Welcome to the Business of Baking, the only blog which is all about running a succesful baking business. If you're new here, I'd recommend you go back to the very first post and read your way forward to the present time. New posts are published every Tuesday, with the occasional bonus feature published on other days. Happy reading!

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Tuesday, 29 July 2014


Photo from lifelounge.com.au

A good friend and colleague of mine (*cough*Sharon*cough*) is a MEGA FAN of the boy band Hanson. Seriously. Hanson, as in the long haired brothers who sing the 90's song that never dies, MMMBop. She's such a fan that she's going to concerts in more than one Australian city, and she's trying everything possible to get a photo with the boys (including offering free cake, so you know the obsession is real, right?)  She was telling me about how they own their own record label, they've sold over 16 million albums and how they've grown up into one heck of a business and a band.  Because I was intrigued, I started to do some research, and discovered that she was right about all of that...and that they even have a connection with our industry - they were judges on Cupcake Wars! (This automatically makes them even cooler to me than they were when I was a teenager...and they were pretty cool then.)

I started thinking about the music business, and Hanson in particular, and then of course I can't get that song out of my head. We can learn a lot from the music business (and the Hanson boys in particular.) As in our industry, the music business is crowded with lots of extremely talented people, all trying to make a living doing what they love. Music is also a creative business, so they too have the issue of trying to put a dollar value on a talent and skill. The music and cake industries are very similar, except perhaps that the musicians who make it big are making a heck of a lot more money than the cake people who make it big.

So with more respect for Hanson than I've ever had, here are 3 business lessons I think we can all learn from the boys:

1. It's really about being a resilient entrepeneur: Since 2003, after a split from their major record label, Hanson have been a fully independent band.  Rather than look around for another label to take them on, they formed their own company and have paved their own path ever since. Sure, they took on additional risk, but this also opened them up to additional reward. The thing about true entrepeneurs is that they don't give up - because it's actually about the creating, not about the details of failing and succeeding. Hanson decided to move on and do things their way, they didn't just decide to give up music altogether simply because they were dealt one seriously difficult blow.

At the moment we are in a crazy time in the industry and it seems like every day I see posts on social media saying things like, "I'm beginning to wonder if it's worth doing this anymore," and "I'm just going to give up, there's no way I can compete against the others who are undercutting me." I've said for a long time now that staying in business is a lot harder than getting into business - something I'm pretty sure Hanson would agree with.

When I read those posts, I think to myself, there's someone who has not worked out why they are in business in the first place. Is owning a business what you really wanted, or is it a case of having given in to the pressure of "You should SOOOO sell those!"?  Hanson had a massive set back in their career, but because for them it was about being able to make a living making music, they just set about doing it in a different way. They got knocked down. They stood up again. Why? Because they wanted to earn a living doing what they loved. They were in it for the long haul, determined to succeed even if it meant taking big risks and suffering potentially big failures.

Longevity in this industry - in any industry - has less to do with the product and more to do with your willingness to take the knocks and keep coming back for more.  It's about being an entrepeneur more than you are a cake maker or cookie baker.  Hanson, and every one of us reading this, is trying to carve out their corner in a crowded market. Where we have unregistered home bakers or newbie cake makers to contend with, their equivalent is shows like The Voice and X Factor. Getting into cake and getting into music are now easier than ever, but it's the ones who KEEP GETTING UP after being knocked down who will succeed in the long term.

2. It's not just about the product, it's about the people: Hanson are BRILLIANT at looking after their fans and cultivating a whole group of people who love and support them.  They've got an active fan club, they have several 'members only' events and activities, and in all their interviews they talk about how grateful they are for their fans. They also involve their fans in the creative process - allowing fans to vote on their set list and be a part of what they create. Isaac Hanson recently summed this up beautifully, saying, "As long as fans understand that the goal is to have your favourite band be successful and for you to be as involved and engaged in that process – because the fans need to appreciate the bands and the bands need to appreciate the fans – as long as you can create a good connected relationship, everybody’s going to win."

