Maijidda Bala Usman is a native of Funtua, Katsina state who’s now residing in Abuja. Having developed her business idea, she enrolled in a baking school to acquire the rudimentary skills of cake making which she did in three weeks and then started her business. She shares her story with Rilwan Muhammad in this interview.
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What is your background story?
My name is Maijidda Bala Usman. I’m from Funtua local government area of Katsina state. I had my primary school education at Model School, Bakori, and later attended Federal Government Girls College, Bakori in 2004. After my senior secondary school certificate examination and UTME, I proceeded to the University of Abuja, had a diploma in law, and then enrolled for my first degree in English in 2011.
Growing up, what did you want to become?
When I was a child, I wanted to become an ambassador, and that’s why I decided to study English. As humans, ours is to dream and plan, but Allah is the best of planners. I’m now a happy entrepreneur. Alhamdulillah!
Would you mind sharing with us some of your fondest childhood memories?
Yes! When I was a child, I loved reading books—I still do—swimming, and riding bicycles – which would translate into the reason I now have a horse. I ride it and enjoy doing that. My childhood days were filled with activities – very eventful.
You attended the University of Abuja where you had a diploma in law and BA in English. What was the experience like?
Studying there was tough. There were also a series of strikes – both internal and ASUU’s. There was a time we had an internal strike that lasted almost seven months. After it was called off, we went on a nationwide ASUU strike. That, of course, delayed our graduation by almost a year. I also spilled over because I had missing scripts, plus I was ill. But on the other side of it, I had wonderful and considerate lecturers who stood by me and offered the best help they could to make sure I graduated. I’m still in contact with them, and once in a while, I call to say hello to them because they actually played a pivotal role in my academic life. I owe them more than thanks.
You had a diploma in law and you switched to English; what was the motivation?
To be honest, the diploma I had in law gave me an understanding of what the profession is and I was scared it wasn’t what I could comfortably do, because I couldn’t convince myself that I was that bold enough to stand or cross the hurdles in the field. So, I switched to English, thinking that could be the route to achieving my ambition of becoming the ambassador I wanted to become. It was after I graduated that I sat down and ruminated on the prospects, after which I decided I wanted to be independent, and the best way I could make that happen was to be in business, to be an entrepreneur.
What type of business are you into?
After my graduation, I got a job at a construction company where I learned AutoCAD, the knowledge which I used in acquiring skills in interior decoration. But I felt it also wasn’t for me, the reason being that I realized I hadn’t much passion for it. So later, I got a contract job, and I told myself that I needed to support that with a business. After a while, I decided to start baking cakes. To learn about the business, I joined classes at a skill acquisition center. At the baking school, we were exposed to the theoretical and practical aspects of cake baking and other pastries. I got an A in the practical. One day while we were doing the practical, my supervisor saw through the camera the way I was decorating my cake and he was so impressed that he came to me and asked how I made it the way I did. I told him I just had the idea in my mind and I felt it’d be nice translating it into the cake. I had a wonderful time learning skills at Red Dish. After graduating, I got my certificate. The training lasted three weeks.
You said it took you three weeks to acquire skills on how to bake cakes; how did it happen?
I joined the school this year and it’s a three-week course. Every day, we would take lectures between 10am – 2 pm where we were taught how to bake, the ingredients to use, the processes to follow, what to do after the baking, and a whole lot of other things. The training was thorough and rigorous and it involved practical, which you know is a teaching method that facilitates learning. Not to sound proud, but every time I baked cake at the school, it came out moist, and in the best way we were expected to produce it. Before starting the class, I’d never baked a cake in my whole life. I didn’t know how to use or mix ingredients A and B and C to give you cake. I was focused and determined and was ready to learn. After classes, I watched YouTube videos and other materials to add to my knowledge of what I learned at school. At home, I’d sometimes add other ingredients to achieve the taste and design I wanted. I think that was the reason my cake was rated best anytime we were given an assignment at the school.
You mentioned that you developed the business idea out of the desire to be an independent entrepreneur. After the training, when did you start the business?
I started soon after the training. I love cakes. On occasions, I’d buy cakes for myself and for friends celebrating their birthdays. I sat down and asked, why would I be spending money on buying cakes? I said I could bake cakes and resolved that in 2022 I’d bake my birthday cake myself and for others. So even before joining the school, I would watch YouTube videos and ask questions about how cakes were made. About three or so months ago, I ran a search on the best baking school in Abuja and Red Dish Chronicles Culinary School, Abuja, was among the top search results. I visited their website, filled out the training form, and got an instant reply to my email. I received a call from their human resource department and after that went for an interview. I passed and we started classes. Only last week, I baked a six- and eight-inch cake, which came out so good.
How did you validate the business idea?
