Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Discounts, coupons, promos...

At a cake delivery this month, I started chatting with the DJ who was setting up.  We started talking about the wedding and he mentioned to me that he was booked just 2 or so months before.  He also mentioned that he gave the couple a 35% discount since he still had availability and it was short notice.  He said he either got the gig or spent the day watching football.

This got me thinking... how many other wedding/special event vendors did this?  Is this something that is suggested on wedding planning sites and magazines?  I don't know the answer, but I wonder if that is why I get a lot of "last minute" wedding cake requests.

I guess I am different than a lot of folks out there... I don't give discounts, don't do coupons, or run any promos/specials.  It's not that I don't think they are a good idea, but at this time, I think I am busy enough.  If I don't have cakes to make one weekend... I am thrilled!  That's not to say I don't want any business, it's just an extra opportunity for me to recharge and spend some extra time with my family.

Monday, September 19, 2011

How to order a custom cake

I know this may seem like a "duh" post, but you would be how many vague, last-minute, interesting, etc calls/emails I get.  Plus I remember when my husband and I ordered the groom's cake for our wedding... we went in told them the date of the reception, what cake flavor we wanted, and handed them the funny bride and groom topper.  I remember them asking if we wanted a square cake, but that is about it.  I am sure they asked a few more questions, but I gave them no design ideas.  Of course that was before cakes became the "in" thing.

So to save yourself and some cakers out there some grief, make sure you do or have thought about the following items before contacting someone to order a custom cake.

1.  Budget - Think about this before you even start contacting folks about estimates/ordering.  Custom cakes do cost more than grocery store cakes.  Remember that the more complicated and/or time-consuming the cake, the more it's going to cost.  The more servings you need... the more it is going to cost.

2.  Check Websites - So after deciding on a budget, I recommend going to custom bakers websites.  You can see the type of work they do and whether or not you think you will be happy with their work.  You may also be able to see some prices, learn about the baker, and some other important info.  Not all cakers are created equal!

3.  Order Early - I have talked about this one before... the earlier you can order the cake the better.  Calling me late on a Sunday afternoon and asked me how early a cake can be picked up if it was ordered today isn't going to work (Yes... this is a phone call I got today).  Some large custom shops may be able to accommodate orders with only a few days notice, but why risk it?

4.  Give the Specifics of the Event - Nothing bugs me more than an email telling me, "I need a cake for my daughter's birthday.  Can you help?"  Well maybe... it might help if you tell me when you need this cake, how many people you need to feed, whether the cake will be indoors or out, etc.  To me, the more info you can give me the better.

5.  Have an Idea of What Kind of Cake You Want... both inside and out - Half of the people that contact me are really good about this and send me a picture of the inspiration item or the cake they want replicated.  The other half... well... have no idea.  While I appreciate allowing me to be creative, I need some sort of direction.  Colors, interests, hobbies... something to go off of...  You also need to think about the style of cake you would like... 2 or more tiers, topsy turvy, carved, sheet, etc?  Fondant covered or iced in buttercream?  What cake flavors and fillings?  I need to know all these things to give you a price range for you to make a decision and hopefully make you cake.

6.  Be Prepared to Pay - Most custom cake designers do not take orders without at least a deposit, and some require payment in full.  And most of us do not consider a cake to be "ordered" until payment is received, so have a credit card ready or a pen and paper (for those of us who use PayPal to process credit card payments or accept checks).

Well there is my PSA for the day... hopefully it reaches the masses :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It's all about being a "lister"

Some of my friends and acquaintances ask me how I run a business and have two little ones at home with me.  The short answer is I am crazy and would need to be committed if I didn't have something other than being with the kids.  I was always this way.... I loved to be involved in activities in school, worked several jobs throughout high school and college, etc.  Once I graduated college and started working "a real job", I slowed down quite a bit and enjoyed relaxing after working 10-12 hour days, but I still needed to do something with myself while relaxing.  I baked, did counted cross stitch, and scrapbooked.  If I wasn't doing one of those, I was trying to figure out what I should do next.

When I got pregnant with my first son, I was commuting to Richmond 4 times a week, which was about 9-10 hours in the car, on top of my 45-50 hours at work.  I decided I was going to give my career a break and just be a stay-at-home mom.  Yeah... that lasted about 2 months... as I started cleaning out closets by listing things on ebay.  After that I got involved in some local mom groups and finally started making some mommy friends.  Of course, at the same time I was getting phone calls from work asking me to come back.  I resisted the first 2 or 3, but not surprisingly, I decided to go back.  It was only part-time from home, and I mostly worked during naps.  How could I turn that down?  Of course that wasn't enough for me... so I started taking cake decorating classes too... and well I guess that is how all this started.  At one point, I was running the business and working my "real job".  I finally left the real job when number 2 was born, because I knew I couldn't handle doing both with 2 little boys.

