Updated: 7 days ago
(Having a business, keeping a business, understanding that it's a business)
Yesterday was the annual cakers conference created by The Cake Professionals, which of course could not happen in person this year, but was still fantastically successful as a virtual event (minus the evening dresses and prizes of course).
It was really inspiring to meet some cake heroes and catch up with some cake friends and lots was discussed both by speakers and within our virtual breakout rooms. Yet again though talk turned (as it always does, and this year more than ever) to those we know who have been forced to give up cake making because, despite being super talented, they just can't make a reasonable living at it.
Then, today, I was listening to another episode of the brilliant "The Business Of Cake Making" podcast from Bronya and Sammy, in which they were interviewing Kate from Malarkey Cakes as they talked about how difficult it is for cake makers to appreciate their own worth, communicate realistic quotes and keep making a living.
So, since my brain is in motion...
(Links to all these pages at the bottom of this page, btw)
Nobody knows our troubles.
It does seem to be hard for professional cake makers to communicate to clients effectively what goes into each order, the costs, the services and the time involved (and none of us want to bore people into a coma, scare people off, or sound ungrateful for the business). This often leads to cake makers undercharging, not making enough to live on and having to close up shop.
Equally, it's often difficult for clients to visualise the time difference between making a quick Victoria sponge for the family and creating a consistently delicious, well finished, bespoke product that is completely unique, plus all the other services that go into that order (we all underestimated it too before we started making cakes on this level).
Also, cake makers have a strong impulse to make it look easy. Take a quick look at all the cake related stuff on Instagram, yes it's speeded up, but doesn't it all look like it took 40 minutes from start to finish at the absolute max? Trust me. It didn't.
As all this was rolling around in my head today, I wrote it down and put it in kind of a meme form (see below). Think of this as my version of the pensieve from Harry Potter. I hope it helps to explain a bit how the bespoke thing works.
Why are we always feeling guilty?
Well, there's always the spectre of imposter syndrome, but it's more than that.
As a group, we have a tendency to be apologetic for running our businesses as,
well, as a business. There's also somehow a tendency to think that, because our art is perishable, that maybe it takes less time and money to produce than a comparable object made of clay, or wood. Sadly, it doesn't. But happily the joy, the memories and the photographs last longer than the cake itself... plus a cake makes any party special and tastes REALLY good! ;).
There's also a perception that because we're usually women, because we're usually running the business from home, because baking can also be a recreational thing for people... that it's only really a glorified hobby. Don't be fooled, it's not.
There are hobby bakers out there, and good luck to them, but the business of baking is very serious. It supports many families, it's a career, it takes years and years of dedicated hard work to become a master.
I have friends who work in the financial services world, who are IT or marketing experts, who are graphic designers or web designers, who own businesses that manufacture goods for sale around the world... they all work from their dining room, home office or bedroom, make a really good income and put work aside at 5pm. I have 3 rooms in my house dedicated to the business of baking, work very long hours and am sometimes expected to do it for pin money. That just doesn't make sense and, I hate to be this person, but... you do look at it written down and wonder how much of that is down to a subconscious gender bias about who's work is seen as valuable?
How much is a cake?
Here's the thing... I can't afford me. I'm not making an everyday thing. I specialise in big cakes. Complex cakes. I'm making a special thing for special occasions.
I don't make enough money to be able order a cake from me unless it's for a really special event and I have time to save up. Not being able to afford a cake from me is fine, there's no embarrassment factor to that. You are my people. Most of the time I couldn't afford a cake from me either... luckily my family are close to the shop owner (me) so they can get spoiled, lol ;)
This is the main reason I ask up front if clients have an ideal budget. It's so we can start off on a realistic path instead of me dangling a dream cake like a carrot on a stick, then whisking it away like some kind of nasty pressure selling guru from the 1950s. I want to make you a cake, I want to make you a cake that you'll love, I don't want you to look at a beautiful cake and hate it because you were pressured into spending more than was realistic and now you've got to skimp somewhere else.
All of that said... please don't be offended... I do have a minimum order value. You know why? Because if I'm making a wedding cake for a micro wedding to feed 45 to be delivered on a Saturday... that means I have to turn down a cake for 120 because I can't be in two places at once... that means I am making £50 profit for 3 days work instead of £150... that means I can't pay the bills. I do feel mean saying it, but I have no choice.
I know, you've never really thought about cake that way.
But now, that's my business.
People won't pay.
Strangely, there's a phrase that frequently occurs within cake circles... a phrase that usually starts a massive row in cake maker groups on Facebook... "people won't pay more than that".
I once knew a manager, for quite a well known destination bakery, who told me that phrase over and over. She was insistent that the ceiling price of cakes in the area was slightly lower than what was actually needed to cover the overheads of renting the shop, buying in the materials, staffing it, paying for utilities, insurance, website, accounting, tax...
She's a super intelligent lady btw and a very good manager in many ways, but it was clear that the maths just didn't add up, that the owner wasn't being transparent with her and she didn't know they were running at a loss.
But she also didn't ask. She was in charge of pricing and was basing the sale costs on what SHE would be prepared to pay. She never really nailed down the material costs, the shop costs, the staff costs, the business costs... she only asked what would she expect to pay and created a pricing structure based on that.
The hard facts were that, the shop couldn't afford to target her as a market, there wasn't enough money in that to keep everyone employed and sadly, eventually (and despite enormous loans being taken out by the owner to keep it afloat), what had been a very busy shop, seen as really successful, went under leaving everyone out of work and the owner in real trouble.
Oh, and not far from that cake shop, another opened up which charged more and did really well, btw.
What have we learned?
Well... if you are a client, I hope you've learned that:
* Our working hours aren't just the ones when the cake is in the oven. We're the cleaner, the washer up, the buyer, the designer, the baker, the decorator, the office manager, the marketing manager, the book keeper, the videographer, the photographer...
* You really want to buy from someone who's charging a workable living wage... otherwise you'll suddenly find you have no wedding cake just before the day because they've stopped trading.
* It's ok to ask about how to reduce your overall spend. Be honest, and be open to different ideas of how to decorate the cake, or how big it needs to be. We really want to help.
* We don't think of this as just a job, but we do have to think of this as a businesinks to all these pages at the bottom of this page, btw)
If you're a cake maker, there are some valuable lessons that we all HAVE to learn to stay afloat:
* Be realistic about what you charge, you want to be around to complete the wedding orders. Don't overcharge, but charge enough.
* Do your maths properly and don't rush it.
* Don't be shy about asking for an ideal budget. Very few people will mind, and everyone will benefit from that being something you aim toward where possible.
* Don't be shy about asking for a realistic amount of money for your work. Obviously the better the work the more you can charge, but you can't do your best if you have to do 3 quick cakes to make the same amount of money as 2 cakes you had more time on, and that will reflect on your value too.
* Be transparent about what things cost. Often the item that is the most expensive or time consuming to make is the thing they are least attached to (ruffles for instance!!).
* Review your costs and pricing annually. Your costs will go up, don't get caught out. Don't forget that if you are quoting on a cake in 2 years time, your costs will be higher that they are right now.
* Not everyone is your client. If it's unrealistic for you to take an order because you'd need to charge more to make a living. Pass. They may find someone who will. That's at their own risk and everyone gets to make their own decisions in life. You should never be expected to match the prices of someone who is undercutting you. It's not sustainable. Besides, in a year's time, you'll still be making cake and they won't x