The female entrepreneur on getting over her fear and turning a hobby into a company, and why start-ups should not let others convince them to aim small

Harrow Dragons Den 2015

About your business

Founder name: Donna Banfield 
Company name: A Slice Of Nice
Company age: Three years old 
Company location: Harrow
Staff numbers: 1
Date started: June 2012
Website: www.asliceofnice.org

Tell us what your business does:

A Slice Of Nice provides bespoke, novelty and wedding cakes to the public. Alongside this we also offer schools and young people courses in cake art and decoration.

Where did the idea for your business come from? What motivated you to start it?

From a very young age I had always been interested in art and anything creative so I decided to follow a career in exhibition, display and graphic design. I’d always had a keen interest in baking but was usually more focused on decorating the somewhat blank canvas. As my hobby grew and word of mouth spread, the orders began to increase so it seemed like a good time to officially register ‘A Slice Of Nice’.

In time I made a career change from design to education and began to specialise in working with pupils who were finding school challenging or even already permanently excluded from school. With my love of cake art and the desire to re-engage pupils, I thought long and hard of a way to combine the two and came up with the courses I run now. My well established links built over eight years of working with school heads gave me the opportunity to pilot the courses and with evidence of improvements in behaviour and engagement with education, contracts to run the courses over the academic year were offered.

What did you do before?

I was working as a visual merchandiser for a very large clothing company. I was responsible for creating window and in-store displays that would draw the public into stores.

What did you have to overcome (if anything) to start it and get it off the ground?

Firstly I had to overcome nerves and the fear of the business not working. It takes a lot to trust that people will not only believe in your service but will also be willing to pay enough for it. I had to keep reminding myself that I had already built up a small client base and those customers were happy with the business’ service. With that in mind I sought the correct guidance to help me make things official.

What makes your business stand out from others like it?

Through research, I’ve found that there is no other cake company offering such a tailored package of education to school pupils. There is a great demand for courses, work experience and apprenticeships in the field of cake decorating. With my educational background I’m also able to look at behaviour management and strategies to help children stay in the education system.

What was your first big breakthrough?

I think the first big breakthrough for me was realising that there was a demand for my style of novelty cakes but that was topped by seeing some of the most complex and challenging pupils enjoyment when they learn new techniques and skills.

Your business tips

You’re prime minister for a day. What would you change for small businesses?

Not entirely sure but I know for me, many doors were closed as I wasn’t established enough so I would do more to support the start-up community. People didn’t always see my vision and so advised me keep things small as it was safer.

What’s your best customer service tip?

Don’t be too defensive! A customer has a right to let you know their opinion on something. Listen first, discuss, then try to resolve.

What would you do differently? What have you learnt?

I’ve learnt that no successful business is run by one person! I’ve juggled making cake orders, diary management, deliveries, administration and suppliers all at once and am pleased to say I’m looking forward to taking on some much needed help in the near future.

What one piece of advice would you give to people who want to start their own business?

Try and make sure your business is unique and distinctive. It’s beneficial to know your area and what’s already there.

If you fancy following in Banfield’s steps and turning your passion into a business then check out Startups.co.uk’s five simple tips to starting a cake-making business here.