SITTING by her tiny oven at 4am waiting for her biscuits to bake, Stephanie Giordano tried desperately not to drift off to sleep.
After working 8am to 8pm at her day job as a project manager, she had started baking fun cookies in her free time – even in the middle of the night – and orders were starting to flood in.
Thanks to her fashion degree background and her flair for art, it wasn’t long before her eye-catching designs of edible Manolo Blaniks and handbags were making waves on Instagram.
In 2019, Baked by Steph was launched, and after she went from making 20 cookies per night as a side hustle in her London flat, she had a turn over of over £600K last year and now projected to turn over £800,000 this year.
The talented entrepreneur now has 16 staff members and has worked with huge brands like Tiffany & Co, Disney, Harrods and Facebook.
Speaking exclusively to Fabulous for our Bossing It series, Steph, now 33, revealed how she turned her passion into a successful full-time business which now sells celebrity face cookies, edible messages and themed treat boxes.
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She said: “I started baking in the evenings in 2018 as an anti-stress/coping mechanism.
“I started an Instagram page for my friends and my mum and it just sort of blew up unexpectedly.
“I didn’t intend for it to be a business or for a lot of people to see it.
“I accumulated quite a few followers quickly and people started to DM asking ‘Can I buy a cake off you?’ ‘Can I buy some cookies off you?’
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“I was like ‘You want to give me your money?!’”
Thankfully, it wasn’t expensive to start selling biscuits as a side business.
She explained: “The good thing about baking is the costs are zero, so minimal.
“I think to make a biscuit it works out at 19p in terms of the ingredients.
“Where the cost comes from is the time. For 20 biscuits that could take me four or five hours.
“A face cookie could be the same thing for one.
“A lot of my investment was my time and that was really hard when you are juggling a full time job, and at the beginning I was doing this one the side.”
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Steph said her first order from a stranger was a woman asking for an 18th birthday cake for her boyfriend, and she said she did a “happy dance” after the sale was complete.
She added: “I think they paid me £60 for the cake, it was a single tier cake with macarons and I added a chocolate sail on it and added patterns all over it and it had a hand-iced cookie on top that said ‘happy 18th’.
“They came to collect it from my tiny studio flat in Camden and I was so professional, but as soon as they left, I did a little dance. My first sale.
“After I got my first enquiry for an actual sale, they started flying it, it was hard to keep on top of them.”
Steph described her baking as “trial and error” and “a hobby in the evenings”, but she started to get some high-profile attention.
She added: “A fashion brand got in touch and asked for a really large order of 600 cookies for fashion week.
“I never thought corporate clients and brands would be interested in what I was doing.
STEPH’S TOP BUSINESS TIPS
- Know your numbers. Do not shy away them. Plan it out all and be realistic. Don’t be an optimist, don’t be a pessimist, be a realist.
- Learn to say no. You don’t want to be so focused on getting a sale in that you’ll say yes to everyone and spread yourself thin. You may end up having to say no to a bigger and better order as you said yes to five smaller company. Work smarter not harder.
- Use social media. There are tools out there that are free, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok. Use them. We are so lucky that we can promote your business for free.
- Gift products. We’ve never paid an influencer, but in the beginning I would find out addresses and agent names for people and send them a box of free cookies and would send a note saying 'I am in no way expecting a post, but if you like these and you did want to, that would be very appreciated.' Just a heartfelt message and nine times out of 10 they would post it on their Instagram. The biggest spikes of our Instagram following would be on the back of someone with a larger following.
- Don’t take no answer as the final answer from clients, follow up.
“They realised I could turn anything into a cookie, and it could be great for launches or press and creating a buzz around a brand.”
She sadly had to turn this order down as she didn’t have a way at the time to fulfil it, but it did inspire her to take the leap to launch her company in January 2019 from a small local kitchen.
Steph said: “I had quit my job to work on this full time.
