We got a taste of this local bake shop, creator of aesthetically delicious cakes Sweet Lion Heart. The judges concurred that their Instagram page simply makes you want to lick the screen! In our monthly award series Instagram Heroes, we’re celebrating businesses and creators who are using Instagram to showcase their talents. Nikki, owner and founder is well deserving of the “1000 Grams of Likes” trophy for May. She tells us how she grew her brand and following, shared some tips about how to expand your brand, take criticism and “try and do one thing well as opposed to trying to do EVERYTHING half-heartedly”.

What inspired you to start Sweet Lion Heart?

I always enjoyed cooking – baking, not so much. After completing a degree in Multimedia design at Vega Cape Town I developed a keen interest and love for food styling and photography whilst working at a local online food magazine, Crush Online. I decided I wanted to spend more time in the kitchen and eventually enrolled in a part-time course at Silwood School of Cookery in Cape Town – because I couldn’t find a hot-kitchen option I liked I settled for pastry. Little did I know that through documenting my weekly bake-scapades on my personal Instagram account I would garner a following of folks that actually wanted to buy what I was making! I found myself in a situation where I was able to satifsy most of my creative urges through baking, styling and photographing – and getting paid to do it!

The start of SLH was a very organic, unplanned one and it definitely set the tone for the business journey up until now – we do what we love and figure the rest out as we go!

Tell us how the brand has grown since and what the journey has been like for you?

When I started the business, officially, at the start of 2016 I honestly didn’t anticipate to be where I am today – sitting at the front of my Online Bake Shop studio space at Makers Landing answering these interview questions with my team of incredible girls in the room next door lovingly crafting sweet treats for the Mother City.

The operation started as a part-time gig with me doing half-days by my lonesome in a 17sqm kitchen space at the back of the Zana Products warehouse to a 100sqm production area with a team of 10 girls (full-time and part-time). There has been major challenges (like a global pandemic) but always great reward. As a trained multimedia designer I understood how to package my business and portray it online with very little cost to get it looking semi-polished – the hard parts for me have been growing the business sustainably in a way that is true to what I want for myself and what I am passionate about, not doing what I think others want me to do but really just carving my own path. I’ve self-taught most of the business side of things and have tried to make intuitive decisions, leaning on my support network of friends, family and peers when I need to. Sweet LionHeart has been the greatest life lesson, that’s for sure!

The brand has taken on a life of it’s own – with a major international following on Instagram in a space that is adored by most (people that don’t even bake often tell me how they find themselves just watching cake frosting videos on Insta!) we have managed to create a recognizable and strong presence through doing what we love, documenting it well (and consistently) and sharing our passion for what we do through teaching and knowledge sharing.

This isn’t just a delicious Instagram feed of pretty things. What does Sweet Lion Heart represent?

SLH represents feminine strength, creativity and class with a touch of rebelliousness 😉

What does winning the “1000 Grams of Likes” award in the business category mean to you?

Being recognized not only for what we do every day, but also how we do it and how we got to where we are is an incredibly rewarding feeling. When you’ve got your head down, grinding away to keep going you sometimes forget to look up and appreciate what you and your team have built – this is one of those moments of perspectives.

Your Instagram is fun, beautiful and engaging. How do you use the platform to grow your brand and build a community?

We’ve grown the IG page to just under 100k organic followers through posting content regularly, engaging with followers through comments and DM’s (show appreciation for the appreciation they give your brand – it’s only common courtesy) and local and international brand collaborations. We’ve also made tons of cake friends across the globe that do what we do and always support their work through engaging with their content or crediting should a bake have been inspired by their work. It’s important to give credit where it is due!

Do you have any tips for local brands just starting out – both in terms of their product or offering, and how they go about marketing this?

Try and do one thing well as opposed to trying to do EVERYTHING half-heartedly. Brand expansion and extensions are great but first establish yourself. When going about marketing your product and brand on social media make sure you always give followers a means to get hold of your product – make it easy for them to understand what you’re selling and how they can get it in their hands! And remember – feedback, positive or negative, is GOOD! Feedback helps you make changes and improve on your offering – don’t let it get you down.

What’s something 10and5 readers may not know about you as a person?

I’m type 1 diabetic. Ironic? Perhaps… but it also serves as a constant reminder to try live as balanced as I possibly can.

What can we expect from Sweet Lion Heart in 2021? Any projects or collaborations to keep an eye out for?

We are about to launch a product exclusively developed for one of the largest online retailers in SA and we are oh-so-excited about it!

Follow Sweet Lion Heart on Instagram.

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