For a long time I wanted to be a celebrity cake maker. You know, own THAT PLACE in town where the gliteratti came to for all things celebration and party. I wanted to be like Starbuck’s and have a poster in my shop with photos from magazines of celebrities eating my cake. In my city, there is already a cake shop who does this so I knew it would not be an easy task – but this was one of those secret goals you don’t actually tell anyone about.
Of course, nobody actually tells you HOW to become a celebrity cake maker. I mean it’s not like I could (or would) send a bunch of samples to their houses, right? That would be kinda stalker-ish. Instead I just went about running my cake business, doing a ton of local marketing, and getting on with making cake for all kinds of people from all walks of life. Whenever I’d read about a celebrity (local or visiting) and see the picture in the paper or online, I’d sigh and think, “Why the hell didn’t they call ME?! I SO could have done a better cake than that!”
Still, I had no real idea how to chase that market, and I think in my heart of hearts I knew that while it would be nice to be a celebrity cake maker, it wasn’t the kind of gig I could reliably make a living with. Plus let’s be real here, I’m about the furthest thing from a celebrity type person you can imagine. I don’t wear make-up, I don’t wear nice clothes (although my yoga pants are mostly clean). I live in the suburbs. If I MET a celebrity, I’d probably be all embarrassed and act weird and say inappropriate things and kinda lose my shit. I do not have an innate sense of style, I don’t go out at night (unless a 9pm run to the supermarket for ice cream counts) and you know, I’m just not rubbing shoulders with people in those arenas. If I DID rub shoulders with them, they’d recoil from the feeling of sandpaper because I don’t even use moisturizer. (FYI: I own it. I just don’t USE it.)
Plus – and you might be very surprised to hear this – I’m quite introverted. I’m not a fan of crowds. If people talk too much, eventually I excuse myself to lie down because, you know, noise. I don’t like networking. In new situations or with new people, I get kinda quiet and awkward. Yes – I can stand up and give a talk in front of 200 people…but you bet that afterwards, I’ll be in the hotel room eating chips and recovering mentally from it.
Let me interrupt this to share a story.
A couple of years ago, I did a talk at a huge cake event. Afterwards I heard that there were a bunch of parties going on and people going out to do stuff. Me, I went back to the hotel to just….decompress after a long day of being chatty and social and on stage. I needed my space and my quiet. After a few hours, I started to feel like a total loser. So I called the front desk and asked them to connect me to a BIG FAT INTERNATIONAL CAKE DECORATOR who I knew was staying at the hotel and who was very nice to me earlier that day. She answered kinda nervously (who the hell still makes hotel phone calls?!) and I awkwardly asked her if she wanted to pop out with me for an ice cream. OMG I cringe about this now. She probably thought I was a weirdo stalker. Anyway she says, “You know, it’s really nice of you to ask. Thank you for calling. But after a day like today, I just want to hang out in bed, eat room service, and Skype my kids. I just need my space.”
Well Shit. It turns out that big amazing international cake superstar is kinda…. like me. (PS the next morning she apologised to me for saying no and explained that she felt bad, but just needs her space like I do.)
Back to Taylor Swift’s Birthday Cake
Okay so there I was running my cake business. I did as much marketing as I could afford to do, in the ways I was comfortable with. Sometimes I had epic successes and other times, epic fails – but I never stopped trying to get my business out there, never stopped trying to get more business and grow things. Over the years I did get requests now and again for a celebrity cakes and every time, I’d get a little kick out of it. I started to notice, though, that I’d make these cakes and get excited but then the next day was no different. I wasn’t suddenly wearing moisturizer or anything. My life was the same. My business was the same. I just had gotten to something a little cool, you know? Gradually I gave up on that dream to be the “go to” celebrity cake maker because my other dreams – of creating a business to feed my family, of making people happy, of being a well thought of businesswoman in my city, etc – they got more and more important. The need to earn a solid living and grow my business every year took precedence over needing to wear moisturizer. Celeb cakes were fun but I can’t run a business just off of those (and just between you and me: often you get asked to do them for free.) So all that marketing I was doing (again, with not a whole lot of money or skill) was about running a business which would support my family and make me and my clients happy. I never did get my poster board with a celebrity photo collage on it.
