5 lessons I’ve learnt from running a bakery business for 25 years


Here at Honeybuns Bakery HQ we are in the mood to party our socks off throughout this very special year. We are of course excited about the King’s pending coronation as well as the greatly appreciated abundance of bank holidays but we are also over the moon to be celebrating 25 years of gluten free baking.

From humble beginnings in a student kitchen equipped with just my Granny’s Kenwood mixer, to our move to an old dairy farm in Dorset, it has been quite the adventure.

Small in Business can be beautiful

We proudly remain a small, independent family business with a loyal team who have remained steadfast throughout some very challenging times. Without any investors or shareholders we are free to fully own our decisions and learn from our mistakes and our wins. We can also re invest in things that make our hearts sing. For example, our beloved nature reserve, grazed by our donkeys, is maintained and continuously improved each month. We’ve also been able to install solar panels on the bakery roof, generating up to 40% of our own energy supply on sunny days.

Quality over quantity

We can also ensure that the quality of our cakes and our personalised customer service are upheld. Together we have developed an award winning range of cakes which are sold in outlets as diverse as local coffee shops to The Hampton Court Flower Show. We are ever mindful that a sound reputation has to be earned over the years but can take just seconds to lose.

As we start to plan our team summer party to mark this quarter of a century anniversary, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on our rollercoaster business journey and what we have learnt about building a brand from scratch. My presentation to the team (before the party gets underway) will include these five lessons:

Business lesson number 1

As Aristotle and Socrates both shared, “Know thyself” has proved to be such an important and timeless touch stone which I regularly return to. If you can suss out your strengths and weaknesses and your motivations and fears, you are in a better position to know what to aim for.

When those starting out on their business journey ask us about how to market themselves or whether they should manufacture or out service I ask them what they envisage their end point to be? What would they be happy with once they have got their business looking how they envisaged? This then leads the conversation to what would be involved in if they were, for example, running a chain of bakery shops or a food manufacturing site.

If the first step of knowing yourself has been taken then you can be more honest and informed about which outcome will suit your personality best.

Number 2

Surround yourself with people better than you. Again, this leads on from step number 1. Once you have honestly assessed your strengths and weaknesses you can then build a fantastic team to ensure you have the correct people doing the right things. This requires a controlled ego and healthy self deprecation. I know I’m poor at organisational tasks but OK with bigger picture visualisation. Happily I’m working with colleagues who know this and we can play to our strengths, knowing that all the business needs are being met.

We focus on the person as an individual at the interview stage. Often times we can offer a choice of roles for them to try. If bakery work doesn’t suit then packing might be a better fit or maybe a trial in the office. We ask them about their own perceived skill sets and gaps to best match them to the right role. Sometimes we are restricted – we may only need bakers – in this instance we will be honest about whether we feel a candidate will fit the role. So knowing how to fairly appraise others as well as your self is a key to building a solid, balanced team.

Number 3

Actions speak louder than words. I have a tendency to waffle and talk out loud. I’ve learnt that to gain the trust of team mates and customers- this is OK as long as you back any talk up with appropriate action.

It’s also a great tactic to under promise when you are talking and over deliver when it comes to the doing bit. For instance, it is so very tempting to blithely agree that you can produce ten new gluten free cakes for a large customer only to then become extremely stressed when you return back to HQ and have to tell your team what the customer is expecting (always within a tight timeframe too). Invariably this means too much stress for the team and a delayed product launch which is annoying for the customer.

Far better to control this instinct of over selling and, instead, point out reservations at the first meeting with a client. You do not need to go into forensic detail but rather hedge your bets and say maybe four cakes to start with and see how you go. This is easier said than done but the customer will come to appreciate your honesty and realism in years to come.

Number 4

Pick up the phone!

I’ve noticed with a lot of our younger colleagues a reluctance to speak on the phone which they tell me is “Icky”. I’m old school, and now aged 50, so are a lot of our long standing customers and they often much prefer to speak in person rather than via email. I totally accept that phone calls can be less efficient when needing to send detailed information. Calls can also be intrusive and obviously lack a paper trail…..and yet they are the best way I know of being human and warm.

Face to face meetings, I’d argue are the gold standard, but phone calls come a close second. You can always email first and ask if a phone call can be scheduled in. Zoom and teams have their place too, but I think a basic phone call without visual distraction enables each person to listen properly to the other. One of our lovely senior buyers at a well respected posh supermarket confided how much she loathed Zoom. If customers want to chat – pick up the phone.

Number 5

The value of values. Again, to circle back to the ancient wisdom of the learned Greeks, if you know what makes you tick then you will know what you value. These values underpin everything we do at Honeybuns. Our team, suppliers, customers and visitors know what these values are know that we continuously measure ourselves by them.

We believe that to remain true to everyone and our beloved brand, these values of:




need to be woven into the culture at Honeybuns. So often company values are drawn up, announced then popped in the company manual and forgotten. In our view they need to be alive and ever present.

Our principles of:

Continuous Improvement

Artisan Methods

Team Camaraderie

Sustainable Business Practices

Individual Accountability

were drawn up after we had agreed on our founding values.

In conclusion the learning of the lessons never stops. We still continue to make mistakes but by remaining humble and customer focused we can utilise and learn from them.

Here’s to more fulfilling years of learning from the wonderful folk we are privileged to work with every day.

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You might also be interested in reading What is it like running your own gluten free bakery in the UK?