Meet Allison Hawley, the southern Indiana-based baker serving sweet treats to the Louisville, Kentucky area. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Allison found herself baking cakes for friends and family — first for fun, and later as a business. Keep reading to learn more about Allison and her home-based bakery, Act of Sweetness.
What did you do before starting your business?
“Baking is not a full-time gig for me — I reined it back in when it was almost becoming full-time,” Allison said.
Before diving into baking, Allison spent several years as a kindergarten teacher.
“Eight years ago, I took a family leave and never went back,” Allison said. She began to homeschool her children, and filled her free time with baking.
What is the Act of Sweetness origin story?
“My mom was a wedding cake decorator, so I started baking by making cakes,” Allison said.
When she moved from her parents’ house post-college, Allison took all of her mom’s old icing tips that she found in the basement. “I figured I’d turn it into a hobby,” she said.
“One day, when I was teaching, another teacher was talking about her birthday. So I made her a cake,” Allison said. “That teacher called it an ‘act of sweetness’ because I wouldn’t let her pay me for it.”
From there, other teachers and friends started asking Allison to make cakes — and they started paying her for them.
“Then one day, I had a customer who said ‘You’ve made my daughters cakes for years, but this year they want something else.’ They were having an art-themed birthday party, so I made painting-themed cookies.”
“That customer shared the cookies I made on social media, and immediately things flipped,” Allison said. “Which was great, because I enjoyed making cookies more anyway. I knew right then that she was going to switch to making cookies instead of cakes.”
How would you describe your products in one sentence?
“Yummy cookies that are not too pretty to eat.”
“My customers have called them ‘The perfect addition to any occasion’ and ‘a masterpiece of a treat.’”
What's your favorite way to enjoy your products?
“Honestly, I love to watch other people enjoy them.”
Although she loves baking and decorating cookies, Allison doesn’t have a big sweet tooth.
“I have never hidden the fact that I do not like sugar cookies. I eat other people’s, I eat mine every once in a while, but I prefer chocolate chip cookies. My husband and I cook healthily, so it’s kind of funny that I got into cookies.”
Who is another baker that you follow and support and why?
“One baker who I’m really inspired by is Mau Loa Sweets in Andover, Minnesota,” Allison said. “I found her on Instagram and realized that we had a lot in common. I went to college at the University of Minnesota and my sisters live up there.”
“She stays up with the newest trends — I love her energy and innovation. She’s willing to try new things. For example, she’s the first person that I saw make neon-colored royal icing cookies. Plus, she’s a die-hard shop local and ‘support small’ person, and she’s constantly giving shout outs and telling people about other small businesses to support. And her cookies taste so good!”
“Christina at Baked Louisville is one of my oldest cookie friends. Knowing that we were in the same region, we started chatting and got to know each other. I love her focus on turning home baking into a full-time gig. She is another one who supports local initiatives of all kinds, and she uses her voice and baking skills to raise money and awareness for important causes. And she makes an amazing German chocolate cake.”
What's the best thing about this job?
“I get to help people celebrate small things. I have people who get cookies just because they like them. And I get to help people celebrate big things, all the way up to weddings. I got to help celebrate the day that a newborn baby was released from the NICU. I got to help celebrate the day a 3-year-old finished chemo.”
“A cookie is just flour, sugar, and butter, but it’s helping people celebrate some pretty big things in their lives, in a pretty way,” Allison said.
Another bonus of owning a home-based bakery? Flexibility. Allison says that her number one job is raising her children, and baking allows her to spend time with them. “With this job, I get to make money, raise kids, and be creative. It really fits in with my family life. And I get to be a model of entrepreneurship for my kids.”
What advice would you share with food entrepreneurs who are just getting started?
“Number one, if you have a passion or an idea you think people will like, go for it! Don’t be nervous and don't hesitate,” Allison said.
“The world could always use more entrepreneurs — and more good food. Don’t lock yourself into a box of a job. Take your idea, test your market and products, ask questions. Get to know your local community of bakers — I really believe in community over competition. Use the people around you to network and learn.”
How have you found new customers for your cookie business?
“Word of mouth is number one,” Allison said. “I do not hesitate to ask my current customers to share and tell their friends about my business.
“On social media, I always add a line to my caption that says ‘Would you consider sharing this with your friends?’ or ‘If you’re in a foodie group for this area, would you share this?’”
Allison views social media as a tool for easy sharing, and as marketing without a lot of effort.
“I keep a running conversation with my customers. I have a business Facebook page and VIP Facebook group, where the people who really like to buy from me are. The only difference between my page and my group is that people in the group get sneak peeks of upcoming products. They get the link to order 24 hours ahead of time. For example, if I only have 12 specialty boxes, they get first access. It really encourages people to join — they want that special access.”