The Final Cake Design

Have you ever designed a cake before you’ve worked out how to actually make it? Sat down with a client and sketched out a concept which looked great on paper but secretly you’re wondering how the hell you’re going to pull it off? Looked at a picture of a cake online and then worked out how to make it yourself?

In other words, have you ever noticed that the design you’re trying to achieve actually defines how you will go about making it?

The same thing is true for your cake business.

Here’s the big question I’ve got for you. What’s the final design for your cake business?

What I’m really asking you is,why are you doing this? And by “this” I mean, why are you in business for yourself? What result are you working towards?

Are you in business because….

  • you simply love making cake (and you’re good at it)?
  • you need a job with flexible hours?
  • your friends told you to?
  • you wanted to be your own boss?
  • you need to make some money while you are on maternity leave?
  • you just want to make some extra pocket money?
  • it seemed like a good idea at the time?
  • it’s way more fun than your day job?
  • you want to leave this business to your kids?

Believe me when I say, working out WHY you are in business is the single most important business decision you will ever make. Even more important than the decision to go into business in the first place. More important than your business name, the oven you buy, the people you hire, the ads you write and where you place them.

Working out the final design of your cake business is like the proverbial pebble thrown into the pond. It affects every single business decision you will make from here on in.  The WHY needs to be way, way, WAY bigger than “because I love making cake.” Remember that cake you designed? You need to know the bigger picture of what this thing looks like in order to work out the internal structure.

Let me give you a real life example of how knowing the end result defines the game plan.

Business Owner A’s reason for being in business is that she just wants to earn enough money to allow her to afford extras for her kids, like ballet lessons. For her, it’s only a little bit about the money and the flexibility.  She really does not want to work full time and does not need to earn a fortune.

Business Owner B’s reason for being in business is that she wants to create a full time job for herself and she intends that this will be a family business she will pass onto one of her kids. For her, it’s about the money and the longer term legacy. She needs to earn a full time living from this.

Business Owner C’s reason for being in business is to be the biggest cake business in her country. She wants to franchise her business, make a heck of a lot of money, and also develop an international reputation. She wants to give Marina Sousa AND Ann Heap AND Sylvia Weinstock a run for their money. For her, it’s much more about the money and the fame than it is about the cake per se.

These three business owners are given an opportunity to advertise themselves in a major national newspaper, for a really good (but very high) price. The PR value is huge, the exposure is huge, and the opportunity will not come around again. Knowing what they know about why they are in business, should ANY of these business owners take up the offer?

Owner A – No. She’s a local, part time cake maker. She can’t handle and does not want that kind of publicity or potential volume of business. Sure, it would stroke her ego but also is not in line with what her ultimate aim is. If she got the same offer from a small, local paper…she’d take it.

Owner B – Maybe. She wants to run a medium-sized business. This would be great for her exposure and to put in her file of press clippings. She’d only take up the offer if her advertising budget had some money in it to spare and even then maybe not. If she got the same offer from a metropolitan newspaper in her city, she’d take it.

Owner C – Absolutely she takes the offer, AND she develops a relationship with the journalist writing the article. She gets some advice from a PR person on how to make this article work for her into the future. She takes out some additional, ongoing advertising with the newspaper. Her end cake business design is way bigger and so national exposure is exactly what she NEEDS if she is going to reach that goal. She absolutely takes up the offer.

See what I mean? Knowing where you are going helps you make the decisions you will face along the way. If none of these cake makers knew where they were headed, they might all take the offer – which would be a pretty big financial mistake for at least Owner A, and probably a waste of money for Owner B and a lucky break for Owner C.

It boils down to this: knowing your end purpose makes all the decision making much easier along the way. I am not talking about if this is going to be a shop or if it’s not. I’m not talking about cake versus macarons. I’m talking about the BIGGEST of all big picture decisions you need to make. WHY are you actually IN BUSINESS? For the purposes of this decision, I don’t cake if it’s cake or widgets your are selling. It’s irrelevant.

