You Couldn’t Pay Me Enough

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?

47 comments on “You Couldn’t Pay Me Enough

  1. Hahaha.
    I’ve experienced all these types at one time or the other.
    Thought it was a Nigerian thing. Lolll.
    Your descriptions are so spot on.
    My worst kind is the ‘Do You Know Who I am’ client version 1

    Love your tip on dealing with them. 😊

  2. Don’t forget the…”I really want you to make my wedding cake because I love your style, but was wondering if you could use a recipe I found on the internet. It sounds really good,” client.

    OR….

    When someone texts you and you have no idea who it is.

    “i need a cake 4 thz sat- 4 cheap ~can u do it plz?”

    100% guaranteed not to get a response from me ever!

    And the …”Imma blow up your phone client” as an army of one, if I stopped to answer every phone call and email I got on the spot, no one would ever get a finished cake. If I don’t answer, it’s because I’m legitimately busy, I’m driving, or it’s not a good time to discuss important details of your cake. Don’t call me every 10 minutes, then email, and then try to come to my by appointment only commercial kitchen. I’ll get back to you when I can, it might be a day or two.

  3. What a brilliant article Michelle! Love your work!
    …what a great business it is to be in, where we can make something and be paid for it.
    The vast majority of our clients are such a pleasure to deal with and work for, makes our job/business very enjoyable indeed.
    However, we do have a fair few of “those types of clients” also…and we don’t even make cakes. People can be funny (“funny strange” not “funny ha ha”) can’t they!?! Sometimes it takes all of your professionalism and more to manage clients like this. Thank you for making this aspect of customer service a little easier to tackle, with your fresh perspective.
    Embuggerance. Love it. Made up words are my forte, I think they are hilarious, and this one is a ripper! πŸ™‚

  4. Never ever chase a sale on a buy/swap/sell board. Every single person there is cheap and demanding.

    Every quote is too high. These people don’t buy bespoke anything. They’re the “sugar and flour” people all in one place.

  5. Yes, yes and yes lol. All true. My clients are all perfectly lovely and that’s because I do the same as you – quote an extortionate amount or tell them I’m booked up. I’ve had all kinds of client knocking at my door – the bridezilla who didn’t know what she wanted then came at me with a zillion pictures of cakes from magazines that she’d stuck in her Bridezilla book. She had a small budget but had big ideas and wanted me to quote there and then – my head was spinning!! You just know instinctively how it will go if you take it on lol.

  6. OMG I had a horrendous one last week. Wanted a marbled mud cake. Yep all good. Then wanted it to taste EXACTLY like a MIchel’s Patisserie cake (large chain store Aussie bakery). Ummmmm, I can’t make my cake taste like theirs as I don’t have their recipe. Oh well, you cake isn’t too sweet is it?. I said she would be better off ordering from the patisserie as it sounded like she had very specific tastes and I would only disappoint. She said, oh no, I can order it from them and you can decorate it for me! Problem solved! No……I don’t decorate other people’s cakes. When I eventually nicely but firmly moved her on by telling her I COULD NOT take her order she had the last word by saying “I guess you’e not up to the challenge”. Maybe not, but I still want my sanity at the end of it. And her budget? $120 max.

  7. Hi, I started reading and following because of your newsletter post. How I seriously just feel in love with you!!! You nailed some of my clients to a tee! Love it !!!!

  8. I had one of those on Wednesday, wanting TWO cakes for Saturday, a piano and a drum set cake. I only had one small wedding cake with cupcakes to do, so I agreed to assist. Well, after about 100 emails and quotes, I emailed her to ask if we are going ahead with this, as I dont want to be running around last minute for any additionals for her cakes. "O, no its ok," she says, "I was just finding out prices!" REALLY???

  9. Ohhh yes I forgot about her! The one who feels she can go against the rules because she has ordered more than once. Argh! I don't have any that I'm mutual friends with on facebook (I don't friend clients on facebook generally) but I've had a few ask to be friends and I always think, "Why? So you can drive me crazy in more than one place?" πŸ˜‰

    M

  10. Hilaroius! I loved the comments as much as the post.
    I have a (can't call her client, coz she's not paid for anything as yet) contact- "I'm raising funds for —— and ———- events. So send me cakes". When it comes to her personal orders, its, " That will probably be too expensive, so maybe I'll take this, without the packaging". Try asking for her budget, and what exactly the quantities she requires are, is. And there is no answer!!!

  11. How about the 'I'm a regular so don't have to play by the rules customer'….promises a deposit but you have to chase and chase for it, emails you a couple of days before the cake is due to either alter the order or ask for the date of delivery to be changed, and it's inevitably earlier than the booked date not later, tangles up your time in inane conversations as you are now best friends, and because you are now 'best friends' you can't drop them like a stone as they've weedled their way too far into your life and you have a bunch of mutual friends on facebook.

  12. Oh god – that's hilarious – I've never heard of the *client* telling you it needs to be better than a photo! Plenty of times I've told a client I think I can do better than a photo but not the other way around!

