Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tastings and Fees

A few months ago I got a little "ding" on one of my reviews about me charging for tastings.  Overall it was a great review, but that complaint upset me.  I know, I know I shouldn't take it personally, as it is business, but well I did.  So to set the record straight... here is my tasting fee journey...

When I started my business back in 2009, I decided I was not going to charge a tasting fee and I was going to allow each bride to pick 3 cake flavors and 2 fillings to try.  I felt I needed to do this to get customers and I felt like I was doing what was "right".  Of course, if I was not making any of the three cakes or fillings that week, I was going to need to bake/make three cakes and 2 fillings.  Minimum of 2 hours of prep time just on the cakes and fillings... plus the cost of ingredients... plus paperwork prep time... plus the actual appointment... plus clean up.

Fast forward a year or so, and I have decided that making 3 cakes and 2 fillings for tastings was fairly time consuming, not to mention expensive and wasteful.  You may be able to cut a recipe in half or in thirds, but you are still going to have batter/filling leftover.  So I decided to "split" my tasting choices.  One would be free and these tastings would taste whatever I was making that week, and therefore eliminate the cost and waste, and reduce the amount of time spent on the tasting.  The other option was $25 to try 3 cake flavors and 2 fillings of the bride's choosing.  The $25 didn't pay for my time, but helped offset some of the cost of ingredients.

Fast forward again to the beginning of 2012, and I am booking several tasting appointments a week and I am hosting these appointments away from my home in an office.  Everything started out great, until I had a no show.  A bride had made an appointment and never called to cancel.  So I had to sit at the office for an hour and wait for the next appointment to show.  Not only was that hour wasted, but the time it took to prepare for the appointment, cake, fillings, buttercreams, and the actual tasting plate wasted too.  I understand things happen, so I let it slide.  Then the next week happened... and not one, but 2 brides just didn't show up for their appointments, and unfortunately that was the final straw.  I didn't want people taking advantage of me and wasting my time, and I decided to start charging for all tastings.  I still offered two choices, but in one case the fee would be applied to the wedding cake, if placed, and the other would still go towards the cost of ingredients.

I am not getting rich off of tasting appointments.  I am, however, having better tasting appointments and have eliminated the "no show" bride.  Also, the brides I meet with are actually interested in getting a wedding cake from me (Yes... there were plenty of "free" tastings where I felt like that was all they were there for... the free cake).

With all that being said... if I had a storefront, where I could just pull cake slices or cupcakes out of a case for a bride and groom to try, I wouldn't be charging a fee.  If I had a storefront where I could just go in the back and work on something if an appointment didn't show, I wouldn't be charging a fee.  Of course, if I had a storefront, I would also be charging more per serving to pay for all the additional overhead, so in the long run, the $25 is a much better deal than an extra $2 per serving on a cake that feeds 100.

Hopefully I didn't sound too whiny.  I didn't want to sound whiny... just wanted to let folks know why I do it.  It wasn't an easy decision, but it's one I feel works better for me and the business in the long run.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

You just can't do that

I know Kara of A Cake to Remember has written a post on this, but I wanted to do a quick post on my own little twist to things....

I hear some of the strangest things from potential customers.  I have had someone concerned about the "red" in the red velvet leaking through the buttercream/fondant.  I have heard that you must use pound cakes to stack cakes so it can support the weight of the cake above it.  I have heard that you can never pipe black on white buttercream for it will run.  I have heard "I was told that I can't do XYZ."  I don't exactly know where they get some of these things, but I can only assume another "caker" told them this or it truly is a concern that they fear might happen.

I would like to address the second one first, and say that if you have a concern, just ask.  We realize that everyone is not a cake expert, and most of us will be happy to explain something to you.

As for the first one where another "caker" told them so... I always wonder if that other caker really told them that or if it got lost in translation.  I don't know how many times people talk about layers when they are really talking about tiers, so it seems logical that folks may be told one thing, but hear it another way.

Of course, they could have spoken to an inexperienced caker or employee as well, or a less experienced caker in the area of concern (I have not done every single technique in various combinations of colors, mediums, etc. and I don't think anyone has).  With me, I have no problem telling folks that I haven't done XYZ before... I am sure that scares some potential customers away, and that's fine, but I would rather say that then make up some answer that may come back and bite me in the butt.

