Lessons learned

cake_business_lessonsIn today’s post, I’m going to distill an entire year of my blogging about cake business into one “cheat sheet” of what I believe are the most important things I’ve said this year. These are the lessons I really hope stay with you as you continue your cake business adventure. They are in no specific order, and in the comments please let me know if I missed any, or if there are any of my blog posts which especially resonated with you.

1. Your business = your rules.  One of the benefits to owning your own cake business is that you get to call all the shots. You decide how to do things. Absolutely it’s important to get advice, read, learn and grow more, but ultimately how you choose to do things is up to you.  There is a LOT of advice out there, so you’ve got to absorb that stuff, process it and then do things in the way that suits you and your business. Your business is a reflection of who you are. Make it reflective of the best parts of you, not just a copy of someone else’s ideas of what that should be.

2. Marketing isn’t optional, and it has to be a consistent effort. I know you don’t like it, wish you were better at it, want more time to do it, and so on. I get that, I really do. I just want you to commit to doing it consistently, in whatever way you are comfortable and able. Don’t sit around waiting for clients to magically appear. They won’t – or at least, not enough of them will to keep your business going. You just have to keep on plugging away at marketing. You must market your business. Must. Yes, the industry feels very saturated at the moment. There will always be people who are more skilled than you are, or charging less than you are. So what? That’s nothing new. The difference into the future isn’t going to be if you can out skill or under price them. The difference will be that you’ll out-market them. We’ve all seen companies with mediocre products or crappy service succeed, and they do so because they market well. I’m not saying be mediocre or give bad service, I’m saying you cannot underestimate the importance of marketing to your business. So you hate it. That’s nice. I don’t care if you hate it, you’ve still got to do it.

3. A rising tide lifts all boats – make sure your tide is made up of people who will encourage, push, teach and help you. Not the whiners, the complainers, the ones who will look for roadblocks and convince you that you can’t get past them. Not the people who themselves are too scared to make changes so instead they complain and belittle. I would strongly encourage you to cull those people, groups or organisations out of your life which no longer serve you. You don’t need them. You’ve got growing to do, and if what they say is already not sitting well with you, you’ve outgrown them.  Sure, we all have a good complain once in a while (it’s human nature) but if the people around you are only ever doing that, you don’t need them. It’s time to say “buh-bye” to the time wasters and energy suckers.

4. Haters gonna hate. Let them. You’ve got more important things to work on and care about. Your time and energy are your MOST PRECIOUS resources, so spend them wisely on the people, projects and things that deserve them. Would you rather enter into a half hour argument online with someone who is never going to order from you, or spend that half hour having a coffee and a laugh with a friend who loves you? Or spend that half hour marketing your business, working with a business coach, or doing some research into a new product? I’m going to say it again: Your time and energy are precious – don’t waste them.



5. If you don’t plan to succeed, you won’t. I mean this in EVERY aspect of your business. We spend too much time on the micro-management of our days and not enough on the long term planning. You need to not only think about the bigger picture but plan for it, otherwise all you are doing is living day-to-day and order to order. You need a bigger plan, and you need to work out how you’re going to get there and then JUST DO IT. Even if that plan only spans the next 6 months, at least it IS a plan. Running a cake business with no plan is like having a 3D cake with no internal structure. It’s highly likely to crumble. (By the way, I now offer mentoring sessions to help you do this, or work on your pricing or marketing. More information can be found here.)

6. Life happens. Cakes fall over. Employees get sick. Kids break arms. Orders for 5,000 cookies come in. Clients ask for stuff last minute. It’s never about the event, it’s about how you deal with it. So, when unexpected stuff happens, do this: have your freak out moment, then get right the hell up and get to work on solving that problem or coming up with a Plan B, C, or D if that’s what’s needed. Then: learn from that experience, and change the way you do things so that if there’s a next time, you’ll be better prepared.

7. Policies, procedures and systems around your business aren’t optional. A friends and family policy, deposit and refund policy, standardised recipes, a schedule for your week, a baking list… these things save your butt when everything goes to hell. Even if you own a home based cake business that only needs or wants one cake order a week, you’ve got to systemise and formalise all the things you can.  If nothing else, it will free up a lot of your time and give you some confidence – both things we all need more of.