    Ahhh..clients! Can't live without them, but sometimes can't live with them either! πŸ™‚

    M

  13. I have an " I trust you" client this month, my husband told me from the start to bin her (he's an Aussie too, blunt!)
    She sent me a photo of a perfectly respectable cake from a local cake decorating shop and said, it needs to be better than this!!! I am 80% sure when I turn up it wouldn't be goo enough, which is fine as I will turn around and take it home, my kids will happily eat it!
    Thanks soo much for this it has really made my day! I think I may print this page and stick it to the inside cover of my order book to give me confidence to say NO to nutters !

  14. To anyone out there who's just beginning and thinks this very humorous post was any exaggeration at all, I'm here to say it's spot on. And this is probably just me, but I hate it when a customer emails me a couple of days before her cake is due just to be sure I know that she knows the cake is going to be wonderful.

  15. You have NO way of knowing if that person is just getting ideas or if they will become a paying client. You might have a hunch about it (one develops a feeling for it)…and in that case I advise to say enough to be polite and helpful,but not so much that they can take the idea and run with it! (eg don't give them any artwork…) It's very hard to know who is 'fishing' and who isn't, so just be polite yet firm if they want to take away your creative knowledge.

  16. Oh gosh! I've had only 3 clients in 4 1/2 years ask for a photo of the cake before it's delivered – luckily my playful "but don't you want it to be a surprise when you see it" worked all three times!

  17. i love it! thanks for this! it will be a guide for me when i make my future baking biz client contract. how about those who inquire and waste the baker's/cake artist's time but won't push through with their orders coz they're sort of only getting ideas, how do you deal with them? thanks! =)

    1. I give them a generic price and (politely) tell them to take a look on Pinterest to find what they like and don’t like and then come back to me and we can discuss further. If they come back they are usually the sweetest people. If they don’t well I haven’t had to waste too much of my time on them

  18. Yeah, because he can't afford to pay for it, right? And because the feature in the magazine is going to be all about your cake (and not him and his wife…) Aarrrggh. I hate these sort of "pretend" opportunities!

  19. This is the greatest! and best part is… here in the world of wedding dΓ©cor, we have clientele that is "all of that" wrapped into one event!
    Thank you for sharing πŸ™‚

  20. ..and I have had a State Sports personality, whose wedding was going to be featured in Woman's Day and could I throw in the cake for FREE, as my business would get FREE EXPOSURE!!!

  21. My favorites are the 'best friend' who wants a cheek cake coz you are 'friends' then ignores you in social circles, coz you're not good enough to hang out with! Lol

  22. I laughed and agreed as I read your post and comments. As a kitchen and bath designer (newish baker), I kept nodding my head. In construction, this type of customer and mark up is called the "old lady factor". Here are a few examples of mine.

    The Engineer. He knows everything. Everything must be to his exact measurements or else it's not right. He watches and questions your every move. He doesn't know that (I'll use baking terms instead of construction) the cake you bake in an 8" tin will not be exactly 8". You can tell who this customer is when he brings in a scaled drawing with exact measurements.

    The "Friend". The one who pretends to be your friend and your buddy and invites you to parties and future events even though you've just met. She'll be your "friend" and stick it to you in the end.

    The "Gifted". You've been given as a very expensive gift to the (usually) wife to keep her busy and out of her husband's hair. She's a brat and you'll be able to tell this right of the bat. She pouts, she cries and has a lot of break downs.

  23. what about the one who gives you loads of notice but phones at least twice a week, until the day of the party. talks 20 minutes each time, NOTHING to do with cakes, but get to know her life story and baby's habits. when she does talk about the cake every bit is planned out down to the last cm . yay, better yet, now you are her cake maker for life. help!

  24. Oh yes! The only problem with those ones is that they don't often display their stalker tendencies until after you've taken them on as a client. I do often get people calling a week or more before their event, "Just see how it's going," with their order. πŸ™‚ That one always makes me smile.

  25. Ha! I had one of these recently. The credit card given for the deposit was declined – and when I called back to let them know, I got their voicemail. 3 voicemails and 3 emails later and NO reply whatsoever. When they came to pick up the (non existant) cake, I got the "but I paid the deposit," excuse. Um, NO, actually, you didn't! I then got told off for not trying some other means to get in touch. Like what, exactly? Sky writing? πŸ™‚

  26. Too funny and oh so true! I would add the 24×7 client , the one that calls and writes and basically stalks you every single day trying to control everything until the date of the event!

  27. You forgot the "i didn't pay a deposit or final balance, but where is my cake?" Client. Did a tasting, took extra, lots of specific demands, then you never heard from them again….. Until the day the wanted it!

  28. The "Anything" client. On the other end of the spectrum is the "Anything" client. I suppose this is a spin-off of the "Something Simple" client. Order is made usually at the last minute. "My son's birthday is coming up. Anything boyish will do". Then you have to ask questions for some direction. Upon delivery, there is inevitably something wrong with the cake.

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