Every business starts somewhere, in fact, that’s with everything in life. Every business has profits and losses, depending on the way it’s being run, the circumstances, the market, and other factors. In any business you are going into, you should sit down and look at its feasibility, then do some calculations on how to start. Part of what I learnt after studying the baking industry is that I understood that although northern women are now bracing up to the challenges of the 21st century by engaging in businesses, there are a lot of other business ideas which when implemented would thrive and fetch good money. When I started interior decoration, albeit with my skills in mixing colors, I realized the passion wasn’t really there and part of the reason, perhaps, was the fact that I saw it as time-consuming. With baking, I see it as a business that I can do anytime I wish and then the demand is all year round because there are birthdays, weddings, and different occasions on which the celebrants need cakes.
What was the experience of baking cake for the first time?
It was quite tough and nice at the same time. At first – that’s before my training at Red Dish – I didn’t know how to add egg, butter and sugar and other ingredients together to make cake and which one to put first. When I got home after my first class at Red Dish I worked on the assignment I was given and came up with the first ever cake which, alas, was burnt while in the process of making it. Experience, they say, is the best teacher. With the experience I had, I read, watched videos and gave full attention at school. Now I bake good cakes.
What was the initial capital you started the business with?
I started with N50,000. During the training, we were asked to buy flour, butter, milk, and sugar for our assignment. After starting my business, I made a cake of six and eight inches and spent N45,000 in buying ingredients and certain tools, and realized a profit of N22,000, which is my first profit. Now I want to buy a mixer and I’m saving the profit to buy it.
So, you are saving the profit to buy tools you need for the business?
I’m not spending the profit for purposes other than that of the business. I really want to expand the business because currently I’ve started receiving orders in good numbers and the only way I can deliver on the orders is to have the necessary equipment for the business in order to produce quality products. I take my orders weekly— like recently I received an order to bake a cake. I baked a whole cake and sliced it so that each went for N2,500, and I ended up realizing N15,000 as profit, which I added to the profit I made earlier. I’m saving to buy a mixer and other tools.
Do you have a brand name?
I do. It’s touchbakesJ.
What’s the inspiration behind the name?
The very first day our instructor came to our class during the three-week training at the baking school, he pointed a finger at me and said he made me the class representative. I was responsible for sharing the resources in the class and other roles I was assigned to carry out. The “touch” in the name is metaphorically used to mean the “hand”, which is what touches the cake when making it. You touch to bake; and to bake, you must touch the flour and other ingredients, and it’s the hand that does the touching.
What is the hardest part of doing this business?
The hardest part is when someone calls me and says they want to have a cake tomorrow. In baking, you don’t call and place an order when you’re having your celebration in less than 24 hours. It’s something you order say a week or so ahead. It needs time, especially if you are icing. A slight mistake and the cake fails. Another challenge is when we bake the cake and it doesn’t come out the way the customer wants it. In this business, everything is based on calculation – from measuring the ingredients to setting the temperature and timing.
What makes you love the baking business?
Baking cakes is something that when you finish and deliver to customers, they feel happy, especially if it meets their expectations. They’ll call you and throw their thanks and comments like, “hey, I taste your cake and it’s good.” The last cake I baked – that’s last week – upon delivery of the cake to the customer, she called and registered her sincere words of gratitude. So, receiving their compliments makes me happy because I also know that by offering quality products to them, I’m putting a smile on their faces.
What are some of the books or resources you used which are helping your business?
For books, I can’t say I read any, especially with respect to the business. However, I do know that – as I said – I watched YouTube videos and a few other resources even before enrolling for the course in baking at Red Dish Chronicles Culinary School. I know again that I love cakes. Back then when a person I knew was traveling to England, I’d ask them to buy me cakes. Now that I’m into the business, I’m trying to bake cakes that taste the same way the ones brought to me from England tasted. I understand for me to grow in the business, I need to learn and acquire skills. For example, I didn’t know that one could add vegetable oil to cake to make it moist. One has to learn and learn and learn in order to add to one’s recipe and knowledge in general.
Some entrepreneurs in this line of business do develop their recipe books to maintain unique products and signature; what are you doing in this regard?
Yes, I’m working on it currently. I’m doing my research every day and I’m making headway.
What strategies are you adopting to improve the business?
I’m, as I mentioned, researching every day, checking new recipes, learning, acquiring new skills, and putting more effort into producing quality cakes which meet the expectation of my customers. Like yesterday I made a banana cake which we were not taught in school. I understand going to the school isn’t enough; I also have to learn on my own and develop different ways of improving my skills to be better at what I do and remain relevant in the business.
What tools do you use in doing business?
The first thing is the mixer, which for now I don’t own. When you have a mixer it’s as though you have everything. Others are a spatula, measuring scales, etc. Then the ingredients such as flour, egg, butter, milk, sugar, etc.
How do you attract customers to your business?
