What would Cake Decorating Industry Leaders tell their past selves?
I’ve written blog posts about my own experiences in the industry and shared my own tips and advice on this blog before but as many years passed, I have found myself forging some great relationships with some of the industry’s most awesome people. I have come to learn that we are similar in so many ways yet so different in others. I am fortunate enough to call them my friends (especially ones that I used to admire when I started out) and I was curious as to what advice they would have given to their younger selves.
So I set out to find out what some of the top industry leaders have learned along their journey. Most have been in business for decades and have seen the industry shift and change during their time. What advice would they have given their younger self? Their answers are below in no particular order.
I am fortunate that I’ve had a lot of luck in my cake journey. Of course I have made mistakes, but I have got through any missteps by working hard and looking after my clients.
The advice I would give to my past self is probably the same as I need to hear still – believe in yourself and don’t feel like you have to say yes to everything.
When I started this business, I was lucky to have many years of being a professional decorator behind me. I had a degree of confidence in my work and was used to having customers pay reasonable prices for cakes I decorated. Being a shy person, I was less confident about how I would manage consultations and build my profile through industry networking. While I can still be self-critical around those things, I have come to see that I have managed both well despite lacking confidence. My strength of having knowledge and experience allows me to get through the parts that scare me more. Everyone will have their own strengths and weaknesses to work with and it helps to identify and accept those.
Most people will also relate to having a lot of requests for display cakes, contributions to photo shoots, magazines and industry events. I love to help people out, make connections with new people and work on new ideas, but there needs to be a limit on how much unpaid work to offer. There are times when I’ve done hours of work for free and received the benefit of publicity or referrals, and times when I have never seen a return. It can be hard to pick which ones will pan out, but sometimes I’ve put time into things with the full knowledge that there would not be much benefit to me beyond a nice thank you. Don’t feel guilty for saying no, trust your instincts and work with people you like and see as having similar values.
Of course this is a little bit more personal ….. but after a 10 year career I have had my share of problems ….. so I would say, don’t trust anyone…. believe more in yourself and take more risks. “Invest in yourself”
Practice, practice, practice.
I can not tell you how important is to get confident on this business, you must be able to know how to solve problems and fix problems very quickly.
Working in Australia with such unpredictable weather, you will for sure have some accidents and problems on your way.
Offer to make cakes as a gift… this will be a great opportunity to challenge yourself but still stay relaxed. It is a great opportunity to practice and be creative.
Don’t forget to take some very nice photos with a plain background not a kitchen sink or a stove on the background.
Have more courage in everything; do not be afraid to quote a price for an order, do not be afraid of rejection for there are lessons to be learned out of it, do not be afraid to reach out and ask for help, do not be afraid to discover and explore new styles and techniques.
Pay attention to the projects and details you are working on that you really enjoy, as they will really give you good clues about how you can build and strengthen your brand and structure your business over time. It seems like a simple thing to do, but when starting out, it’s usually necessary to take on cakes and projects that will pay the bills and keep the lights on. Over time though, you can become a bit lost if you are trying to be everything to everyone, and may find yourself spending your time creating cakes that are not moving you in the right direction. A great exercise I do with my wedding cake students… if you had a blank four tier cake presented to you with direction to do whatever you pleased, what would you do with it? Pay close attention to those things and why you are choosing those things.
And with social media so prominent these days, when you are working on cakes to pay the bills, remember you don’t have to share them online. Make dummy cakes that are a true reflection of your brand and style and the techniques you love, and share those consistently on your pages. Your clients will find you and do business with you based on what they see you sharing, and over time you can weed out the types of projects you don’t want to do.
To myself when I first started doing sugarcraft: I would love to attend more classes, learn from other talented artists, in order to explore more mediums.
To myself when I was still in art college: Read more books and explore more mediums and techniques rather than thinking of working part time just to make some pocket money to buy more music cassettes and VCDs (video CDs) 😀
You can find Kelvin on Facebook at Vinism Sugar Art.
Dear Michelle who isn’t into cake as business yet,
It will take you being in business for several years for you to work out WHY you are in business, because at this point you still think it’s about cake. It’s not. It’s about making people happy, and those people include yourself and your kids. This means your business needs to make money – real money, not just pocket money. Take bigger risks with your money in terms of investing more in the business right from the very beginning, but also make sure that safety net is there (at least 6 months of rent and wages) so you’re not going to freak out about it. Having the safety net means you make less fear-based decisions, you have the freedom to invest where you want to, and it fixes up the really big fat tax problem you created somewhere around Year 6 of the business. I’m saying this again in the hopes you’ll listen to me: make friends with the money. Better the devil you know! (really)
Anna Maria Roche
Always visualise the finished result while working on your cake, every step of the process.
When new to cake decorating, everybody is so scared to make mistakes.
This will take away the fun of cake decorating and can dishearten people totally from the joy of making cakes.
While you work on a cake and you can see imperfections that you cannot fix, it really helps to have a picture of the finished cake design in mind.
For example a present box cake: It’s got a lid, stripes and a bow. If the covering is not perfect on one spot, it’s OK because you know it’s going to be covered by a stripe.
Essentially, when you decorate a cake and have the final product in your mind, if things don’t go to plan, envisage a way to fix it. Don’t get stressed… Instead, enjoy the journey of making cakes.
You can find Anna Maria on Facebook at Anna Maria Cake Design.
Don’t be afraid to say no! If it’s not going to be profitable or benefit you in the long run, don’t do it. Don’t let people take advantage of you and don’t accept promises for publicity in return for free or heavily discounted cakes.
I did this a few times in the beginning as I thought it would be beneficial to me. But usually, to my disappointment, any image of my cakes featured were either very small when printed, photographed poorly (i.e. the back or side angle of the cake) or used without any credit to who had made it!
So there you have it! Even though they all followed their own path, there are are a lot of similar pieces of advice.
- Be confident – relax, make a plan and keep the goal in sight
- Learn to say no – do free work if it benefits you, but decide carefully because your time is limited and you have bills to pay
- Never stop learning – knowledge stays with you forever and is one of the best investments you can make
- Be true to your style and brand – know why you are doing this and what sort of cakes you want to make, share the photos that showcase this
If you want to learn more about any of the decorators, please follow the links above under their sections. I’ve also included some links to Craftsy if an instructor has filmed video classes with them (disclaimer: these are paid affiliate links, so we receive a small amount of compensation in return if you make a purchase). It’s not an in-person class, but it’s the next best thing 🙂