They have worked really hard at building a fan base from the very beginning of their career. In the early days they sent CDs to fan club members, created a members-only magazine - and in 2000 when their record label pulled their funding to tour, rather than disappoint people they self-funded their touring.
Photo from esquire.com

How does all that translate to the cake industry? Two words for you: customer service. I don't think cake companies focus on customer service and building tribes enough. We spend more time sharing cakes with each other rather than building relationships with our fans. I fully believe in creating a community, but that community must include the people who are going to buy from you and shout about you from the rooftops to others.  We all talk about how word of mouth is such a powerful marketing tool, but word of mouth needs to be cultivated. It doesn't just happen like magic, it happens because you invested in giving your customers a great experience. Hanson adore their fans, understand that without fans there are no record sales, and they invest heavily in their fan base. Us cake makers should be doing exactly the same thing.

Hanson produced a documentary - Strong Enough to Break - which chronicled their leaving the record label and getting their album released as independants. In their words, they "wanted to show people what's involved, show them what it takes to get an album released."  This reminds me a bit about those of you who struggle with the constant explanation of pricing and what work goes into making one of your creations. Just like music fans have no real idea about the process of releasing an album, your customers probably have no real idea what the process for building a 3D cake is. It's your job as an artist to help them understand that process so that they understand it's worth it. Isaac's take on this is, “People don’t value what they don’t purchase so you need to encourage people to see the products that you are making as valuable,” - which is a pretty basic premise in selling anything at all.  If people don't see the value in it, they aren't going to buy it! Is it annoying to keep explaining? Sure it is - but we've got to do it not only because it helps people value us but because it also helps us to build our tribe of fans.

Photo from: http://www.theaureview.com

3. It's About The Long Term Plan: It was 18 years ago that Hanson came out with MMMBop (I KNOW! 18 years! Makes me feel old...), and since then they've recorded 6 studio albums, have several Grammy nominations and continue to tour globally (among other things.) They still consistently sell out concerts all over the world...and yet it's fair to say that Hanson is not a band you hear on the radio all that often these days. Until it was mentioned to me I had no idea they had as much of a back catalog as they did, nor did I even know they regularly tour. I truly had no idea how big they actually are and continue to be.

This is a brilliant lesson in the importance of having a bigger picture in mind and remembering that you're in it for the long term.  I'm sure the boys would love to have #1 hits on the radio all the time, but they've managed to build a career doing what they love and between them they have 11 children. Have they reached the dizzying heights of the 90's MMMBop fame again? No. Does it matter? No. Sometimes in our quest for fame (and fortune) we feel the need to just create, innovate, create, innovate endlessly, never truly being satisifed with what we've got and keeping up with the Joneses. We flutter from order to order, we get overly excited about reaching social media milestones and we endlessly chase the "oooh...shiney!" factor.  If what you're aiming for is to have a long term, sustainable, successful (to you) business, then that's what you've got to build. Stop looking at how others are becoming superstars and think about what is important for YOU. How do YOU define success? In Hanson terms,would you rather be the one hit wonder or accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award?

When I started my business, I wanted a career doing what I love, which also was flexible enough for me to raise my kids and which would pay me a decent salary. I also wanted to be able to bring happiness to people's lives, influence the next generation of cake makers and feed my creative soul. I then actually succeeded in doing all of that because for me, that's what success was about. Rather than be a one hit wonder, I wanted to stay in this industry, consistently earning a living over a long period of time.   Hanson's goals are much the same, in so far as it has always been about doing what they love (music), earning a living (touring), having a life (becoming parents and starting families) and making a connection (fans). You've got to have the long term plan in order to actually take the steps to getting there.

Photo from: vulturemagazine.com.au

In the last week or so, I've learned more about Hanson than any one person should actually know...like that they had a cameo appearance in Katy Perry's music video for Last Friday Night.  In all the things I've learned, the biggest lesson of all came to me when I kept finding similarities between their business values and mine.  Ask anybody working in a creative industry - from big (Hollywood and movies) to small (etsy and crafters) and the challenges are much the same although the scale is different. Think back over your favourite artists, in any number of creative industries, and you'll find that their long term survival has come down to the same three things: resilience, building a fan base, and committing themselves to the long term.

