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#LEADINGLADIES: Emma Head

From writing corporate tweets to fun jokes on edible treats. 

Sweet Mickie founder and Chief Cookie Officer Emma Head has always been a creator and an innovator, but it took some trial and error before she found (or rather created) her own niche as a quote cookie entrepreneur.

I left the corporate world and found my voice as well as a platform to make people feel good. I finished uni and felt I should have a glamorous media marketing and PR career. I worked in a bunch of social media marketing roles with lots of variety. I was trying new things and giving all sorts of new things a go. Then I moved to Melbourne and found myself in jobs that I wasn’t enjoying. I wasn’t enjoying the path I thought I wanted. I was doing copywriting but I’m someone who likes to wear lots of different hats and jump into different things. I’m more creative, big picture, strategy type of person. My skill set and my personality isn’t suited to corporate life. I felt like I was playing this role that was not for me and like I wasn’t playing to any of my strengths or skills and it just wasn’t what I wanted to be doing and I still didn’t know what that was at the latter end of my twenties. And I was having that quarter life crisis wondering what should I do? Should i go back to study? My resume was all over the place by that point and I didn’t know what I was and employers didn’t know what I was either. 

Then I went back to what I knew. I come from a family of women who are all super creative and have businesses. My nana had multiple businesses – one of her restaurants was flattened in Cyclone Tracy and she built it up again. I had her as a super positive, resilient, hard working role model and I never really realised at the time, that it was rare for a woman to own her own business, but it was the norm for my Mum’s family.

I kind of realised that food is what I enjoy and am good at. I’m more of a creative than anything so now I’m focused on making something unique rather than selling other people’s things. What I liked was not only baking and making people feel good but I realised I wanted to run my own business and do my own thing. I saw there was a gap in the gift market and I saw how much people in Melbourne love food and that was my lightbulb moment. I started a business where for the first time I was using my own voice which was silly, taking the piss, so I started taking the mickie on a biccy.

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Initially I was just baking for friends and making funny quotes. I was sick of seeing green smoothies all over Instagram so I started making social commentary on the cookies. I wrote things like ‘kale free’, ‘save sugar’, ‘butter me up’ and ‘Kate Moss lied’ (in response to her quote ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’). I decided to go old school with butter, flour and sugar to poke fun at the Instagram lifestyle and say what I couldn’t say in my corporate job. People loved it. My background in social media attracted me to Instagram. No one else was putting funny biscuits on Instagram at the time so I was doing something different in the space and it resonated. Soon I had a following and all my orders came through Instagram. 

Initially I was stocking cookies at just once cafe in Carlton. My business grew by word of mouth and I went from making 30 cookies for a kid’s party to doing 5,000 biscuits for a corporate order. I realised there was an opportunity with corporates who were looking for a unique way to engage with their audience. Some of my corporate clients now include Xero, Google, Mimco, Hugo Boss, Mecca, Sportsgirl. AFL, Sony Music, Levis and Opera Australia. 

I learnt that instead of having a million ideas it’s best to focus on one good idea and nail it. I was never focused on the sales or the end goal or having this big business. I was just focused on making cookies that people liked and I think that’s what resonated. Before I had all these ideas, and Sweet Mickie was good for me because it made me focus on one thing, one cookie and do it well. So I focused on making this one thing- golden syrup gingerbread cookies. 

I started a business where for the first time I was using my own voice which was silly, taking the piss, so I started taking the mickie on a biccy.

I started my business out of a share house in Fitzroy North where I was living with three other people. Soon the house was filled with biscuits on every surface all over the house. I think my housemates were pretty over the mess and having a gas oven on all day. So, I soon realised I had to get a commercial kitchen and I also had to look at how to find another manufacturer to keep up with the demand because I had a huge software brand that wanted all these biscuits – I just had to find a way. 

Starting a food business was a bit isolating, it’s not a very collaborative industry. I was lucky enough to find another female business owner (Chrissy from Goldilocks) who runs a catering company and she let me come in and share a kitchen space with her. Working in a space with another female is great for me. Chrissy has been super supportive and she’s been a bit of a mentor to me and helped me along the way to problem solve. She’s super strong.  I’ve been lucky enough to create my own kitchen and now we share our space with other women. I think we’re stronger together. Sharing suppliers. Sharing knowledge. Admittedly I am not very good at asking for help and getting people around me. It’s something I should do more of and I think especially women in food struggle to ask for help or know where to go and have those resources. It’s important to join together. 

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I created a category, a quote cookie is a concept that didn’t exist five years ago. It can be confronting to see someone copying what you are doing but it’s kind of a compliment, it means you’re doing something good. It happens to so many creatives. If you’re doing something good, someone else is going to give it a go.  It’s great to see women who have got kids who didn’t have a way to make money before and now they can bake and make money from home. The positive is that Sweet Mickie has inspired people to get creative. It’s hard when you see people replicating what you do and sometimes they’ll advance quicker but at the end of the day how I handle it is to just focus on what we are doing and where we are going. A mentor I had taught me to lead the way and be positive to other makers, to ask yourself what’s next? What do you want to do? Where do you want to be in five years? Grow and evolve. What we do is simple but what we do have is our brand and the quality of our product and we try and focus on delivering a quality product that’s better than anything else.

My advice to someone who wants to make their side hustle a full time job is don’t just talk about it, do it. Even if you Do it on a small scale, test it, get proof of concept. Make it. See what your friends think, see what your family think. I don’t tend to focus too much on writing a giant business plan. Just give it a go and see what people think and get feedback. I think it’s really easy to come up with all these ideas and become overwhelmed by all the options. Do one thing and do it well. Focus on one idea. 

I don’t think we should be limited to just being a cookie company. I’m not in the cookie business. We are a feel good gift company – in the business of delighting. I’m selling a laugh out loud feel good moment. We want to evolve our brand and keep pushing boundaries.  We’re just a platform. People use us as a medium to talk to their friends. It’s really fun to see what people put on the cookies. We’ve had some c-bomb cookies, some breakup cookies, naughty sex act proposal cookies on Valentines day, one person ordered ‘yay for new tits’ cookies for a friend that was going through a mastectomy. Some people email us first and ask if they can write something on the cookies first which is super cute. We’re lucky to have funny intelligent humorous customers and they inspire us to be more humorous and focus on what they want which is the funny and the naughty. What makes me excited about going to work every day is that we’re making people feel good and giving people an opportunity to laugh in a hard time.

I think the thing to take away from my career story to date is this: If that role that you thought you needed isn’t right for you it’s ok. I completely went in the other direction but it was where I am happy and in my element, in my zone. It’s ok to say I suck at that or I’m bad at that. It’s good to find your weaknesses rather than pretend you’re good at everything.