Welcome to our first interview with one of our ‘Masters of Many’. Kate (pictured here with the amazing Hamilton) is a good friend of mine, and it’s been really thrilling to see the journey she’s been on with her business. She’s transformed it from a personal passion and hobby to something that’s structured as part of her career journey and a thriving business venture.
Kate runs The Cocoa Den, a business based on ‘chocolate with attitude’. She combines chocolate and art to produce beautiful, unique and delicious chocolate creations. All this alongside a career in social media marketing and more recently, resourcing!
We caught up with her to find out a little more about her journey and how she’s been successful in pushing her passion forward.
Tell us a little about your journey to date…
I have a background in digital marketing and specialised in social media for a number of years. I’d already started doing creative chocolate work, but at the end of last year had an opportunity to take on a role that enabled me to go to 4 days a week and be more flexible with my time. Since then I’ve started to use Friday’s to focus on building the chocolate business, and weekends and evenings to supplement that, selling at markets and planning for events. It’s given me a lovely balance of the social side at work, but enabled me to also focus on something that’s creative, fun and rewarding.
What made you take the leap to do things differently?
I’d been making chocolates for friends and family, as gifts and favours at weddings in particular, and always had good feedback. At one wedding however, a wedding caterer was really excited by my product. The validation from someone who actually worked in the industry encouraged me to explore the business properly. I was lucky enough to have a friend who is a graphic designer, and she helped me create the brand identity. A few months after the conversation with the caterer we officially launched the business.
How long did it take you to feel like you’d made progress in your new venture?
It was actually fairly immediate. I launched via weekend markets, which proved to be a great way to get instant feedback and gratification. Giving people tasters and seeing the look on their faces, reading their body language and talking to them enabled me to see what was working and what wasn’t.
In November and in the lead up to Christmas I started to get people ordering products directly for Christmas gifts, I was getting good word of mouth and some of the contacts I had at companies like Twitter really helped drive things forward. I’m now at the next stage, investing in packaging so that I can get stocked in retail.
How often did you feel like ‘it’ wasn’t going to work?
Quite a few times! I’d be at markets and it would be pissing down with rain. I was standing there cold and wet, without much trade and thinking ‘is this sustainable’?
You have to keep remembering why you’re doing it. Keep talking to people you see as mentors, people who’ve done this kind of thing before, and your friends who remind you that it makes you happy, and that it’s a lifestyle choice. Before I properly launched, I went into a café and asked if they would think about stocking chocolates, but I hadn’t prepared well enough in terms of thinking about mark-up, profit etc. I got slammed and came away with my tail between my legs. It’s a learning curve, and it makes you realise you need to research and prepare.
What do you find difficult about your job / managing multiple jobs?
There are weeks when the workload is higher in my office job and it can spill over. Having said that, I have a fire in my belly when the chocolate business is full steam ahead and I find a way of switching off from my office job. If I have chocolate to make in the evening when I get home, that’s it – I have to do it, it’s order driven. I have a deadline. It’s my own business so everything matters a bit more. You do it quite naturally, switch off from one and on to the other.
I’ve also got better at prioritising. My normal day job isn’t about saving lives, if something gets delayed, it’s manageable. The chocolate making is therapeutic and gives me a formula for switching off, and a balance. It could be stressful when I’m busy, but actually it absorbs me in a positive way.
How do you start your day?
My office days are a normal routine. I walk the dog, go to the gym and then work. I check my business account in the morning, lunch and evening. Depending on the chocolate business workload, I might be producing chocolate in the evening, answering emails, or working on my plan.
On Fridays I focus on the chocolate business. The previous evening I will have created a calendar schedule of things I need to do. I do most of the business side over breakfast in the morning, and then I get going with the hands on side to the rest of the day.
In the evenings I try and look on social media, following relevant people, and keeping the social media profile up to date.
Obviously all of this might change week to week, and the chocolate business is seasonal, so I have to be flexible with the rest of my life and work around it.
How do you organise yourself? Any useful tools / tips? Essential apps on your iphone you can’t live without?
I’ve just downloaded headspace for work/life balance as it can become all-consuming. It helps me prioritise what’s important. Other than that I’m a big fan of google docs – my finances, plans, and contacts are all saved in one space online.
What or who do you find intimidating? How do you spur yourself on?
I still feel a bit of a novice, so presenting myself to people who are in events, catering or retail businesses can be intimidating. I try and remember to be myself. I may not have the experience, but I hope that I make a connection through how I deal with people – and my product, which I feel is unique. A pep talk from people close to you is important.
I’ve also met a couple of mentors along the way who have been really useful, including a life coach, someone in corporate events, someone else who runs craft workshops. They’ve all given me advice on the business and personal side. They spur you on and make you believe you can do it.
The organised part of me isn’t naturally strong, so sometimes sitting down and making a plan with clear time frames calms me a bit and makes me feel ready to face things.
How do you define success now?
Being happy, comfortable and enthused. Before it was about earning lots of money and moving up the ladder, but now it’s about doing something that rewards me personally.
What are your aspirations for the business?
Short-term I’d love to be more involved in events and weddings where I can be more creative in terms of table settings and other ideas I have. I really enjoy teaching people how to make chocolate, and running kids parties. It’s a nice way to socialise with people around chocolate, sharing what I know. That’s been really rewarding for me in terms of feeling like I do know a lot and I’m not just winging it!
Longer term I’d love to open a café / deli / workshop space with a chocolate theme throughout, with products and a space for workshops and parties.
What’s the biggest thing that your new way of working has changed about your life?
It’s given me a more positive outlook. I don't see myself doing an office job forever. In the past I've let day to day stresses become bigger things than they actually were. With my own business comes different stresses but it supports my passion and creativity and gives me a different kind of focus. I now think that anything is possible if you really believe in something and you’re passionate about it.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to do something that meant I could make something. I used to make things out of filo and all sorts of things when I was young. As soon as I did my first chocolate job I knew I loved doing this. But I never had the confidence or thought it was possible to do it full time. I’m still not there yet, but I see the possibility!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given along your journey?
Not to spread yourself too thin. Focus on a few products and do them really well.
If you want to find out more about Kate's work with The Cocoa Den, check out her site here or contact her via her Twitter @thecocoaden or https://www.facebook.com/thecocoaden