Farmers Journal 2009



7 November 2009 Edition

Going your own way

By Ciara O’Kelly

We may be in a recession but there is still funding and advice available for those starting a small business. Ciara O’Kelly finds out more.

Starting up your own business? It’s a great idea in theory but taking the fearful leap into the unknown is another story. However, what many people don’t realise is that there are various organisations who not only offer professional support and guidance, but can also offer financial assistance.

The 35 County and City Enterprise Boards are one avenue. Female entrepreneurs, in particular, can benefit from a suite of supports, such as networking opportunities, expert mentoring and management development workshops. At present, the Enterprise Boards are organising the National Women’s Enterprise Day. Not only is the day a one-stop shop for advice for women in business, they also take the cream of the crop and showcase female enterprise success in Ireland.


Speaking at the conference is the Tánaiste, Minister Mary Coughlan, TD and Jo Fairley, co-founder of the Green & Black’s organic chocolate company. Other guests women will find very interesting are everyday Irish women like themselves who have taken a small idea and created a strong dependable business from it.

Jill Fitzgerald, a farmer’s wife living in Dingle, Co Kerry is one such example. Her business Cake Toppers is run from a cottage on their dairy farm and has gone from strength to strength over the past year. Jill explains how her company came to be.

”I went to Trinity College to study speech therapy but my heart was never really in it. I graduated and worked as a therapist for a while but I was a foodie at heart. So I did a three-month course in Ballymaloe and worked there for a year. My time in West Cork convinced me that the food route was the one for me.

”After working as a pastry chef for a few years in Killorglin, I followed the same route as many different women. I got married in 1992 and my three children were born in the years after. Although I had a small catering business on the side, for the first 13 years of my eldest daughter’s life, I was a full-time mother.

”About five years ago though I decided to really get back into working as a chef and I started a stall in the local farmers’ market. I really enjoyed it but it was all weekend and summer work, which clashed with the time I got to spend with the kids so it was short-lived,” she says.


”The real turning point for me was this time two years ago when I started a Diploma in Speciality Food Production in UCC. It was only a few days every month but it got me motivated and seriously thinking about my long-term career path.

”As part of my end-of-year assignment, I looked into the idea of setting up a speciality wedding cake business. I took the leap and got in touch with my local Enterprise Board. I was shocked because they really helped me put the whole plan in place. As my orders would be placed online, it was agreed that I would need a new website. Within 24 hours, they had agreed to give me funding towards it.”

The Enterprise Board also sent Jill on a business growth course, gave her 50% of the cost towards her website and allocated her time with a website mentor.

However, it wasn’t the speciality cakes that really got Jill’s business off the ground though. ”It was my innovative cake toppers,” she says. ”In short, they are quirky, fun, one-off pieces which depict the bride and groom exactly according to their wishes: GAA Jerseys, sports themes, uniforms and pets frequently feature. I also create Christening, Communion and birthday toppers and I’m proud to say the company has become a great success.

”All the orders are made online and recently I’ve shipped some pieces off to New Zealand and the US. The cake toppers start at €120 and cost more depending on the detail required. I’m happy to report that I’m making a good profit.”


However, Jill says she doesn’t want to be some whizz-kid entrepreneur. ”I’ve got a good idea and I’m really enjoying my own business but I don’t want it to take over my life either. I get my pieces done while the kids are at school and afterwards I can still walk up the lane to make dinner or help with homework.”

Having her studio in a little cottage on the farm isn’t the only plus of an on-farm business, Jill says. ”My husband Andrew has been farming for years and, as a business man, he gives me great advice. Also, as milk prices are down, it’s a good supplementary income.”


When asked what the biggest challenge of creating her own business is, Jill’s swift reply is meeting the demands. Not a bad complaint these days! ”They say new businesses do well during a recession because people try harder to survive and give better customer service. Well I intend to continue working this hard well into the future.”