Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Leanna Nicolas, Owner of Sweets for Belle, located in Newark, CA, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

Sweets for Belle specializes in custom-decorated sugar cookies to complement any celebration. Custom cookies are great favors or additions to a dessert table. Sugar cookies are one of the simplest recipes, but what really makes these custom and stand out is the time that goes into creating these pieces of edible art. There is a lot that goes into preparing custom cookies beyond baking. I spend a good amount of time in the planning phase, developing designs, determining cookie shapes and colors, and how to create the design. In the end, seeing what I’ve created go from a vision, an idea, and a sketch and be brought into cookie life is so satisfying! Seeing client photos and hearing the cookies were a hit, or how they matched up with the rest of the decorations/theme, is the greatest compliment!

I believe anyone can be my client, but sometimes it doesn’t always play out that way. I offer a product that isn’t a necessity for all celebrations. I strive to create something beautiful so that my clients can share it with their friends and families.

Tell us about yourself

My name is Leanna Nicolas, owner of Sweets for Belle, a Cottage Food Operation located in Newark, CA. I do not have a storefront, my business is more or less handled online, and occasionally I participate in pop-up market events.

I started this adventure in 2013. I’ve always kept a really busy schedule, working full-time and going to school at night. After I had my daughter, I continued to keep busy as a new mom and completed my Master’s Degree while she was still young. Even though I had my hands full working and being a single mom, I started looking into hobbies. I had always wanted to take a cake decorating class, so I signed up for one at Michael’s. The class was four weeks long and was a Basic Buttercream class. I was so intrigued with icing a cake, piping borders around it, and creating those buttercream flowers. I had a great instructor as well. After that first class, I was hooked; I continued to take the next three classes they offered, learning how to use different mediums like fondant and royal icing. Shortly after that, I took a cookie decorating class.

I used every holiday and family birthday as an excuse to make a cake; then, I started incorporating other types of desserts – cake pops, other chocolate-covered desserts, and cookies. In 2016 I officially started my business, offering cakes and desserts. It was so challenging, and I think that is what really motivated me to keep going, learning and practicing more so I could perfect it. I started taking on orders for multiple items per event – cakes and cake pops or cookies, sometimes all 3.

A few years later, I learned my limits; I couldn’t take on all things for all events, along with working full time with my daughter, who kept busy with her own activities, such as sports, outside of school. I later decided that I really needed to focus on one type of dessert, cakes or cookies. I had already decided at that point that cake pops weren’t my favorite things to make.

I love creating cakes, but I really fell in love with cookie decorating. I’ve never thought of myself as a creative person or an artist, so to see the cookies I’ve created and realize that it is a form of art that takes a level of creativity is so satisfying to me.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

It is hard to pinpoint the biggest accomplishment, but I would have to say that the moment for me happened toward the end of 2022. I had gone to my local post office to mail cookies to a close friend for her birthday, and the postal worker saw my logo sticker on the box and said, “Oh, you’re Sweets for Belle!? I had your cookies at a friends event and they were so good!”. Not too long after that, I participated in a holiday market at our local high school, which my daughter attends, and there were about 3-5 people who had come to my table specifically to buy something that I had advertised on social media; they also repeated clients.

These moments of my business being recognized are a big accomplishment to me because I don’t consider myself to have a huge social media following, I just hit 1k on Instagram in mid-2022, and my Facebook page has less than 400 followers. I don’t get a ton of post-engagement, and not every order is from a repeat client. But in those moments, I realized that my business name is known, and my work is recognized, and at that particular time, it was something that I needed to hear, and it put into perspective how far I’ve actually come in my business.

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?

I would say my biggest challenge as a business owner has been managing my time. I am a single mom, working full time from home for a young company that is growing rapidly, and I only have so much time each day; same as everyone else, but I always seem to stretch it out. I’ve had a lot of long nights; stressful weeks, and it is usually because I try to do it all. Managing your time between so many priorities is definitely a struggle, and I’ve had to learn to take more time off for myself so I have opportunities to recoup and be more available and present for the next week. I have purposely scaled my business at a slow rate.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

There are so many tips to share it is hard to choose, but I always refer back to these three things as I think about my business, even now:

  1. What is the goal of your business? Short-term and long-term. For me, this business is supplemental to my corporate job, and I never intended to open a bakery or pursue it full-time in place of my corporate job. So as you think about how you spend and prioritize the time in your business, I think it is important to revisit the objective of your business; it will change over time as well.
  2. Pricing is important. Understand the costs associated with your business and your product. Ingredients and supplies are just one component. Your time is extremely important, so you have to take into account all the other things you do to prepare for the actual product, like shopping, designing, packaging, etc.
  3. Communication and customer service are key. You may not be for everyone, and what clients are asking for may not always match up with what you can or want to create. Ask your clients all the questions so you have a clear understanding of what their expectations are. Sometimes our clients don’t know what to ask or what information to give, so it is important that we, as the “experts,” help draw that information out.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Starting a business will take time, energy, and patience. Good luck! Revisit your goals regularly to either help realign or reset yourself when you get lost in things or to help you determine what the next step for you and your business is.

Where can people find you and your business?


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