This week your homework is to work out the bigger picture of your cake business. Not the pretty logo, not the menu of cupcake flavours, not the debate over a retail business or a bespoke cake company. WHY are you in business, truly?  What’s your final cake business design? What the heck is all this effort for?

If you’d like to, share your final cake business design in the comments. Seeing it ‘on paper’ makes it very, very real and makes you very accountable. Go on. Be brave. Dream big. Share.

17 comments on “The Final Cake Design

  1. You always seem to have perfect timing with your posts ๐Ÿ™‚
    I recently realized that I would love to travel and teach cake designs and texhniques. Now I just need to figure out how to achieve this…….

  2. Wonderful post Michelle ๐Ÿ™‚

    The reasons I am in business have always been pretty clear to me – (at least up until recently). I wanted – I NEEDED – a very flexible set up; to be able to work from home around my family; to earn a little bit of extra money to cover various things; to feel that I have some sort of control over my life, and not just depending on hubby for my roof and food and clothing. I love beautiful cakes, and I don’t mind bigger cakes (I like the challenge), so it’s a bespoke business, ideally going for one or maybe two cakes a week. Because I can’t take on more than that, I’m happy to make that one cake a really good one, and get paid well for it, rather than make three or four smaller cheaper cakes. I know that my availability is limited, so I’m hoping to use that to my advantage by creating a bit of an exclusive feel to my business – ‘you got one of Viv’s cakes? Wow…..!’. at least that’s the idea: whether it works that way or not, remains to be seen! The future of my business is still something I’m thinking about: whether I want it to be a family thing, or whether I end up selling it for a profit… I don’t know. But I’m processing that quietly in the back of my mind as I carry out the here and now of business.

    Knowing all this has been the anchor and compass for the direction I have taken in marketing and baking. Family and friends often suggest that I should do this or do that, or that I’ve missed an opportunity for big money over here…they look at me like I’m stupid when I say “that’s not what my business is about”! I shake my head, because they don’t get it.

    I’m pretty sure this design is not going to make me a heck of a lot of money – but I don’t have the lifestyle/support scope to do the activities that will bring in a substantial income. So it’s quality I’m going for, over quantity. And high-end over average. The other benefit is that this style feels comfortable to me. It fits my personality and is a place where I can be genuine with my clients. (I hope I’m not sounding too stuck up here – if you see me day to day, my hair is a frizzy mess and I live in shabby clothes! It’s more an internal position, if that makes any sense).

    Earlier, I said “up until recently” – and that’s because my circumstances have since changed. That design is still the one I want, but financially, I really need to bring more money in now. Not just a bit extra, but enough to cover some bills and living expenses too. That has thrown me quite a bit, and it’s really upsetting, because I don’t have the support I need to take on that much work. I don’t know what to do about it. At the moment, I’m not impacting my business too much, as I’ve just started out and I haven’t really had the opportunity to turn down any orders anyway. But it has served to confuse the heck out of me and leave me rather stressed. I am hoping that as business gains some momentum, I find that actually, I can take on more than I expected, and it all works out for the best.

  3. ๐Ÿ™‚ Sometimes it takes someone else to put the right words around what we feel – and when you see (or hear them) it's like the proverbial penny dropping!

    And gratitude is ALWAYS a good idea, so thank you for posting your thanks to Sue. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Wow! I think I have just read the words that I could not formulate. "I guess I'm selling me. My integrity, my talent, my hospitality, my ability to listen to them"

    I have just read through this blog from the beginning, and my heart was sinking when I read the last questions by Michelle. I had no answer for why I am in business.

    Sometimes the answers lie not in our own words, but words spoken by others, that are then echoed in our hearts. Sue, thank you.

  5. Hi Melanie,

    Thanks for sharing your story with us. ๐Ÿ™‚ It's really nice to hear about how far you've come and your hopes for how far you'll go – now do some real thinking about where you want to be, map out a plan to get there…and keep me posted!


