Business Tips From a MilSpouse


Melissa
Melissa

Angela West is not only the type of friend you want in your corner because she is funny, smart, and sassy, but y’all … she bakes some scrumptious goodies! This Marine Corps spouse, currently based in Okinawa, Japan, has run a successful catering and baking business for eight years across three duty stations, including overseas. While her business today, The Frosted Stiletto, looks a bit different from when she started it, her business has remained constant as she blazes the trails for other military spouse baking entrepreneurs.

It all started when her family was stationed in China Lake, California. She enjoyed baking and cooking so much that she was always the one volunteering to head up the hospitality tasks for family readiness meetings and Lifestyle Insights, Networking, Knowledge and Skills, or L.I.N.K.S. This trickled over into baking and cooking for friends. She didn’t have a set business plan and pricing structure when she first started, but she found that friends would drop off fresh ingredients and small amounts of cash if she would bake up a little something for them. She loves baking so much she said, “It’s just so easy to whip up something. No need to pay me.”  This sparked the idea that she should really get her business plans in gear. She operated as a catering and baking business until her husband received orders to Quantico, Virginia.  After conducting her own market research, she decided to really zero in on offering baked goods, and specifically specialty custom cakes. She rebranded herself under the business name she still uses today, and the Frosted Stiletto was born. I had the chance to talk with Angela to hear her advice for other budding military spouse entrepreneurs.

Milspouse Entrepreneur Angela West
Milspouse Entrepreneur Angela West

When asked if her business helps or impacts the community in any way Angela excitedly answers how it does, especially in Okinawa. Her specialty cakes help give military families, stationed far from home, more options to help commemorate their special occasions. Since Angela does custom cakes, she offers a nice alternative to the basic sheet cakes that are readily available at other grocery stores on the island. Having this as an option is a nice comfort to make things seem “more normal” when living and celebrating so far from home.

To become the success that she is today, Angela learned how to make it as a military spouse entrepreneur, and she generously shared these lessons. When she first started, she said it took some practice to get comfortable in her business sense as far as pricing her goods at a competitive, yet fair price. To get comfortable with the business side of things, Angela learned from and emulated other cake designers and entrepreneurs through social media in order to grow her decorating and business model.  Since she is a self-taught cake decorator, when she first started, she used to tell her customers “I can guarantee it will taste good, but it may not look the best.” With many years of experience behind her, she can now guarantee both. As her duty stations changed, so did her business struggles. Her

All hand crafted decorations, no molds here.
All hand crafted decorations, no molds here.

current struggles now are anticipating needs so that she always has the right supplies on hand to satisfy her customers. She shared that it can also be a struggle to source the freshest ingredients on the island — typical OCONUS problems.

Her advice to other military spouses is to be legal about everything. Get the proper permits and licenses. It may seem daunting, but having your ducks in a row is vital, especially if you are running a business from base housing overseas. She even shared that it’s not difficult or time consuming to do everything the right way, and you’ll thank yourself later for doing it right. As far as getting the word out there, Angela has been fortunate with successful word-of-mouth marketing. She credits happy customers with providing free advertisements by way of their referrals in spouse and local-town Facebook groups. She also cautions not to lean on only this type of marketing, but to make sure you have your information out there. She also warns to make sure you “don’t cram it down people’s throats.” For example, when a friend invites you to her child’s birthday party, don’t ask things like “Who is doing your cake?” Instead, make sure that when you do mention your business it is in a casual, relevant manner. Be prepared for natural ebbs and flows of your business. This is completely normal and don’t stress during low times, but keep working harder. Her biggest takeaway from running her own business is “Not everyone is your customer, and be ok with that.”

For now, Angela is continuing to bake up a storm and plans to continue to do so for the rest of her husband’s career. In five years, she hopes to settle down somewhere opening up a brick-and-mortar storefront near their forever home since her husband will be retiring from military service. If you are interested in starting your own business, give Military OneSource a call and ask to speak with a SECO counselor to help answer your questions.

 

*If you are interested in starting your own business as a military spouse, reserve your seat for the 2016 entrepreneurship webinar series.

 

Disclaimer: Publication on the Blog Brigade does not constitute official endorsement of personal blogs or websites on behalf of the Department of Defense.

 

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