Starting a small business is difficult, but even more so when you’re a college student dealing with online classes amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nevertheless, those difficult circumstances certainly did not stop AB Communication student Isabel Torres (her friends call her Tor!) from conceptualizing The Sweet Spell, a small online bakery. Tor initially launched the business with her friend Arianne Panganiban in June 2020, but she has been the sole owner of the initiative since the start of 2021.
Currently, The Sweet Spell has nearly 20 items on their menu. With Tor taking inspiration from witches, cauldrons, and Disney villains, she decided to sell cookies, cakes, bread loaves, and even coffee drinks in line with this dark theme.
But the store’s growing success definitely did not come easy, and Tor is completely open about the challenges she faced in starting and maintaining the small food business.
How it all started
Tor shares that it had only been two months into the community quarantine when she started the business to “stay sane and productive.” She used to keep herself busy by attending music gigs, but she knew that this would no longer be feasible until the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I had all this energy inside so I revisited an old hobby of mine, which is baking,” she says, explaining that baking has always been her stress reliever.
Aside from this, she also wanted to earn money because she no longer received weekly allowances from her parents. Inevitably, running day-to-day business operations also taught her how to independently handle her own finances.
The challenges of starting an online business
Still, Tor encountered many hurdles during the online store’s early days, and she always found handling deliveries the most difficult. She shares that her former co-partner lived far from her house, so coordinating with each other about logistics was tedious and costly.
“We would deliver five days out of a week, so we would have to transport products almost every day, and the fee to transport is quite high due to the surge on Grab or Lalamove,” she recounts.
Difficulties aside, Tor was determined to continue the business because of how much comfort she finds in baking pastries. Another plus was her enjoyment in marketing her brand—from posting social media promotions to reaching out to food bloggers.
Rolling with the punches
Tor didn’t want to burn out too quickly, so she was on the lookout for ways to make managing the business more efficient. For instance, she took a two-week break to completely rest before taking full ownership of the store in 2021.
“I felt that The Sweet Spell was becoming more of a drag [...] and that for me was unacceptable. After that two-week stunt from baking, I realized that The Sweet Spell is too precious for me to hate and find unenjoyable,” she shares.
Afterwards, she made the store’s in-house delivery processes less confusing by getting her own fleet of riders with the help of a friend. This clever development also allowed her to have better quality control, since it was now less likely for goods to get damaged in transit.
As for time management, she balances her commitments by ultimately prioritizing the three things that matter most to her: Family, school, and her business.
However, although she has effectively dealt with all of these difficulties thus far, she still pressures herself to reach her personal standards. “I think the biggest challenge is myself. I’m the type of person who just never settles and will keep on working and going at it until I feel that I’ve done my best,” she says.
Moving forward, she dreams of owning her own physical bakery someday. For now, however, she acknowledges that running The Sweet Spell online has been both a great passion project and an insightful learning experience for her.
With this, she advises aspiring college entrepreneurs to ask themselves this question prior to starting a business: “Do I love it enough to dedicate all of my time and energy to this?”
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