With the increased number of people selling cakes (I won't even call them businesses, because not all of them are), there isn't enough business for everyone. That's right, I'll say it again, There's not enough business for everyone. If you want to pretend that's not true then have at it, but read this first: Reality check
However, even in this new cake landscape, there are people who are doing fine for themselves. They have as much work as they want, they're not complaining that they're broke, they're not despairing over getting more business. I decided to put out a twitter request to see what these businesses are doing that other people might not be, and I got some responses that I thought were interesting.
I'm concentrating on home-based businesses because that's what I know about. I don't operate a shop, so I'm not going to give out business about running a storefront. If you have a home-based business that you feel is doing well, and you'd like to participate in this conversation, send me an email or a message on facebook and I'll send you some questions to answer. You can be anonymous or say who you are, it's up to you. The only qualification is that you need to be making a profit and be happy with the condition you feel your business is in.
Our first interview is with Renee Conner of Happy Cakes By Renee in New Hampshire. she runs a home-based business and has small children, so she has a lot of the same challenges that many of us have. She was okay with going public with her name, so go check her website out and like her on facebook if you feel so inclined. And here are her answers to my questions, so read up:
-How many cakes do you do per year and is that “enough” for you? In other words, are you as busy as you want to be? I do about 18-20 cakes per year during “wedding season.” Yes, this is enough to keep me as busy as I want to be for now.
-Do you do cakes because it’s a business for you or because you think it’s fun, or a combination? A combination- we do not rely on income from my business to support the family. It allows me to be flexible with my schedule. I truly enjoy making cakes, which is why I started my business when I did (3 years ago), instead of waiting until my youngest was in school and I can focus on my business full-time.
-What’s your opinion of social media for business? Do you think that people are too concerned with being online and how many likes/followers/contacts they have? Do you think that social media sites are beneficial to businesses? I think that social media is a powerful tool for a lot of businesses… but not necessarily for ALL businesses. For a business selling cakes, putting time in to gaining followers is fruitless, unless your likers are all potential local customers. I don’t know about everyone else, but the majority of my followers and likers are other cake decorators. That is great for promoting Youtube videos, but not so much for selling my cakes. In fact, I could probably count on one hand, the number of orders I’ve received from Facebook. So, yes, while it is exciting to gain subscribers and followers… I think, in general, people are too concerned with those stats; especially, on Facebook, where you only reach a tiny fraction of your audience anyway. I think it is important for businesses to be active on social media… but should only be a small part of a marketing strategy.
- Do you belong to any networking groups or professional organizations for your business? I do not belong to any official groups, yet. I hope to join a local wedding professionals group, but they only have bi-annual gatherings and I’ve only just found them. However, I have networked with other wedding professionals, and that is where the majority of my business comes from.
-Do you actively pursue publication opportunities? Do you want to have a lot of media mentions for your business? It is fun to create a cake for publication. When I have been asked, I have done it… I think it is a great selling point to be able to show on your business website, that you have been published. But, you have to think carefully about what the publication is. Trade magazines will get you noticed by your peers, but those don’t typically reach your client base. I think if you are going to pursue media attention, it should be focused on local publications. When I’ve created cakes for trade sites/publications in the past… I approached it knowing I was doing it for “me” and not because I thought I would gain a lot of business from it. And, I only agree to it if I have the time. I would never turn down a client in favor of a publication deadline.
-Do you know off the top of your head how much your profit margin is overall? Do you pay attention to business finances so that you know where you are financially? Yes, I reconcile my accounts/contracts/expenses on a monthly basis. I don’t take on too many cakes, one a week- two if they are simple, so it’s pretty easy to stay on top of my expenses and overhead, and project what my profit will be at the end of a month.
-Do you pay attention to people online who give business advice? If you do, do you know if they’re successful or not? I try not to… In general I’m a take-it-with-a-grain-of-salt kind of girl… I used to buy into it more. I have since learned to put my blinders on a bit. Honestly, I have been much more successful and less stressed once I started listening to my own instinct and doing my own research!
-What do you think is the most effective way to get cake orders? Networking and word of mouth… absolutely! When I first started I put up my Adwords and sat back and waited for the orders to roll in… Well, I think I got 3 orders from Adwords that year, granted I had a fairly low daily limit for my ads. But, through a friend I was able to meet with a couple of event planners… and my business has done very well since. I’ve found that it’s a pretty small world when it comes to wedding vendors. We tend to work with each other a lot, and recommend each other to clients. So, when delivering cakes I always have business cards to exchange and try to chat with the other vendors.
-Do you have sales or financial goals for your business each year? Yes, however at this point, my financial goals are fairly small… I aim to cover all of my business expenses (insurance, licensing, business phone line, hourly kitchen rental, marketing materials… etc…) pay myself and have some kind of profit in my business account to cover future expenses or supplies to grow my business.
-Do you have a website that you maintain on a regular basis? Yes! It was one of the first things I did, build a website (not a Facebook page). I think it is vital to have an online presence/website… On my website I can showcase my portfolio, I have my menu. my ordering/pricing information and it give a “feel” for my business. I think it is especially important to have a good website if you don’t have a store front. The information here and the design/style of your site will give your potential clients their first impression of you.
-What’s your opinion about people who spend a lot of time online giving business advice? I wonder how successful they can be if they have all this time to spend online giving “free” business advice! Why aren’t they busy with their own business?!
-Do you pay attention to your local competition or not? Honestly, I don’t spend too much time worrying about local competition. Of course I am aware of other cake decorators in my area (and honestly I admire several of them!)… But I think my time is spent more efficiently focusing on my own business and marketing myself.
-Do you have any advice for people who are starting out? Do your homework! So many people think, oh, it would be so much fun to make cakes… and it is… But, you can’t just jump into it. Know what you can afford as an initial investment and what you have time for. Know your local laws so you know where you can bake and what you can & cannot do as a local business. Know how to price your cakes, so you cover costs and pay yourself. If you undercharge you’re going to end up hating what you do. Trust me, I learned the hard way… when you only charge for 10 hours, and a cake takes 30 hours and you have only have $100 in your pocket at the end of the week… it quickly becomes not worth it! These are all things you will have to research for yourself. There is no magically internet guru to tell you everything you will need to know for your specific situation. Check out Score.org for seminars, workshops and mentorships from actual business people! And, also, you almost certainly are not going to make yourself rich as a cake decorator! If you are smart you can make a respectable salary… but making cakes is an expensive endeavor and we can’t all charge $20/slice in our markets!
-Where do you think is the most useful place to advertise your business?I don’t spend much on advertising just yet. I rely on networking, so I would say the best place (for me) to advertise is to other vendors. If, when I am ready to increase production, I find I don’t have enough business from referrals I would try to negotiate a trial period paid membership to one of the popular wedding websites.
Thanks, Renee, for taking the time to answer, and for basically crawling into my head because I agree with everything you said.
Next week, another successful small business owner will give her answers to the same questions. Will the answers follow a pattern? I suspect that they will...
Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, online cake supplies at www.acaketoremember.com and www.acaketoremember.etsy.com