In this blog, we speak to Shelly Shulman, Cake Couturier & Business Coach at La Belle Cake Company and La Belle Academy. Shelly talks to us about her career, hitting rock bottom and then being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and taking responsibility for your own mental health.
I am the owner of two businesses – La Belle Cake Company and La Belle Academy. La Belle Cake Company was founded in 2006 and over the years I have seen the business grow from strength to strength. Our creations have won many awards and my clients have included international celebrities and royalty. Through La Belle Academy I help other cake makers grow their businesses. I have created a community of over 1500 cake makers and my online training and one on one sessions have helped them to increase their revenue and skill. I have featured in numerous magazines and websites including Forbes, The Huffington Post, Harper’s Bazaar, and The Daily Telegraph. My custom creations have been featured on Sky 1.
The best thing about my career is that no two days are ever the same. I start every day with the same morning routine which includes yoga and affirmations. Whatever I am doing in the day ahead it’s important for me to start the day with the right mindset. I spend time every morning in my Facebook groups and memberships making sure that the cake makers in my group have no issues. This week for example is pretty varied. I have wedding and celebration cakes to be making. I am also travelling up to Chester for an event as I am constantly investing in my business learning. Whilst I am there I will be recording for a podcast I have been invited to be a guest on. Then it’s back to the studio as we are hosting a cake tasting day for potential wedding couples. Sunday will be spent preparing my speech for another event that I am speaking at to inspire other wedding professionals.
I love to travel and in the last 12 months have taken trips to Italy and Malta. This year I have trips planned to Dubai and Paris as well as business trips to Florence and Malta. Spending time with my family is a priority so we’ll often spend family time going out for dinner or going to the cinema. With two grown up children (one has moved out) I do try to have at least one family day every month.
Like most cake makers, I kind of fell into cake making. When I was little my mum always used to make mine and my sisters birthday cakes and my nan was a fantastic cake maker. I would go to her house every Saturday and she would be busy creating the most amazing cakes. So when I had my two children it was natural to me that I would make their birthday cakes and I had obviously inherited the gene. Parents from my daughters’ play group started asking for me to make cakes for their children and the business was a natural progression from there.
It was a lot of hard work to get to where I was now. I was consistently working to grow the business and it grew so rapidly it started running me rather than the other way round. I was working from home, insanely busy, and I had clients calling at all hours. This escalated into me having a mental breakdown where I was threatening to take my own life. I hit rock bottom but I knew from there the only way is up.
After the breakdown I was diagnosed with bipolar and I had counselling. Through that counselling I knew that although the cake business was a pressure I wanted to keep the business as I enjoyed it and it was mine. People knew me. I wasn’t just someone’s wife or someone’s mum. So that was the point I decided to move the business out of the house and into a studio. I was able to get my work / life balance back and that in turn helped me grow the business even further as my mindset was in the right place.
Knowing how easy it was for me to have a breakdown it’s important for me to support other cake makers on their business journey. Many are in the same situation as I was, a mum with young children, with limited support and business advice. I want to be able to give them the tools and the support they need to grow a sustainable business that works around their family.
I’ve always had a very strong work ethic. My dad always instilled in me that belief if you are going to do something properly and I have been like it since school. When it came to coursework other students were handing in a few A4 pages and mine was presented in a ring binder. And now I have learned how to set smart goals. I am even more determined as I am seeing results as I regularly tick those goals off. Throughout my career my biggest achievement in life has been learning how to take responsibility for my own mental health. I have made many mistakes over the years. But now I am in the best place I have been both physically and mentally. I think taking ownership of that is really important.
The biggest lesson I have learned is that only you are responsible for you. It’s easy to blame your failures and your behaviour on others but actually you need to look inside yourself. You can’t control other people’s behaviour but you can control how you chose to respond to that. You can choose to either keep that toxic environment or remove yourself from it. When I finally realised that, my life changed for the better.
The cake industry is dominated by females which is amazing. Even though cake programs tend to feature more male cake decorators it really is fabulous to see sisters doing it for themselves. Starting their own businesses and just being able to own it in general. During my career I have encountered many males who do think they know better than females in business. I’ve had one male supplier actively stand at a wedding show and tell people not to book my cakes. I think that was clearly a situation of someone who was threatened by a female in business.
“Do something you love – it’s important to do something you are passionate about.”
“Don’t stop investing in your business learning.”
That learning doesn’t stop when you leave the classroom. I was very confident that I was going to be able to run a business because I had a GCSE and A level in business. But the classroom and real-life are very different. Yes, I had the basics like record keeping and profit and loss down but business is constantly evolving. The introduction of social media has had a huge impact on my business. The internet has changed the way people shop so it’s vital to always keep learning so that you always keep moving. If I was going to say anything to my 16 year old self I would say not everybody likes you but not everybody matters. Those people who don’t like you right now will have absolutely no impact on your life in the future. Focus on you!