My Small Business Success Story
By: Michelle Shiewitz
As the daughter of a business professor and a small business owner, I suppose it was always in my blood to be swayed to go off on my own. However, the choice to start my own baking company, Custom Desserts by Michelle, has not always been straightforward one.
In 2011, I graduated from York University with an Honours degree in Psychology. I worked for 5 years as a full time manager in retail stores to pay my way through university. After those 5 years, the only thing I felt was a sense of accomplishment; I got my degree, but what was next for me? The love and passion I once had for psychology had dwindled. My original plan was to take a year off of school and save some money to pay for my Master’s degree. But with no love for the field anymore, I reluctantly went back to retail to think and plan my next move.
A few months into my contemplation, a friend took me to lunch and began to persuade me to go into baking. I had been baking for friends and family for years and loved it, but never believed it could be a viable career. I spent quite some time to thinking about it and discussing it with friends, and then reluctantly brought it up with my parents. To my surprise, everyone was thrilled for me, and so began my baking career!
The first picture is me on my first day, and the second picture is me on my last day!
Delicious Truffles and Desserts!
To be honest, and not modest in the least, I loved school and school loved me. My biggest issue was that I was still employed as a full time manager without being able to give notice that I was leaving for school. For two months, I continued with my role as manager working as many hours as I could. After five months of working in Thornhill, I finally landed a job in a bakery. This was all thanks to my fiancé who had friends that knew the owners. It was a struggle at first. I was still working retail and doing one baking shift a week. While exhausting, I was happy to have these opportunities and excited about the network I was building.
The cookies on the far right were one of my first big orders and it just happened to be for Rogers. I made 500 of these and they were all hand piped.
To strive and have a successful business right off the bat is tough. I had trouble finding a name, making my website, getting customers, etc. The list literally goes on. I will say, if nothing else, working for yourself never really feels like work. I’ve spent hours before tweaking and restyling my website, sending out emails and drawing up sketches, and at the end of the day I still don’t feel like I’ve done any work. When you have a passion for what you’re doing, you’re just having fun with it.
I graduated from George Brown in August of 2014, and began what will hopefully be the last job I ever have – a business owner. After years of working in a hierarchical business environment, there was never any doubt in my mind that one day I would want to be my own boss. Building your own personal client base is the toughest part. My advice to anyone starting out is to really trust your support system. If you have a good business and your family and friends can recognize it, they will be your cheering squad. The first six months I was in business, all of my orders were for family and friends, and now I’ve moved on to friends of friends of friends, and having people I don’t know reach out to me. It was a tough and slow beginning, but when you succeed, there’s no feeling like it.
Michelle is the head pastry chef of Custom Desserts by Michelle. She is an Honours graduate from George Brown College in the Baking and Pastry Arts Program, ranking first in her class.
Michelle has always been involved in creative design work, including set design for plays and event centerpieces. However, she has had a passion for baking since receiving an Easy Bake Oven for her 6th birthday and she fell in love instantly. After graduating on the Dean’s List from York University in 2011 with an Honours degree in Psychology, her passion for baking grew and she applied and graduated from the George Brown College for Baking and Pastry Arts.
Michelle is proud to have worked alongside some of Toronto’s best-known (and unknown) bakers and works diligently to bring fabulous desserts into your home and mouths. Her number one goal is your satisfaction.