Careers & Education

Balancing the books

Law student tackles entrepreneurship; Jessica Hylton builds a biz while studying

BY PETRE WILLIAMS-RAYNOR Career & Education editor williamsp@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, April 08, 2012    

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IN the last two years, Jessica Hylton has become an old hand at writing everything down and it's no wonder.

A final-year law student at the University of the West Indies, Mona, the 21-year-old is also in business for herself.

"It is definitely very difficult [to be a student and entrepreneur]. I have had to make several free-time sacrifices to manage not only the business and my studies, but also coaching synchronised swimming," Hylton, the proud one-woman owner/operator of Jessiker Bakes told Career & Education.

"I have to write every single thing down or put it in my phone's calendar for me to keep track of all that I have to do. I used to go for hours with little sleep, but I've stopped doing that; sleep is the most important thing I need to manage all of this," added the young woman, who is from a family of attorneys.

Jessiker Bakes, operated from her home in uptown Kingston, began operations in April 2010 and today provides a variety of dessert goodies to customers — from cakes, cookies, and cupcakes to breads, cheesecakes, pies and tarts.

"I do dessert catering, wedding cakes and customised cakes and desserts for all occasions, including birthdays, christenings, bridal showers and other celebrations," noted Hylton, who began the business with an initial capital investment of $200,000 — some $50,000 of that her own money.

The rest, she said, was put up by her parents who are both attorneys at law.

"I wanted to ensure that a proper investment was put into quality ingredients and equipment so that the best possible goods could be produced," noted Hylton, who spent her formative years between Jamaica and the British Virgin Islands.

At the same time, she said that her choice of offerings was guided by the fact that she is not only "great at making them", but that they are also "very popular among my niche market".

"Products range from $1,000 to $2,000 for like cookies and cupcakes [to] $2,500 to $5,000 for cakes and $5,500 for large cheesecakes. Custom cakes and wedding cakes vary and depend on specifications," Hylton said.

Getting the company up and running has not been without difficulties, though along the way she has had good support from her family -- support that has been enhanced by her knowledge of the law, gained courtesy of her studies.

"I was fortunate in that I didn't experience many challenges, but I did find that it takes very long to be registered and for one's logo and name to be trademarked. It's definitely something that entrepreneurs should start as soon as they have their business idea," Hylton said.

"Also, I found that I definitely had to have a solid plan if I wanted the business to be successful; an idea means nothing without a plan that can work 100 per cent. Also, I didn't realise how difficult it would be to price goods to ensure not only that profit was being made, but [also] good prices for clients whilst competing with others," she added.

And there are still a few hurdles Hylton has to cross.

"An ongoing challenge would be that the cost of premium ingredients continues to rise which means that while I always try to provide reasonable prices for clients, I do have to occasionally raise prices if I want to make a profit. And, of course, I only use premium ingredients," said the young woman who currently utilises online marketing heavily.

"I use online marketing as much as possible; not only is it more cost-effective but it reaches my target audience immediately. I use social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and e-mail marketing mediums. I have also found that word of mouth is an excellent marketing medium; if your goods are great, your clients will recommend you and this has definitely done me favour," she told Career & Education.

Critical to her success, Hylton said, is her company's mission statement which is "to serve loyal clients with the best quality products to their customised needs at a reasonable cost and to provide optimum customer service".

While she has freely admitted it is no picnic managing her studies with a fledgling business, Hylton, who revealed she has turned a profit, insists it is possible. For one thing, her studies have helped to inform her business practice.

"I have certainly learnt time management," she said. "Also, law has taught me an abundance of business knowledge, such as intellectual property details and company law."

To those who may wish to follow in her footsteps, she advises: "Ensure that you finish your current degree and that you can balance having both a business and being a student at the same time. Also — and most importantly — follow your dreams and don't let anyone discount them."

For herself she said: "I definitely want to be a lawyer, but I do hope to expand my business to the point where I will develop it into a bakery."

Hylton's tips for prospective entrepreneurs

* Have a solid plan as to what you want your business to provide and stick to it.

* Have a niche market; don't try to provide for everyone.

* Lay out the costs of what you will need; include everything down to a white board to write your business plans.

* Market to the best of your ability and take advantage of your free resources.

* Make a list of long-term and short-term goals that you want your company to achieve and check back in six months to see where you are.

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