Starting a new business is exciting — so exciting that new entrepreneurs can be overly optimistic, saying yes to every opportunity they’re offered. This leads to the all too common conundrum, “I’ve bitten off more than I can chew!”
As a business owner, you need to find your niche, but you can end up getting pulled in too many directions, with too many orders and too many customers you don’t want to let down, if you’re not thoughtful.
No one knows this feeling more than Courtney Norris, owner of The Pocket Bakery. Courtney started her company in 2018 as a hobby and, just like many other entrepreneurs, she wanted to try everything. In the years following she really did try one of everything and after a lot of trial and error (and cookies) she’s finally found the recipe for success for her business. Along the way she’s turned every attempt into a learning experience and they have made her into the successful business woman she is today! We got a chance to chat with Courtney to hear some of her learning experiences and advice she has for entrepreneurs following in her footsteps.
How did you become an entrepreneur?
Courtney started baking as a hobby, but her love for baking really stems from her grandmother. Reflecting back on her younger years, she remembers taking an aptitude test which told her to become either a mechanic, carpenter or priest. She had no desire to be any one of these so she wrote the test off and decided it was wrong. After finding her passion for baking, it all made sense. She’s always loved doing stuff with her hands and also loves helping people. Becoming a baking entrepreneur married these two perfectly!
Before starting The Pocket Bakery in 2018, Courtney’s life was dramatically different, working in the political and corporate world. After discovering this 9 to 5 life was not fulfilling her, she set out to find her passion. One day she took a cookie decorating class as a way to get out of the house and do something for herself and she fell in love. That night Courtney drove to Walmart and purchased everything she needed to start a cookie business and spent the next month perfecting her craft. A few dozen cookies later, The Pocket Bakery was born!
A lot of first-time entrepreneurs find the business side of starting their companies difficult. Did you also have this struggle?
For Courtney, the hardest part of starting her business was developing the processes or logistics of everything. You’re starting everything from scratch and there are no instructions on how to build your business. When Courtney sold her first batch of cookies, she picked a price out of thin air which she soon realized wasn’t even enough to pay for her ingredients. She quickly learned from her mistake and pivoted her business. Being able to learn and pivot accordingly is the key ingredient in making a successful entrepreneur.
Courtney suggests starting on a small scale and then gradually building your business. You don’t want to start too big, taking on too much risk, for it all to come crashing down. Start small and take everything as a learning experience.
What's the story behind your mobile bakery?
As her business grew, Courtney had to decide if she wanted to start a brick and mortar, or keep selling online. That’s when she began thinking about starting a mobile bakery. In 2021, she built the mobile bakery, operated it for a full year, and then sold it. So what happened?
It was a fun idea and it generated many new customers and sales, she said, but unfortunately, she bit off more than she could chew. But the learning that Courtney gained for this experience was well worth the price. People loved the mobile bakery and it was a great marketing tool for her business. But Courtney quickly realized customers would discover her business through the mobile bakery, but then would just find her online and order. This showed Courtney where her target market was ordering from and allowed her to pivot her business strategy again!
How has reducing your availability helped you grow your business?
Each year, Courtney picks a word to focus on, and for 2022 it was “focus.” This didn’t just mean focusing on the work in front of her, it meant focusing on the things that she enjoyed and made sense for her business. You can’t be everywhere at once, it's simply not possible. For Courtney, this meant marrying her business ventures with her love of being with her family. At the end of the day, she said, if those two don’t align, why do any of this? She realized that she started her business because she loved baking and wanted to be with her family more. As soon as something keeps this from happening , she knows it's time to refocus her thinking and pivot again.
This is how Courtney made the decision to sell her mobile bakery. Although she loved it, it wasn’t bringing in enough money — and it was taking her away from her kids. Courtney’s advice for business owners is not to be a one-size fits all business. Instead, pick and choose which ventures work the best for you and your lifestyle. At the beginning, entrepreneurs say yes to every opportunity — but remember that saying yes to one thing means saying no to another. Be picky and focus on the avenues that are best for you and your business.
How did you decide direct-to-consumer and wholesale sales were right for you?
For Courtney, it's all about the numbers. When you’re just starting out, do some simple calculations of how long your processes take. For example, how long it takes to frost a customized batch of cookies or how long it takes you to make cake batter. Take that number and multiply that by how many of those cakes or cookies you would need to make a week to hit your sales goals. You can then compare these numbers to how much you’re charging for your orders and see what makes the most sense for you.
Courtney works in a commercial kitchen, so direct to consumer and wholesale made the most sense for her, but it might not for everyone. Your business is unique to you and your numbers will be your guide to success. If you’re ever stuck or confused on what to do next, always go back to your numbers and look for what’s best for your business.
What research should someone wanting to start their own mobile business do?
Google will be your best friend when starting any new venture, Courtney says but if you’re like Courtney and want to talk to an actual person, she suggests calling your local health department. In her experience, health inspectors are super easy to work with and want to support small businesses. They’re a great reference point for random questions or to use as someone to check in with. In Courtney’s words, “Don’t be afraid to bug people.” It’s your business and you want to see it thrive, so put in the legal work up front so you don't have to worry about it later.
Owning your own business is tricky. Whether it's cutting out certain lines of business or trying to start a new one, there’s a lot to juggle. No one can tell you what’s best for your business, only you can decide. So take baby steps, look at your numbers and pivot as you go!
Watch Courtney’s video to hear her whole story and see how her pivoting has allowed her to thrive: