Liz Wilson - Teacher to Micro-Baker

“Don’t give up the day job.” 

Over time, Liz decided to combine her old and new careers.  “It was very scary but I started to teach bread-making and that’s when I had the sense that it would truly work as a full-time business.”

 Liz Wilson

Liz Wilson

Previous career overview

An early career in marketing.  When children arrived, re-trained as a primary school teacher.  In her third career Liz has re-trained as a baker and runs her own very successful micro-bakery.

Trigger for change?

Liz loved teaching but as the children grew up she knew that she wanted to end up doing something in the food industry.  She was a very keen home baker and had always baked cakes and biscuits with the children but was attracted to an advertisement for a course in “how to set up a micro-baking business”. This course “ignited” something within her. 

First steps?

“That course changed me - I became bread-obsessive.  I bought books, googled recipes, baked bread constantly and was determined to make bread successfully – just for me – not as a business idea.  I offered to volunteer in bakeries and cooking schools – just washing up to begin with.  Then over-time we’d get talking about bread and I’d get to help out a bit more in the actual baking.  I learned so much and met such amazing bakers.” 

“When I think about it, all of the people on that initial course were women in transition.  Either women with new children or older children leaving home, women of a certain age.  They had either had enough of something or were at a cross roads and wanted more of something else.  If you ever need to think something through – make some bread.   It’s mindfulness. You have to stay in the moment to knead and it feels great.”

The initial course which Liz joined gave her one-third of the full Bread Angels accreditation and access to a network of micro-bakers across the UK.  “This meant that I could access support from a huge network of people who have done it before.  These bread angels are all over the country and we meet for a drink, share ideas, go on training courses together and offer support to those who need business support.  I’ve met everyone from new friends to professional mentors through that network.”

What Liz discovered?

“The hardest thing was to sell that first loaf.  You can’t test the product.  It was so easy to give it away but friends kept telling me to stop.  I didn’t want the criticism if it wasn’t good enough…if I wasn’t a good enough baker.”  Liz had an unusual brave technique to test her baking confidence – she entered the Home Bread Awards and was delighted to be a runner-up. This raised her confidence to a level that she felt she could sell that first loaf.

One piece of advice she has for those thinking of a midlife career change is “Don’t give up the day job.”  Liz remained working part-time as a teacher in her local primary school but on her days off she kept learning her new craft, practicing hundreds of recipes, personally delivering her bread to the doors of customers.  She then received an unexpected boost of a little bit of local PR started to grow the business organically. 

Over time, Liz decided to combine her old and new careers.  “It was very scary but I started to teach bread-making and that’s when I had the sense that it would truly work as a full-time business.”

She owes her success in this new part of her business model to a combination of her old career and her stage of life.  “I wouldn’t have been as good at teaching bread-making if I had not had all of my teaching training and years of life experience.”

“I knew nothing about business but I very purposefully began to learn things and attended all sorts of training.  I even got a bursary to do a 1.5 day training course at the School of Artisan Food I started to do tutorials and webinars on everything from accounting, to social media marketing, packaging, PR and photography for food.  If you really care about what you are making, it’s very easy to want to learn everything that relates to it.”

What she would do differently?

“Support from others is key. There is so much free support for new businesses out there through seminars/information/networking events.  It’s fantastic.   I was never confident about selling me and getting people to buy into me but I’ve appreciated that I am part of the story behind my bread.”

“I’ve learned so much through networking and talking to people in similar situations.  I’ve bartered bread for services at these events.  You never know who will come into your life at these events and how you might be able to help each other.  You’ve got to try to be the best you can. I put a lot of pressure on myself to try to the best I can all the time.”

“I even teach others how to set up their own micro-bakeries now. Micro-baking is very attractive to women because it starts at home and can be fit around jobs and family.”

“The media presents entrepreneurship as a young person’s game – it’s not.  When you are creating something that you care about, you want it make it the best it can be for your customers.  If you don’t know how to do every bit of that – it’s so easy to learn.”

“Have a go – you just never know what could happen.”

How it feels on the days when Liz knows that she has made the right decision?

“Everywhere I go, people ask me ‘what’s next?’ There’s so much pressure to grow. I could have my own bakery which would be open 9-5 but being bigger give me anymore?  I’m not entirely sure why I would do that.  I have a great, profitable business.  I deliver to my customers sometime in the afternoon so there’s no time pressure.  I walk downstairs to work.  I can have a day off when I want to.  I feel blessed.  Most days I think - am I really doing this AND getting paid for it?  

“There is magic in the process.  I feel joyful.   I love teaching people to bake – it can be transformational.  Baking comes from the heart.  I love bringing joy into other people’s lives.  Baking is a slow form of therapy. I’ve got a lot to lose if I took the next step.”

“I sometimes have to forget my age when I walk into these networking events as lots of people appear much younger.  I have to forget my perception of my age.  But, bread doesn’t care what age you are.  I forget my age when I’m working.”

Regrets?

“Not one!”