There is also the chance that something really can't be done.  One of the things that comes to mind is many of the "ruffle" cakes out there.  Some of those just can't be replicated with just buttercream.

The final possibility I have thought of is the customer's vision versus the caker's vision.  A few months ago I had an inquiry for an Effiel tower cake, and immediately I start thinking of a multiple tiers, stacked and iced together, with a lot of small strips of gumpaste and a ton of detailed pictures to look at as reference.  Basically my brain goes here or here or somewhere in between.  I give them a large quote, and of course, did not get the order.  I can only think about what that potential customer might have said to another caker,   "So and so said it can't be done under a million dollars (no that wasn't the actual quote)."  In reality, the customer may have been happy with something more like this (This cake was made by a mom for her daughter... she did a great job as a mom who challenged herself by doing this.  I am NOT making fun of this cake.), but it was not my vision when I was quoting the customer.

I also had several other instances where folks sent me a cake that fed 80 or 100 and wanted to scale the tiers down to feed 20 or 30, without losing tiers or having a ton of leftover cake.  Again in my head, I couldn't scale down a 3-tier cake to feed 15 or 20 and still get the same effect or have a similar quality to the picture they sent me.  I just don't think there is enough room to sculpt a baby's butt and legs out of cake and put it on a 6" round cake and have it look good.

So the point of this post?  Ask questions, ask for suggestions, ask for an example, etc.  It's good for all parties to be on the same page.

Monday, May 14, 2012

It doesn't have to be huge

I get a lot of quote request inquiries with pictures of 3, 4 or 5 tier cakes.  If the inquiry doesn't specify, then I usually email the person back asking how many people the cake needs to feed.  Many times I get the response back of 15, 30, or maybe 50 folks, and I tell them that the cake they sent feeds way more people than they need it to and send them a quote for a smaller-scaled cake where tiers of cake will not be leftover.  Sometimes people are fine with that, but other times they still want the big cake.  

While I am happy to create a 5-tier cake for a party of 30, I don't think many people want to pay for it, and I am not starting off with a 2-inch top tier ( Icing anything smaller than 4 or 5" across is a huge pain in the butt.  The cake just moves too much and I don't want to deal with it.).  I also understand that people want the cake to be the centerpiece of the party.  So what does one suggest in these instances?  I suggest changing your train of thought.  It's not quantity... it's quality.  In my opinion, I think spending money on a well-executed, single-tier cake makes a better statement than spending the same amount on a 3-tier, crooked, sloppy one.    And who wants to have all that left over cake hanging around the house begging to be eaten?

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Creamsicle Effect

Do you have a lot of little bits of colored buttercream taking up room in your fridge or cabinet?  Not sure what to do with them?  This is something I always contemplated... usually I use the buttercream leftovers for tastings or donation cakes ... but one day... I decided to try something... and this is what I got..

I thought it was pretty cool... I am sure this is some sort of style of painting (and if it has a name please tell me), but I am going to call it the creamsicle effect or maybe the rainbow sherbet effect.  Regardless, I like it.

Now you may be asking yourself, "How on earth did she do something so complicated?"  It's crazy, but I put the icer tip in a big piping bag and threw blobs of different colored buttercreams inside.  I then piped it on the cake and smoothed with a bench scraper. Whew!  Crazy instructions!  Just remember the more you go over it with the bench scraper, the more your colors will meld.  Doing it too much may lead you to a not-so- pleasant color.

If that is too much color for you, try just two colors.  Off the top of my head blue and white would make a nice combination to give a lightly clouded sky or underwater effect... or for just a whimsical kind of look... pink and white.  With this cake, I added pink at the bottom or the bag and white at the top.  This gives more defined color areas.
So the next time you need to make a quick cake for a party, use up all those little leftovers and see what you get.  If you really don't like it, you can always cover it in fondant!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

1600+ Fan Giveaway!!! - WINNER

Sorry this took so long... I am sure everyone is sick of hearing my excuses, but oh well... life happens.  It especially happens when there are cake shows and trees blooming like crazy.  Anyway... the winner of the Sweet Treats book is Kelly!!  Kelly, please email me your mailing address!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

1600+ Fan Giveaway!!!

