Janie Deegan is the founder and owner of Janie’s Life Changing Baked Goods. In this chat, she shares a little of her story on the path to becoming a successful entrepreneur and offers tips for other ambitious entrepreneurs looking to start or grow their own business.
Janie’s story starts out a little differently than you might expect. She was struggling with addiction, living on the streets for a time, and lacking any self-love.
As a child, baking had given her joy, so she bought a little hand mixer and started doing it again. Soon, she found that baking, and watching people enjoy her delicacies, gave her enough purpose and joy to stay sober.
The title of her business comes out of this tragic yet beautiful back story. Janie’s baked goods really are life-changing! She encourages other entrepreneurs to look for something that gives them purpose.
At first, she just baked for her friends and family. She would bring something to every event or party she attended and people always raved about her treats.
Eventually, just before Thanksgiving in 2015, a woman asked her to bake a cake for a big event. Janie hesitated because of her lack of experience and training but decided to take a leap of faith. Businesses only grow if you’re willing to seize the day!
After this success, she thought perhaps she could sell a pie for Thanksgiving. People always really loved her pies. Maybe if she could sell just one pie for Thanksgiving this was something she could do as a career.
Well, she didn’t sell just one pie — she sold dozens. Thus, Janie’s Life Changing Baked Goods was born.
When Janie first started out, she didn’t know very much about the world of entrepreneurship. She even jokes that she had to go look up the word!
She didn’t seek out other bakery business owners or other entrepreneurs because she thought people would be close-mouthed, holding their industry secrets close to their chests.
However, eventually she found a welcoming community among other business owners, people who were 2 or 3 steps ahead of her that could offer advice and support.
To that end, she encourages new business owners to seek out that community. Direct peers, people who technically are the competition, have been some of her best resources and some of the best connections she’s made with other people.
Janie also encourages entrepreneurs to seek out resources to help them grow. Take classes, get in touch with programs that support small businesses.
For her, a local vendors program in Harlem and the MBA mini-course they offered through Columbia Business School was a huge boon. The program offered the course for free and it gave her all the tools she needed to learn how to start a consumer-packaged goods business.
She was hesitant to accept help in the beginning, suspicious that people who offered her something were just looking for something in return.
But then she began to realize the incredible spirit of community around her. People who offered her their time or their expertise really wanted to see her grow and help her succeed. All she had to do was accept their help.
Like many small businesses, in March of 2020, Janie’s Life Changing Baked Goods took a big hit. A huge deal she was looking at with an ice cream company fell through and the incubator kitchen that she rented closed because of COVID.
She was completely paralyzed and was unsure what to do for a few weeks.
Then, the incubator kitchen reopened with strict sanitary procedures in place. She couldn’t sell the way she used to, so she decided to try something different. These are the types of businesses that will survive the COVID crisis, the ones that a flexible and innovative.
She started making care packages and selling them online. Now, just a couple short months later, 90% of her business is eCommerce. Her ability to be flexible took her down a path she didn’t expect but saved her business.
This method of selling was quite successful, but COVID social distancing practices and space limitations quickly put a damper on things. She simply didn’t have enough space to make the variety of flavors that people were asking for.
So, she took to Instagram and set up weekly polls asking people what flavors they wanted. Each week she would roll out a new flavor for her limited-edition care packages.
Janie found that this worked so well, she even ended up creating new flavors based on customer suggestions. And people ate it up — both literally and figuratively!
Janie admits she found social media difficult in the beginning. The number of direct messages she got even annoyed her until she realized how valuable they could be.
People want to feel connected with the brands they buy from and social media gives them the perfect platform to do it on. She began to enjoy interacting with her customers, answering questions and getting valuable feedback that has helped her adapt her business to better serve her customers.
At first, Janie was reticent to talk about her past. Then, when writing an entry for a grant and scholarship from Pepsi, she decided to share her story. That was her truth, after all. Baking had saved her life. She went from a dark place but is now a business owner and has a beautiful life.
Being authentic won the scholarship and the chance to present her baked goods in front of some of the top food industry people in the business. And that’s what Janie continues to do, be authentic with her brand and her customers, and is thriving even in these tough economic times.
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