Saturday May 31 2014

Brenda will bake you that cake

The three cakes Brenda Sekabembe was baking weekly when she had just started, have today grown she sometimes has to reject orders.

The three cakes Brenda Sekabembe was baking weekly when she had just started, have today grown she sometimes has to reject orders. photos by Abubaker Lubowa/courtesy. 

In her early 30s, Brenda Sekabembe, a mother to a three-and-half-year old daughter, also runs her baking business, Bake4me. With more than 200 cake sales a weekend, it wouldn’t be wrong to say this Food Science and Technology graduate has successfully made her way up the ranks in the business. The business was officially registered in 2004.

This, however, has not always been the case. Ten years back, she was a school graduate, treading the Kampala streets in search for a job. She explains that it was during this time that one day she ended up at her cousin’s office.

The cousin asked her to make him a cake, and handed her Shs10,000, which she mainly used to buy the ingredients like baking flour, sugar and the other ingredients she would need. After this, she got two other clients who had seen what she had made for her cousin, and slowly her journey to setting up one of the best cake businesses in this town began. She started out using her mother’s cooker at home.

From three to over a hundred cakes per week
Sekabembe grew up with her parents, Mr and Dr Sekabembe, and her four siblings. Her mother used to do some baking at home on birthdays and other family occasions and she taught all her children to do the same by engaging them in her baking chores.

Already into her cake business, Sekabembe also got a job at Sausage King as a marketing personnel after she realised that she could make something of her cake business. “I was earning Shs150,000 per month. This may seem like little money, but I knew I needed it to boost my cake business,” she says. While she was working at Sausage King during day, she was baking her cakes in the night.

All this time, she explains that she would sometimes walk up to some of her workmates, and guests at the different events she went to and introduced them to her business. At the time, she was baking only a maximum of three cakes in a week, unlike today when she has more orders than she can handle some times, especially over the weekends when there are events like weddings and birthdays.

A few months later, she worked at Chemiphar Uganda Limited, and later at USAID, until 2006. Instead of looking for another job, Sekabembe decided to go for further studies. With some of the money she had saved over the years, she travelled to South Africa for a one-and-half-year long Master’s degree course in Public Health at the University of Pretoria.

While there, she got a job working at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
She came back to Uganda after the end of her course, pregnant with her first child, and longing to be back home with her family. After her return in 2007, she worked with Mulago Hospital, but only for about four months, and she was jobless again.

There after, she decided to concentrate on her cake business. At the start of 2010, Sekabembe was called back to South Africa to work on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Pretoria, South Africa. She stayed there for two years before returning to a cake business that had been sustained by her mother in her absence. It has been cakes for Sekabembe since then. She decided to stop seeking employment, but instead buried all her energies into turning her business into the success it enjoys today. She employs 14 people, in the bakery.

Juggling family and career
For many women juggling family duty with the demands of a growing business becomes rather cumbersome, requiring a lot of sacrifice. In Sekabembe’s case, she is glad that she has a partner that understands and is very supportive of her, and her business. She says that during the peak season, she works late, especially when she has to be working on so many orders.

It also helps that she works from home, so, she does not stay away from her family because of her work. She works from Monday to Saturday, and takes the day off on Sunday to spend time with them. “Long working hours are inevitable. For the growth of your business, you will need to make some sacrifices, like long hours, and missing family moments,” she says.

Reaping and weeping
The beginning was rough but Sekabembe eventually got her brand out there. However, once she was up on her feet and the business was an established brand, Sekabembe had to start making some tough decisions like turning away some clients, especially when the orders got overwhelming.

This, Sekabembe explains, is one of her lowest moments. Otherwise, she works on a first-come-first-serve basis, working on cakes in order of request. Negative feedback from the customers also ruins her good days. Her greatest moment, though, is when she watches the delivery van driving out with a large order for her clients. And which business person in her shoes would not? It is a clear indication of one’s success.

How Brenda does it

The right attitude and other things
A bad attitude can badly affect your work. Then, there is setting goals for yourself and tuning your mind to work even if it means staying up till late. You need to create goals that motivate you to work hard. You also need to learn to rise above emergencies. If a client calls you on short notice, be able to help them. All factors remaining constant, you have to have their product ready. This is one of the things that have made us stand out in this business; we are not only good at what we do, we are fast at it.

Sekabembe explains that the power outages greatly affect her work, and her only solution, which would be buying a standby generator, is not a possibility at the moment. The traffic jams are another challenge, because they make getting deliveries on time hard. There is also the fact that her product is a luxury. This means that many people don’t see the use of spending so much on her cakes, forgetting how much effort and time is put into making them.

Business tips
Honesty is key. When you have to be working with suppliers, banks and many other institutions, you need to learn to be honest. You also learn to sacrifice. When you go out of your way to satisfy the customer, there will always be rewards for this. Balancing family and business is important. If things are going badly on the family front, it will greatly impact your work. If you are disturbed at home, you will have to leave those problems at home and serve your customers with a smile.