Reality Check: Interview with Sharon Wee

I know a whole lot about running a cake business – including realising that every business owner’s experience (like every cake I make) is unique.  While there are a very many shared experiences or situations, each owner has come to this point in their business differently. We all deal with things differently, choose to take our businesses in different directions, bring our own piece of ourselves into it. Over the course of this blog I’m going to interview a number of baking business owners from all over the world and share their thoughts with you. One of the best resources available to new business owners is the people who have been there, done that. Let’s be honest here – that’s why you’re reading this blog in the first place, AND it’s why I’m writing it. But since I don’t want you to just take my word for it, I’m interviewing others in the industry. So that you can learn from people other than myself – people who have done it all, too: made the mistakes, celebrated the victories, burned a cake (or several) and lived to tell the tale.

I first heard of Sharon Wee through her blog, Wee Love Baking. (Being a cake nerd,  I follow an embarrassingly large number of blogs.) Sharon has a very distinct decorating style and I’ve admired it for a long time as it’s an opposite to my own style – clean lines, pastel colour palette, a very gentle look, extremely smooth finishes on everything, sweetness with a hint of humour – just beautiful, lovely work. One day I got an email from her asking about doing some teaching in my home city. I just about fell off my chair. I knew *exactly* who she was and could not believe she was approaching me.

Long story short, we eventually did get to meet in person (*squeal!*) and I have to say that her cake style reflects who she is totally. Gentle, warm and just an all around really nice person with a wicked sense of humour and with no fear for telling it like it is. In other words – my kind of cake maker. Since I first met Sharon, her business Sharon Wee Creations, has taken off in a huge way. She teaches all over the world, creates and sells tutorials, creates custom cakes for her clients, runs classes locally -in other words, Sharon is a total cake legend.

The seriously cool part about Sharon?

She’s doing ALL of this…from her home. Yup. She’s achieved all of this from one room in an inner city apartment. She is a brilliant example of how creating a cake business from your kitchen table does NOT always mean there are limits to your success.

So – let me share with you the wisdom of Sharon Wee:
 

Tell me a little bit about how you got started in the cake industry and the path of growth you’ve had thus far.

Caking started out as a hobby for me. I had just finished uni and was at my very first job when I felt that I was missing something. I needed a hobby. So I signed up for a cake decorating class. I have always loved baking cakes for my friends so I thought a decorating class sounded fun. I loved it and grew obsessed. And from then on I started making cakes every chance I got and finally got encouraged by my friends to start my own business.
I started my business slowly, only selling to friends and family and slowly realised that if I wanted to make any kind of money, I’d need to widen my circle of customers. So I started advertising and selling to other people and my business grew as I was still working full time. Then about 3 years ago, I was so exhausted working what was basically 2 jobs that I decided that one of them had to go. So I left my corporate day job and here I am today 🙂
Other than going into business in the first place, what’s the best business decision or investment in it that you’ve made thus far?

I can’t think of one particular decision so I will list a few:
– Going to classes: This one was invaluable to me. Not only did it help give me confidence in my work and sharpen my skills but most importantly it help me build a network of cake decorating friends who I can rely on and trust if I ever need help or if I am ever unsure of how to do anything.
– Getting my priorities right – after I finally worked out the aim and direction of my business I could focus and take opportunities that would help me reach my goal and decline offers that sent me down the wrong path.
– Learning how to price properly – Before this, I was pulling numbers out of thin air and really paying for it afterwards. Once I understood how to price properly I never dug myself in a hole again though under charging.
What’s the one thing about being in business you wish someone had told you before you started?
 
Grow some ‘balls’ and be ok with not getting the business. 
When I first started I was so eager to please and not scare customers away with my ‘super expensive prices’ that I’d agree to everything under the sun for a fraction of the cost. I used to let them bully me around and when they told me that my cakes were not worth what I wanted to charge, I stupidly believed them. When they asked for a discount because you know ‘they have never tried my cakes before so, they did not know if they’d be any good’, I gave in. When they asked for sketches and sketches of different or revised concepts, I gladly complied, in colour too! When I got a bad gut feeling that a customer may be more effort than they were worth, I’d ignore it and continue on.
The result? I ended up loosing money on the orders. The customers who promised to give me plenty of future business if I gave them a ‘good price’ in the beginning never came back. Those I drew sketches for never came back, and because I never asked for deposits and gave away my ideas so freely, guess what? they had no real obligation to! I ended up resenting the cakes I had to stay up until 3am to do when all I was making on it was hardly enough to cover costs. When I felt bad for taking deposits, I’d end up with a cancelled cake order 3 days before it was due.
So I learned quickly through lots of painful mistakes that I needed to toughen up. At the end of the day I’d much rather not have the business than let the client make me feel like I am not worth what I am doing or loose money on the order. If this was the case, I’d prefer to spend that time with my family.
The cake industry is an interesting one from a social perspective. On the one hand, it can be a very loving, helpful, supportive community. On the other, you’re dealing with haters, people ‘borrowing’ ideas (and claiming them as their own) and people just not being terribly nice to one another! How have you dealt with this “community” aspect of the industry?
It really saddens me to see people at our adult age still having to deal with bullies or haters. Especially nowadays with the internet and social media, the situations you find yourself in can be so much more brutal then say 10 years ago. Personally, I’ve met and known plenty of loving, wonderful and supportive cakers and those are the people I try and surround myself with. I try and ignore the ‘bad’ people and focus on making my cakes and my business a better one. I really believe if you have nothing nice to day, don’t say it and just stay out of it. If you get into it and are arguing away, you are really wasting the time you have to create awesome cakes instead.

What do you see as the biggest challenge to running a cake business in the coming 1-3 years?
 
Staying unique and standing out. I won’t lie, the cake industry is becoming more and more challenging. It is currently extremely saturated and there will ALWAYS be someone out there charging a lot cheaper than you, will to put in more hours than you, more flavours than you or even provide better service than you. So the challenge we all face is how do we stand out? How do we m
make it so that clients would rather order from us than from anyone else?

Sharon, thanks for taking the time to be interviewed, I really appreciate it. Your honesty and sincerity shine through your answers. I consider myself lucky to be able to count you among the work colleagues who I can now call my friend. You’ve helped maintain my faith that the world is full of wonderful cake people who operate with integrity (which as we both know is the only way to operate.)
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So there you have it, readers. A glimpse into what a successful cake business owner really thinks. I’ve got a series of interviews planned, so if there is someone you’d like to see me pick the brains of, or a question you’ve always wanted to ask someone – feel free to leave it in the comments.

6 comments on “Reality Check: Interview with Sharon Wee

  1. I loved reading this part really really enjoying everything you have here I have a way to go but im lost in your blog its soooo helpful I totally relate to Sharon at the stage I am at… losing money making cakes trying so hard having little confidence 🙂 amazing that my idol's were in the same situation really gives me hope xoxoxo

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