Long term readers of this blog know that I encourage you to create as many business friendships as you can, especially real life (not online) friendships. You might be wondering – if we’re all competitors to one another, why is it a good idea to be friends? Isn’t that letting people in on our secrets? Why would we want to share everything about our business with someone who might then go and steal those ideas? Michelle, you’re delusional if you think people in this industry – in the same town no less! – can truly be friends. You must be in a sugar coma from the Oreos if you think I’m going to reach out to that crazy lady down the road who undercuts everyone. Besides, a few weeks ago, didn’t you tell me not to worry about the Cow Down The Road?!
Let me first clarify by saying that just because I think you should try to be friends with people in this industry, this does not mean that they are interested in being friends with you. Some people will just be too worried about idea theft, and some people are just…not your type. Totally fine. I don’t expect you to love your neighbour either, especially that one who throws the wild parties and howls at the moon eat night. For the most part though, I think it’s worth us trying to reach out to one another for a number of reasons, including:
- You’ve got a local resource to lean on: Don’t have that special cutter, need an extra 8″ cake pan, can’t find your bottle of Sugarflair Violet at midnight? Having someone nearby comes in handy when you don’t have access to stores or don’t have time for online shopping.
- The icing hit the fan: Your child gets sick, you trip and fall, your Mom needs to be looked after. Having a local friend in the industry means you have a back up plan for your orders if everything goes to hell.
- What goes around, comes around: got too many orders? Refer them onto your cake buddy! If she’s got too many the following week, chances are she’ll return the favour. There is enough work to go around, and when there is TOO much, you can help one another out. Better to refer a client on than just refuse them.
- Misery shared is misery halved: Let’s be real here, sometimes being in small business SUCKS and sometimes you just need to have a good old bitch and moan session. Is there anybody better to listen than someone who GETS it? I don’t know about you but my husband and “normal” friends don’t really ‘get’ the whole cake thing. A nearby cake bestie is a GREAT person to share a pity party with – and don’t forget to bring the cheese with the whine.
- Help me Rhonda, help help me Rhonda!: Some cake jobs just need two sets of hands or two sets of eyes.
- Skill sharing: Chances are you and your cake buddy are in the same industry but don’t have the same skills. Maybe she’s great at figurines and you’re awesome at buttercream. Maybe she can bust out a sugar peony in five minutes but it takes you five days. It’s worth being friends with people because they can teach you useful things.
- Loneliness sucks. The handmade arts is an incredibly lonely industry, especially if you work from home. All damn day there is nobody to talk to (other than maybe a toddler and a dog and their conversation is boring). The minute your partner gets home from work you are so damn grateful to see another adult you talk till his ears bleed. Or you go out to the shops in the middle of the day and make friends with every.single.person you see. We’re ALONE ALL THE DAMN TIME and having a cake friend nearby is a great way to make some personal connections and start walking among the humans again. Making friends as an adult is HARD. At least this way, you already have some common ground.
Is it possible that you’ll befriend someone, teach her a bunch of stuff, share your life secrets, and then she’ll stab you in the back? Sure. It’s equally possible that instead, you’ll find a like-minded person who enriches your life and you’ll both be better off for it. Me, I’ll take the chance it’ll work out…and I’ll trust my judgement on people.
How to reach out: pick up the phone! Introduce yourself. Make sure they understand you are coming as a potential friend, not a threat. Be friendly, honest, and open. If you’re afraid of the phone, send an email. Just get in touch. Then (and this is the BIG FAT IMPORTANT PART) take the bull by the horns and ask her out on a cake friend date and BE SPECIFIC. “Would you like to catch up for a coffee? I’m free on Friday around 3, does that work for you?”
What if they reject you?: Please know that this isn’t always about YOU. Sometimes it’s about them. Maybe they are even more shy than you. Maybe they find you intimidating because you are (in their eyes) a kick-ass decorator. Maybe they are battling some other issues at home or work. Truly, we never know the back story. Give them a chance or two and then if it’s not working, it’s not working. No big deal. Maybe in future it’ll work and maybe not, but without trying, it won’t happen at all. Above all don’t take it personally if they aren’t into a coffee date with you.
Reach out to one another.
Make real life connections.
At the very least, it means you’ll only be eating half the Oreos (and therefore half the calories.)