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From side hustle to successful SME: donut queen Kate Williams shares her story

5-minute read

With the economy moving into recovery, it might be time to turn your side hustle into an actual business. Nodo Donuts founder Kate Williams shares her tips for doing it successfully.

Key take-outs
  • Quality is still important as you expand. Don’t let it drop
  • Staying on top of your finances will help you grow sustainably
  • When you can afford it, expert help is a great investment.

The COVID-19 crisis has made 2020 an extraordinarily challenging year for individuals and businesses. But, with a vaccine roll-out slated for 2021, the worst may soon be behind us. As the economy recovers, now could be a good time to think about transforming your side hustle into a fully-fledged business. 

 

Queenslander Kate Williams did just that back in 2014. After her gourmet, gluten-free donuts started selling like hot cakes at a weekend farmers’ market, she packed in her day job in marketing to devote herself to the venture full time. Fast forward six years and Nodo Donuts’ four bakery cafes and three shopping centre pop-up stalls have become go-to destinations for sweet tooth coeliacs and other Brisbane-ites with dietary restrictions. The company employs a team of 90 and plans to open a handful of additional outlets in the next two years. Here, Williams shares her advice for turning a promising side hustle into a thriving enterprise.

Present professionally

When you’re running a side hustle, things like branding and packaging might not matter too much. It’s a different story if you’re looking to build a business that can hold its own in a competitive market.

 

“Even though I started small, I tried to present like a big company,” Williams says. “From the get-go, I had professional branding and a vision for how I wanted Nodo to look and feel to customers.”

Keep up the quality

As you scale, you’ll be looking for ways to make your venture more efficient and profitable. Compromising on the standard of your products and services shouldn’t be one of them. While it can be tempting to take a shortcut here and there, doing so could prove a false economy because customers will know and they’ll vote with their feet.

 

“When I started selling at the markets, my donuts were baked, not fried, and I used all natural and premium gluten-free ingredients, like couverture chocolate, for the toppings,” Williams says. 

 

“As we’ve grown bigger, I’ve become obsessive about sticking to procedures and not letting that quality drop.”

 

For that reason, Williams turned her back on a profitable revenue stream wholesaling her wares to a string of Brisbane cafes back in 2016.

 

“I came to the conclusion that our product wasn’t suited to it,” she says. “Our products have a very short shelf-life and are baked fresh every day so controlling quality became very difficult. If customers have a bad Nodo in a cafe, they won’t consider that it may be because it’s been kept in the cabinet too long, they’ll just think that it’s not a very good product. I wasn’t prepared to take that risk.”

Be passionate and persistent

No-one said it would be easy. There are hurdles aplenty when it comes to creating a sizeable business from small beginnings. But, with passion and persistence, you’ll be able to overcome them, or find people who can help you do so.

 

“I don’t have a background in baking, so my original plan was to employ a baker who could develop a gluten-free donut for me,” Williams says.

 

“But when I tried to do that, I got a lot of pushback; bakers telling me, ‘you can’t do that, you can’t use those ingredients’. I realised I had to do it myself and the lesson that taught me is that experience isn’t everything. I made so many trial batches and was relentless in perfecting my recipe because I was totally focused on creating something special.”

Keep innovating

While your initial product or service offering may look like it’s hitting the spot, there’s no room for complacency. Today’s customers are spoilt for choice and promising new businesses that don’t keep innovating and improving can all too easily find themselves left behind.

 

“Food is such a fast-moving industry; we’re always creating new products and trying to stay ahead of the game,” Williams says. “We have six core donut flavours and then every month our bakers develop a new ‘flavour of the month’. It adds a bit of excitement to the menu.”

Stay on top of your finances

There are dozens of competing calls on your wallet when you’re scaling up a side hustle. It’s easy to overspend or to find yourself strapped because you’ve tried to expand too quickly without a decent cash cushion. Taking control of your cash position can help you avoid these pitfalls and keep your new business in the safe zone financially.

 

“We raised some money to set up our first cafe and used equipment finance from Westpac in some of our fit-outs but, aside from that, a large majority of our growth has been funded from cash flow,” Williams says.

 

“Choosing to expand organically, at a steady, manageable pace, has helped keep Nodo financially healthy.” 

Surround yourself with a great team

In the early days, you’re it – chief cook and bottle washer-cum-general manager, accounts clerk and every other role in between. Do everything for as long as you have to, but pay for help as soon as you’re able and your new business will hit its stride faster.

 

“I was prepared for hard work when Nodo first got going but I wasn’t prepared for the number of hats I had to wear,” William says. “It was overwhelming and the best thing I did was to start to surround myself with experts who could do a better job than me.”

 

If you’ve been dreaming of turning your side hustle into a full-time business, 2021 could be the year to take the leap. It’s no easy undertaking but working hard and smart will give you the best shot at success.


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Things you should know

This article is a general overview and should be used as a guide only. We recommend that you seek independent professional advice about your specific circumstances before acting.