After a 14-year career as a photo editor for magazines like Cigar Aficionado and Ladies’ Home Journal, D’Abate, 37, in 2015 embarked on a new role: owner of Pip n Bits, a custom bakery of cakes and cookies. Here’s her story
Pip n Bits started as a hobby. I’d say I started baking about six years ago. But when I say “started baking,” this means I’d make a birthday cake here and there for a friend, or some cookies to bring to the office.
I enjoyed doing it, but never really thought much about it. I feel like most of the time it was just because I wanted something sweet! I’d bake a batch of cookies, eat a few, and then bring them to work so I wouldn’t devour the whole batch.
During this time I was working as a Photo Editor in magazine publishing. A lot of the photo shoots I produced were for food features. I was fortunate to work with some of the industry’s top food stylists, and I was inspired to start making my own sweet creations.
So I began to experiment, and tweaked recipes, watched cooking shows, read magazines, and combed through blogs. What was once baking a few treats here and there turned into my making something every week and bringing them to work and parties. When people started asking if they could buy my whoopie pies and cookies, I felt like I was onto something.
In April of 2015, ski season (my other obsession and hobby) was coming to an end, which always bums me out. I knew I needed to set a goal for myself, something to look forward to and work toward, and decided that in the next few months I was going to set up a website and get the appropriate permit for home baking. This way when someone asked me if they could buy treats from me, I could finally direct them to my site. They could see pictures of my creations and a menu of what was actually available.
But first I needed to get the word out. Social media was perfect for this. I put up a link to my site on Instagram and Facebook and started posting pictures of everything I was making. I slowly started getting scattered orders from co-workers and friends, but soon I was finding myself getting orders every week. The best was when I started getting orders from friends of friends, people I had never met.
Then reality set in: I started to get busy! I was working almost every day on Pip n Bits. I was essentially a photo editor by day, and baker/business owner by night and weekends.
I knew that this was what I wanted to do. But I’m a stable Mabel. I think, and overthink everything. I like routine and stability. I am very logical and practical. I’ve always thought of myself as a dreamer, but not much of a doer. The thought of quitting my Photo Editor job seemed irresponsible and unrealistic. How would I make money? What if I didn’t get any orders? What if I ended up hating baking?
I couldn’t stop asking myself these questions. But there was always this nagging thought in my head, “What if I never try?” I couldn’t get that question out of my head. I knew deep down that if baking didn’t work out, I could find something else, that I’d be fine no matter what. There is always some job out there I could do, maybe not the ideal job, but I’d find a way to make ends meet. I felt like I had to close my eyes and just jump.
And that is exactly what I did. The first week of October 2015 I told my job I was leaving. I gave them a month’s notice. That was probably the toughest meeting I have ever had. I was sweating. I cried. I think I was just so stressed and scared about what I was about to do that blurting it all out was a huge emotional release.
To my surprise and relief, my bosses were happy for me, and not all surprised since they had been eating all of my baked goods for the past year. That day was one of the best days of my life. The fear I had turned into excitement. I felt such a sense of freedom and confidence.
Now I am baking full time. I work on Pip n Bits from my home in Astoria every day. There is not a day that goes by that I am not doing something for my business. Every day is different and is dependent on my upcoming orders. And because I work for someone else a few days a week to earn extra, steadier income, I really have to plan out my days down to the hour.
It works out like this: On days that I have to go to my other job, I usually race home, pick up any last-minute items I may need, and start working on orders as soon as I walk in the door. This means I am baking from about 6:30pm until around 10:30 or 11pm. This is after working a full day baking for someone else. I look forward to weekends, not because I can relax and go to brunch, but because I know I have full days to devote exclusively to Pip n Bits. While my treats are baking, I use this time to buy supplies for upcoming orders, update my website, post on social media, and expand my business by making connections with people who could hire me to make cakes and treats for large scale events. I am not exaggerating when I say that almost every waking hour, I’m working on my business.
It’s not always easy. I’m tired and often want to go to bed while there are still orders to fill. But I’d say the biggest roadblock to starting Pip n Bits was myself. As cliche as it sounds, I had to truly just believe in myself. Fake it till I made it. Before I jumped in, I made up so many excuses why I couldn’t to this. I don’t have the time. I don’t have the money. There is too much competition. I’d read a lot of stories of small business owners whose family loaned them money, or their husbands invested $20,000 to fund their start up. And don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that. It’s great — and probably more practical — if you do have savings, or a loan to work with. I did not have this. All of the money I would earn from Pip n Bits, went right back into the business.
I asked myself over and over before I started my business, “Am I going to hate baking when it becomes my full-time job?” Now I can finally answer that, NO NO NO. I still love baking now, as much as I did six years ago. I’d even say I may love it more now. I love seeing how much I’ve grown. The better I get, and the more confident I get, the more excited I get about creating new things. My warning to anyone wanting to turn their hobby/hustle into a career is, get ready for it to take over your life. Even if you don’t feel like your business is very busy, you will find yourself thinking about it all the time. What new products can you create? Who else can you reach out to expand your brand? What more can you do to your website to attract attention? The thoughts don’t stop.
A few things to consider before turning your hobby/hustle into a full time gig:
- Are you truly happy at your current job? If not, it’s time to seriously consider what job will make you happy.
- Do you have or are you willing to devote the majority of your time to your hobby/hustle? You will be working harder than you ever have before, no joke!
- Do you have some sort of plan as to how you are going to market yourself, even if it is in its infancy. I think a website and a business card are the most important first step!
- Are you able to problem solve on your own? I’m all for asking people for help, but problems will arise, and it is very important to be able to solve and work through these problems yourself. No one cares more about your business than you.
Starting Pip n Bits was the scariest and most satisfying thing I’ve ever done. I have no regrets about turning my hobby into my full-time job. I’ve never worked this hard in my life, and never thought I’d work this much and not mind it. I’m tired and on my feet for 15 hours a day, and still wouldn’t change a thing.