So how do I get everything done?  It's really quite simple... I make lists... very detailed lists.  Everything from sharpening dowels, to putting couplers on bags, to making buttercream and fillings... it all is on there.  When I have a spare minute, aka the baby ... er... toddler... is engrossed in something, I dig out the tools I am going to be using, wash a pan or two, respond to emails, blog, etc.  I get most things done while Reid naps, and after the kids go to bed, but weekends, federal holidays and after dinner time when Daddy is home to watch them, I try to sneak some hours in as well.

Besides listing, I also TRY to stay on top of things and get ahead... so if I need to batches of buttercream this week and two for next week, I try to make all 4 at one time.  I also try to combine like things... so I don't need to dig out and wash tools multiple times.  This is also why I don't take orders without a minimum of a week notice.  If I already made buttercream for the next two weeks, I now need to dig out the mixer again, the ingredients again, etc. to complete the new order.  It's just not worth it for me at this time.  I would rather be as ahead as possible and take a day off, than try to squeeze in one more order.  I am crazy, but not THAT crazy.

One would think with all this I would be as thin as a rail... but alas... as my name suggests... I am not...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

When it rains, it pours

Today is the beginning of a very busy 30 days for me.  Between today and October 9th, I have 8 weddings, 4 other special occasion orders, my Icing Smiles cake, 2 donation orders, and several bridal tastings.  I am sure I will be working late, and trying to squeeze in something with every free moment I have.  I am looking forward to doing some fun weddings though!  I have one wedding that is not only a cake, but a cookie buffet as well.  Another wedding is a cupcake do-it-yourself buffet done in a wine theme!  On the wedding cake side of things, I have a very cool cake that is incorporating snow leopard print and a Tiffany blue bow, a "outdoorsy" one with a textured buttercream, and one decorated with buttons!  Needless to say, I am trying my best to stay ahead of the curve by making extra buttercream, prepping boards and boxes, and starting early on those fondant decorations.

On top of that, my husband and are in the process of purchasing a home and having it ready for my parents to move down here.  While one may think buying a house doesn't require much time after you pick one, let me tell you that it is a lot different than it was several years ago.  Every financial document that you can imagine is required to be sent multiple times to multiple people.  Phone calls to contractors, Realtors, bankers, etc. need to be made and tracked.  Repairs need to be made and inspections need to be done.  It can make one's head spin!  But in the end it will all be worth it as my two little munchkins will have both sets of grandparents about 10 minutes from them!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How To: Ruffle Flowers

I love ruffles!  Not on me... I bought a dress with some ruffles on it and was told by my husband that it wasn't me... but I LOVE them on cakes.  Maybe my love affair with them started with this cake... but then again I was putting some ruffles on some wedding dress cookies back in Dec of 2010... regardless... I LOVE THEM!!  

So a few weeks ago a got an email from a bride who was getting married on Sept 4th of this year and was wondering if I was available.  I already had a wedding cake for that weekend, a 2-tier birthday cake, and another cake for the day before, and really didn't want to stress myself out with another wedding cake for that weekend.  However, I thought about ICES convention and how much money I was probably going to spend, so I reconsidered and told her I was available.  And I was so happy I did!!  She told me that she had been stalking my website for a few months and was really excited for me to do my cake.  When she told me what she was interested in, I think I got really excited back!  Instead of using real flowers at her wedding, she was making fabric flowers and wanted some of these replicated on the cake.  She sent me some pics, and I was in love!!  So without further blabbering, here are the flowers...

So I set about my quest to replicate them as best as I could... and here is my tutorial on how I did them!

From a tool prospective... not too much is needed. Ball tool, circle cutters like the set here, foam pad, and a rolling pin.  Some extras you could use... dragees and/or edible pearls, some pearl luster dust, water pen, and  pump brush.  
 First up is the navy blue flower pictured above... in chartreuse.  I cut out a handful of circles in two different sizes, just for a variety, and let them start to dry a bit.  I wanted these to firm up a little as I was going to use them as my base.

Then I cut a lot more circles, in the next two larger sizes, and covered them with some plastic wrap so they wouldn't dry up.
 With each circle, I took the ball tool and thinned out the edges.  I wasn't concerned about how much or how little curl there was in each circle, just wanted the edges thinner than they were.

After thinning the edges, I picked up the circle and pinched it together in the center. I tried to vary the way I pinched them so I could get different ruffles looks on the flowers.

