Jen Delgado originally hails from Baltimore, Maryland, USA, and has been living in Belgium for just over seven years. “When my husband and I moved to Brussels (for his career) we were kid-free and since I wasn’t working when we arrived here I got to enjoy things like hot coffee and waking up late!” With the birth of her daughter about 2.5 years later, Jen found – like many us will confirm – that “the whole ‘hot coffee’ and ‘waking up late’ thing went out the window! Two years after having my daughter, I had my son and I’m not even sure how to spell “sleeping in” (thanks autocorrect!) at this point!”
Jen started tossing around the idea of starting her own business when her daughter was about three years old. “At the time, my daughter was in school and my son was in creche, but my days were still full of errands and drop-offs, pick-ups and appointments. It wasn’t exactly exciting but I was happy! Busy and exhausted, but happy with my life.”
It was a comment from Jen’s daughter that got her thinking that maybe she could do more. “My daughter threw it out there that her Daddy goes to work and that her mommy didn’t work at all! Um, yeah, thanks kid. The stay-at-home mom gig is no joke!”
“My daughter threw it out there that her Daddy goes to work and that her mommy didn’t work at all! Um, yeah, thanks kid.”
And while Jen fully accepts that letting a 3-year-old’s off-hand remarks lead you into life-changing decisions is usually not a great idea, she’s kind of happy with how things have turn out.
So, tell us how this seed of an idea grew into The Brussels Cakery we know and love today.
“Shortly after my daughter’s bombshell comment, over coffee with girlfriends, I was discussing the idea of starting a cake design and baking company. I was trying to talk myself out of it; thinking that they would tell me I was crazy.
Instead, they encouraged me and pushed me and in the end even helped me to come up with the name, The Brussels Cakery!”
In the beginning, one of my friends helped me set up my website and Facebook page. Another friend talked me through advertising ideas.
My husband and his penchant for spread sheets helped me to figure out pricing and expenses.
I was testing recipes, decorating, and photographing cakes to post online in order to show what I could do.
“It was a good time to know me; I was giving away free cakes like it was Christmas!”
Did you find it difficult to set up your business in Belgium? Who did you turn to for advice and support?
“Setting up my business was not an easy task. Nothing is cut-and-dry here in Belgium when it comes to starting a small business!
Trying to navigate the paperwork and the laws as well as startup fees almost put me off of starting the business that I had originally been so excited about.
“Nothing is cut-and-dry here in Belgium when it comes to starting a small business!”
I found a lot of help by talking to a counsellor, accountant, and especially by talking to other independent workers and small business owners.”
What are the best and worst things about running your business?
“I think the hardest thing about running my own company is trying to find a balance between work and home. The nature of my business is one that inevitably means I need to answer messages, emails, and calls not only during business hours but also outside of business hours as well.
Sometimes I’m quoting cakes at 23:00 or answering emails at 6:00 before I even get out of bed for the day!
Its hard work but at the same time there are so many good things about owning my business! My son claps for me after I finish every cake. My daughter gives me her approval with a loud “ooooo, thats pretty!”. I’m able to determine my own working hours and I’m able to take time off when I need (or want) to! And, I’m doing something I really enjoy!”
Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit? Or is this something that came later in life?
“I always wanted to have my own business. I remember being about 10 years old and telling my mom I wanted to open a Bed & Breakfast. Then I wanted to open my own bookstore. And now here I am creating cakes!
I’d say maybe I’ll combine all of the above at some point but for now – I’m going to stick with cakes!”
Was your family supportive of you setting up your business service?
“My husband was and continues to be so supportive of me! If you’ve ordered a cake from me you’ve likely met him as he’s my delivery guy.
He deals with last minute freak-outs before a cake goes out to a client and keeps my wine glass full when its getting low.”
Would you encourage your own children to be their own bosses? (when they grow up, that is ;))
“I would definitely encourage my own kids to start their own business. Its not easy but it IS rewarding. I like looking back on how I’ve grown as a baker and a cake decorator. And I like how I’ve built something from the ground up.
I think it’s good for kids to create something from nothing and put in the effort required to make it grow!”
What are your top tips on balancing home and work life? How do you stay organised throughout the day and get time for everyone and everything?
“Balancing work and home life? It’s HARD. Know what makes it even remotely possible? Lists, lists, and more lists. Pretty sure I even have lists that list lists.
I have notifications that ding. I send emails to myself so I don’t forget something. I have a calendar on my phone and one I hand write. I forget that I have lists and I forget that I have calendars and I’m constantly double checking things and rereading things I’ve written down.
Then I multiply all of this times two (one for home and one for work). Does it sound like complete chaos? It totally is!
“Balancing work and home life? It’s HARD. Know what makes it even remotely possible? Lists, lists, and more lists.”
All of this and I still forget things and have to run around last minute. The other day I even had to borrow gauffres from my friend for my kid to take in for her class’ snack at school. I even had “buy goûter” in my phone’s calendar but I forgot to look at my calendar notification.
Seriously – no matter if you’re working at home or out of your home, if you’re working for someone else or you own your own business; if you’ve figured out the key balancing work and home life without all of the craziness that goes with it, you better share your secret!
Any funny child-work balancing stories to share with us?
“When I was recipe testing one day, my son was at home with me. If you’ve ever tried to do anything, from going to the bathroom by yourself to getting groceries with a little kid (or any kid?) you know that it’s just impossible.
So imagine baking while having to entertain your kid who wants to help. Um, no way Mr.! (Also, I know somewhere out there, there are lovely moms and dads that actually like to bake with their kids, I’m not one of them!)
“I know somewhere out there, there are lovely moms and dads that actually like to bake with their kids, I’m not one of them!”
So I got all Pintrest-y and gave an old muffin tin to my son who was sitting on the floor in the kitchen. I gave him a bowl of flour and a spoon. And then I turned my back. I mean, can you believe he’s my second kid and I actually turned my back on him with FLOUR?!
But when you’re desperate to actually get some work done you do things that you later consider batsh*t crazy. [Editor: Been there, done that, cleaned up afterwards!]
When I turned back around about 2.5 minutes later, this kid was completely covered in flour. Flour that had been mixed with water. Where did the water come from? No idea! And you know what I did?! I said “F$*k -it” and went back to my recipe testing since he already looked like a kid dipped in cement. He then proceeded to roll around on the floor and laugh at his flour mess that he had then caked into his hair and eyelashes. Yep, kids are fun!”
Do you have any tips for parents who dream of becoming entrepreneurs / starting their own business, but just can’t get started?
It’s easy to say “if you want to do it, just go for it”. But let’s be real – that’s not always a possibility for someone if they’re not financially able to quit their current job or pay for extra child care hours, for example, while they start a business from scratch.
Instead, I would say to come up with a business plan first. Figure out how much money you’d need to get started. Research Belgian laws and rules for what you want to do.
Put a plan together to get from where you are now to the actual start of your business (maybe you need to save a set amount of money, or you need to scale back hours at your current job, or maybe you even need to wait until your kids are a bit older and more self sufficient, etc).
“It’s easy to say ‘if you want to do it, just go for it’. But let’s be real – that’s not always a possibility.”
Having a plan is really helpful to see your long-term goal of starting a business even if it’s not feasible at this point.
All that said though – sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith take that first step!
And if all else fails – just eat cake!”