  6. Heya Michelle, first want to thank you for being here and posting your thoughts and experience for us ๐Ÿ™‚

    My dream started with my first daughters birthday, I wanted to make her something really special she was my little baby girl turning one and ohhhh how much I love her!!! I wanted to create something special for her for my baby ๐Ÿ™‚ I thought I can make her a cake haha I googled looked at images of cakes thought about it searched recipes etc etc, made her this at the time I thought pretty awesome cake with my own homemade marshmallow fondant and bees and butterflys made from fondant how I loved it, I never knew this passion was inside of me, I have always been creative and loved art, but never knew this sleeping passion of mine, as you know we are all so busy with what we are supposed to do… work work work coooporate work… I was once there…until my daughter ๐Ÿ™‚ anyway long story a little shorter, everyone loved it how did you do that oh how cute and my baby girl she clapped her cute little pudgy bubba hands she smiled she loved it and I LOVED the feeling that gave me NOTHING could replace that not a million dollars…. well maybe haha

    So there it started then I had to create.. any opportunity !!! looking to see who's birthday was coming up… haha but there was not enough birthdays for my family… so my friends I would show them what I was up to they would ask me to make for them I was over the moon!!!!! and then it happend… a friend of a friend asked me to make a cake she was at the party and couldn't stop saying how amazing the cake was and how great it tasted so could I please make her daughter a little owl cake… OH YES OF COURSE I CAN hahaha

    all while this was going on I was dreaming of one day having beautiful cakes totally customized for my people, sitting with them talking through a custom design, sculpting figure modeling turning things that you can see into edible art. I wanted to be the best I can be and to always challenge myself and learn new skills, my dream is to be as amazing as I can and my girls now have two of them ๐Ÿ™‚ to be proud to perhaps one day help me join me and enjoy the love that came from them into cakes… perhaps leave it to them if they wanted but to remembered for the amazing cakes and the amazing experience you get from them that is what I dream of ๐Ÿ™‚

    I am in that middle part I think… I had to give up my work with my second daughter it was too much for me personally but it gave me more opportunity to create for people im in the practicing stage I think.. if there are stages.. trying to find my feet with my dream, but one day that is where I want to be making amazing cakes for amazing people who get the most amazing feeling from them and vice versa having something to be proud of for my family and that they can be proud of me ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thank you for letting us share and thank you so much for all of your help I can't tell you how much I appreciate this, everything you post makes so much sense and I don't feel so alone I just dream one day I can get to where I want to be you have given me hope that I can ๐Ÿ™‚ xoxo

    ~Melanie <3

  7. I sort of fell into my own little business and I'm now at a stage where I feel I'm good. I don't want to work more hours, or have more stress. I'm doing well enough to provide for my little family, whilst still getting the enjoyment of creating something new. Sure, I take on large corporate orders from time to time, but I've found the work/life balance now. I guess I always knew (and still think) that cake pops won't be around forever. They're quite a fad item, and whilst I think they have more longevity than pushpops, there will come a time that they're not that popular. I was just very lucky that I fell into it quite early on, so was able to establish myself as a pioneer. You only have to look at the cupcake bubble starting to burst a little from everyone starting up their own little cupcakery.

  8. Hello again! ๐Ÿ™‚ I saw your reply and it gave me a lot of encouragement. Some things recently took place at my job and I decided (with the help of my family and a lot of prayers) to quit my full time job and really go for it. I will be checking back in with your blog VERY frequently as I have no idea how I'm going to do all of this, lol!! It's very daunting and overwhelming but I feel like I'm truly living my life for the first time – and that is incredibly invigorating! Plus, Peggy Does Cake just made my cake pops her Cake of the Day earlier this week which gave me the affirmation that this is where I'm supposed to be. Thank you for taking the time to read my comment and give such a sincere response. I look forward to reading more of your blogs and staying in touch. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks again!! Steph

  9. Stephanie: I'm here telling you to GO FOR IT. There is no official sign post, there is no fork in the road, there is no "good" time to make a decision. As you say you've "always needed to be creative and do your own thing," so this is a perfect opportunity. That you have orders into 2014 speaks volumes about you and your business.