8. It’s absolutely about the money. It is also about a lot of other stuff, but it most certainly is about the money, otherwise all of us would be doing it for free.  You cannot complain that clients do not understand your pricing or won’t pay what you’re worth, but then turn around and tell me you are doing a bunch of things for free or cheap because you’re really “only doing it for the love.” If you don’t think it’s about the money then I think you need to reexamine what the words “in business” actually mean. Business = the exchange of money or goods for other money or goods, in other words, business is by definition a profit making venture. If you’re not in it for the money, then why on earth would you sign up for the stress, the crazy customers and the late nights?

I need money to feed my kids, pay my mortgage, and buy cake tools and go to classes to up skill myself. I can’t do any of those with love alone. I believe business is about a LOT of things (including love) but it’s about the money because that’s what business actually IS. Anything else is a hobby, an interest or a pastime, not a business. You can support the industry, teach your skills, “give back” to the industry, help people out, socialize with cake makers and make cakes for people without charging a SINGLE cent – you don’t need to be in business to do ANY of those things. So if you’re REALLY not in it for the money, DO IT ENTIRELY FOR FREE and let the rest of us get on with earning a living to pay our bills. Stop acting as though it’s black and white  -that  we must be about one OR the other. When did it become shameful or wrong to want to make a living AND do it for the love? Guess what? It’s not.

By the way, I think many people who say they aren’t doing it for the money say that as a means of protecting themselves from their fear of failure. If they go into business, and then don’t make money, then they can always claim they “weren’t in it for the money” in the first place and save themselves some embarassment. Personally I’d rather give it one hell of a try and fail than only half try. As the saying goes, you will lose every single race you do not run. Me, I’d rather come dead last than not run. (By the way, I don’t want to lose. I’d much rather win. But you can’t win if you don’t enter the race either.)

9. Stop wasting money on stuff you won’t actually use, truly enjoy, or grow from. Cake business owners suffer from “ooh shiny!” disease a LOT. There are a lot of really cool videos and cake tools out there. You don’t need them all. You need to prioritize the ones you want versus the ones you just need or feel sucked into by your peers. Just because something is cheap, that doesn’t mean you should have it or need it – sometimes it’s better to save up for the bigger thing which will last longer than buy the cheap thing over and over. Your spending should be an investment and not just an expense. You’re going to get a lot more long-term value and happiness out of hiring a bookkeeper than you will buying more $9.95 videos you’ll never watch or shaped cake pans you’ll never use again. I’m all for a little bit of indulgence (hello there, my Oreo friends) but just giving in to every whim isn’t indulgent, it’s foolish.

10. There have to be boundaries. The only way to have a life AND a cake business is to have boundaries. Stop answering your phone after 6pm, don’t take orders via text, don’t work on Mondays…whatever. Decide what your boundaries are and then live by those boundaries and teach your clients about those boundaries. You’ve made the time to run a business, this means you can make the time to have a life, too. Let’s be real here. We work in cake. We are not brain surgeons. This doesn’t mean we are not important or we don’t service the world in an important way, because we do. It means that when it comes to cake, nobody is in mortal danger so “emergencies” are not really emergencies. Their order CAN and WILL wait till Monday morning for you to call them back. Just because they forgot they have 100 people coming over in an hour, that’s really not a good enough reason for you to miss your husband’s birthday party or your daughter’s concert. Choose to have a life outside of your business, and do that by setting boundaries.

So there you have it – an entire year of blogging down to 10 things I want you to remember.

I have loved every moment of blogging this year and I consider it a great honour that you all read what I have to share. All the emails you send, all the images you share or repost, all the re-tweets, replies to my newsletters and all the comments you’ve left on posts have been the rising tide that lifts my boat and carries it far further than it would have otherwise gotten. Thank you for being part of my life and the BoB community as a whole. Please continue to share with me, and others you think might benefit.

Let me leave you with this thought:

There are only 3 directions one should go in life (and in business).

I invite you to come along with me for the ride, whichever direction you choose.

(Take note: ‘backwards’ is not one of the options.)

5 comments on “Lessons learned

  1. The haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate.. and i’m just gonna bake bake bake bake bake…. so me…..

    Lesson for 2014 for me – stop buying crap!!!!

    And my most passed on advice to people… processes and procedures people!!! If you have staff, document them, if it’s only you, stick to them! 😀

    Fabulous words of advice Michelle, one you must repeat on social media for those that missed it


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