Long Island City, NY—April 3, 2014–While growth was not a problem for Aliyyah Baylor’s specialty cake business, not having a solid plan was.
“Growth can stop you from seeing your business from the outside and working on it because there’s not a plan in place,” said the owner of Make My Cake in Harlem. “But starting the day off with goals and a plan is so important.”
When Ms. Baylor’s mother decided to use her long-ago earned college degree to venture into the corporate world and in turn close her 15-year-old home-run cake business, Ms. Baylor made the choice to take over, transferring from North Carolina A & T State University, where she was a food science major, to CUNY’s NYC College of Technology.
“Customers were still calling the house, so I decided to transfer to New York and continue the business,” she said. However, majoring in hospitality and food management while running a busy cake business was challenging for the young entrepreneur. “They believed in my mom, so the clientele was easy to bring over,” asserted Ms. Baylor. “I just had to convince myself that I could do it. I had to get to a certain level of maturity very quickly. Thankfully, my mother had taught me to take responsibility.”
Her hard work paid off. Within four years, she was able to open a retail shop at 110th St. and Lenox Ave. in Harlem. A second shop was opened at 23-80 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. and 139th St. in 1999. In 2006, she relocated the 110th St./Lenox Ave. shop to 121 St. Nicholas Ave. and 116th St. and currently runs the two Harlem storefronts.
After opening the first retail shop in 1996, Ms. Baylor began to zero in on specialty cakes with wedding cakes as a separate category. “I’ve learned that not every idea is a business. You come up with a gazillion ideas, but what you have to focus on is the one thing that’s going to be your core business. But going through the whole gamut is part of growing your business,” she explained. Over the years, she has added southern cakes, pastries, pies and cookies to the menu, but cakes remain the heart of her business.
“Company growth happens really fast. There’s no thought process of working on the business; you’re always in the business,” Ms. Baylor noted. So in 2011, when she learned from an associate about Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses at LaGuardia Community College, a national program that helps small businesses grow and create jobs through greater access to business education, financial capital, and support services, she knew it was for her. “The program came at the most opportune time, when I was asking myself, ‘Where do I take the business next?’ ” she said.
What she learned immediately from the program was that a growth plan is key. “It’s important to know what your goals are for your business, and as you map that out it gets easier,” said Ms. Baylor. “Since the program, I’ve been able to take a breath and not be so anxious. I can watch some things happen.”
Some of those things have been revenue growth of 31%, and hiring six new full time employees and two new seasonal/part time employees. Part of her growth plan—which every 10,000 Small Businesses scholar must complete—was to purchase a delivery/vending truck. She accomplished this goal less than a year after completing the program and debuted the truck at the 2013 Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C.
And with actress Tina Fey as a loyal customer, Make My Cake was written into the script of the series finale of the NBC sitcom “30 Rock” last spring. “We’ve gotten a phenomenal response to that feature. Tourists and locals have walked in to see the photo on the wall of Tina Fey. And neighborhood people who said they had always just walked by came in after the show and are now clients,” Ms. Baylor said.
Another benefit of the program has been the camaraderie she has experienced not only with her fellow classmates and those of other cohorts, but also from the staff, in particular the business advisors. Pointing out that graduates are in touch constantly for networking or even jobs—a graduate from a later cohort is redesigning her web site—she noted, “It’s overwhelming the gratitude I feel towards the advisors; I’ve never been exposed to that level of commitment before. They’re so accessible and concerned about what we’re doing next.”
Looking ahead, Ms. Baylor has worked on her plan quite a bit. Future aspirations include making specialty cakes for restaurants, especially to capitalize on the many new restaurants opening in Harlem; increasing delivery into all New York City boroughs as well as New Jersey; getting the mail order business off the ground for cupcakes, cheesecake and cookies; and creating a product line that would include icings, among other things. She also wants to set up the new truck at fairs and festivals in different areas to open up new markets.
“These goals are doable,” she said. “These are all ideas I came up with in the program, while working on my plan. The program helped me figure out what I need to do first in order to reach these goals.”
To learn more about Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses at LaGuardia Community College:
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Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses is an initiative to unlock the growth and job creation potential of 10,000 small businesses across the United States through greater access to business education, financial capital, and business support services. The program operates through a national network of public and private partner organizations including community colleges, business schools and Community Development Financial Institutions. The initiative is currently active in New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Long Beach, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Salt Lake City and will continue to expand to communities across the country. Community partners in New York City include The City of New York, LaGuardia Community College and Seedco Financial Services.
LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit www.laguardia.edu to learn more.