I was planning on doing a giveaway once I hit 1500 fans, but with all the bridal shows and followup... it kinda passed me by.  So... I am doing one now at 1600 fans!!!

The giveaway is the book Sweet Treats to Make, Decorate, and Give: Over 35 Step-by-step Recipes for Making and Decorating Cakes, Cookies, and Candies.  I was hoping by picking this it would interest those who consider themselves a novice, as well as those with more experience.

How to enter:

- Subscribe to my blog and leave a comment on this blog post that you have or were already following it.
- Like my facebook page and leave a separate comment on this blog post that you have or already were a "fan".
- Share this blog post on facebook and leave a separate comment telling me you shared it.  You can do this once a day.

Giveaway ends on Sunday, March 18th at midnight!!  Good luck!!

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Surprise at my Door!!

Back in early February one of my brides contacted me about renting a cupcake tower for her wedding.  Ironically I had a second cupcake wedding that day and had already rented my existing one to her.  I started looking around for a second tower and remembered the company called The Cupcake Tower from Facebook.  I went and checked out their site and decided to go all out and get the "bundle" with the cake pop holes drilled in.  I am a person who would rather buy more than I need to prevent having to purchase something similar in the future and spending twice as much.  I also had a large bridal show coming up and figured it would be perfect to put samples on.

I ordered the tower and got a call from the company THAT DAY that one of the ribbon colors was out of stock.  They asked for a substitute and told me they would ship the back ordered ribbon out separately.  Fine... no problem... and within a a few days the new tower was at my doorstep, ready for use.

It was very easy to assemble, and it worked great for the bridal show.  It held so many more samples, which was great since we didn't have much free time to refill the display.  The biggest concern I had was storage... and I still haven't figured that out...

So fast forward about a month, I get notification that The Cupcake Tower has shipped something to me.  I had completely forgotten about the back ordered ribbon, but was excited to see it was coming.  I did notice on the shipping notification it mentioned a tower, but I just assumed they were using the same order I placed to send out the ribbon.  Well to my surprise, another tower was sitting at my doorstep.  I was both excited and concerned, as I didn't order a second tower.

I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to contact them to let them know that they had made a mistake and set me a second tower instead of just the ribbon.  When I finally heard back from them, there only concern was whether or not the back ordered ribbon was with the new tower!!  I told them I didn't know since I didn't want to disturb the tower to check and they told me I could just keep the tower!!!  WOOHOO!!!  Score!!  They were also still very concerned about my back ordered ribbon, which at this point, I don't care what ribbon they put in the box.

So to thank them for being so generous, I thought I would write a blog about their wonderful product.  Little did they know they actually gave me an early birthday present!

On an unrelated note... stay tuned... I have a giveaway I am going to do once I hit 1600 fans on my facebook page... I was planning on doing one at 1500... but... uh... time got away from me :)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Guest Post: Should I hire a planner?

I have my second guest post today!!!  I asked Ashley Alphin of C & A Event Planning LLC to write about why it is important to have a wedding planner.  I realize having one may not be in the cards for everyone, especially those of us who are utter control freaks... clears throat...  but it definitely would have made my life easier when I was attempting to plan a wedding over 200 miles away from where I lived.  Take it away Ashley!

Why it is important to have a wedding planner? Planners coordinate all the details that your wedding day and planning process involve.  I’ve heard so many brides say “I should of had a wedding planner – my day would of been a lot less stressful!” – however, this is after their wedding. Do you really want to feel this way after one of the biggest days in your life?  Your wedding day is such a special time in your life and you deserve to be stress free and enjoy every moment! 

Now, let's get on with the facts. 

Saves money - Hiring a wedding planner does not cost you more in your wedding planning, a professional will save you a great deal of money. Weddings can be very expensive. Part of the responsibility of a wedding planner is to help the couples – whether it be setting the budget or sticking to it. Constant budget awareness can protect you from going over budget!

Time – Planning a wedding is a full time job, it takes an enormous amount of time. A professional wedding planner will save you time and energy when it comes to finding the right vendors, taking care of all the details, and coming up with creative ideas to make your wedding day amazing!

