary regulations meant adjusting was far from a cakewalk.
“COVID for any business is uncharted territory,” Bennett said.
While she was setting up COVID-safe plans, she also had to keep an eye on her team.
“My team – my partner and my cousin – were delivering the cakes for me, and I was making sure that they delivered them in a safe, contactless way.”
Bennett calls the pandemic as a blessing in disguise, as it’s forced her to think more about how to efficiently manage her business while giving her the time to do so.
Online accounting is the icing on the cake
In addition to committing to COVID-safe practices, part of the transition to full-time work required a sound accounting solution. MYOB was quickly recommended to Bennett as a solution.
“I got in touch with some accountants to go over my finances and obviously the advice was that I got an accounting platform,” she said.
“So, I moved on to MYOB, which has been really handy just to keep track of everything.”
For Bennett, the most valuable feature is the receipt scanning Capture App built into Essentials.
“I lose receipts,” she said. “They're everywhere. There're some in my car, there're some in like a folder at home.
“So at least I know I can go to the shops or fill up the car, scan the receipt and it's there. And if I lose it, doesn't matter, because MYOB's got it.”
Adding layers to the business
With things looking rosy, Bennet still isn’t ready to rest on her laurels. Not content with Miss Trixie’s exponential growth, she has big plans for the business in the future.
Bennett has the world of gifting firmly in her sights, wanting to change up the stale world of gifting for loved ones, colleagues, or anyone else with a sweet tooth.
“I really want to enter Miss Trixie into kind of the world of gifting,” she said.
“Instead of sending flowers or wine, which seems to be the go-to, why not send a cake that has a funny message on it? It’ll 100 percent make someone laugh on the other end and also tastes delicious!”
It represents more than a new strategy for Bennett, though. She believes changing how people fundamentally think is a much more rewarding prospect.
“I want to be able to change people's behaviour. I think that can have a bigger impact than just being another cake business in Melbourne.”
The importance of seeking mentors
It’s not uncommon for business owners to find themselves at a strategic dead end. Rather than throwing in the towel, Alice recommends finding inspiration from some traditional sources instead.
“I think it's really important that you turn to mentors, because there are people who've been through it whilst we're all sort of muddling at the start, wondering ‘what are we doing?’”
Bennett believes it’s a great way to not only learn more about your business, but also about yourself.
“I had a really great mentor meeting with a lady who owns a catering business called Two Pounds Food.
“She’s been the first person who I feel like I could relate to the advice. It's been nice to kind of have someone go, ‘I literally know where you've been, and this is the advice that I would give.’”
Appreciate the competition when you can
If you’re still struggling for ideas or support, Bennett believes inspiration is closer than many think. While it can be easy to scrutinise competitors, she suggests this ought to give way to admiration every now and then.
For Bennett, it involved looking to her fellow Australians making waves on the cake decorating scene.
“I think it's really great in the sense that there's so many people that we can draw inspiration from,” she said.
“It's really great to see a lot of Australian cake decorators leading the world charge.
“I've seen Australian cake decorators teaching classes overseas. I think that's amazing, because – particularly in the world of sweets – French people are usually deemed experts in the field.”
It’s a sweet thought, and one that more businesses should embrace every now and then.
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