Mistakes… It’s not the fun-est word, but it’s a rather important word which we shouldn’t ignore. We all make em, whether it be something little like forgetting the sugar in a cake recipe (oh yeah, I’m THAT girl) or whether it be something a lil’ bigger like forgetting to pick up your kid up from school for hours (yes, MOM I’m looking at you…).
In the first few years of starting & running my cake business, I made a TON of mistakes. Small ones like forgetting to call a client back, and big ones, which are kinda what I want to talk about in this blog. These mistakes are what I refer to as the “unseen” mistakes.
In this post I’ll be discussing the habits & accidental business structures that we unintentionally find ourselves operating under which if unresolved, can lead slow growth (or no growth), frustration and eventually…burnout.
I can say all this because I was totally in that spot myself. I was hustling HARD, doing aaalll the things, but still struggled to gain customers, recognition and profits. This went on for such a long time that I started to feel burnout creeping in but thankfully, at the right time, received the help needed to go through a huge learning process of correcting the mistakes I had been unknowingly been operating with.
Now with a couple of years of losses & wins under my belt, I want to share the 3 biggest recurring mistakes that a majority of cake businesses make. From receiving DM’s from struggling cakers, to working with decorator’s in my exclusive Cake Mentorship programme through to reading comments left on my business blogs; I realise that this is an important blog post to write. Highlighting the most common cake business mistakes in our industry, from my personal experience & the experiences of others – all for the reason that you don’t have to face the repercussions of them like I did
Working IN your business rather than ON your business
Here’s a question for those of you who have passed the threshold and launched your own cake business, do you ever feel like a hamster in a wheel? Week in week out, at a frantic pace just trying to keep on top of your orders, reply those emails, get photos posted on social media and everything else in between? All of this… is working IN the business. Working to keep the wheels of the business turning and functioning.
What I learnt somewhere in the third year of my business was that Cake Decorators (specifically solo cake business owners) in reality, have to wear 2 very different hats. Namely, the ARTIST hat and the CEO hat. When we operate as an artist (baking, creating, decorating, designing, collaborating etc) this is actually when we’re working as an “employee” in the business. What often happens in our everyday routine is that we get caught up in this role and forget to wear our other hat, the CEO/BOSS hat that requires us to do things like consolidate operations, re-evalutate our product offering, network, assess business goals, track profits, brainstorm new promotions and so on and so forth.
Whilst wearing the Artist hat is necessary for keeping your business running, operating as the BOSS of the company empowers you to forge the way ahead for business change, improvement & growth.
So how do we make sure we’re not neglecting our role as the CEO of our business? Here’s a suggestion of what you can put into practice. At the turn of every month, as you turn from one month to another in your diary, have a moment of reflection to ponder things like:
What were sales like in the last month? Was there growth or a decline?
What can I do in the coming month to see improvement?
Am I moving closer to my business goals?
How can I improve my client’s experience with my business?
How can I improve the quality of my products?
Am I happy with the way I’m working in the business? Am I working too much, or too little?
It can be as little as ten minutes or a whole afternoon at a café, but try and reflect on various aspects of your business from a CEO’s perspective.
Another very important thing is to keep educating yourself about Business, more specifically CAKE BUSINESS. I would encourage you to check out the Sugar Sugar Cake Business Page to learn, grow and equip yourself with the right business tools needed to keep your business moving forwards. Just as we happily delve into Youtube Cake videos to keep learning cakes, we should invest the same amount of time & enthusiasm into growing our cake business knowledge as well.
Letting your clients dictate what you sell
Many of us “fall” into our cake businesses in a similar way. Here’s how it usually goes… Someone asks us for a specific cake design, we make it, make a buck, sleep and repeat.
We make cartoon cakes, naked cakes, pink swirl cupcakes, drippy cakes, number cakes, cookie cakes, stamped cookies… if they ask for it, we’ll make it.
