Monday, June 18, 2012

Clients Don't Care How Long It Takes You.

Every now and then someone asks me how long it takes to make a cake. You really can't answer that, since every cake is different and every week is different. In January I might work 20 hours a week, and then in other months I might work 60+ hours a week. There's no predicting it other than knowing that wedding season will be busier than the slow time of year.

What I tell people is that it's a full-time job. And that from taking the cakes out of the pans until they're decorated might be anywhere from 3-5 hours.

I also add that I make gumpaste ahead of time and don't keep track of how long that takes, so it's longer than that if you add that in.

What I don't do is tell them how long it takes to go shopping, do bookkeeping, bake the cakes, etc etc, because they. Just. Don't. Care. Nor should they.

Now bear with me, because I'm kind of thinking this through while I'm writing it. This is a topic I was discussing with some of my cake friends recently when we saw yet another chart that showed how long it takes to make a cake in order to justify the pricing. Yes, you have to take into account whether this is a full-time job, a part-time job, or a hobby, and how much you expect to earn from doing it when you decide your pricing. But to use the time that it takes to bake and decorate the cake as a justifiction for how much you're charging just feels wrong to me for some reason.

What if you're really skilled, and faster as a result. Should you charge less? What about someone who drops the cake on the floor and has to rebake it? Do you charge extra for that? Why not, if it takes you longer and that's one of the criteria you're using?

Yes, you have to take how long everything takes you into account when setting your prices in general. But am I the only one who finds the breakdowns of how long it takes to run a business a little whiny when it relates to setting prices? On one hand yes, you'll charge more for something that takes longer, because it takes up a larger proportion of your work week. On the other hand, everybody who has a job could break down their work like that, so why do people do it for cakes and expect sympathy?

If I need to earn X amount per week to pay my bills and make a decent profit, and I have X amount of time in the workweek to do it, I can schedule one large cake that will take that long and charge for it, or I can do twenty cakes that would add up to that amount of time and money. The client doesn't care.

(Personally, if someone does a great job I don't care how long it takes for them to do the job. I don't need to know the time breakdown in their pricing.)

I also understand that part of the impulse to say how long things take is to prove that you're actually doing something that's time-consuming, and therefore worthwhile. People do think that decorating cakes is a lot less complicated than it is, but whining about how long it takes doesn't necessarily change that perception. The way to change their idea about that is to have them try to do it themselves. They'll see that while they might have the time to do it, they don't necessarily have the skill.

And that's my point, I think...Your prices should be justified based on the final product and your skill level. People are willing to pay more if the final product is superior quality, and that comes from skill, both in baking and decorating.

I did the cake for the Electrician's Union a couple of years ago, and they were all making jokes about how expensive it was and how they're in the wrong business. Hahaha. So I said "I know that you union guys will understand the cost if I put it this way...You're not paying for the cake, you're paying for the skill." They all stopped joking and said "oh, yeah, now I get it." Plus I told them that they could come wash my dishes any time and that put a total stop to the hilarity.

Don't be afraid to say "I charge this much because the quality of the product is worth it, and you're also paying for my skill level." Maybe not in those exact words, but you get what I mean. Breaking down everything into time increments to say why you charge what you do just feels kind of desperate.

What do you think? How do you justify your pricing if someone asks?

 Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at and


Jenniffer said...

Kara, you always start such thoughtful conversations. I quote my cakes based on servings and art time. Thousands of dragees placed by hand has to cost more than just a plain buttercream cake - it takes more time. If asked, I try to explain it to my customers as a "parts & labor" type analogy. If I drop / burn a cake, that's my fault. When I order supplies and don't receive them, I don't expect to pay twice. If I quote a client 10 hours of artwork, and it takes me 15, that's my fault too.

I have had quite a few time-waster customers lately and have changed my policies to protect myself. A bride recently wanted a FOURTH redesign and quote for her cake (that she eventually just cancelled). I now have a $50 redesign fee because it can take me a good 2 hours to just do that.

Kara Buntin said...

Right, you definitely have to have time as a factor in setting the price, but that's usually something that I do mentally without any kind of specific itemizing. I think that most of us kind of know how much we can do per week based on the number of cakes, complexity of the work and how much time we have. If you don't, you end up staying up until three am to finish things. I personally don't use the " it takes me five hours to bake the cakes" as the reason for charging a certain amount, though, know what I mean?

Kara Buntin said...

And the time wasters are definitely annoying!

Ruth G. said...

I tell people that my prices are based on the cost of supplies, and the time and skill level it takes to make the cake. If a customer asked me to justify further, I think I'd start to question whether I needed them as a customer. They've seen my other cakes, they have my price, and it's either worth it to them or it's not. That's the customer's decision. My pricing structure is my decision and it doesn't change based on what any particular customer thinks.

And, yes, I do think it sounds a bit defensive and whiny to list out every minute spent on a cake. It reminds me of when teachers complain because they have to spend the whole day with a room full of kids. Um, that's what you signed on for. If you're not paid what you think you're worth or you don't like what you're doing, go do something else.

Kara Buntin said...

That's where I'm coming from too, Ruth.

Maybe we should divide the time involved into making a cake into "basic time" for baking, cleaning, etc. and "extra time" for specialty decorating. The extra time is what would determine how much something would be, not the basic time which goes into every cake. Or something along those lines.

rosemary said...

People in my country just lie about the ingredients amounts and costs. Most of them just buy cheap gumpaste flowers and stick them anyway.I am trying to push for the details approach. Am keen on holding on to it and see how it goes.