While Hanson might not be your thing (although hello, how completely gorgeous are those men!?) - look around at other musicians, actors, artists and I think you'll see their challenges are much the same as ours are. The 'cake world' can be such a bubble sometimes that we fail to see that it's not just us that deal with customers who don't see or value, tons of competition (some great, some terrible) and plenty of set backs.

Yes, I believe we're all in this together...only now I know that the "we" goes beyond bakers and decorators.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Make More Money, Spend Less Time

Does any of this sound like you?
  • You seem to spend hours and hours each week answering enquiries, but...
  • You aren't getting enough orders to make a living or make it worth the hassle, and...
  • You're sick and tired of having to explain to people why you charge what you charge,
  • You're exhausted from the constant emailing back and forth and back and forth before the client either doesn't order from you, or changes their mind about what they want,
  • You are losing track of enquiries because they are coming from multiple sources (Facebook messaging, emails, texts on your phone, comments on Instagram),
  • You feel like you say the same thing to the same people over and over (you've answered that question about your flavours about a million times by now),
  • It feels like people only care about price,
  • You feel like you rush through orders (or do them at crazy hours) because you're struggling to keep up with the administration of the business,
  • You really just want or need to make more money and spend less time chasing orders. 
If any one of those sound even remotely familiar, then this blog post is for you. 

All of the above are things which most of us have felt or experienced at one point or another in our businesses.  We DO spend a lot of time communicating with prospective clients, and it eats up quite a lot of our working hours. So how do we cope when we're just had enough of it?

STEP ONE: Adjust your attitude.

Answering emails and messages about orders gets you more orders. It's what you need to do in order to get to the fun stuff of playing with cake lace and steaming wafer paper ruffles.  It's not optional. A bit later on in this post I'm going to give you some strategies for how to make the communication process a little more efficient, but in the interim we need to work on your attitude. If you're feeling like answering those messages is a boring, frustrating, time sucking chore, or if you're feeling like people only care about price or if you're feeling like you've explained your prices countless times and you're just damn sick of it all... I want you to stop for a second and think about your own behaviour as a consumer. 

The last time you needed new tires, needed some painting done, needed to get your car repaired, bought a big ticket item like a washing machine - didn't you call or email more than one supplier and ask for a quote? Were you concerned about price? Did you send emails to several suppliers? Did that salesperson answer your questions about why one brand of dishwasher was better than another? Did the tiling guy send you a written, detailed quote about the work you needed done? Did you look at the 3 quotes you got and consider what they were offering for the money? Did you look at the most expensive quote and wonder why it was so expensive? Did the saleslady who answered the phone give you some prices and information? Did you buy something, only to return it because you just changed your mind or found one you liked better? Did you search online to see if you could get it faster or cheaper elsewhere? Did you look at more than one company's options and compare the two products? Did you reply to the two guys whose quotes you didn't go with?

If you as a consumer have done any of those things, then it should come as no surprise that your potential customers are doing and expecting the EXACT SAME THINGS.

They're just being consumers. They buy stuff... but they also compare stuff, think about stuff, shop around, ask a lot of questions, change their minds and make decisions based on many factors.  Their behaviours are not any different just because one day they are shopping for cake and one day they are shopping for washing machines.

I'm not going to lie to you. The endless emails, messages and explaining over and over can get tiring, frustrating and it's not even one tiny percent as fun as playing with cake or chocolate is going to be. Let me remind you, though, that cake is not always fun either. It melts, it falls over, it stresses you out, it brings you to tears, it robs you of sleep and sanity and money...but ultimately we still get up and do it again... Every. Single. Week. Why? Because we love it.

Here's my BFO (Blindingly Freakin' Obvious) point: if you don't send quotes and answer emails every single week, you do NOT GET ORDERS to have fun with every single week. It's a non-negotiable part of the deal.  You're not special in this regard. The plumbers, electricians, wedding dress makers and tire companies all have to do that as well. You've got to quote (a lot) if you want to get a gig. (Or as Disney might put it, you've got to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince.)

