As an introvert, I relish my own company and struggle with some larger social settings. Therefore, running my own business as a solo entrepreneur means I can work to the beat of my own drum. But working alone can be hard. I didn’t truly appreciate this until I left my role at the NHS within a small multi-disciplinary team. Whilst I craved my own space, it was wonderful to have the support of others around you in the same position, just to bounce ideas off or even share a whinge.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my business and the freedom it allows me to express myself creatively and enjoy a wonderful work-life balance that works well for my family. But solo entrepeneurship has become more difficult for me over the last year with increasing feelings of isolation, overwhelm and diminishing self-confidence. So I vowed that 2020 would be a turning point – I would pull up my big girl pants and get myself out there and become more visible and be brave. I am 47 years old for crying out loud, I just needed to grow a pair!
With that I decided to attend the Cake Professionals Conference in Reading. But not only that, but also to attend the Awards Dinner on the same evening. Now networking has never been my strong suit. In fact, it is my worst nightmare. I can make small talk on a one-to-one basis till the cows come home but put in a large room with lots of strangers and I become a professional wallflower. Especially when some of these strangers are also the leaders in your field and people you admire and aspire to be.
But my journey of being brave was not stopping there – I decided to enter their inaugural Cake Professionals Awards. I was throwing myself and my designs to the scrutiny of some of the biggest names in our industry. Was I completely bonkers? Probably, but this was going to be my year of big girl pants so why not.
I entered 2 cakes and then, just to really put myself out there, entered into the Cake Business category. I had done it and thought that was where it would end. But no. In early February I found out that I was the Yorkshire & Humber regional winner in the Large Celebration Cake category and also, believe it or not, in Cake Business of the Year. I now had no excuse not to attend the Awards ceremony as I was amongst the nominees.
Sunday 1 March came around and I headed down to Reading. I was staying in the adjoining hotel so instead of heading to the bar to find other attendees, I went to my room and settled in with tea and Rogue One on a big screen. But feeling like I should, I popped my view on Insta Stories. Out of the blue, a lady messaged me to say she was there on her own too and would I like to meet her for breakfast. She later admitted that it had taken her a lot of courage to do so as she worried that I would think she was a stalker. But I am so glad she did as now I had a friendly face to attend the conference with. We went into the conference together, bolstered by our new confidence and befriended a lady sitting alone. Someone I knew sought me out and suddenly we had a merry band of 5. This lovely bunch of ladies and others that we met along the way were my saving grace and they made the conference an even better experience.
Unfortunately though, none of these ladies were attending the awards ceremony so I would be alone again. And even worse as it would be in heels and a frock – making friends is so much easier in jeans!! But I met 2 lovely ladies in the lift, one of whom was in one of my categories, and they took me under their wing.
Being brave only goes so far ….
Now, I’ll admit that I didn’t enjoy the pre-awards party as much as the conference earlier. I felt anxious and awkward. I felt out of place amongst all these amazing people and frankly not worthy to be in the same room as them. But then I saw Lou – I have followed and admired Lou for a long time so it was lovely to meet her in the flesh. She then said something that completely blew me away. She couldn’t believe that me, the amazing and famous Debbie Gillespie (her words, not mine!) even knew who she was let alone followed her and she was so excited to meet me. What!!?!?!?!? She thought I was a cakey superstar.
I went into the Awards Ceremony and sadly didn’t win the national title in either of my categories. I’ll admit that I was initially disappointed. But then I gave my head a wobble and thought about everything I had achieved. I was a regional winner not once but twice and was one of the Top 6 cake businesses in the UK out of 60 entries. I had faced my fears head on and attended an event completely alone and come away with some wonderful new cakey friends who will make my entrepreneurial journey so much easier in the future. But also, my perceptions of my own status were turned on their head – there were people out there who admired me and my work.
What did I learn?
So the moral of my story is be brave – in whatever way that looks like to you. That may be attending an event, entering yourself into a competition, or just reaching out to someone to meet for a coffee and a chat. You never know who is out there looking at you with admiration and your actions, however insignificant they may seem to you, might just help them too. Be prepared to be vulnerable, as nothing big can be achieved by staying within your comfort zone.
Special thanks to The Cake Professionals for setting up the conference and awards – your work has helped people more than you know. And to Cake Stuff Ltd for their sponsorship of the event and to all the other sponsors – Fractal, Chibu, Tate & Lyle, Cake Decoration & Sugarcraft magazine, The Pro Froster and Renshaw
And to all of my new and old business and cakey friends:
Anjuna Lad of Sweet Fusion Cakes
Stephanie Fay of Stephanie’s Cakes
Dawn Norris of The Cake Rooms Leicester
Nicola Thomas of Boutique Bakery Chester
Lou Finn of Bake to the Future
Beccy Cuthbert of Cabbage Patch Bakery
Joanna Evans of Joanna Evans Cake Design
Toni of Red Velvet Bakery
Tina Russell of Christina Russell Cakes
Sarah Belford of Mrs Bs Bespoke Cakes
Maddy Jones of Making your Business Shine (even though you put my face on the big screen)
Kate Beavis of Magpie Wedding
And to my cake heroes who I didn’t have the courage to chat to ……. I will get you next time! x