The courage to reinvent a business

When I was an economics student, I was struck by the definition of “animal spirits” by John Maynard Keynes, which he described as

a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction

In practice, this means a kind of human inclination to try to do more business in difficult conditions and also to try to make the most of our talents.  This is good advice for us if we are tempted to do nothing and just sit out the current economic crisis..

Nina e Albertina, titolari di Tortatelier

Nina e Albertina, titolari di Tortatelier

These thoughts came to me during a meeting with Albertina and Nina, the owners of “Tortatelier”, which is an original Milanese patisserie in Milan trading under the slogan “cakes pret-à-porter”. Their courage taught me a lot: after many hard years spent working in an advertising company, they decided to change their life and start a new business. Using their native talents for communicating and cake-making, they opened a design studio which produces and sells customised cakes and pastries to retailers and for special events.

The main feature that sets them apart from their competitors is their responsiveness to customer requests; customers can ask, for example, for a surname to be made out of cookies or for a buffet for an important event where they may want to communicate a special message.

Another important feature of their products is the very high quality of the raw materials e.g. organic eggs and lemons, milk from the Lombardy mountains, Normandy butter, Madagascar vanilla, and Belgian chocolate.

Their “eye and taste paradise” is in Milan’s Maroncelli district, near the new Garibaldi area, an area full of boutiques and popular with the media.  Here, even though you are in the city centre you are also in a quiet street.

The courage to reinvent a businessTorta

I’d like to pass on to you some valuable commercial tips that I have picked up from studying the success of “Tortalier”:

Stop complaining about your business or your work. Instead, reflect and pause to think how to change things

Having the maturity to risk starting a new business and make your dream come true
is very hard today. You have to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses and
try to improve every single day.

Produce an original brand with a style of interior design which can give you an edge over a classical bakery that sells only cream cakes.

Ask family or friends who believe in you to help you with your problems.

Cake design by Tortatelier

Cake design by Tortatelier

 To have friends or family who support you is very valuable, much more than a list of contact numbers.  This might seem obvious but it is not that common to have this kind of encouragement.  In fact, the support of family and friends is essential to start and develop a new business! Every new business goes through a start-up phase in which you have to invest a lot of money, time and energy but nothing seems to happen, a bit like a still lake.  You have to be very dedicated and not give up in the face of many challenges.

Having a little investment capital may not seem much but it can give a big boost to ensure that your new business feels a little more safety.

Being an entrepreneur is like raising your own child:

You are busy every day and every night and getting results takes a lot out of you.

A lot of time and energy is needed for the foundation and development of your business: this is completely normal!

You may also need to work evenings and weekends, at least at the start of your business.

Think about how to find new customers every night. Design a new product looking at the real world with a child’s eyes. Changing one’s point of view is important if you want to create something brand new which can attract new customers!

Obviously, you have to agree with your partner: everyone has their own ideas which we need to try to accept or at least respect, if you can’t go along with them.

A lot of people don’t believe that the world has changed.

They want to work in the same way as many years ago with the same results.  But today life has changed! You have to have a presence on the web, on Facebook; you have to look for new customers and new ideas for your products in new ways. You have to be on Instagram and LinkedIn. You have to cultivate relationships with every single customer, even the smallest (who might just be a food critic writing a review about the best cakes in Milan!)

Tortatelier: lesson learnt

As well as a lot of passion, you have to keep your feet firmly on the ground.  This means:

  • Cake Design di Tortatelier

    Cake Design di Tortatelier

    you have to obtain a bank loan and /or a public loan that you do not have to repay (e.g. from the Chamber of Commerce).  They can be very hard to obtain but very important at the start of your business)
  • you have to plan your own strategy; develop your business plan; periodically check your income, expenses, cash flow and review suppliers
  • you have to research and create your own marketing strategy, analysing individual customers, if necessary with a consultant;
  • you have to work with neighbouring businesses to create events that could advertise your products and services in your local area;
  • as well as your specialist product, you could also sell related products, for example, traditional Italian foods
  • set new targets to develop your business
  • analyse every single product: try to develop the sales of those which are more profitable, more popular, and less perishable
  • analyse new products or services (e.g. savoury food) to understand how to satisfy even the most demanding customers who look for the best product quality and close attention to detail
  • be ready to work with foreigners who will come to Italy for Expo 2015 and create a unique product for that event!

To sum up: a new business demands many sacrifices but also gives satisfaction when you see happy customers who will advertise your business by word-of-mouth.  It is also encouraging when you see your turnover rising to the point when it covers expenses and starts to produce a little income.

It is difficult but how else are we to revive the economy of our beautiful Country?!

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