So: adjust your attitude and be grateful that you've marketed well enough to get people to your door in the first place. There are plenty of people out there who would kill to get half as many emails as you get. Also - remember that part of growing your business is investing time in it. You can't say you want to grow your business and then turn around and tell me how annoying it is to answer emails all the time.

*deep breath*

Okay so now that I've gently told you to stop complaining about it, I'm going to teach you how to deal with it.  Here are a few strategies to help make quoting easier:
  • Redirect enquiries to ONE place. You can actually disable messages on your Facebook business page and I suggest you do so.  It's too easy to read then totally forget about Facebook messages - both for you and for the person who sent it. If you want to keep that function on, just reply to every email with a STANDARD and friendly reply (so you can cut and paste): "Thanks so much for your message. We don't take orders via Facebook, so please email the details of your order to cakes@cakes.com or call me on 123 456. Thanks." The same message can be used for people who PM you on Instagram (or comment on pictures) and so on. REDIRECT people to where you want them to go and so you can keep track of correspondence in a single place. (Also: Don't forget to make your website address and phone number easy to find in the first place.)
  •  Turn email notifications off on your phone. Every time my phone pings, I look at the emails, then forget I saw them, or mentally reply to them but don't actually do it. Eventually I get to a PC and see them, and vaguely recall having read them the first time. The problem here is that I'm double handling those emails, and wasting countless minutes every day re-reading something I already read. If it's an actual emergency (of the truly important sort, not of the "I need six cupcakes" sort) then your phone will RING and not DING. Turn off the dinging so you're not looking and re-looking at those emails.
  • Answer correspondence at a set time, for a set time.  So for example, every night after the kids go to bed, between 8-9 is when you reply to correspondence, then you work on orders from 9. Why does this work? Because it means from 8-9 you're working on building your business, and from 9 you're working on getting the orders done. You won't have one without the other, so set aside some time to do it. You'll be FAR more efficient if you're doing it that way rather than in dribs and drabs all day long. 
  • Here's a whole new concept: pick up the damn phone!  If emails with a client or potential client are getting any further than 2 replies each, CALL THEM.  It's much faster and better to have all your questions answered at once, and most of the time when you're on the phone with them you'll close the deal. It's much easier for them to say no over email than over the phone talking to a live person. Over the phone you can also gently lead them to make a final decision and pay that deposit already! If you do all your work at night, either get out of the house earlier or make phone calls on your lunch break or SOMETHING, just please call people rather than endlessly email them.  They'll appreciate the personal touch, and you'll get more sales (or END conversations which were not leading anywhere regardless) and above all you'll save a lot of time.
  • Ask people what they DON'T want.  Some of the most frustrating clients are those who really have no idea what they want, and run you around in circles showing you tons of pictures and asking you to quote and re-quote, only to never order anything (or at least, not order anything from you.) You need to take control of this situation and FAST. If you can feel it getting out of hand, you need to lead them in the direction you want, which is towards making a decision. Ask them, "Is there anything you really would not want on your cake? Colours you do not like? Do you love stripes or hate them?" and so on and so forth. Narrow them down by forcing them to answer very pointed questions.  If they've sent you 10 photos to look at, see if you can't find the unifying thing in all of them. Chances are they will all be round, or all be 3 tier, or all be buttercream - there will be some element that links them because they've chosen all of them, so those photos are a reflection of their aesthetic and taste. 
  • Make your website really easy to use. Also, whatever people ask you about often, make that information really easy to find. If you answer a lot of emails about your flavours - put that somewhere obvious. If people ask you about your availability, put a calendar on there which clearly shows the dates you still have free (and please don't forget to update it.)  People keep emailing you about price? Have at least a basic pricing guide on there - one tier cakes from $100, two tier cakes from $300 (and so on).  Having a clear, informative website will do two things: 1) weed out the people you do not want as clients anyway or who you cannot help, and 2) encourage the people who are still interested to either call or email you.  It isn't foolproof but it certainly weeds out a heck of a lot of tire kickers, and thus saves you a heck of a lot of time.
  • Develop an email formula. No, not a form email you sent to every single person, but a method for how you're going to answer emails so that you're not trying to re-write a novel every single time you reply. So every email looks something like this:
    • Greeting (Dear Samantha,)
    • Acknowledgement (Thanks so much for your email.)
    • Answer their question with a reasonable amount of detail (We'd love to make you a Thomas the Tank Engine cake for your son's birthday. You can choose from any of our 6 flavours, and it's no problem to make it gluten free for you, the one you saw on our website is $xyz and it feeds 20 kids.)
    • Give them a call to action (We'll just need a deposit in order to reserve that date for you, so I'll give you a call tomorrow to discuss the final details.) (more on how to do this further in this post.)
    • Sign off (Yours in sweetness,)
    • Name (Michelle)
    • And don't forget to have a signature file at the bottom with all your contact details.

