Sunday, January 25, 2015

Craftsy Class Review: Over The Top Modeling Chocolate

CraftsyThis review contains affiliate links, but the opinions are 100% my own, especially the part about sucking on floral tape.

Over The Top Modeling Chocolate was taught by Kate Sullivan, who also did the Painted Cakes class. She owns Cake Power in New York and does a lot of bright, contemporary styles of cake designs. This class goes into how to use modeling chocolate to make some flowers and some figures with armatures.

What I liked about this class is that she shows how to make a simple armature for a standing figure that uses common materials decorators tend to have around anyway. Instead of making a trip to the hardware store for special structural material, you can use your floral wire and tape, which is pretty much all you need for most figures.

She goes over how to make a standing elephant holding a balloon in its trunk, a dog that looks like it's seated for the poker-playing dogs cake, and adds some modeling chocolate flowers including a peony, hydrangea and narcissus.

I like modeling chocolate much more then gumpaste, fondant, or any combination of those for making figures because it's just more malleable. It's like modeling clay and it's a lot easier to smooth out and work with. As long as you keep it cool enough it's very simple to manage.

That's the one thing I'd warn people who haven't used modeling chocolate doesn't like heat and humidity. I don't even bother trying to use it in the summers here. Even in my air-conditioned kitchen it doesn't behave well. It's like it KNOWS that there's a hot, humid day outside and it refuses to be fooled. So be careful with that and don't wait to test it out for the first time in the middle of the summer.

Actually, the cake that made me coin the term "monkey-iced" had modeling chocolate roses on it. I say HAD them, because after someone had left it out in the heat and they had all melted, they weren't roses anymore. So it's not the perfect medium for all weather.

But this class was good for basics of how to sculpt figures using it, and as long as your weather isn't like being hit in the face with damp sauna air when you walk outside, you should be all right.

My final review:

Skill level: Beginner to intermediate
Equipment you have to have: Floral wire and tape, some flower cutters etc
Sleep-inducing level: Not too bad but I was drinking a delicious caffeinated beverage while watching it.
What it assumes you already know: How to make the modeling chocolate...The recipe is included, but if you don't know how to make it watch my video here: 
Unnecessary Difficulty Level Of Methods Demonstrated: Nothing much
Annoying Host Habits: Nothing, but I'm really starting to get annoyed at the number of questions about whether everything in every Craftsy class is "food safe." Yes, you don't want to eat lead paint, but having a fit because someone uses a sharpie and not food coloring is worrying too much. Go suck on a roll of floral tape for a while and see if you're still here tomorrow, I bet you will be. And if you're that worried about the chemicals that might brush off on a tiny piece of fondant because it touches a dowel, I hope you're not eating cake mix, because that has a heck of a lot more junk in it.
Level of Helpful Hints Learned: The biggest thing here is how to keep it simple, which sometimes seems to be a lost art. Her tips are all pretty straightforward and don't require a bunch of weird cutters and tools.

Go here for the class: Over The Top Modeling Chocolate

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond VA, and is  a Craftsy affiliate.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Painted Gumpaste Wedding Cake

This cake has painted flowers on it, and I decided to paint the gumpaste peony to match it. This was one of the peonies I made by using the petals from a peony in my yard as a pattern, so it had a lot of smaller individual petals. I painted them with the same colors that I used on the flowers so they would mimic the flat flowers. I plan on doing more of that because I just like how it looks.

The other interesting thing about this cake was the way that I did the painted flowers. I'll be putting a tutorial up about it next week on the blog ;)

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond, VA.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wedding Reviews--- Nobody's Minding The Shop.

The following is my opinion based on my own experiences and the experiences of people I know. Your experience may vary depending on how willing you are to ignore BS.

Have you ever said to yourself "how can that jerk still be in business, they're horrible. But they get good reviews on Wedding Wire, I just don't get it." Well guess what? They're probably writing their own reviews.

I've been stewing about this for a while, but after seeing this awesome article I decided to go ahead and write about it. This is the story of how a photographer tested the Wedding Wire system to see who's minding the shop and handing out those "top 5% of wedding professionals" awards. The answer, apparently, is nobody. Click here: Why I Killed Wedding Wire.

Review Sites Exist To Make Money, Duh.

Now after that you might be wondering whether the online wedding review system might possible be broken just a little bit. Of course it is. Review sites don't give a crap about whether the reviews are real or not. They're there to sell you advertising and to bury your bad reviews if you pay them to. This is detrimental to brides and to vendors, but I doubt that review sites care as long as they're making their $$$.

Let me first say that I'm picking on Wedding Wire today because I've had so many people gripe about it, and I've seen how the dispute process works firsthand. I've had really rude messages left on my answering machine from WW reps when I wouldn't return their calls to buy advertising, and they are SUPER persistent and annoying about trying to get you to pay them money. Other sites are the same, but they tend to send you a million emails instead of trying to corner you on the phone.

So why would you "upgrade your listing" with them? Because they will manipulate your reviews Yelp-style when you do.

I've heard several wedding professionals say things about their lowest-rated reviews disappearing completely from WW after they bought advertising from them. What a strange coincidence!

