Prestwich-born Zara Neild set up her cake making business seven years ago from her home in Blackley. In 2014 the self-taught mum of two, unable to secure a bank loan, successfully applied to Virgin Startup for a £9,000 loan to open her shop Zara Cakes in Prestwich and now employs over ten staff. Creating incredibly detailed bespoke cakes for all occasions, as well as offering cupcake workshops and kids’ parties, the shop also supplies businesses across Manchester including the BBC, Neighbourhood, Artisan, Manchester Business Grove Hub, and 188 Kitchen.
She’s now an ambassador for Virgin Startup (she writes a blog for them) and when she’s not lunching with Richard Branson or meeting The Hairy Bikers, she’s busy setting up her new flower business, ISObella J Rose. She’s also working closely with both Styal and Walton Prisons raising money for local charities by selling cakes to prisoners and offering courses to current offenders to help in their rehabilitation.
What got you started in your field of work?
When I was on maternity leave with my daughter I decided I didn’t want to go back to work for someone else. I wanted to work for myself and be more hands on. I drove past a cake shop and loved the look of that. I read a book, watched a few YouTube videos, and basically taught myself to bake and cake decorate. That was seven years ago now and I’ve never looked back.
Who have been the biggest influences on your work?
I read the book Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery by Martha Swift when I was learning and she really inspired me. I actually met her a couple of years ago and admire her incredibly – her work ethic and her business model. I’m also lucky enough to have had lunch with Richard Branson through my work as an ambassador with Virgin Startup.
What is your proudest achievement so far?
Apart from meeting those mentors, I made an entirely edible life-sized cake dress for intu Trafford Centre’s 15th anniversary inspired by the cover of Vogue. It took me five days to create and was displayed in their Great Hall. That was pretty special.
What does your typical day involve?
Up between 5 and 6am, emails, getting the kids off to school. Then I’m either in the shop or picking up stock. I still do a bit of everything and am hands on as much as is needed, but I do have a full time manager now and the shop is in very capable hands. We open business hours – later when necessary, like this week for Mother’s Day when we are really busy with orders. My evenings are full of more emails, kids clubs, dinner and bed by 11pm.
And how do you relax on your days off?
Drinking wine! Work is my biggest hobby so I’m happy with a glass of wine and my laptop.
What is the best advice you have been given, or can give?
I’m interested in self-help books. Life coach Tony Robbins once said, “Only take advice from somebody who is where you want to be.” I believe that.
If things hadn’t worked out, what else could you have seen yourself doing?
I’ve never really thought about it. It would have to be something creative. Or maybe wine-tasting!
Tell us one thing about yourself people might be surprised to hear.
I climbed Kilimanjaro in January to raise money for Mind.
Red or Blue?
Name your three favourite places in Manchester.
Prestwich, my home town, and it’s now very up and coming. Heaton Park – I used to live opposite and have fond memories from my childhood growing up there. And Central Library, my mum would take me there when I was a kid. I hated it at the time but love it now.
If you could change one thing in Manchester what would it be?
Homelessness is such a big problem in Manchester now and it’s getting worse each year. Much more needs to be done to help anyone that finds themselves in this awful situation, and other people’s attitudes towards them.
And finally, what do you love most about Manchester?
The variety in everything. Mancs are the best!