Are you thinking about turning your love of cake into a full-time business? Whether this is getting close to a reality or your dream is just a twinkle in your eye, here are my top recommendations (based on personal experience) on what to do when you are beginning to consider making the leap.
1. Start making cakes. If you have a full time job, what you need to do now is build up your reputation and your client list so you’ll be sure to be busy when you make the switch to running your cake business full time. If you don’t have a full time job – it’s time to start and get the word out there! This will help build your reputation…word of mouth about your quality cake is your best recommendation/marketing technique for finding new clients at this point.
I was reluctant to start until I had all the pieces in place, but in fact, this is one of the pieces!
2. Read the book The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It. This book was recommended to me immediately by at least three friends who ran their own businesses when I told them I was starting out on my own. It follows a pie baking business, but the lessons can be applied universally and are easily translated into the cake world. Pay very careful attention to the concepts of working ON your business vs. working IN your business and also the idea that you eventually need to have a plan to take yourself out of the business and still have it run smoothly. If the business relies only on you to survive, at the very least you will be seriously tired.
I read this book after I was already well on my way, but immediately wished I’d read it earlier!
3. Make an appointment with a counselor at your local SBA office. The Small Business Development Center through the Small Business Administration can pair you up with a counselor who will meet with you individually to walk through the process of starting and building your business. They also have great classes available!
Several folks directed me to the local Small Business Development Center through the SBA, and I’m so glad I went! My amazing counselor helped me talk through my ideas and get the business set up correctly. She gave me invaluable advice, and then sent me back to my office with an itemized and prioritized list of steps to take before our next meeting. I cannot say enough good things about my experience there. My counselor took my brain that was full of ideas – and hindered by stress and lack of sleep – and helped me pare it down to the essentials to focus on what needed to be done step-by-step. It’s not as overwhelming that way! The best part about it? It was FREE.
4. Write a business plan. This will probably be discussed at the very first meeting with your SBA counselor, but you definitely need to have a plan and it helps to have one going in. There are plenty of online resources to help you get an idea of what needs to be included (just Google it), or visit your local library and check out a book on the subject. A business plan will not only help you formalize your goals for the business, but it will also help you know where you are in the process and re-evaluate as time moves along so you can change direction if you’re not headed toward your end goal.
I was so intimidated by this entire process that it was hard for me to start. My counselor simply handed me an outline and said to take 1-2 hours, set your timer, and work on it…no distractions allowed. Get something down in each section (it doesn’t need to be perfect the first time!), then come back around to it the next day to finalize and revise. Set your timer again for 30 minutes to one hour for revisions the following day, depending on what you need. A business plan is an incredibly important step – don’t skip it!
5. Networking. Connect with other local vendors. Do you or your friends know any wedding coordinators, florists, DJs, caterers, etc.? Is there a local group of wedding vendors you could get in touch with and/or attend a meeting? Is there a business networking group you could visit to see if they have any recommendations on who to talk with? Have you met other vendors during cake deliveries? Once you have a few people to get in touch with, ask if you can take them out for coffee since you’re just starting your cake business and would like to get their perspective on the industry and ask a few questions. A few tips:
- Go to the meeting prepared with a list of questions to ask.
- Dress professionally.
- Take them a sample of your cake, and present it beautifully with your business card and contact information.
- Offer to pay for their coffee – it’s not expensive, and shows your appreciation for their time.
- At the end of the meeting, ask if there are some other contacts in the industry they would recommend getting in touch with.
- Most importantly, thank them very much for their time.
Make sure you have their contact information also in case brides ask for referrals from you, and always follow up with a thank you note. Most people are more than willing to help out a new vendor since they are constantly looking for good referrals for their clients and can usually remember what it’s like to be in your shoes.
6. Hire an excellent graphic designer. Get a professional logo and business cards made immediately. These will initially be your best return on investment as far as marketing goes since you can easily carry them with you and hand them out wherever you are. In this case, especially when starting out, if you look professional, people will believe you are professional. Only then do you get a chance to prove it.
My personal pet peeve: When people go to an online business card printer, pick a generic design, and order them because they are inexpensive. Your business cards are your first impression, and you only get one of those! I’ve got an amazing designer – contact me if you’d like her information. She absolutely “gets” our world of sugar and I would highly recommend her to anyone.
I hope this list will be helpful for you. Good luck! Do you have any additional recommendations? Let me know about them in the comments section!