Real Stories: Kristy

Welcome to Real Stories, a brand new feature on the blog! I thought it would be great if we could all see what it’s like for ‘real’ people whose businesses are still growing as opposed to those who are at the top of their game already (much as we love those guys too).

Here’s how it works – once a week I’ll profile a real person with a real business. I’m getting all my volunteers to answer the same questions so we can get a feel for how different people in different countries and situations are doing things. I’ve got case studies of people from all over the world, with different levels of experience and different sizes of business.

Where you come in – I’d really like to build this feature into a community of support and help, so when you get to the bottom I ask you to please COMMENT on this post. Either send them a word of encouragement, make a helpful suggestion, or just say thanks for contributing. It’s very brave to volunteer for this sort of thing and I think we should show them all some love.

My very first case study is KRISTY HOW from Kristy Lees Cakes:

Tell us a little bit about the person behind the business: What city are you in? How old are you?

Kristy How, 35 years on earth. Living in Sale, Victoria (Australia), population 12,000. I have two kids, 3 and 5 years and a husband who travels a lot for work. I have a background in Sales and Marketing, I’m a qualified pilot, and a retired motorcycle stunt rider. I love superheros, trashy novels and cups of tea….lots of cups of tea!

What’s the back story to your business? How did you get into this industry? If you don’t yet have a business, what are your business plans?

I have always been artistic but have left it alone as I was always of the belief that as a grown up you would do grown up jobs like engineering or nursing. Years ago while living in Perth and working in radio (so not a serious job!) I had studied for a while under a Clay Artist in Perth. I didn’t realise at the time the foundation this gave me for shaping sugar. Like most, I started caking by making my eldest sons first birthday cake. I discovered the little box of Orchard Fondant in the supermarket and thought it could be fun to make him a little sugar lion. I was always more into the decoration side so have had to learn to bake along the way.

Kristy’s first cake..hello there little lion!


How do we find your business online?
twitter: @kristyleescakes 

Just for fun, how and where do you read the blog?

Tuesdays with BoB are usually in the car park waiting for school pickup time 🙂 Ideally with a travel mug of tea. I grab the iPhone out and scroll through Facebook to see the announcement that Tuesdays with BoB is live 🙂

Michelle: FYI blog posts always go live at 6am AEST. 🙂

Where are you hoping to get to with your business? What’s the big fat dream goal?

In terms of business I am hoping to get to the point of being financially independent / self sustaining or in other worlds run a real grown up business that makes money and contributes to supporting my family. My short term goal is to create enough income to put my kids through school. Big fat dream goal is to write a book and to teach and be recognised in the cake community internationally.

At the moment you’re facing a bunch of different challenges – as we all do at certain times.  Tell us a little bit about those challenges. What would you say is your biggest challenge or limiting factor which is keeping you from getting to the big fat dream goal?

If I’m super honest I think that the biggest limiting factor at the moment is my inability to just make a commitment to a certain direction and hit the throttle. I’m wasting a bit too much time thinking about things and not taking the big risk and moving forward. Also I let myself get absorbed in the idea that I am just a country town amateur cake decorator and feel a little bit invisible in terms of the big wide cake world. This is partially because of having such a young family and also being in a country town 3 hours from the city. Time really is a big thing. I’m prepared to put in massive hours, and I DO! I mean massive time, as all cake decorators do. I don’t know anyone as hard working as me. The trouble is I also have a beautiful family and I owe it to them to be present. I think I am finding that balance slowly but its hard. So metaphorically speaking I have a supercharged car, just no steering wheel, or headlights… Also I don’t know that I am finding the customers I really need at the moment. I’m not doing any specific marketing because Im having trouble finding my identity.

Okay so here’s the tough one – what are you doing (or have you already done) to get past or around that challenge?

Most importantly I have learned to say no. No to cake orders that will tip me over the edge, and no to ridiculous cakes that don’t suit the overall image of my business or are more time than they are worth. I am trying to practise the idea of not wasting time on the small decisions (what colour walls in the cake studio) and more time on the big ones (costing cakes, financials, marketing). I am also trying to find my “thing”. My certain nook of the cake world that is unique to me, something I can offer the big cake world that is worth while. Im in a continued struggle with this though.

