Beating the early-stage business challenges as a young entrepreneur

In this piece, Samantha Whittingham discusses the challenges of being a young entrepreneur in an area often seen as being a hobby.

Samantha Whittingham (28) is the founder of Corporate Cakery, an online branded baked goods provider for businesses. The business is based in Swindon, Wiltshire but delivers nationwide. She previously had a local cake business catering for the domestic market but moved away from that a year ago. Here she shares her eight major challenges as a young small business owner.

Trust your gut instincts

It can be hard as a young entrepreneur to not feel overwhelmed with other people’s ‘advice’ when building a start-up business. Yes, we’re inexperienced, and possibly naive. I’ve been guilty in the past of perhaps being overly optimistic, or just as much full of doubts and uncertainty.

When you begin networking in the world of business, there are countless people who think they know better than you and offer their opinions. Many genuinely want to help but trusting your own decisions and having the confidence in yourself can only be learnt by ‘doing’.

To help with this, I surround myself with people who are similar to me, ambitious and also who do things in non-conventional ways. Entrepreneurial Spark is an amazing community I’m currently part of. Officially it’s a growth accelerator programme, but in reality it’s a safe place for dozens of ambitious entrepreneurs to help and support each other.

Don’t hide behind your products

I’ve learnt having great products is one thing, but people buy from people, and building trust is much easier with a bit of human interaction. I’ve had to find the courage, as a naturally introverted person, to become the face of my business. Stepping outside my comfort zone and talking to other business people and journalists has been vital.

Confidence is the ultimate weapon in business. I’ve built this over time, and I’m not sure there is an easy way to speed up the process, as it has to come from within. A few things that have helped me include reading as much as I can, in particular business books and success stories, absorbing as much from the pages as possible. I also find yoga and meditation incredibly useful as they help me tune into my own energy and take control of my emotions, which has a great knock-on effect in my work and daily life.

How to scale up

Some people are happy to have a ‘lifestyle business’, but if you’re like me and have ambitions to change the world (or at least make a positive impact in the industry) it can be hard to know where to begin scaling up your business.

There are so many ways it can be done, and there’s no right or wrong. I’ve looked into franchising, licensing, employing, crowdfunding and more. Entrepreneurial Spark has helped me considerably in this area, but if you’re not in start-up phase and don’t have access to that, it’s important to plan backwards from your end goal.

Know what you ultimately want, and list everything needed to get there. Then add the details of when and how you’re going to achieve that.

Moving out of my home kitchen into a commercial space was a vital step I had to take early on, to increase my capacity and enable my business to grow.

Product challenges

Running a product based business looks like fun and games from a distance, but is incredibly challenging, especially when your product is fragile, perishable and hand-made! There are daily nightmares that never seem to go away, such as logistics, packaging, shelf life & allergens.

I wouldn’t change it for the world however, as I’m a creative person who loves making high quality products, and I definitely enjoy a challenge! I’ve learnt there’s no better market research than showing your target market your product and getting their feedback and advice.

Setting boundaries

We’re becoming a society that never switches off, never without our smartphones and we have a tendency to boast about being busy.

In the early days of setting up and running a business, of course it’s not normal to work 9-5. However I’ve realised setting boundaries is vital. If you allow customers to control your life and give them replies and an open line of communication at all hours, they will continue to expect this, and take advantage.

Defining boundaries can actually earn you more respect, and attract the right kinds of customers in the first place.

I’ve learnt this the hard way, but if you know when you want to be reachable and when you want to have your own guilt-free personal time, it’s so easy to set this in motion.

Update your ‘opening times’ on your Google or Facebook business page. Set a voicemail message or an automated email response informing people of your availability.

Juggling time and priorities

This is an ongoing challenge, and I’m still learning how to manage my time effectively. There are some great books I’d advise reading, such as The ‘4-Hour Workweek’ which advises how to delegate tasks that can be done by other people and free up your own time.

I’m learning the power of delegating and have slowly but surely built a network of ‘experts’ around me that can do certain jobs better than me, which enables me to have more freedom to do what I choose.

One of the first tasks I outsourced was my accountancy and I haven’t looked back – finding a good accountant is so important. Finances can make or a break a business.

Collaborate with others

With the right vision and determination you can achieve a lot, but there’s always a limit to what you can achieve on your own. Building a network of experts and using their skills and expertise can be so powerful.

Co-working is a growing trend and for good reason; you can meet all sorts of people working in a co-work space and I’ve forged some great new relationships as a result of helping someone with a query or voicing my own challenge while at my local creative hub, Desk Cowork in Swindon. Collaboration is key.

Breaking the norm

Changing an industry from within can be exciting but overwhelming. The business I’m building, is a contemporary, online-only cake shop for businesses.

The world of cakes ranges from being a cottage industry full of individual hobby bakers, to the other extreme of huge factories mass producing cheaper products.

I’m somewhere in between, and being online-only as a digital ‘virtual’ shop rather than bricks and mortar has its own unique set of challenges. But where’s the fun in being normal?

Samantha Whittingham is founder of Corporate Cakery

Further reading on starting a business

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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