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Book Review: My Life from Scratch by Gesine Bullock-Prado

By Diane Danielson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

My Life from Scratch: A Sweet Journey of Starting Over, One Cake at a Time by Gesine Bullock-Prado is pretty much what it sounds like--confectionery fluff. Add in a dose of Hollywood and the fact that Sandra Bullock is Gesine's sister, and we pretty much have the makings of a chick lit book or Hallmark Movie Channel special. But when one is at the beach (as I was) and trying not to think too much about work, it hits the sweet spot, especially if you like to read the recipes included at the end of each chapter.

Despite all the saccharine sweetness of "Let's leave Hollywood to start a bakery in Vermont," the entrepreneurial lesson one takes away from the book is that running your own business is anything but glamorous and a whole lot of hard work. So what were Gesine's elements of success?

1. You are never too important to do the grunt work. When the bakery runs out of soy milk, Gesine, as the boss, is the most dispensable and therefore the one to drop everything and go.

2. Running a bakery is not a "relaxing endeavor." Gesine at first imagined a tranquil life in Vermont. She quickly discovered that 15-hour days were anything but "relaxing."

3. Focus on doing one thing well. Gesine knew that she made macaroons differently and better than everyone else. She started a mail-order business around those first.

4. It helps to have America's Sweetheart as your sister. If you can get a Hollywood superstar to mention your product in InStyle magazine, it's a big help.

5. There are resources out there to help--use them. Gesine realized that trying to meet the orders that could be generated by a mention in a national magazine would be more than she could handle out of her kitchen. She found the Vermont Food Venture Center, which helps small-time food entrepreneurs get started.

6. Do your homework. My favorite exchange in the book was in her conversation with the food center:

"What's the shelf life of your product?"
"Um, I don't know. They usually get eaten right away."
"What's the nutritional breakdown of the product, for your label?"
"Um, I don't have one."
"How are you intending to package the product for safe delivery?"
"No clue."

This reminds me of the type of call I get a couple of times each year...

Caller: "Hi! I'm launching the first website just for career women and was told I should talk to you."
Me: "You mean the first one this week?"
Caller: "Huh? No, mine is totally different; if you join for $150 you'll see."
Me: "I'm not going to join to see, but if you called for advice you might want to tell me what your angle is."
Caller: "We provide x, y, and z."
Me: Well, Ladies who Launch provides x, Women for Hire provides y, and my own company provides z. Are you sure you researched the market?

7. Finally, make sure your close family is on board. Gesine had a husband willing to partner and take on this risky venture, even helping out when he could. Plus she had a sister who not only gave them publicity but would willingly pitch in when needed. And, of note, Gesine makes blatantly clear that she does not have kids nor could she see fitting them in. Unlike some other entrepreneurial ventures that might be more "parent friendly," running a bakery is not among them.

Things that can go wrong. Here are just a few:

1. Taking your eye off the ball. Once things get crazy, quality is the first to go.

2. Natural disasters. For them it was winter. When people get snowed in, they don't go to the bakery.

3. Bad luck. When your best baker slips on the ice and is incapacitated, you need a backup plan.

4. Not vetting employees. You can save yourself a lot of headaches by checking out your employees before you hire them. Sometimes it's as simple as a quick Google to tell you you're about to hire a registered sex offender.

Daily Dose Bottom Line. Fun, light fluff for the summer and about the only business book I could handle in the south of France. OK, I've had enough fluff: back to the hard stuff for next time, I promise.

If you want more chick lit "let's start a business" book, earlier this summer I picked up Goodbye Jimmy Choo by Annie Sanders. Ignore the poor choice of title, as it really has nothing to do with the book. The book is about two women who start a beauty product company. The interesting angle on this one is how much of it is all "marketing/PR" and--oh yeah--hard work.

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