Girl Talk: Lose a job, bake a business

A story I penned for a women's mag earlier this year about how ambitious Gen-Y women can avoid the dreaded 'Thrisis' started thus:

At just 22, Sarah’s checklist of achievements and ambitions are enough to give Ivanka Trump a run for her Christian Louboutin pumps. A university graduate, she works full-time in advertising, is preparing her PhD, co-edits online magazine Tresspass ( and, in her spare time, is planning to launch a blog and pen a book.

“I am a firm believer in the fact that people should be encouraged to achieve their dreams, because I am always doing everything I can to achieve mine,” says Sarah. “This is my time to shine. I am never going to be as young or as energetic or as driven as I am now.”

Given Sarah was recently made redundant (she's the third young media worker I know personally to be laid off), she now has a little time up her sleeve to consider her ambitions. According to The Wall Street Journal, those Gen-Yers still employed are becoming "good workplace citizens" (prompt, dressing appropriately, following up obligations and building rapport with managers and customers...) and using social networking to build contacts, while those who find themselves out of work – their I-can-do-anything dreams dashed but not forgotten – are taking time out to reinvent themselves.

Social demographer Bernard Salt recently told me: "For Gen-Y [the recession] will be confronting, but they can recover. They don’t have commitments to marriage or mortgage or children. They’ve got 35 years before they retire. They will learn a lesson from this downturn and they’ll be the stronger for it. They’ll be an absolutely formidable force once they’ve had this. They’ve never faced tough times. Now is the chance to show off their metal."

This month's Cosmopolitan features a story, "From Career to Concession Card", which profiles three women who have changed career tract. Hopefully stories like those, as well as the below tips from How To Bake a Business author Julia Bickerstaff, will help show Gen-Ys like Sarah – without the privileges of the likes of Trump – get back on track...

Julia Bickerstaff is a former consulting partner at Deloitte, where she lead a team that helped small companies grow and sat on the company's Innovations Executive and Inspiring Women council. She recently started up her own company, The Business Bakery, to help "kitchen-table tycoons" grow successful enterprises. She's also written a very excellent book full of tasty business/baking analogies and case studies. Here she talks about the recession, shopping, e-commerce and getting a business started.

GWAS: You're the victim of credit-crunch redundancy. Eek! What's a girl to do (apart from taking her severance to the shops)? Here’s a suggestion. If you have time on your hands, money in your pocket and a business in your heart, why not start it now? I am neither oblivious to the fact that we are in a recession, nor am I mad. I know that it feels counterintuitive to start a business when the headlines are stories of businesses closing. But, you know, there is never a “right” time to start a business. If you start your business right now, you will be beautifully poised to take advantage of the upturn in the economy. And when if does happen (it will, I promise) you will steal a march on your competitors. If starting a business is not for you how about using your time and your cash to learn a new skill? Maybe it’s time for a trip back to college to do the course you always wanted to do. Or you could backpack around Asia and come back when the recession is over!

What are the benefits (if any) for Gen-Yers of experiencing their first bona fide recession while in the workforce? I was in London during the 90s recession and, taking my economics background very seriously, took it upon myself to boost the economy by spending my way through it. So I do think that one of the great unsung benefits of living through a recession is that it gives you a noble excuse to spend!

More seriously, though, a recession can help you re-evaluate you career. I have a friend who lost her job in the last recession and she says it was the best thing that ever happened to her. She was an accountant, poor love, and had only gone into it to please her parents. When she was made redundant she decided to try her hand at being a writer, a move that netted her a book deal and, coincidentally, a husband. Of course, you don’t actually have to lose your job to work out whether you are in the right career. I can remember being slightly envious of my friend who lost her job, a sure sign that I wasn’t in the right one either.

How do we go about baking a business? If you are going to bake your own business, then best place to start is by creating a recipe for it. Following much the same format as, say, a chocolate cake recipe, this is the five steps to do it:

Ingredients: make sure you have, to hand, an idea, a purpose (all businesses need a reason for being) and a passion (yep, you need to feel as obsessed about your business as you would a hot new man).

Picture: dream about what you want your business to look like in 5 years time; be outrageous and have fun with this.

How-to-it-steps: think through how you are actually going to make, distribute and sell your stuff; a little tedious but important.

Equipment: work out what you need to buy to do the ‘how-to-do-it’ steps; on the cheap - think k-mart rather than ksubi
Number of serves: calculate how you are going to make money, and how much stuff you need to sell; you don’t want to be impoverished forever.

What kind of opportunities does/has the online world afforded young women in business? It’s made starting a business so very much easier. There are many reasons why, here are three:

1: You can set up a business with very little cash. An online business is cheap to set up; you can buy a domain name and build you own website for next to nothing and not need a jot of technical ability either.