Offers advice – Wedding planners know what works and what doesn’t.

Dreams become realities – Ever since you were little, you have been dreaming about your wedding day – you want more than anything to see your dream unfold. Wedding planners work for the bride and groom to ensure that all desires are met and often surpassed!

Saves relationships – Stress? Weddings are stressful – this often results in arguments between couples as well as family members and friends. Wedding planners know how to avoid such problems before they begin and act as a buffer when there are conflicts because they have been there time and time again. Everyone is able to enjoy the wedding because responsibilities are often assigned to loved ones but can be taken by the wedding planner.

Acts as the “go to person” – Weddings have at minimal 10 vendors – add that to your wedding party and your guests – that is a lot of people! These people have questions and concerns – if you have a wedding planner, simply say is “talk to the wedding planner!”

Itinerary – Wedding planners make sure everything happens on time and make detailed itineraries for all involved (including other vendors). There are so many details to remember before your big day – let the wedding planner keep track!

Crisis – Most big events involve crisis whether we want it to happen or not. Wedding planners know how to handle all the unforeseen situations – the cake melting/tilting or the food being delayed or the flower girl throwing a tantrum.

Orchestrating – From the rehearsal through the reception, a wedding planner organizes, orchestrates, and executes – ensuring everything goes off without a hitch!

 Overall, you need to relax and have fun! Hiring a wedding planner ensures that stress will be minimized – you will have a worry-free and stress-free day – allowing you to enjoy your day like all your guests!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tastings: Making them work for you

Tastings.... something I have been wrestling with from the beginning... Do I charge?  How long should they be?  What should I talk about?  What should I serve?  How should I serve?  Where should I host them?  Who "gets" one?  How do I end one?  I could go on and on.  Needless to say my tasting policies and procedures have changed quite a bit from when I started my business.  While it's definitely not perfected yet, I am really starting to enjoy them, rather than dread them.

One of the biggest reasons I dreaded them was because the potential clients were coming to my house, where I live and my children do too.  Unless everyone was out of the house, I don't think there was a tasting session where one of the kids didn't come see what was going on or start screaming uncontrollably because he couldn't see mama.  While the potential clients understood, I was typically uneasy or fuming.  Sometimes I couldn't concentrate on what I was saying because of what was going on in the family room.  I tried traveling to the clients house for a tasting and I tried meeting folks at coffee shops for tastings, and neither one seemed to fit me.  Instead of being a 45 minute or so appointment, they ended up being at least an hour and because of the travel time.  To remedy this, I started renting space from a local photographer and now hold my tastings there.  No it's not as convenient as holding them in my home, but there are no children screaming in the background and I feel more like a professional.

Another reason they made me unhappy was my inability to say no.  I always catered to the client's need to meet at a certain day/time, even if it meant finding a sitter or rearranging my entire day.  This was totally my fault... I needed to learn that I can't please everyone and if they were interested in working with me, they needed to have some flexibility as well.  If I am dying for ice cream at 7am and really want a something from Cold Stone Creamery, I can't call them and suggest that they open 3 hours early just for me... I need to work around their store hours.  So I started offering tastings at certain days/times, which allowed me to make them the most time efficient for me and take away that "unknown" factor.  I also offer a "to-go" tasting for instances where the couple is in town for a day or two and I am unavailable.  This has worked well for me thus far, and think it is a good compromise for those types of situations.

Along these same lines, I had to decide where to say "no" to a personal tasting when it came to the type and size of cake.  I decided that I would offer tastings/consults for wedding cakes serving at least 50 and special occasion cakes costing $250 or more.  I also offer 6" tasting cakes for $20-30 that are available for pick up if someone does not meet the minimum, but still would like to try a cake before the "buy".  I use these same guidelines for design consults as well.  I have lost customers because of this, but in the end, I am running a business and doing a consult and/or tasting for a $50 cake is not profitable.