All of this is well and good in the early stage in our business for a couple reason: One, it helps us hone our skills in a wide variety of areas. Two, it helps us identify what we’re good at (and what we’re not). Three, if helps us determine what our clients like.
However, many of us often find ourselves stuck in “custom-cake-land” for years and then struggle to see a way out.
Here’s something I realised that completely changed my cake business.
Our clients don’t dictate what we sell, WE do.
I’ll just give you a moment to let that simmer for a while…
Allow me to explain it like this… Imagine if every restaurant within a 30km radius didn’t have a menu… Imagine if they all operated on a “tell me what you want me to cook for you today” model. What would happen? Firstly, all of the food would taste pretty much the same in all the restaurants (as no one specialises in any one cuisine). It also wouldn’t matter which restaurant you picked so long as it was near to you and cheap. It would also mean that the restaurants would all struggle with a heavy workload as every meal they cook would be different for each client.
This seems ludicrous as an idea yet this is exactly what our cake industry often looks like. We want to sell everything to everybody and all it does is make us similar, monochrome and replaceable. Metaphorically speaking, we need to decide what kind of “restaurant” we wanna be. We need to pick a cuisine, develop a brand identity, determine our menus and sell that to our potiential clients. Don’t make the same mistake I did for so long in trying to fill every gap in the market and remain a one-size-fits-all business.
So what does this mean? It means that you have permission. Permission to move in a direction that you feel led to. If you’re making cakes that annoy and frustrate you, perhaps it’s time to think… “Is this really the kind of business I want to be?”. If the answer is no, then you have the freedom & choice to shift gears. You have that power as the captain of your cake ship.
There will always be an element of customisation in our area of work, however the design style, products & services that is offered should always be predetermined by the business, and not the client.
Which then leads me to my last point..
Trying to be like everyone else
Let me start by saying that I personally don’t see anything wrong with looking up to other cakers and trying to learn from them in what they excel in. I’m all for that. Studying and observing the work of others helped me a great deal in developing a cake style of my own further down the track.
Perhaps this best explains it.. I read an article that when aspiring artists start an apprenticeship, they are often told to copy the work of masters. They learn form, composition and light and work hard to imitate the work of the “greats”. However, once they finish their apprenticeships, they are then told to “kill their masters” and not let their influence dictate their artistic expression.
Similarly, I personally believe it’s alright (and somewhat expected) when you’re in the early stages of cake decorating to refer and even “copy” other’s works (attached with all the appropriate tags & credits if posting publicly). However, once you find your feet and start getting more confident in your abilities, then it’s imperative to start “breaking the mould” a little to find a style, product or brand identity that makes you different to every other cake maker out there.
Try this for an experiment: List off 5 of your absolute fave cake makers, those who you admire and look up to. Chances are, their work and business branding is different and nothing like anyone else’s. Very likely, you’re drawn to their work & brand because it is both UNIQUE and EXCELLENT.
So if you’re new to decorating, then perhaps you’re in the season where you have to work on the “excellent” part to get your work refined & polished.
If you’ve been making cakes for a while and are at a point where you’re confident with most skills but are struggling to stand out, then here’s a lil suggestion: Pull back from trying to follow what everyone else is doing. Create your own style and don’t be afraid to be different from the pack. This will require some experimentation, market testing (getting unbiased feedback) and fine-tuning, but if you spend some time trying to create something fresh, new and inviting, eventually the art of drawing followers & clients becomes a whoooole lot easier.
I can betcha a majority (if not all) of the influential bakers in our industry are constantly asking themselves questions like “how can I do things differently?”, “How can I reinterpret this is a new way?”…
That’s certainly what I do and I’ll let you in on a secret… it works *wink*
So there you have it, the 3 biggest mistakes that cakers (including myself) at some stage unknowingly make. I hope this article has helped shed light on these themes and given you lots to ponder in the coming days about how you approach you cake making & cake business.
I’m keen to know which of the points here have helped you the most. You all know how much I love reading your comments and hearing from you <3