2: You can reach a big enough audience to make your business profitable. Your best bet when setting up a small business is to make it a niche business - something that you can be a bit of an expert in. In a traditional world it’s hard to find enough local customers to support a niche business, but on line, with the global market at your feet, it’s very do-able

3: You can run a small on-line business at that same time as having a job. This is a lifesaver as it gives you the chance to dip your toe in the choppy entrepreneurial waters before submerging yourself.

Do you see women outnumbering the number of male small business owners any time soon? Yes, yes and yes. The number of women running small businesses – I call them kitchen table tycoons – has exploded in the last 40 years. Back in the days of sheepskin coats and flares only 4% of small businesses were run by women, today it’s nearly 50%.

It’s not that back in the dark ages women didn’t want to run their own businesses, but rather that it wasn’t the ‘done thing’. Unfortunately, the brave souls who did manage to escape the clutches of domesticity found running a small business in the pre-internet world expensive and exhausting.

Today starting a business can be done relatively cheaply and because we women have great expectations about how we want to lead our lives, it has become an attractive option. Having a small business can enable Gen Y women to do their ‘own thing’, Gen X women to so find some middle ground between a fulfilling work life and a hectic home life and Baby Boomer women to finally, after devoting their lives to raising husbands and children, get the thrill of doing something challenging and exciting for themselves. So, yes, with all that in mind, I can’t help but believe that we will soon be seeing more women small business owners than men

Your top tips for women small business owners...

1. Keep a handle on your figure; profit figure that is, not whether you can squeeze into a size 8.

2. Read books and blogs to learn about small business; okay, so it’s not quite as stylish as Vogue but it’s much easier to fix a fashion mistake than a business mistake.

3. Find a friend; running a business can be a bit lonely so go for coffee with another small business owner, often.

Best online links for small business owners... Two Australian ones that I like are: - great for small business news and articles, sign up for the daily newsletter so you can get tips direct to your mailbox.; and - packed with videos that you can watch if you don’t feel like reading. Internationally, I love Seth Godin’s blog It’s not just for small business but it’s great content, he inspires and entertains me every day. And last, but by no means least, Okay, so it’s my website, but it is designed especially with you in mind, the sassy women running her own small businesses.

Which is your favourite small business success story and can you tell us about it? My favourite stories are the ones where women set up businesses out of frustration, because no-one else sold what they wanted. In How to Bake a Business, I tell the story about Paula Neeme who started Sarah Jane shoes because she couldn’t find any decent, fashionable, well-made shoes for her large feet Fed up with having to wear sensible motherly shoes, Paula imported leather shoes from Italy and, how tiresome, had to go on buying trips there too. Her shoe collection is enough to make anyone want to be a size xxxxs.

How To Bake a Business is published by Arena, an imprint of Allen & Unwin, and retails for $24.95. Buy it here!

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


Anonymous said...

Thank you Erica for writing this post. I am in a similar situation to your friend Sarah, a Gen-Y recently made redundant.
I am in the process of starting up my own small business and this has given me the encouragement that I needed today.

Thanks again,

Unknown said...

Hi Erica,
Does Tresspass mag still exist? The URL in your article does not work. Could you please let me know as I would be interested in checking out the site. Thanks.

Unknown said...

wow I loved this post it really spoke to me. The baking analogies provided me with a fresh new outlook on how to take advantage of this poor economy and was actually quite inspiring. thanks!

the assistant said...

Definitely food for thought! Thanks for this post... it's good to hear a positive spin on the recession.

Anonymous said...


Sarah Ayoub said...

Hi Erica,

Great post as usual. Love the silver lining :)

Prue said...

Inspirational piece amongst the doom & gloom. My recent redundancy has made me assess my life & its priorities... & its gems like this that are the catalyst for new found confidence!

Oh Gorgeous Baby said...

Great Article! I was alerted to it via Twitter :) just incase you were wondering.
I have met Julia and she is a excellent at what she does. I am going to purchase the book also hope to get along to any speaking she does as she is very successful woman who is a great motivator.
Thank you for the post and great site I will make sure I visit often.

Sheryl said...

Hi Erica, I just stumbled upon this's very informative. And what a great post! Feels like I'm joining the bandwagon with the comments but I've also been made redundant recently from a Consulting role. I bought this book a month ago and I love it, the bite sized pieces of info and advice makes it easier for me to follow my dream of "baking my own business". My blog just got featured on a NY Magazine which gives encouragement that I'm on the right path. I have to say being made redundant may have been the push I needed to do what I want in life. I hope that everyone else that is experiencing the same situation feels the same - we have choices in life!

Erica Bartle (nee Holburn) said...

Good luck with your new business venture, Sheryl!