Asher shows how to rise in a downturn

Recession worries getting you down? How about a slice of wisdom from celebrity cake-maker Jane Asher...

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

It’s been another gloomy week on the economic front: swingeing job cuts, falling house prices, talk of a recession – it’s enough to make any right-minded management publication turn to cake for comfort. So we were delighted this week to catch up with Jane Asher, the actress turned entrepreneur whose luxury cake company has been going strong since 1989 – meaning that she knows a thing or two about what it takes to pilot a fledgling business through an economic downturn…

‘The day I opened my door was almost exactly the beginning of the recession, and if I’d known then what I was in for, I don’t know if I’d have been brave enough,’ Asher cheerfully told MT this week. She’d managed to get her business off the ground by persuading her local bank manager to lend her £80,000 – which as she admits herself, was quite a lot of money to lend to a celebrity with no experience of running a business (even if she had written successful books on the subject). These days, of course, bank managers would have to defer such decisions to credit control committees. Although that hasn’t exactly proved a foolproof recipe, has it…

But although Asher’s cake business survived when others failed, she freely admits to making plenty of mistakes along the way – and we’re not just talking about Paul McCartney here. The business lost money for years, forcing Asher to open a tea shop at one stage to bring in cash. Cost management was a big problem, she concedes: ‘I didn’t really check that everything I was spending was really necessary and kept to a minimum,’ she says. Pricing was another issue: ‘I under-priced my cakes for a long time, and that was a real lesson.’ Apparently it took years before she got this right.

But her biggest faux pas, she says, was not taking enough external advice. And she’s keen for budding entrepreneurs not to make the same mistake – she’s currently backing a new scheme from the Federation of Small Businesses, which provides start-ups with free financial advice and legal support. ‘I should have taken advice from that kind of place earlier on,’ she says. ‘I wish I had - I would lie awake at night worrying about how I was going to service my overdraft, pay my staff and so on.’

Still, she clearly managed it – and nearly 20 years on, the continuing success of her Party Cakes business (now with a lucrative online retail operation) shows that she must have been doing something right. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, after all...

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Asher shows how to rise in a downturn

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