When you consider how we all talk about how crowded this industry is, isn’t it a bit funny how lonely of a place it can be, too? Sometimes it feels like those endless Facebook groups are only filled with keyboard warriors, that everyone only wants to complain, and that when you’re stuck in the middle of a bad moment (either emotional or the “oh shit it’s 3am and my cake is raw!” type) there is nobody to turn to other than your partner who could care less if that pink flower is more fuchsia or magenta. Here’s a business skill I think is essential to success: building a tribe. A wolf pack. Your cake peeps. Your sisters in arms, your buttercream babes, your crisis management team. The thing is, if you’re sitting home all day making cake and reading stuff online, how the heck do you find NICE people to hang out with in real life?! Never fear, Michelle the friendship fairy is here to help with some fabulous ways to meet fabulous people IN REAL LIFE. Note – there is a small amount of bravery required here, but then I never promised this would be easy, but I can promise it will be worth it.
Here are some ways to gather a posse:
- Next time you go to a real life cake class or small business class, introduce yourself to someone who looks nice. Start up a conversation with them, even if it’s just to say, “I’m so nervous about this class!” Be vulnerable – chances are the other person is nervous too. The key here is also to GO TO LIVE EVENTS. (This is how I met Faye Cahill – I did a class at her studio and told her I was peeing my pants with nerves. She doesn’t remember that moment, but the next time we met I told her about it so we had an instant point of reference.)
- If you’re in a local online cake group, and there is someone whose posts always make you laugh or you find yourself nodding along to what they say, send them a PM and say, “Your posts always make me laugh, we should have a coffee sometime,” and then (and this is key!) if they seem even vaguely interested, MAKE A TIME AND DATE and actually make it happen. The follow through is super important and I promise you that you are NOT bothering them if you do it. They’ll be glad you were the brave one.
- BEFORE you refer a client onto a local cake maker, CALL them up, introduce yourself, and say, “I’ve got a request for an order I can’t fulfill. Is it okay if I pass this person onto you?” They won’t say no and you’ve got the perfect excuse to start a conversation with them. Or if someone has referred a bunch of people to you, call and thank them (that’s how I know Rudy from Man Bakes Cake – he shared my stuff and I wrote him a PM to thank him, so when we met in real life it was not awkward.)
- If another cake person randomly comes into your life for some reason and after bumping into them a couple of times you think you’d like to get to know them better, swallow your shyness for as long as it takes to say, “XYZ shop is having a massive sale on next week, do you want to come with me to check it out? We can make an outing of it!” (This is how I got to know lots of different people on a more personal level.)
- If you like someone, chances are you will also like the people they associate with, so take the time to say hello to THEIR friends as well. Friends of friends are wonderful people and worth getting to know, so next time you see someone standing awkwardly next to someone you know, lean over and say hello. I promise they will be grateful and you already have someone in common. (This is how I met Sheryl Bito, who is friends with Sharon Wee.)
- Reach out online to people but not in a “tell me ALL YOUR DECORATING SECRETS!!” way. Send a PM saying, “I loved that bunny cake you made, it’s really amazing!” Leave a comment on their blog if they write one, send an email introducing yourself and thanking them for whatever beauty they bring into the world (cake or otherwise), send an email asking an intelligent question (not something you can just You Tube or Google yourself please.) Some of my closest friends are not in my local neighbourhood at all but they are only a text or phone call away because I reached out and told them I admired or respected them. (This is how I met Shawna McGreevy…I told her that if I ever met her I’d fan girl all over the place, and I did exactly that.)
- Be the planner and the do-er – we are ALL BUSY, but what we really are is WASTING a lot of time doing not much. So be the person who plans the monthly local cakers get together, and even if only one other person shows up, it was worth the time and effort. You need to be the one to MAKE IT HAPPEN because other people are the type who will sit around waiting for it to happen.
- Make friends with people who are super connectors. A super connector is someone who is really great at making connections between people. She’s your really nice friend who always “knows someone who knows someone,” who just seems to know a lot of people. We all know someone like that – and likely we wonder how she does it so effortlessly – but the beauty of knowing someone like that is that they will either naturally introduce you to more people, or not mind at all if you ask them to introduce you to a specific person they may know. (This is how I know a bunch of cool people through Raewyn Read, because Raewyn is a super connector, as is obvious because she’s in almost every one of these pictures.)
Of course, this post would not be complete unless I mentioned that sometimes, you’re going to make friends (cake or otherwise) who turn out to not really be great friends to you. Maybe business got in the way, maybe they were not as nice as you were led to believe, maybe a small misunderstanding blew up into a giant mess. This happens in normal friendships, not just in cake friendships, so please don’t let it stop you from forming new bonds with people. My tip on finding a tribe you’re going to love and cherish is this: you have to share the same core values. What does that mean? It means that at the very heart of it, you share the same belief systems (and I’m not talking religion). As an example, perhaps you really value honesty and education. Perhaps you both believe that you’re in business not just for the love but also to make a shed load of money and neither is ashamed to say it. Perhaps you both come from similar cultural backgrounds. In other words, there has to be things about you which connect on a soul level, not just on a cake level. Cake might be the reason you met, but it won’t be the reason you remain friends.
We’re all in this together, only sometimes, YOU’VE got to be the person who BRINGS US together.
PS I reference plenty of well known cakers in here (and they’re in those photos) but the truth is, famous or not, we’re all just people who need one another to lean on.