I’m going to give it to you straight – the world of teaching is as flooded as the world of cake making. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I started cake decorating, I taught myself through books I found in the bookstores, the Wilton Year Book or Wilton classes at my local craft store. There was no other options available to me. These days, you can learn cake decorating on your way to work on your phone (via online schools or YouTube), you can take hands on classes at the local trade school or local cake decorating store, or you can learn highly specialised skills from some of the world’s most talented cake makers. You can learn how to cake decorate from a number of different sources, and more and more people are getting into teaching.
I’m not trying to scare you off of the idea – because there is a lot of money to be made in teaching – I’m just trying to remind you that this brilliant “I’m going to start teaching!” idea isn’t as unique as you might like it to be. There are a lot of advantages to teaching, including the opportunity to interact and inspire others, earn money from skills you already have and the potential for travel. The best (and most important) of those is probably the money, because it’s a great way to make more money using skills you already have, and it doesn’t “end” when the cake is delivered. You can “re-sell” that class or that skill multiple times in multiple places across the globe.
If you’re keen to get into teaching, I’m going to outline a very basic method for starting out as a teacher in the cake industry. I’m writing this on the assumption that you are self hosting, not getting another company or person to host you (more on that a bit later.)
1) Research! Survey your fans and clients and see if they are interested in learning from you, and if so – what they might be interested in learning. Bear in mind LOTS more people say yes than those who sign up, so use that research to guide you but please don’t think all that enthusiasm translates into sign ups. Also find out the rules for teaching in your venue – if it’s from home, what are the legal requirements? If it’s from a venue you hire, what insurance will they require you to have?
2) Design one or two classes which are fairly simple for you to do. Think about things like the learning outcomes, who the class is for, how long it might take, what they will take home, what you are going to charge for it and what space you have available to teach in. Before you offer it publicly, work out: a) what time and financial investment is required (eg 10 spots = 10 rolling pins you need to buy!) and b) what your break even point is. How many people need to sign up in order for you to make money, and how many need to sign up for you to then make profit on the class. (Hint: if you’re not making money, don’t bother.)
3) Create the product you’re going to be teaching and take a really good picture of it to use in your marketing. People really like to have a visual of what it is they’re going to be coming home with. You also need to be really clear about what they will be learning and the details of when, where, and how long the class is going to run for.
4) Send it out into the Universe. No more than a couple months before the class (6-8 weeks is ideal for a basic decorating class), put it out there! Advertise and market it exactly as you would a cake, which means you make sure your target market knows about it. Don’t keep it a secret. These days people are also VERY reluctant to commit to things, so you can’t just tell them about it once, you’ve got to KEEP ON marketing that class. Like I said earlier, the whole world will want this class and then as soon as you announce it’s available… crickets. Tumbleweeds. Silence. Everyone suddenly needs to wash their hair that night. Don’t take it personally. We’ve all been there.
5) Once you’ve reached enough enrolments to break even (or make money, which is what I prefer you do from the outset), start to prepare for the class. Write out the much more detailed notes, aquire the tools you need, get the packaging or dummy cakes, etc. This might seem late to be doing it, but frankly there is no point investing until you know it’s going to happen. Until this point all you really need to have done is designed the project and class outcomes, but now it’s time to get into the nitty gritty.
6) Run the class – and take notes immediately after it finishes about what worked and didn’t work. Did it take way longer or way shorter than you thought? Was it too hard for students to achieve? Did you hate every second of it? Did they destroy your kitchen?
7) Wait a week or so and go back to those students to get some feedback. Ask for their honesty. You can email, but I prefer giving people the personal touch with a phone call. Explain that you’d love to offer more classes in future but you’re needing some feedback about what worked and what didn’t work for them. Were their expectations met? Did they want more of something, less of something? Did they think the timing was right? Everything and anything you can think of (and I recommend having a script in front of you to remind you so that you don’t forget stuff.) Also, are they keen to come back for another class?
8) Evaluate FOR YOURSELF what it was like. Are you interested in doing it again? Was it worth it? Did you earn any money from it? Some people love the idea of teaching but then do it and hate it, so you need to check in with yourself about the experience. If you’re keen to give it another try, offer another class – that same one again, and maybe add one more in. I’ll caution you not to go crazy here. Offer a couple of classes a month at most and sell those out, don’t offer 15 of them and end up burned out and with onlty 1-2 people in each class. Slowly build up your class offerings, change them up about once or twice a year, and make sure to market, market, market and MARKET the hell out of them.
Other options to teaching include getting other people to host you – which is a great idea, but really only works well if you have an audience in that city, enough that there is sufficient interest in you coming there. Some of my closest friends in this industry I made because they called and said, “People keep asking me to teach in your city, will you host me?” Being hosted as a teacher has a different set of challenges and procedures, so I usually caution against doing that until you have done it on your home turf as a trial first. In my opinion, you need to know a lot about your teaching skills (like, if you even enjoy it) before you can offer your services to other businesses. I’d rather learn the lessons in my pwn space first before I unleash my crazy into the world.
Teaching is a great way to make some extra money and increase your profile – but it can also have a few pitfalls such as helping your competition to learn your skills, ‘selling’ your uniqueness, and taking time and attention away from your custom orders. Like any aspect to our industry it has it’s plusses and minuses, but most of the time teaching can be a really rewarding thing to do on 3 levels: personally, professionally and financially. Don’t be afraid to hang out your shingle as a teacher if you’re interested in doing so, but plan, invest and market it exactly as you would any other new product you launch.