How Can You Dispute A Review If You Don't Get Any Input?

The answer is, you can't. I know people who have had anonymous reviews posted that they couldn't verify based on the fact that they WEREN'T WORKING THE WEEKEND THE REVIEWER SAYS THEY GOT MARRIED. This might be a tiny clue that the review is fake, but you still have to go through their dispute process to have it removed. (And based on the dispute system, it might not end up being removed at all.)

I also know people, myself included, who have had totally distorted versions of the truth posted as a review because the customer was mad and threatened feedback extortion if they didn't get a refund. Remember my client who was mad that I delivered exactly what she ordered, then said "the contract doesn't matter" when I pointed that out? In a strange coincidence, several fake reviews were posted on WW soon after she called to yell at me for providing what she had ordered.

So I've been through the WW dispute system, and I can tell you that it's total crap. Anyone can post an anonymous review, good or bad, and the "verification" process that WW goes through is specious at best. They require one of two things to "verify" a review. One is proof of payment to the vendor, and one is a signed contract.

You Can't Say Something Is Verified If You're Not Letting Both Parties See The "Proof"

Thing is, THEY DON'T FURNISH THE INFORMATION TO THE VENDOR SO THAT WE CAN VERIFY IT. So that vendor who wasn't working the weekend the reviewer says they hired her? All the anonymous reviewer would need to do is find a contract online, fill it out, sign everyone's names, and send it to WW as "proof."  WW then writes to the vendor and says yep, we got proof, the review is staying.

They don't let the vendor see the contract or the proof of payment. So let's say I sold someone a bunch of silicone molds through my website store. They could go online and leave a review of the wedding cake they didn't get from me, and if I dispute it they could send the credit card receipt with the payment to my website as proof of payment. Since WW doesn't verify with the vendor that the payment was for what the reviewer says it was for, I don't have the chance to say that it wasn't for wedding services at all. They'll just "verify" the review and you're SOL.

And if the review is from an actual customer who basically misrepresents the situation, they won't remove the review either. WW says that they don't verify the truth of a review based on the contract, they just look to see if the reviewer can produce a contract. Even Paypal does a better job than that, and that's saying a lot.

And I'm not making this up...I have emails from Wedding Wire explaining their system to me when I wrote to question their methods. I invite them to step up and actually be accountable to the vendors, but they'll cry "privacy issues" and won't do that.

WW isn't the only one, either. Yelp is known for being full of BS, and went to court for the right to be able to manipulate their reviews. I've been told that The Knot removes too many reviews from the same IP address...So go use a proxy and you'll be fine there.

The Only "Integrity" Involved Is An Internal Thing. And Some People Have None.

The basic issue is that you don't know who's posting what and wedding websites aren't there for the vendors OR the brides. They're a business, and they're there to sell you advertising. If someone is packing their own reviews with fake ones, nobody's going to take them down. If there's no dispute then they're not going to be looked at twice. The fakery goes both ways, and is only stopped by someone's internal sense of right and wrong, which review websites don't care about. They're not there to be your friend, they're there to make money for their business.

I know a few people in my area who will read this and go give themselves good reviews. Because they suck. The brides are none the wiser, but we vendors know who's honest and who sucks. If you're a bride, read this: Checking Up On Your Wedding Professionals

So the next time you wonder how a caterer who gives people food poisoning on a regular basis, or a photographer who never delivers albums, or a baker who consistently delivers monkey-iced cakes get so many good reviews online, look no further than their friends and family. Or themselves, for that matter. If someone has time to make a bunch of fake email accounts and post some fake reviews, even the worst vendor will look like a gem online.

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond, VA, and has been involved in the wedding industry long enough to know all the dirty tricks people use to make themselves look better. And is really irritated by them.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Income Taxes Are A Big Pain In The Butt

Yes they are...A huge pain in the butt. And yet, they must be done. Check out this article if you think you don't need to file.

It's one thing to hand all of your paperwork to a CPA and have them do it, but for those of use who are control freaks, or who don't really trust that someone else will know all they need to know about doing our taxes, it's the time of year that we pick up our pens and start figuring out expenses and income.

Right now I'm procrastinating by writing this, since I'm really supposed to be figuring out my Paypal and my Etsy payments, and they tend to overlap and get really confusing.

Instead of working on that, I decided to write a little article about doing my taxes...It might be the same as how you do it and it might be helpful to see what someone else does. And it will help me by letting me do something instead of going into my Paypal account.

First, figuring out my sources of income last year. I divide my income into cake income and non-cake income, meaning ad revenue, Etsy sales, web store sales, tutorial sales, and that kind of thing. My problem is that I use Paypal, Square and Etsy's direct checkout to process payments for non-cake sales. For cake sales I use Paypal, Square and checks/cash.

The biggest sticking point is Paypal, which overlaps a lot of categories of payments and which lists anything that goes in as "sales" unless it's from Etsy. This afternoon I'll be going into my GoDaddy bookkeeping account (which I highly recommend) and categorizing everything that says
sales. Once I get that done I can sort it out by category and make sure I'm not counting income twice or missing anything.

Note to self---categorize everything on a weekly basis next year to avoid having to do it all at the end of the year.