Michelle: Kristy, I found that my niche is something which came over time. The longer I was in business the more I was able to figure out what I enjoyed doing, what I was good at, and what kinds of things I wanted to invest my creative energy in. Being in a small town you’ll probably get called on to do “a bit of everything,” and that’s okay – it’s about creating your style across several genres. Faye Cahill’s work is a good example of this. Although she does not do many of them, her kids/christening cakes are still very much a specific style.

If I could give you the gift of an hour of time with any 3 people – cake decorators, business mentors, other business owners (anyone at all really) who you would love to get some mentoring from, who would those people be – and what would you ask them?  (As an example, you might want an hour with Mike McCarey to learn sculpture, an hour with Martha Stewart, an hour at the Callebaut chocolate school, an hour with Richard Branson and so on.)
Oh Mike McCarey…how did you know?!  I would have so many questions, he’d probably think I was a bit crazy. I’d like to see some of his structures, and also learn how he has built this to be a viable business. How does he promote himself? and how does he transport those things?

Karen Portaleo… an amazing cake sculpter. I love her style and the layers in her work. So much colour and so realistic. I’d love to do some airbrush work with her.
And on a more local level, Faye Cahill. I do a lot of wedding cakes as there is more demand for them than sculpted cakes. I really love the elegant look of her cakes. I’d like to see how she manages her business on a day to day level and talk to her about how to build my own original and modern line of wedding cakes.
Michelle: All 3 of those people teach (and Faye is in Melbourne in October) and all 3 are pretty generous with their time and attention. Reach out to them, you never know what you might learn! 


Lastly – give me a challenge! How can I help you? What would you like me to write about that would be of help to you in specific? 

Diversify or simplify? I’m torn between the two business ethos that a frequently talked about by business mentors. 1. Simplify, be really good at one thing and be the expert go to person for that….or 2. Diversify, compliment the large cake orders with more regular lines that the local market can tolerate and do many things : teach, make, blog, demo etc. I don’t know which of these is the best approach in cake-land. And how can I build a reputation to become a teacher? I’d love to teach but don’t know how to transition from the learner to the teacher 🙂

Michelle: 1) My advice is to diversify but within the context of your expertise and local area – so a mix of A and B. I think in the current crowded industry it’s really important to have more than one income stream, and living in a smaller community gives you a really good opportunity to do that.  However, that doesn’t mean you can’t be really good at one thing.  So as an example, you might be the ‘go to’ person in your area for wedding cakes, but you might also teach classes and perhaps rent or sell cake or cupcake stands locally.  Having a niche does not mean putting all your eggs in one basket, it means getting known for a specific look or style and then within that there is a lot of ways to diversify. So for another example, if your “thing” was sculpted cakes, there’s nothing stopping you doing classes, leading demos, or selling (for example) cake boards with pre-drilled holes for centre poles. Or perhaps your expertise is in sculpted cakes, but you also offer a simpler range. You can be known for something but still make income from other things.

2) How do you become a teacher?  Teaching can be a great income stream and I think the best way to get into it is to start locally.  If you’ve gotten interest for it already, then definitely go for it! Design and offer a small class and just see how it goes. Design something fairly simple, keep the class size small, and put it out there – don’t be surprised if people enrol at the last minute (that’s common) and also don’t forget to market the heck out of it. I suggest starting small because classes are fairly labour and cost intensive to set up at first – so you’ve got to create the project, write the notes, advertise and administer it, buy X number of sets of tools and so on. I also suggest starting local and small because that way you get a feel for who out there is interested, and also it’s easier to practice on a small group than a big one. It also helps you work out where the problems are – the project timing might be wrong, it might be too hard for some people (and so on.) Other options are looking outside your own studio for teaching opportunities – is there a local trade school that does short courses? Is there a local cake supply company that would like to start offering classes? Is there a high school teaching cooking that wants a demo in cake making? There are lots and lots of ways to start teaching but step one is to guage interest and then just get it out there. 

