We've all been in the position of having a customer come to us and ask for a cake design that we think is just ugly as hell. There are a few ways to handle this as a business owner.
1. Refuse the order and refer to someone else. (= no $$$)
2. Suggest changes to the design and risk offending the customer. (might = no $$$)
3. Grit your teeth and make the cake as they want it to be made. ( = payday)
Yes, it's possible to suggest changes to the design that keep the client's "vision" intact, but also improve the appearance of the cake (in your opinion). Suggesting those can result in a client who's happy, but you need to be able to do it in a tactful way if the customer is really in love with their design idea. It's our job to make an attractive cake for people, but the catch is that not everyone finds the same things attractive.
I had a client once who wanted the most hideous cake design I'd ever seen in my life. She was totally in love with the design because she'd seen a cake like it when she was little and had thought it was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. Oh my God, it was horrific. But she was so enthusiastic about it, I did it for her and she LOVED IT. I thought it was the worst thing I'd ever seen, and thinking about it now, years later, still gives me chills. but here's the key: IT WAS NOT MY CAKE.
Yes, I made the cake. But it was not my cake, it was her cake. It was what she wanted, it was what she paid for, and she loved it.
We're in a weird industry. It's a customer-service industry, but I see a lot of people who don't seem to realize that. They seem to think that it's all about their "artistic expression" rather than giving a client what they want to buy. They seem to make cakes for their own ego gratification, and the customer is in there somewhere, but isn't at the top of the list. That's fine if you want to feel fancy and spend your time hanging around in cake groups talking about your art, but if you want to actually make money at your job you should probably get over that.
If you're in the custom cake business, you're supposed to give the customer what they want, which is why they're paying for a custom baker. THIS IS NOT YOUR CAKE. Yes, you're making the cake, but you're not paying for it. Depending on the level of input the client wants to have, sometimes you get to do what you want, and sometimes you have to do what they want. You may get lucky and have someone who's open to suggestions, but some people just want what they want. Just get it all in writing so if they do decide they don't like it, you can show them you did what they ordered!
Everyone has things they don't do, so I'm not saying that you have to do every job that comes your way. I don't do the staircase/fountain combos, I don't do cupcakes, I don't do certain toppers that I'm sick of. I'm not talking about doing everything cake-related just because the customer wants that. I'm talking about specific color combinations, specific designs, etc, things that just boil down to you not liking that particular design.
You can always choose option 1 above and refuse to do it, but you won't be making any money from that cake. I turn cakes away all the time if it's not something that I do. You just have to decide whether the reason of "I think it's ugly" is enough for you to turn down a job. There are plenty of cake designs that I don't care for, but I'll still do them, and I'll do them well. Doesn't mean it's my favorite, but the customer will like it.
If I paid someone to make me a chair with specific colors on it, and they brought me back something different because they said they didn't like my idea, I wouldn't be too happy. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if I want something that's not to your taste, I don't necessarily want you to tell me it's ugly. I want you to shut up and make it for me the way I paid you to do it.
If you're interested in making a profit, you'll do an "ugly" cake every now and then, it will just work out that way. If you're interested in feeling like a fancy artist who doesn't make a profit, go ahead and reject every job that doesn't stroke your ego. Or if you want to feel like a grown-up businessperson, you can take an ugly cake, make it to the best of your ability, make the paying customer happy, and move on to the next weekend's jobs. Nobody likes everything they do every time. Just remember, it's not your cake.
And go ahead and feed your ego by making a dummy cake for your own pleasure. That cake can be totally yours, and I guarantee someone somewhere will think it's ugly. But who cares, because it's not their cake.
Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, online cake supplies at www.acaketoremember.com and www.acaketoremember.etsy.com