"I never had any idea at any point of what I was doing."
This article is the first in Narcity's bi-weekly Millennial Money Makers series, which profiles young Canadians who are making money in "new" — and often surprising — ways. Have a story to tell? Get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org.
From dropping out of high school to creating a million-dollar bakery, Rebecca Hamilton is the underdog success story you love to see — and she wants you to know that you can do it, too.
Hamilton is the founder and CEO of Chick Boss Cake where she creates Instagram-worthy treats like cakes, cupcakes, milkshakes, and other sweets. The 33-year-old has three locations of her bakery that operate in London, Woodstock, and St. Thomas. She's also an author, a podcast host, a blogger, and she launched a website called Rebecca Hamilton CO. that she uses to help entrepreneurs start and create successful businesses.
Hamilton spoke to Narcity about how she makes her money, advice for aspiring bakers, and the best and worst parts of the job.
How did you get to where you are now?
"I had a really hard time when I was younger and then in my teenage years," Hamilton told Narcity about growing up in Cambridge, Ontario. "My house I lived in growing up was really chaotic. And so I ended up dropping out of high school when I was 16 years old.
"I didn't go to business school, I didn't go to bakery school. I'm completely self-taught. I learned a lot of my skills from watching YouTube videos and watching Cake Boss on TLC, which was my favourite show ever."
She added that decorating cakes became a creative outlet, so she started doing it with her husband.
"We just started it as a passion project, as a hobby, I didn't take it seriously at all," she said.
"I didn't have anybody else to really look up to who had a local really successful business, especially in the baking industry, because you don't really think of that being a huge successful or lucrative career choice."
She added: "I'm very, very passionate about sharing my story of how I literally came from nothing. I just built this business that has turned into a really big success. Because I know that there are many people out there that feel the way that I felt — I felt worthless, I didn't feel smart enough."
"Even when I was growing my business, when I was writing the book, when I started my podcast, I never had any idea at any point of what I was doing. I just did what I thought was the best decision to move forward."
How much money are you making?
"Last year, our bakery did $1.3 million in sales," Hamilton told Narcity. "Hitting over a million in sales for a bakery to me is just mind-blowing in and of itself, let alone the fact that I didn't know what I was doing at any point."
Now, Hamilton and her husband work in the bakery full-time and live in Tillsonburg, Ontario.
"We both make a really great living doing this together. We both have triple-figure incomes from our million-dollar bakery," she said of their six-figure salaries. "So that is a huge accomplishment for me because I just can't believe that I'm the person responsible for starting this whole thing and growing it to a point where I can have a triple-figure income.
"It's just something that I'm really proud of, especially because of where I came from."
How much money can people expect to make in your industry?
Hamilton said it doesn't matter what industry you're in — you have the potential to be as successful as you want to be, and to make as much money as you want to make.
"It depends on what your goals are, if your goals are to make a lot of money and take your business to the top and you're willing to do whatever it takes, then your income potential is unlimited."
She added that you have to constantly grow and evolve and add new things into the mix.
"I have my bakery store, but I also have my podcast, I also have my blog, I'm writing books — I'm doing all of these other things that are like spin-offs of my main bakery business," she said.
"I'm a firm believer that if that's your goal, to earn a triple-figure income, grow into a million-dollar business, you can absolutely do it if you put in the work and you do whatever it takes. And you need to realize that business is not easy, and it's hard work. Especially in the beginning. So you just need to set what your goals are."
What are the best and worst parts of the job?
"The best part of the job for me is connecting with people, and I'm helping other entrepreneurs realize their potential. That's why I love sharing my story because other people find it inspiring and helpful to know all of the struggles that I've been through, and I was able to create success out of it," Hamilton told Narcity.
She added that she also loves how her bakery business "can create lasting memories" for special occasions, such as weddings.
"It's honestly just an honour to be part of such a special occasion in somebody's life," she said. "We have a lot of customers who have gotten their birthday cake from us. And then they got their wedding cake from us. And then they're having a baby, they have a baby shower cake from us. And it's just being a part of all of those milestones."
"So I think that that is honestly the most special part for me, is just seeing all of these customers who have stuck by us through all of the hard times all of the COVID challenges and everything like that, and watching their families grow alongside us and us being able to provide them joy and happiness in those moments is my favourite, favourite part."
On the other hand, Hamilton said that while she feels she's "living her purpose," she would hate to be doing bookkeeping and accounting.
"That's why it's really important to delegate those things that are the worst parts of the business to other people who don't think it's the worst part of the business because that's what their strengths are. You're providing employment opportunities to people who love counting numbers."
How much has social media played a part in your success?
"We actually create the products for social media so that they get shared by people so that people are taking selfies with our products and posting it," Hamilton said. "That's where our customers are, in that demographic of wanting to take a picture with something super epic and super cool. And that's kind of how it snowballs as well because other people will be like, 'oh, where did you get that milkshake from?' or 'where did you get that cake from?' and everybody wants to feel special and included."
She added that this was especially important during COVID. "Our social media during COVID picked up substantially because guess what, that's all people were able to do. So I'm super passionate about it and really encourage other businesses to put an emphasis and put their marketing dollars into social media. And you can see the return that you're getting on the dollar you're spending as well."
What message do you want to leave people with?
"My book is called The Million Dollar Bakery, but as nice and as cute as that title sounds, my book is actually all of the hard things that I've been through and all of the lessons that I've learned in it. So that's my main message that I want to get across, is for people who want to try their hobby, turn it into a business, live a better, more intentional life, then I share a lot of my tips that worked for me."
"I've heard a lot of stories [about] other people being able to relate to my story, as awkward and vulnerable as it was for me to write that, just knowing that it's helped and impacted other people is everything I ever wanted in life."
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.