By posting the cakes I make, telling people about the business, and assuring them of the quality of our cakes. You know when customers are assured that they can get what they want from you, they’ll keep ordering from you and will even refer others to you knowing that you will not disappoint them.
How do you generate your profit from the business?
For every cake I bake, I calculate the cost I incurred baking the cake – from the cost of ingredients to the other expenses. Then the remaining balance is what I count as my profit on that one cake, and the same thing with the other cakes I make. Because the cakes are of different sizes and the decoration on them also differs, the profit you realize on each varies. So, the calculation is usually based on the individual cake baked and sold.
What plans do you have for the future?
I want to have my own shop and also explore other aspects of the pastry business. I want to integrate, have a tea shop, and also a shop where I sell pastries and desserts. I want to have my own recipes and signature also.
Is your business registered?
It’s not yet registered, but I’m working towards that. It’s part of the plan I have for the business.
What advice do you have for people intending to start a cake-making business?
As with everything in life, they should be patient if they really want to be in this business. They should be focused and determined because it’s a business that needs time and full concentration which without determination one would not make it. They should also learn and keep on researching to follow and keep with trends in the business.
Would you go for a cake making business if you were to start a business afresh?
I’ll definitely go for cake making because it pays. Everyday people get married, people celebrate birthdays; others celebrate certain achievements, etc. And in all of these, they need cakes to celebrate the occasions, which makes cakes always in demand.
What has the business taught you so far, even though you started not quite long ago?
Yes, that’s true. But honestly, the business has taught me that determination pays. I started not so long ago as you rightly mentioned and Alhamdulillah I’m recording success. I also learnt that baking is a paying business when you do your job well. If your cakes are good, people will patronize you. Others will ask for your handles or phone number and talk business with you, increasing, in a way, your customer base.
How much start-up capital would you advise a person going into this business to have?
I’ll advise that they get – let’s say – N200,000, because they will need to buy the tools and ingredients for the production.
What experiences have you had with customers that are worth sharing?
Yes, there’s a customer who ordered a cake for her child’s birthday. She wanted to throw a party to celebrate the occasion so she ordered a cake last week. Unfortunately for me, it’s been raining almost all week and I didn’t have some of the ingredients I needed for the baking. I couldn’t deliver the cake as and when she wanted it delivered. I remember I delivered it at 2:30pm when she actually wanted it delivered at 2:00pm. She expressed her displeasure at that experience. I also didn’t feel ok delivering a little behind schedule.
There’s another customer who, however, after I made and delivered the cake, was so excited because the cake met her expectations. She uploaded it on her social media handles and made a nice comment about it. She called me and passed her compliments and said a lot of people had asked her of the person who baked the cake because it really tasted nice. I felt happy and said that at least I was getting there.
How do you cope with the hike in prices of the ingredients you use?
I sometimes feel like buying the ingredients in bulk and keeping them at the store so that I don’t have to be buying them in pieces all the time I bake because the prices keep getting higher. Buying in bulk, you get a discount than buying in pieces.
How do you deliver your products to your customers?
I wrap the cakes, take them to the park and get drivers going to the state I’m sending the cake to and they deliver it. Once there, they call the customer for pickup.
So, you have started delivering your cakes outside Abuja?
Yes, even as we speak now there’s an order I received from Kaduna.
What social media platforms do you use in advertising your business?
For the time being, I use only Instagram. I’m still trying to get followers because the other account was hacked. I post the cakes I bake on the Instagram page. I’m planning on creating pages on other social media platforms.
How can you assess the solvency state of your business?
Solvency position I understand is attained when you have a good customer base and the business is flourishing. For me that’s just starting, I can’t say for certain that the business is solvent but I’m strategizing and putting in more effort to see that I grow.
Do you have people working under you?
Yes, I have two, and I pay them wages, that’s as per production or business day.
What mechanisms are you putting in place in order to meet the expectations of your customers?
I deliver the best cakes for them. I take time to bake my cakes so that they look appealing and taste delicious. To meet the expectation of a customer is to bake in accordance with their prescription and taste, so I make sure I do that. And thanks to Red Dish for making me who I am today. I try to make my cake look natural and fresh and moist.
Where do you imagine touchbakesj to be in the next 10 years?
I imagine touchbakesJ to be a big pastry company that delivers products to all parts of Nigeria, Paris and other countries outside Nigeria. I want to have branches in different countries of the world, but this, I understand, is a long-term plan, which I’m working on.
Looking at your achievements in life, who would you say had the greatest impact on your life?
My uncle. He made sure I became the person I wanted to become. He always wants to see me doing good in what I choose to do. He’s been there for me, assisting me, encouraging me, advising me and doing everything to make sure I achieve my life goals. My younger brother too has been of help, and I thank him for being there for me. For my parents, I pray to Allah to repose their souls.