Lastly, and this one I am still working on was whether or not to charge for tastings.  I started out doing free tastings and allowed the client to select 3 cake flavors and 2 fillings to try.  Again, this made me miserable because on top of my orders, I now needed to make extra cake flavors/fillings just for tastings instead of just using what I was already making that week.  On top of that, since I wasn't charging, I had several no-shows.  At the same time, I saw this as part of purchasing a wedding cake.  So I compromised on this one.... I offer 2 types of tastings:  Baker's Choice... it is exactly what it sounds like... I choose what to bring and I don't charge for it since I don't have to prep anything outside of what I am already prepping for the week. The other option is Bride's Choice, which allows the couple to choose 3 cake flavors and 2 fillings to try.  This type of tasting costs $25 and helps offset the cost and time of producing a tasting plate tailored to them.  Most folks pick the complimentary tastings, so it has really worked well thus far.  I still have no shows occasionally, but not enough to start charging for every tasting.

For those of you in the business, do you charge for tastings?  For customers, would you or did you pay for your tasting?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Advertising: What's the best bang for your buck? Part 2

So last time I blogged about advertising, I talked about my thought process behind paid advertising, but what can one do with little to no advertising budget?  Here are some thoughts... and while I tailored them to my business a bit, they really apply to any business.

- VISTAPRINT - If you haven't checked this site out, you need to... NOW!  Go ahead... I will wait... I will even play the jeopardy music... ok... You back?  Great!  As you just saw or already know Vistaprint is a great way to get inexpensive marketing materials.  And no, they aren't as fancy as hiring a professional printing company, but this is a blog post on advertising on the cheap.  My point gets the job done and doesn't break the bank.

- The Internet - In my opinion, no matter how big or small, new or old your business is, you need a website.  It always floors me to see businesses, especially those that do artistic/custom work, not have a website.  Again, it doesn't need to be fancy, it just needs to be organized, easy to navigate, and contain the important information most customers are looking for.

In addition to having your own website, you can also search for directory-like websites and put your information on them as well.  Most will charge for a "featured" listing, but many will allow you to list your business for free.  You probably won't get much, if any, business directly from this, but you never know how someone will find you.

- Push your product - For a cake designer, this is easy.  Bake some samples and take them to places where the clientele fits the clientele you are after or to locations where you may get referrals.  It's not free, but you can always use "leftovers", especially if you are hitting up a business that has only a few employees such as a florist.  Word of mouth is still the best advertising one can do.

- Social Media - In this day and age, I think you need to do some sort of social media campaign.  Business pages on Facebook are free, Twitter is free, blogging is free... all help you spread the word.

 - Networking Groups - Whether the group is specific to your industry, gender, age, etc., there are a ton of networking groups out there.  My suggestion is find one or two that you like and fit your personality, and stick with them.  Most networking groups allow you to "visit" before you join and some are so casual that you can come and go as you please.  But be warned though, every group is run differently and many charge a fee for you to become a member, so make sure get all that info before you commit yourself and some advertising budget to it.

So there are some ideas on how to stretch your advertising budget... surely it isn't an exhaustive list, but it is a list of things that I have tried, used, done, etc.  I plan on talking more about networking in a future post, but in the meantime... What types of cost-effective advertising has worked for you?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I love my customers

I love my customers.  I love the existing customers who contact me 6 months or more in advance just to make sure they reserve their slot.  I love the new customers who decide to "give me a try".  I love the customers who allow me to be creative.  I love the customers who let me try something new or different.  I love the customers who refer me to friends and family.  I love customers who let me know they enjoyed their cake.  I love the customers that allow me to enjoy my business.

Of course, not everyone is "my" customer, and this is something I have had to learn over the past few years.  When I started the business, I would do anything to get a customer, not because I was desperate, but because I thought I providing good customer service.  After doing that for several months, I was miserable.  I was spending a lot of time away from my family and I always felt like I was being walked on.  I posted this dilemma on a cake designers board and received a huge wake up call.  The experienced business owners told me that not everyone was my customer, and I needed to get over it.  They told me it was my business, and I needed to run it in a way that worked for me.  I needed to learn to say "no" in those situations that gave me that funny feeling in my stomach.  I needed to walk away from potential business that was going to give me heartburn.  It can be hard sometimes, because I am such a people pleaser, but in the end, it's what's best for my sanity.

For those of you in the business, have you learned this lesson or did you go into business with this attitude?
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