Interview: Just Bake’s founder Jo Shaw reveals her business start-up tips


On a summer evening last year, Jo Shaw came up the idea for Just Bake over a glass of wine with friends. Six months later the website launched selling beautiful cake decorations and cupcake accessories. Mumpreneur Jo explains how Just Bake came to fruition and gives us her best business startup tips. 

CTTB: Why did you decide to start the Just Bake website? 

JS: I always wanted to have my own business but it wasn’t until last year that the idea came to me. I do lots of baking with my two young children and at the same time I couldn’t find the cake decorations I wanted off the high street. When I looked online I found a lot of poor quality websites were around. I realised what was missing was a simple, easy to navigate website which was appealing from the outset where people could buy pretty decorations.


Pretty flowers cupcake wrappers from Just Bake

CTTB: What advice can you give to someone else who is thinking about starting up their own cake business?

JS: Research the market properly, the product range you’re going to offer and who your target market is.

I did lots of anecdotal market research – speaking to various people about the products they like and the products they couldn’t find easily. I carried out lots of competitor research too like ordering from competitors to understand the customer journey. I also ensured I hired a good quality web agency. Finally, I checked that the cupcake boom wasn’t about to dive. However, I was still careful to give the business a more generic name ‘Just Bake’ so it was insulated from any cupcake trend changes.

CTTB: Have you any tips on how to secure funding, especially in these tough times? 

JS: I looked at the costs of borrowing from our bank and using our own investments – weighing up which was the best option with the lowest risk. The two big costs were the website and branding plus buying the products.

Just Bake cupcake cream wrappers

CTTB: What have you learnt whilst setting up Just Bake?

JS: One thing I did learn along the way is that until you can buy bigger quantities of product, the supplier firmly has the upper hand. I spent a lot of time trawling through supplier websites until I found the best deals and understanding the quantities of stock I needed. I also had to pass an environmental health assessment to ensure all the products were in a hygienic space and kept at the right temperature. It’s not easy setting yourself up as self-employed and learning about the tax regulations – I’m going on a course run by HMRC so I can make sure I’m compliant.

CTTB: Best piece of advice given to you that would help others?

JS: One of my friends said you don’t need to do and learn everything at once – work on one aspect of the business at a time and you’ll build it up from there. He was right and it really helped me to stop worrying and focus.

Union jack cupcake wrappers on Just Bake

CTTB: Are there any big trends you can foresee for 2012 based on what people are browsing for on Just Bake?

People are searching for daffodils and Easter decorations now that Valentines Day is over. I’ve also started noticing people buying Jubilee products already like white, blue and red sugar strands.

CTTB: And finally, cake or biscuit?

JS: Definitely cake.

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Jonathan Pollock: Food photography

florentines by Jonathan Pollock

On Friday I met Jonathan Pollock, a London based food photographer. He showed me his fantastic portfolio which ranged from florentines for Fortnum and Mason (pictured here) to sausages and mash for a leading supermarket and foodie dishes for the Onion Council. I also love his meille feuille pic here. He was kind enough to give me some tips on how to take great food photos which I’ve summarised below.

  1. Use natural light wherever possible – that means I need to be photographing my baking either outside or by the windows – not using the overhead lights or underlighting by the cupboards
  2. Use a DSLR if you can so you can have a lot more control over the exposure, shutter speed and aperture – I am going to have to get a new camera soon! Jonathan recommends the Nikon D90 with a 15-105 lens
  3. If you can photograph outside on a cloudy day or use the light one hour before sunset it should work well
  4. Don’t use the flash on close up shots (which I try not to) but adjust the exposure to +1 if the photo looks too dark
  5. If you don’t want to use flash then 400 ISO should be about right in low-level lighting (it has a faster shutter speed)
  6. To take crisp shots and avoid blur, rest your back on a wall or your elbows on the table and slowly breathe in before you take the shot and then gently press snap!
  7. If you want some basic principles on how to use a camera, then John Hedgecoe’s Guide to 35mm Photography is a good book
  8. For food, it’s good to take tight shots and remember to have the food at the front of the plate
  9. Composition wise, remember to visually split the picture into three and take the interesting part of the pic in the left hand third
  10. 50 ASA/ISO is good quality but has a slower shutter speed (longer exposure) so you need to use it in an environment with higher light levels

I also asked Jonathan for some anecdotes about what it’s like to be a food stylist. He said you have to have incredible patience – each shot takes about two hours – and it’s more like being an alchemist or perhaps an illusionist? For instance, to get a frothy cup of coffee with marshmallows bobbing on the top, gravel is used for 90% of the cup with coffee poured through it. Then a bit of milk is added on top and the marshmallows can sit nicely on the gravel. Who knew!

Top 10 Baking Tips from Cakes4Fun Cupcake Course

Here is my top ten list of tips which I learnt from the Cakes4Fun Ultimate Cupcakes Baking Course. I hope these tips help and you can read more about the courses on offer here.

  • Use margarine not butter so that you get a flat top for your cupcake; butter makes them dome
  • Weigh your eggs so that you get the same weight ratio to your flour, sugar and butter – 125g of each for 10 cupcakes
  • Pipe your sponge mixture into the cupcake cases (half full) so this leaves a little gap at the top for your icing
  • Use disposable piping bags to pipe your mixture and buttercream – this is much faster than spooning the mixture into the cases
  • When using sugar glue, ensure you make it the night before – see this video for instructions. I didn’t know this before!
  • Divide your sugar paste into small sections, wrap well and store in the freezer. Defrost the night before you bake. This way your sugar paste won’t dry out as one large bundle and will last longer
  • Use a non-stick board and non-stick mini rolling pin to roll out your sugar paste or flower paste – I had very swift delivery from Windsor Cake Craft
  • When using sugar paste, warm it in your hands and work quickly to make butterflies and flowers (Lakeland stock them) so the paste doesn’t dry and crack when you roll it out
  • Roll out your sugar paste thinly and flip over. For flowers add a shimmer with a cake brush (looks like a paintbrush). For butterflies, add sugar glue, then tap the cake brush with edible glitter on to the butterfly
  • When using liquid fondant, ice the cupcake, then put it back in the cupcake tin for a really even finish
  • Happy cupcake baking and decorating!

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