I’ve been in this business long enough to know from about one minute into a phone call if the person I’m talking to is going to make my life a living hell. I’ve answered enough emails to know it just from their initial enquiry, and I can almost always tell within a minute or two of meeting them -either they’re awesome, or I want to run a mile from them. You learn to develop a sort of sixth sense about your clientele and I can guarantee that the ones you think are going to be painful ARE going to be painful. I can also guarantee that it’s the painful ones whose cakes will slide, melt, break or fade, whose deliveries will go astray, whose payments will be incorrectly credited. It’s like the Universe knows and just tries to smack you in face with reminders that you never should have agreed to their order in the first place.
Karma. It exists even in cake.
In the early days I used to take on every single order even if I knew the person wasn’t going to be worth it. Hell, I needed and wanted the money and the practise and couldn’t really (or didn’t think I could) afford to be picky. A paying client is a paying client, right? These days I deal with this fairly simply- I charge them an exorbitant Irritation Fee (or what my husband calls, in a very Australian sort of way, “the embuggerance factor.”) Basically, I quote them an obscene amount of money – enough which will make dealing with them worth it. 99% of the time they run for it and never come back to me, in which case it’s a problem solved. 1% of the time they take me up on it…and then if their cake survives the Universe kicking it around, they end up loving me and always willing to pay ridiculous amounts for the love. Win,win.
Here are the clients to whom I am likely to charge the Irritation Fee:
- The “Do You Know Who I Am?” client – she promises you that if you give her a good deal on her order, she’ll bring you *lots* of business because she has more friends and family than, you know, God. Or Justin Bieber. And because she got a good deal with you, ALL of them are going to come beating down your door demanding cake (never mind they’re going to want a good deal, too.)
- The “Too Cool for School” client – she tells you that she normally would make the cake herself, but she’s SOOOOO busy/important/talented/egotistical/genius that she just isn’t going to be able to this year, so you – her inferior slave labour – is being granted the honour of doing it.
- The “Something Simple” client – she tells you she wants ‘something simple’ and then reads you a list of 72 features this cake needs to have, including being able to fix her marriage and teach her kid to read. But it’s just something simple, really, so it shouldn’t cost too much, right?
- The “I Trust You” client – who tells you that you’ve got creative free reign to do whatever you like, as long as the cake is pink. And round. And 8″. And has an owl on it. A purple owl. With blue wings. And spots. And stripes. And looks *exactly* like the one in the picture she sent you, but feel free to do whatever you like. Really.
- The “I Really Can’t Afford It” client – the one having a wedding for 500 people but her cake budget is $200 and she doesn’t understand why you’re so expensive. It’s flour and sugar, right? She can afford 500 guests at $100 a plate, but can’t afford to spend more than 50c a serving on the cake.
- The “Prest-o Change-o Rearrange-o” client – the one who agrees on a design and price, pays the deposit and then continually (but slowly, so apparently you won’t notice) changes or adds in more and more elements to her cake and is surprised when you gently tell her that three more tiers might cost a wee bit more than you originally quoted.
- The “Never Going to Learn” client – no matter how often you tell her you need 48 hours notice, she always calls the night before the party. Because apparently it’s easy to forget you have 100 people coming round tomorrow, all of whom are expecting cake to be there.
- The “Hold My Hand” client – the one who brings her mother with her to the design appointment and asks her mother for an opinion on every single element, then goes with what her mother said even if she disagrees with it. Hard to tell which is your client here, really (but it’s going to be the mother who complains later. Guaranteed.)
- The “Is She Serious Right Now?” client – the one who asks for something completely impossible and is miffed when you politely explain that you cannot bend time, defy gravity, time travel or make cakes bake faster. (I had one of these recently. A client called and gave me less than 18 hours to produce a scale model of the Sydney Opera House, on a budget of $200. I might have done it had she added an extra zero to the end of that budget.)
- The “Do You Know Who I Am?” Client, Version Two: the name dropper. I’m so sorry, but being Ashton Kutcher’s 1st grade teacher does not entitle you to a discount.
This entire post does of course come with the disclaimer that I’ve got loads of lovely clients, and I treat everyone with respect…but it’s amazing (and amusing) to me how many times examples of the above come up.
Have you got any ‘type’ of client to add to my list? or who of the above deserves your Irritation Fee?