Each month in 2014 I will feature a female entrepreneur from Northern Ireland. I find these smart and creative women inspiring and I hope you do to. Last month I featured silversmith and Co-Ordinator at The Fashion Souk Linzi Rooney, this month it’s blogger and owner of the Lily Pink Bakery Claire Magowan.
What led you to start up your bakery business Lily Pink Bakery?
I was in that uncertain stage of life, having just graduated from my MA in Film Studies. I did a year of unpaid work experience trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life when a family friend pointed me towards a free programme run by Belfast City Council about turning your hobby into a business. Finding a decently paid job related to my degree was proving impossible and I’d always loved baking and dreamed of being my own boss, so I decided to go for it. It turned out to be a life changing decision.
What are your favourite sweet treats to make?
It definitely has to be cupcakes! There’s just something so appealing about a personal sized dessert that can be transformed so easily with a few simple ingredients. I also love making my simple treat staples, Victoria Sponge (my favourite cake, always with fresh cream!) and good old Northern Irish Fifteens.
What has been your biggest professional accomplishment to date at the Lily Pink Bakery?
Filling a cupcake order for the Game of Thrones crew. It’s my favourite series of all time, so that was a big fangirl moment for me!
What is the most challenging aspect of running your own baking business?
Time management has been a challenging aspect for me. Running a business alone is a very tough thing to do. I am a relatively new business so I really hate to turn down customers. This results in long working days, a break for dinner and a long night of baking until the wee small hours most days in the week. I’ve also had to completely sacrifice weekends. I try to take one day off a week, which is usually a Monday when everyone else is working so it can be lonely. I wouldn’t have it any other way though.
I love being my own boss and the joy my customers get out of my work drives me onwards.
Is it difficult to juggle your creative endeavours with the business side of what you do?
I do sometimes have to reel myself in, I can get carried away easily and end up spending much more time making decorations than I have charged for, because I know it will look even more amazing. Another thing I struggle with is having less time to experiment with flavours and new techniques. I have a huge range of cupcake flavours (I think the current count is 72!), but in the last year my books have been so full that I don’t get much time for this. It’s something I’m working on!
You have a stall at St George’s Market in Belfast city centre, how do you like interacting with the public and seeing them sample your offerings?
St George’s Market has been my lifeline. It helps me find new customers and it also drives me to be more creative. I think bakers would agree with me that we are all absolute people pleasers. We’ll source rare ingredients, stay up late all night crafting sugar flowers and get up at the crack of dawn so that our customers have the freshest cakes! There’s nothing better for me than seeing the reactions to someone enjoying my hand crafted baked goods and my market stall makes it all worthwhile for me.
You combine your love of food with your love of fashion on your blog French for Cupcake, tell us how you got into blogging.
I had blogged for about 8 years on humble old Livejournal before I started French for Cupcake.There was a community on Livejournal called The High Street where users would share their latest finds from stores like Primark, Topshop and newly launched ASOS. I was fed up seeing clothes on models that looked nothing like me, and there was a real sense of excitement over women of all sizes sharing what clothes really looked like on. This was in the extremely early days of blogging, and I think we got a sense of empowerment from having a space to discuss what we liked and loathed about clothes from the high street stores. I always got good feedback on my photos so I decided to set up French for Cupcake. It was also a good outlet for me to share recipes for my baked goods. I learned a lot of my baking skills from the internet, so it made sense to give something back!
You’re recently back from a trip to America, were you inspired by American desserts when you were there?
Yes, cinnamon! Cinnamon on everything! By the bucketload! Nobody does cinnamon quite like the Americans.
I just introduced a Snickerdoodle cupcake to my menu and they flew off the stall.
Your adorable dog Lola features regularly on your social media feeds, is she a fan of your work?
She’s definitely my biggest fan when I accidentally drop some buttercream. I generally try to keep her away from anything too sweet, maybe I should try baking some pupcakes?
Do you have a motto that you live by, and if so what is it?
I’m not sure that I have a motto, but if I did it would be something similar to ‘Work Hard Play Hard’. I’m not really a party animal, but I work really hard and when I have a break I love to go on nice holidays or buy myself that dress I have been itching for. Even if I just get to wear it to bake a pretty cake in!
Who or what drives you to be successful?
My wonderful customers! I get such a sense of satisfaction from their smiles, comments, and their Instagram snaps of their cupcakes. My partner Alistair also drives me on, he’s much more sensible and business minded than I am so he gives me really good advice. I know he is very proud of me for taking the self employment leap – even if he does have to be woken by the sound of my mixers at 2am more often than he’d like! But it’s okay, he gets a lot of free cake.
How do you like to unwind?
Strangely, baking really calms me down. That is, when I am baking something for myself where there is no pressure for it to look perfect or be any more elaborate than an apple pie. I also love a good bath, with loads of smelly bath bombs and my ipad playing the latest trashy tv show (don’t pretend you don’t love Made in Chelsea too).