Okay, so now we've cut down on the correspondence (or made it a little easier to deal with), how do we close the actual sale? Here's some tips to convert those enquiries into sales:
  •  Give them a clear call to action.  You need to end your email or call with a sentence that makes them DO something. Closing with something like, "I look forward to hearing from you," is just way too open-ended.  Closing with something like, "I'll confirm your order after I receive the deposit, deposits are accepted via credit card," makes it seem like the deal is already done. These days people want their problems solved quickly and easily so you need to make that happen for them. "I'll call you tomorrow morning and we can finalise the details," "If you need more information, please call me tomorrow on 123 456," "To finalise this order, please pay the deposit of $X to this account no," "I'd love to cater your wedding and I think you'll love our flavours, why don't I reserve you a spot at our next tasting session? It's at 2pm this coming Saturday, I look forward to meeting you then," and so on and so forth. Figure out a few carefully worded sentences which you are comfortable with, but the key is to basically convert them into a sale by telling them EXACTLY what and how to do the next part (place the order or take it closer to that goal).
  • Here's a whole new concept: pick up the damn phone! Yep, I'm repeating this one again - emails have a tendency to just go on, and on, and on, and on. I guarantee you that you're probably not the only company they emailed for a quote, but if you're the one that calls them back and actually solves their problem, you're going to get the deal.  Good customer service is often about following up - so follow up! People are very time poor (we're all busy sending emails apparently) and nobody more so than parents and brides...so if you can fulfil their needs quickly, save them time and hassle, you're going to get the gig. Everyone else is still emailing them...and emailing them...and emailing them. 
  • If your website has an enquiry form, have a few required fields in it: name, email address, phone number, date and type of event, and where they heard about you. Why does this help you close the deal? Because: a) you can contact them by phone, and b) you have enough information to direct the conversation. (Bonus: you'll immediately know which of your marketing channels is getting you the most traffic.) Knowing where your business is coming from potentially tells you the demographic of the person calling. For example, the price conscious would probably not be calling you from an ad you placed in a ultra high end mega expensive bridal magazine. If that's where they found you, chances are they care a lot about design and exclusivity so that's what your conversation with them should focus on.

There is a an entire art form to sales - highly trained and skilled salespeople will never be out of a job - and what I've given you here is really only the tip of the iceberg.  As an industry generalisation, we don't like to talk about money, we don't like to be forward with closing sales, and we don't like to actually call people. We like to send a lot of emails and make a lot of beautiful things and post a lot of pretty pictures, all of which is lovely, sweet rainbow sprinkles but also MASSIVELY TIME CONSUMING.

Guess what?

It isn't always rainbow sprinkles in here.

I like to eat, as do my children. In order for that to happen, I have to answer all those emails, make those phone calls, send quotes, answer questions over and over, tell people my price and then get them to pay for what I make. Last I checked those things are true of  EVERY OTHER INDUSTRY which sells products. We are not special in that regard.

If you read this far, I'm impressed. Thanks.

If you skipped to the bottom, here's the gist of it: Adjust your attitude, and help people quickly decide to buy your stuff.  It's either that or go back to complaining you have no orders and you're sick of answering emails.

Personally, I'd rather make more money doing what I love and spend less time complaining about not having enough orders to do so.

Here's your call to action: scroll back up and put your name and address in the box on the top right and sign up for my newsletter. It's awesome, you're awesome, let's be awesome together.