    And for what it's worth, the BEST cake makers I know are actually artists more than they are cake makers (in every sense of the word. I know LOTS of Fine Arts grads who became cakers.)

    Please keep me posted and thank for you for being brave enough to leave this honest comment.

  10. I just stumbled across your blog from a comment you posted on the Cake Club FB page and started reading some of your posts as I am in the midst of toiling with the fork in the road – and I have to make a decision.

    I have a background in art- it has been at the core of how I've seen "me" for my entire life. I even was accepted into art school at the college of my choice.. until my terrible, all-consuming self-doubt reared it's ugly head and I gave up and ran the other way like the tiny kid in dodge ball. I always vowed to myself "I will NEVER work in an office" – and what have I been doing since I graduated with a Bachelor's in Psychology? Just that.

    I have always needed to be creative and do my own thing- so when I was laid off from my desk job a few months before I got married I decided to take advantage of that time and start a little portrait drawing business. It went pretty well but I was too afraid of not having a stable income and with a kindergartener in tow that was not an option. So I went back to sit at a desk.

    Fast forward a couple years and our baby girl arrived. When she was about 6 months old I began thinking about her 1st bday party. I never really considered myself a baker -although I could make some mean cookies- but I had this overwhelming desire to make her party as spectacular as I could with my small budget. I made the invites, the decor, and something new – Cake Pops! I made owl cake pops, owl sugar cookies and wanted to make an owl-shaped smash cake but I had gotten a little ahead of myself, so my mom -a former cake maker herself- made a little cake for her. People were impressed and I have to admit, I was too. These cake pops were YUMMY! Through the next year I had a couple requests from family for cake pops and by my son's birthday party my family and friends were saying "you could totally do this as a business" Yeah, well, I don't know, I would tell them. What if it's just a fad? What if I'm no good? It's so much work, and I've never really put that much effort into a job – the thought of exerting myself is scary. I would love to be my own boss but then it's just up to me to make sure I don't slack off and get lazy, and I can be lazy. There were so many reasons NOT to do it. Despite those reasons on Jan 1, 2013 I announced that I was going to start my own side business of selling cake pops and created my own FB page. Was I crazy? What was I thinking?

    Since then I have lost a TON of sleep, money, time with my family, lazy time, sanity and tears. But I have actually created quite a nice clientele in just a few short months and have loved the creative outlet that it provides me. It is a lot of work but the challenge of pulling it off is VERY rewarding.

    But now I'm at a crossroads. I have orders booked all the way into 2014, but I'm burning the candle at both ends and running out of wick.. My full time job has just imposed some changes to my schedule that would mean less time for me to see my kids in the evening and it's come down to either I hold longer hours or they will let me go. Is this the sign to go for it? I keep asking those around me – what should I do? Should I just quit my job and jump in head first? I find that what I want them to say is – GO FOR IT! So, I guess, to answer the question that this article poses – my final business design is a little bit of each, but mostly – I want to make a name for myself and be that person who did something awesome with their life rather than just watch it pass them by. And that awesome thing just happens to include cake.

  11. Sue, I wish you could see the look on my face – because it's a look of gratitude, joy and great wonder. THANK YOU for your heartfelt reply, for being brave enough to share your experience, and for all the passion (and your wonderful attitude) which really shines through your comment. Knowing that your purpose is to support yourself and your son will help you make a lot of decisions (and not just about baking and freezing. ๐Ÿ™‚ ) Kudos to you, Sue,for being real and being honest and thank you for reading. I look forward to hearing about your continued success (regardless of the speed of it!). ๐Ÿ™‚

    With my great admiration,

  12. WHY am I in business โ€“ at all?? I enjoyed the 20+ years I was in the 9-5 office world. But I HATED the never-ending grind of it all. My life wasn't my own, it belonged to the job. I had achieved all the positions I dreamed of when I was in โ€œsecretarial schoolโ€ back in 1984. I finally achieved a top salary in a top position at a top company.