One last thing about teaching in a small town- be aware that if you do keep it local, you’re potentially training up your competition. It’s not something to be afraid of per se, but you should be aware of it and don’t teach your signature style or techniques, stick to other topics/designs. 

Okay readers – over to you! Please comment below with some love, suggestions, help, sympathy, whatever for the gorgeous Kristy. 

We’re in this together.


21 comments on “Real Stories: Kristy

  1. I think it's common to either only see obstacles, OR to see them as bigger than they are. It's a little like having your face this close —->< ---- to a cake and seeing all the flaws, when the client only sees the bigger cake overall and thinks it's gorgeous. :) Check back in with us Kristy, I think you'll find people come back and cheer you on into the future. :) Michelle

  2. I started my biz when my kids were 2 as well – seems to be the magic age when we suddenly decide business is a good idea. Which, of course, is crazy when you realise how time consuming toddlers are!

  3. HI Kristy! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences so candidly. As far as teaching- Ive had success with teaching cupcake decorating classes. You may want to start here- your material costs for supplies are fairly low and you can offer a more affordable price point for people just looking to get their feet wet. Don't undercharge though- you may want to set a minimum number of students.

  4. It's very interesting to hear the thoughts of outsiders on my scenario. Seems like the only person who sees barriers to success is me. Perhaps I shall put on my blinkers and go for it! Thanks to everyone for your kind words, its inspiring that there are others in the same boat and warms my heart to know that there are so many generous teachers out there. Thanks everyone 🙂 Thanks especially Michelle

  5. Faye, the kind words are very well justified. Thanks for the pointer to Dorothy, looks like she does some exciting work right up my alley. Thanks again! 🙂

  6. Kristy,
    I totally relate to you with trying to be present for your family and still put in the time to work on your cakes. Its soo hard but we will figure it out. 🙂 Have faith and keep on moving forward. I think that thinking about things before jumping in is the right thing to do. Plan,plan and then plan some more. Ofcourse lots of things won't go as planned but within all this planning you will have thought of some of the issues and be prepared if they happen. I always believe that you'll just know when the time is right to take the leap… Good luck to you!! 🙂

  7. Kirsty, just want to say I particularly love the 3D cakes – the drum, the fire engine, the fish, the boat and the helicopter, great cakes with some realistic effects on some of them too. Great job and thanks for sharing!

  8. What fantastic reading. Kirsty I really think you're equipped with everything you need for success. You have the skill, the vision and the motivation . . . plus one of the best mentors ever on your side 😉 Being from a regional area, I've struggled with exactly the same challenges you've mentioned. For me, I've found it essential to be a jack-of-all-trades to cater for the smaller regional market but I have a firm focus on quality. It takes time to get the direction of your business right – and you need to adapt to changing circumstances both internally and externally – but it sounds to me like you're thinking and doing all the right things. Won't be long and you'll have that supercharged car fully built . . . and winning the race!

  9. Yay Kristy! I am in a similar situation myself, so in reading about your experience reminded me once again, that I'm not the only one! (As Michelle would say, we're all in this together!!) I too have younger children (ages 2 and 4) so I understand that balancing act of family time to cake time. It's very difficult! Congratulations on all you have achieved so far and I am sending good thoughts your way! I hope everything works out for you!!!

  10. Kristy, I don't really have any advice, as I'm still very early on in the game myself! But I just want to say the cake featured is just gorgeous and wish you all the best in moving forward! x

  11. Michelle, love this concept of posts about up-and-coming decorators and thanks for the mention 🙂 Kristy, you are doing great and thanks for your kind words too! Dorothy Klerck of Eat Cake Party in South Africa is a great example of a decorator that has built her business and profile from a small town. Best wishes to you 🙂

  12. Thanks Kristy for taking part in this series – and being honest about your challenges. There are a few readers in small towns so it will be interesting to hear what they think about teaching locally.

  13. Never give up Kristy! I totally relate to finding balance and pushing yourself, remember that fear kills more dreams than failure ever will! ❤️ Best wishes , you do wonderful work and I will now be stalking you 😉

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