“It was so scary, I have not taken on any external investment for this business.
“The ingredients aren’t that expensive, but I’ll tell you what is, rent in London.”
Her first kitchen was one called Food Stars, and was set up for start-up businesses like Baked by Steph.
She explained: “It’s a rolling contract, you pay every month, you aren’t tied into a long-term contract and everything you need is there, including ovens, mixers, fridge, freezer.
“If anything failed, I was one month away from stepping away which was helpful for me.”
The rent was £3,000 a month, which Steph said was “scary” as she had to make the orders to cover the cost.
However, it meant that she could go from making 20 biscuits an evening in her flat to around 100 a day in her new kitchen.
She said: “I was able to keep it afloat from the sales, it was just me.
“I had no idea what I was doing.
“Within three months I did need to hire help and got my first employee in March.”
This allowed her some free time to design a simple online website herself to sell her products.
After taking on a number of large client orders, Steph ended up turning over £86,743 in her first year.
She added: “The majority of income at that point was brands willing to place large orders.
“That’s where the money is.
“It is much easier to do one large order than 15 smaller orders.
“Once I launched the website, I wanted to shift the focus of the company towards e-commerce so we could make off-the-shelf products.”
By March 2020, she had four employees working in their small 300 sqft kitchen, and she knew she needed to expand and find other premises.
However, the pandemic put a spanner in the works, and caused them to shut for four months with her staff were on furlough – but she did find their current 3,000 sqft kitchen for when they reopened in August 2020.
She said: “It was a very scary time and we didn’t want to be travelling around London.
“When we reopened we were so well set up for e-commerce orders, and post-pandemic there was a massive spike in e-commerce.
“Because we were so focused on letterbox cookies that could be posted all around the UK, that served us well.
“No companies were doing press events or launches in person, so that side of the business fell down for a while.”
Thankfully, despite their period of no sales, Steph turned over £207,888 in her second year.
She explained: “Luckily, our biscuits are seasonal, so summer is our quietest time.
“We were able to claw back from the Valentine’s Day before and the Christmas period after.”
Her largest order was 10,000 cookies from Tiffany and Co, and Steph said the whole team had to plan for a day about how they would achieve it.
The businesswoman said: “We had only just opened our doors after the pandemic, so we were only a year and a half at this point, a baby company.
“I didn’t want to say no to anything, especially a company that is so worldwide, so well known.
“For them to put their trust in us was mega.
“It was a military operation.
“It took a month to produce, and a lot of our time.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this but it all went smoothly, nothing went wrong, Tiffany and Co were very happy with the order.”
From her humble beginnings, Steph’s team can now make 1,000 biscuits a day, and she’s gained a whopping 86,000 followers on Instagram.
This is partly due to her fun designs which range from Stranger Things, Bridgerton and Schitts Creek characters to £30 celebrity faces like Boris Johnson sucking a dummy, and Pam from Gavin and Stacey.
They also offer custom £30 biscuit messages, and often these can be X-rated.
Steph joked: “Our custom message boxes sell best, we offer 30 letter biscuits which can say whatever you want.
“We have a real laugh seeing what people choose to put on them at times, they have been very naughty at times.
“We get a lot of the C word and last week we had a ‘sorry I broke your butthole’.
“I was like I need to know the context but at the same time I don’t want to know any context.”
She also gets many heartwarming ones, with “I can’t wait to hug you” trending after lockdown.
Now, Baked by Steph has worked with massive brands such as Twitter, Elizabeth Arden, Amazon, H&M, Facebook, Google, Harrods, and even Disney.
She turned over £643,730 in 2021 and is projected to turnover £800,000 this year.
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Looking back at what she’s achieved, Steph said: “From sleeping in front of my oven to making 20 cookies at 4am four years ago in my tiny flat, to here now with a team of 16…
“We won’t make a million this year but we aren’t far off, it is incredible, I am very very proud of it.
“I am a bit in shock.”
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