Once pinched, I placed them around the outside of the circle with a little water.  I kept adding the ruffled circles to the outside and then filled in the inside.  I fit them together and fluffed them as I added more ruffles.  I also made sure you couldn't see the circle base. 
And this is what they ended up looking like!  I think they turned out pretty well if I do say so myself!  After they dried, I ended up dusting them with some pearl luster dust to give them a little more dimension and attempt to make them look more like a satin fabric.
The other flowers (white ones from above), didn't turn out as well as I would have liked them to.  Not that I didn't like the way they turned out, but they didn't match as well as the other flowers did.  Again, I started out with circles.  This time, each circle was slightly smaller than the previous one.

I also used the ball tool to thin the edges again.  This time, I wanted to get some really ruffled, while others more wavy.  From there, I just stacked them on top of each other, securing each with a dab of water (final product below).

Now, if I really wanted to get them exactly like the pic the bride provided me, I would have need to make or buy formers in decreasing sizes (maybe 3-4 different sizes so that each circle would have dried in a concave lens shape and then stacked them the same way.

So here are the finished flowers on the cake.  As you can see, I added some sugar pearls and silver dragees to the centers of some of the flowers.  Hopefully you can also see a bit of the shimmer from the luster dust as well.  

In case you couldn't tell... I love these flowers.  I want to sit and make them all day, but alas I do need to take care of the kiddos and well there are those pesky orders I need to complete :)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Facebook "Networking"

I am a "fan" of several local pages that are either interest-based, such as being a mom, or have some sort of local publication or group.  I follow them to see what is going on around town, as I rarely read the local newspaper.

I saw several local businesses post on the walls of these types of pages promoting their business.  "Need a photographer?  Check out ABC Photography!"  "Best Burgers in town at Big Burger!" Etc.

While I see the opportunity as some free advertising, I don't do it.  Why?  I don't know... there is just something about it that seems a bit "off" to me.  I will gladly self-promote myself if a page is asking for pictures/info from fans, but to just do it to do it... eh... maybe it is just me and my personality.  It's like me at networking events... I usually hang back and chat with whomever I already know or who I am really interested in meeting, not necessarily who I should be talking to because they would get me business or new business.

Along these same lines, I don't go to TV cake designers pages and say, "Check out my work!" in hopes of gaining new fans or recognition from them personally.  Sure I would love to have Kerry Vincent say that I do awesome work, but I don't do anything that at least half of the cake designers in the world do, and I am sure at least half of those designers do those things better than I do.

So what are your thoughts on promoting yourself/business on other Facebook pages?  I am out of my mind and over-thinking things (wouldn't be the first time)?

Friday, September 2, 2011

My baby is getting to be a big boy!

Yesterday my little one had his 18 month well visit and I think I need to officially stop calling him " my baby".  Yes I know he will always be my baby, but he is FINALLY walking, starting to talk more and growing!  A little background on the growing part...

Mr. Reid (one of the many names I call the baby) was an awesome nurser and gained over a pound a week for his first several weeks he was in the world.  He was quite the little chunker as all babies should be.  He continued to nurse like a champ and took to solids really well... and then we introduced finger foods... bad, bad decision.  Around 9 months, he pretty much stopped eating.  He still nursed, would eat a couple of spoonfuls of food, but otherwise he just wanted to eat dry, crunchy things.  This was the start of Mr. Reid only doing things he wanted to do.  While his lack of eating continued, he also decided he didn't want to stand.  Whenever you would stand him up, he was like a limp noodle and wouldn't bear weight on his legs.  His doctor was concerned, and we started seeing a PT.  Well between the evaluation and starting appointments, he eventually started to pull himself up to a stand.  We worked with a PT for a while on the standing and of course walking.  He seemed to be making great progress and we discontinued in person sessions with the PT, figuring he would be walking in no time.  Ah yes... I should have seen the pattern...

Over the next few months, Mr Reid progressed with his walking... taking a few steps here and there, but at 16.5 months he still was not walking full-time and chose to crawl.  Yes... he CHOSE to crawl.  I watched him crawl, I told him to get up and walk.  He turned around, smiled at me in that Haha-mommy way, and continued crawling.  Enter the PT again... we met with her again and she confirmed my suspicions.  She gave me some tips to get him to walk, and after only a few days of tough love, he was walking about 95% of the time.

So, I am happy to report that even though Mr Reid still does not eat much, but at least he loves his Pediasure. He is now in the 20% of weight (up from 13%) and is actually on the taller side for his age!!  Who knew I would have a tall, skinny kid (I hope the trend continues)!  The doc was really happy to see him gaining weight and walking.  We discussed talking, since I assume he will not talk because he doesn't want to... and she didn't seem concerned at the moment, especially since he understands everything we tell him (sometimes more than I wish he did).  I guess after this visit, I feel like I can officially start calling my baby, my toddler!

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