    But I dreamed about baking. I had baked for fun since I was a little girl. I made tons and tons of goodies at Christmas and Thanksgiving and sold them to my co-workers. I reveled in their compliments. โ€œYou should go into business, these are amazing!โ€ was all I heard. When I made the decision to go to culinary school and study baking and pastry arts, it was all passion. I LOVED it! But what to do with all of this knowledge and passion? All I knew was that I had to have my own business, selling my goods, but exactly what? Then I discovered cakes and decorating them, and it clicked. I fell in love with the art of it. And it tasted amazing!

    Before I even knew that this could be a business, I dreamed of a more specialty store where all it was was cakesโ€“wedding cakes, specialty cakes, fancy fondant-covered decorated cakes. Meeting with customers in a pretty location, eating cake together and designing unique creations. Back in 2002, this wasn't very popular. Bakeries made wedding cakes. Lavish buttercream tiers with fluffy pink flowers. You had 2 choices of flavors for wedding cakesโ€“vanilla or chocolate cake filled with fresh fruit, cream, or chocolate mousse. I didn't want to make those. I wanted to be different. I didn't want to work in a bakery making their cakes. I wanted to work for myself selling my designs and flavors.

    As fate and the economy would have it, my department at work was surplussed and I could either transition to another department or take severance. I chose severance so that I could see what I could do with cake.

    It's been a long roadโ€“I'm not there yet. I honestly can say that I love making cake. I love every aspect of it. There is no task that I really want to pass off to an assistant, even though I need to. I want to keep my hands in it because I love it. However, life constantly changes and now I have to make this work as a full time business to support me and my son. As a single mother, this is my bread and butter. It has allowed me to stay at home and raise him while he was a baby and toddler, and even now that he's in elementary school, I'm here for him.

    Sure, I have dreams of being the next โ€œcake bossโ€! I think we all do! But it's not my reason for being here. I want a solid business doing something I love with a good reputation that can support me and him for life. It's a very slow process. Operative word here, SLOW. I've only just started renting a commercial kitchen that belongs to another business. I don't want to be a โ€œfactoryโ€ of cake, pumping out cakes assembly-line style. I had a well-seasoned businessman tell me that in order to make money, I should go through my calendar, bake ALL my cakes for the month in the beginning of the month and freeze them. WHAT?????? I'm offering my customers FRESH, DELICIOUS cakes, not something that's been defrosted for them. I want to maintain the individuality and quality of each cake. I've accepted that this means I will naturally be a smaller business, that's fine. I want to give people a place to come where they can trust that their final product will be as delicious as their sample and as beautiful as the pictures they are ooohing and ahhhhing over. I guess I'm selling me. My integrity, my talent, my hospitality, my ability to listen to them. It's hard to put a price tag on that; it certainly isn't cheap. But I've learned that my customers, who could easily go elsewhere, think my cakes, and me, are worth their hard-earned money. For me, it doesn't get any more personal, or rewarding, than that.

  13. Roanna,

    Antigua! Wow – I can imagine that the weather alone is enough to make cake decorating a challenge. Absolutely the cost of supplies and ingredients would be a major factor for you to have to consider – but at the same time I wonder if being the only one on the island who has invested in those things would be a good marketing angle? I'm interested to know what (if any)competition you have over there. I'll write a post about marketing,too – several people have asked. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you so much for commenting!


  14. I,m in the category of owner C. I live on the island of Antigua in the caribbean and i would definitely love to dominate the market on my island.My challenge is that almost all of my tools and materials will have to be orderd online and things are EXPENSIVE on this side of the rainbow.i'm also a marketing novice and would appreciate any advice.

    you rock!

  15. Michelle,I love you, I really do -THANK YOU for being brave enough to leave a comment and tell me why you are doing this. You're a perfect example of someone whose purpose is not only a job for yourself but a longer term legacy. When your parents started it,was their intention to build a family business? I'd love to know. ๐Ÿ™‚ – M

  16. I am this business because my parents started it 20 years ago, I am the second generation and this pride makes me continue their work and develop, We are bakery but for some years now we start making cakes also…
    I wish for my childrens to say that they work in a business that their grand-parents started, This is the reson…

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