The other interesting thing I noticed is that when I did get celebrity orders, they came through the same means as my normal clients did. Someone in the UK ordered cupcakes from me for her best friend. She found me just via Googling to find a cupcake delivery service…and that best friend was Dannii Minogue. A pair of well known musicians ordered their child’s first birthday cake from me because she Googled “cakes for kids Melbourne.” (By the way they complained about the price…) A well known author found me because she went to a birthday party the week before and asked where the venue got the cake. All kinds of people found me through my online reviews, business cards friends had given them, the custom cake servers I gave out at events and for some, just the sign on my door and the cakes in my window. Celebrity or not, all these people found me in the same ways.
Late one Friday afternoon I got a call from someone who had done a few cake decorating classes with me over the past year. “Hi Michelle. So you might not realise this but I now have a cake business too. I know this is CRAZY but I just got an order request that I simply can’t do. I’m totally overwhelmed. I can’t even believe I said no to this but I have to. Anyway the woman who wants it is a close friend of mine and I don’t want to disappoint her. I thought of you right away because I know you do high quality stuff, you’re reliable and you can think on your feet. Is there ANY way you can do an order for me?”
“Umm, it’s like 5pm on Friday! Normally I don’t even answer the phone this late. You sound kinda desperate. What do you need?”
“I know, I know!! Look, don’t kill me, but it needs to be picked up tomorrow morning at like 11am.”
“Yeah, sorry. Anyway the thing is – we also need to feed like 300 people.”
“Haha yeah that’s not going to happen in this lifetime. 300 people by tomorrow morning?!”
“It’s crazy. I realise that. I just KNOW you can do this. They’ll pay you properly and everything. And by the way Michelle, this cake is for Taylor Swift.”
“Yeah, I know, right? I must be insane to say no to this. But it’s her birthday and she’s in concert here, and we really need this to happen….”
You know the rest. I made an enormous cake (base cake 18″square) for Taylor Swift and her VIP fans. This thing was HUGE and it had hundreds and hundreds of teeny tiny glittery white flowers on it. And they asked that it be red, to match the Tour. I had about 12 hours to pull it off, and I DID pull it off.
Here’s what I find interesting about my story of making a birthday cake for Taylor Swift:
- I did it because I wanted to impress my teenaged daughters AND I rather like Tay-Tay myself. AND HELLO THIS IS TAYLOR SWIFT FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE! SHE’S LIKE THE BEST EXAMPLE OF A BAD ASS BOSS LADY EVER.
- I got this gig because this woman knew me and she knew I’d do a great job for her. She was a former student of mine. She was familiar with my work, my reputation and my skills. Guess what though? She only knew about me because of the time I’d been in business, quietly getting myself out there to the local area, reaching out to people, and doing a bunch of marketing. All of which I did in my own time, in my own way, without any moisturizer or nice clothes.
- Any marketing or fame or whatever from this cake came entirely from me. I didn’t get a single tag on social media – in fact me and some friends went onto twitter, Facebook and IG and everywhere else and tagged the shit out of it to try and get some traffic back to us.
The moral of the story here is this. I know so many of you reading this are kinda terrified of marketing your business. I’m sharing this story to reassure you that you don’t need to be extroverted, have a lot of money, make all the right choices all the time or even have much of a clue about marketing to grow your business and get to do cool stuff. You’ve just got to commit to taking steps, every day, to get your business known a tiny bit more to the people who you’d like to be buying from you.
The way you get found by people in your neighbourhood is exactly the way you get found by TayTay: By good marketing, done every day.
By the way – my recently released online class is a step by step guide to how I marketed my cake business. Everything I tell you to do, I did myself – so I’ve already made the mistakes for you. More info about my class can be found at this link: Confident Marketing.