Small Business: How lockdown success launched online cake shop Sweet Talk

Auckland woman Mariska Schoeman discusses how lockdown was the catalyst to dive into her cake business full-time and launching a new division to compliment her cakery.

What does your business do?

Sweet Talk make cakes and also puts those cakes into jars and sends them nationwide. I make cakes for weddings, birthdays and events and specialise in making modern cakes using a meringue-based butter cream. With all arms of the business put together; the wholesale, studio and weddings, we’re making anywhere between 50 to 120 cakes weekly.

What was the motivation for starting it?

I started making cakes when my first son was born back in 2015. I’ve always enjoyed being in the kitchen and baking and at the time I found myself with the kids in a few places; even the doctors office, the supermarket or the kitchen so I spent a lot time baking and putting my hand up anytime somebody needed a cake for an event or birthday.

I kept it from home and it wasn’t supposed to be a permanent thing, but then I had another son and decided I would continue. I set up a social media account, got a bit of word of mouth and registered my kitchen and it was a good way to work around my kids. The first year I had a lot of bookings for weddings and events – for 2020 – I thought that was going to be my year, and then everything got cancelled.

I had this brainchild at like 2am one day and thought “you know what, I’m going to put my cakes in jars” – at that point people were having little bubble birthdays of two to three people and I thought these single-serve jars were perfect, and they could be sent anywhere across the country. The cake jars went nuts and other parts of the business became quite big quite quickly and that’s when I decided to turn this into a fully-fledged business.

How big is your team?

There are five of us now, including myself.

You went through a rebrand from Collab Cakery to Sweet Talk shortly after lockdown – what was the reason for that?

That was when the cake jars happened. When it got busy, and it was something I was doing from home orders were taking over the dining room, the spare room, the lounge, I had to move all the couches to one side of the lounge and set up tables, that’s when I could see I needed to get into this whole-heartedly.

Collab was a name that I came up with over a wine and so it got to the point where I was ready to do it properly, which is where the new name came in. A professional helped me come up with it. We were talking about what the business was now and her idea about it was the cakes were presented beautifully and the business was centred around gifting for events surrounded by a lot of love and sharing. I’d always wanted to do flowers and floral cakes and we were brainstorming and it went from “sweet nothings” to Sweet Talk. I registered the company in October and we’ve been trading under Sweet Talk since.

Sweet Talk has branched out into flowers, talk me through starting up that portion?

I use a lot of flowers on the cakes, particularly for wedding cakes, so it made sense to start having

bouquets as well. We launched that arm of the business in January and it is going well. We’ve had great feedback about the style of the flowers we choose and we are at the stage where we are getting more people to know about it. Having this service makes it more of a package; people can send somebody a cake and add on some flowers.

Why do you use social media as your main form of marketing?

Before the business became Sweet Talk, I was into baking but didn’t have a clue about how to decorate cakes or make them very fancy. I learnt all of that through YouTube and when I would do big cakes and fancy designs I would make a video about them and pop them on social media, and that’s where a lot of people enjoyed following and watching the journey, but it wasn’t an accessible way to get cakes from me – I was only taking orders for big events in Auckland; birthdays or weddings, and so when the jars came about it was an easy way for anyone who was following to go ‘Oh I finally get to try the cake’. Social media was a really big part of the business, and still is.

Where do you see the business in five years’ time?

At the moment we have a little premises in Kingsland, but I’d like to have a bigger space. It would also nice to be able to have a space where people can come and see our cakes and have consultations for weddings. I’d also like the cake jars to become the first thing people think of when they want to send somebody something. I’d also hope our florals arm of the business is busy as well. There may also be a recipe book that comes out – I’ve developed these cake recipes over the years and so I think people would like to know them. I’m just starting the thought process for this now.

What advice do you give to others who want to start their own business?

Know your numbers, especially if you’re in a creative business. Often if you are a creative and spend all day making beautiful things, you still need to go into the numbers and know what it is you are doing week in and week out. Have your goals, work on how you are going to get to them and understand your business from another point of view.

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