I get 1099 forms from both Paypal and Etsy, and those don't always reconcile easily because they only include payments processed, not refunds paid out. So I have to go and pull those refund numbers myself. If I reimbursed anyone for a postage overage or anything else through either platform I need to take that as an expense. And speaking of which...Expenses.

My expenses are pretty much the same year to year, and follow the categories that Turbotax software uses. I use Turbotax home and business to file my taxes since I'm a pass-through LLC.

Some expenses include: Food costs, non-food costs (anything that goes into a cake or something that I sell but isn't edible, including boards, dowels, supplies, etc.), office supplies, magazines and books relating to the business, taxes, license fees, insurance, office rent, postage, phone, bank fees (including paypal), cost of classes and travel to classes if applicable, advertising, trade dues, refunds, personal property tax deductions, and mileage.

You'll notice that I don't do a home office deduction, or deduct utility costs like electricity for my oven. Since I work from home I use my personal kitchen, and I don't have a dedicated office space in my house. Rumor has it that the home office deduction is something that tends to trigger audits, and I want no part of that. Since I don't have a space that I use EXCLUSIVELY for my business anyway, I don't qualify for it. I deduct my rented office space, not my kitchen.

I also don't bother deducting for electricity since the amount that I use to bake is so small compared to my total electric bill it isn't worth it to figure it out. It's another thing that I wouldn't ever be 100% sure about, and verifying that during an audit would be pretty much impossible, so I don't bother with it. If I don't have a receipt for it I don't deduct it, basically.

Then there are the records of quarterly estimated taxes that need to be kept track of so that you can claim them. You do pay your estimated self-employment taxes, don't you?

Are there any expenses that I haven't listed that you take? Any suggestions that would make the process easier? Leave a comment!

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond VA.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Craftsy Class Review: Arranging Sugar Flowers, From Classic To Contemporary

Craftsy LogoThis review contains affiliate links, but the opinions are 100% mine. And Craftsy is having a sale this weekend, so go see what's available!

Arranging Sugar Flowers is another Craftsy class taught by James Rosselle, whose flowers I love. Seriously, how can you not love a class that includes shots of trays of sugar flowers like this? I've been messing with wafer paper recently but gumpaste will always kick wafer paper's butt in a cake fight. If you don't make gumpaste flowers you should go get started learning how to. Go to Craftsy and check out James Rosselle and Nicholas Lodge's classes, they're the best.

So I might be a little biased, but I did think that this class was good for a few things. First, he goes over how to construct a bunch of different cake setups, including some with separators between tiers. This is handy for someone who has to do something other than a basic stacked cake.
Next, he talks about color and balancing the flowers in different types of arrangements. This will be helpful to people who go online to ask about how to put a cascade of sugar flowers together, or who tend to overdo it without making sure the arrangements are balanced visually.
Along with that, he talks about how to insert the flowers into the cake and keep the wires out of the cake. That's important for food safety, but also for liability if someone decides to sue you because they bit down on a wire. Because people are dumb and might actually bite down on a wire if it's in the cake.
The only thing I have to quibble with is that throughout the class he talks about food safety like he was warned not to say anything that can raise the ire of the Craftsy students. If you read the questions that go along with the class it's clear that there's a subgroup of people on Craftsy who are convinced that you should NEVER use anything inedible on a cake, and that the sky will fall if you do. Because of this (I'm assuming) he referred to a few things in the arrangement that are clearly NOT edible as being made from edible materials. My guess is that Craftsy told him to do that so that they could just avoid the wackadoos who screech about using a plastic pearl in an arrangement, but who have no problem using canned icing that's full of chemical soup.
Here's the thing...Sticking a craft store butterfly into an arrangement of sugar flowers won't do nearly as much damage to you as going outside and breathing traffic fumes will, so relax. Avoid sticking things directly into the cake, but don't make a federal case out of the fact that not everything you use on a cake isn't made from sugar. It's a misplaced concern.
So back to the class...he doesn't show how to make the flowers in this class, just how to arrange them. There are other classes that teach how to make the flowers he uses and how to build some of the separators he uses, so if you're looking for that this isn't the class you want. He does show how to secure the separators he uses, so if you want to see how to do that you'll get that info here. Some of the separators are pretty questionable as far as being secure go, so you wouldn't want to set them up and transport the cakes assembled. These would be an on-site setup.
My final review:
Skill level: Beginner to intermediate
Equipment you have to have: Flowers, a cake, wire cutters, dowels, needle nosed pliers.
Sleep-inducing level: He's pretty soft-spoken so get the caffeine out if you start watching this and you're drowsy.
What it assumes you already know: How to ice a cake and make the flowers.
Unnecessary Difficulty Level Of Methods Demonstrated: Nothing much
Annoying Host Habits: Nothing that bothers me, but he's an enthusiastic hand talker, so if you don't like that get ready to be annoyed. I do it myself, so I think it's TOTALLY NORMAL.
Level of Helpful Hints Learned: A lot about color and balance, and the basics of how to get things into the cake without breaking them.
Go here for the class: Arranging Sugar Flowers
Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond VA, and is a Craftsy affiliate.