So you love making cakes and all your friends and family love eating them. Everyone says you should do this for a living …. and it sounds like your dream job, but stop right there! Before you start getting your glossy business cards printed and start setting up your fabulous Facebook business page, read these 20 questions and answer them honestly! (This blog is written based on starting a business in the UK, but the general principles will apply wherever you are located).
♦ 1. Am I prepared to register with the environmental health department and undergo a check of my kitchen and property? There are particular requirements if you run a food business at home and rules can vary between different local councils, so check the guidelines online. My husband didn’t mind us being inspected – the kitchen had never been so clean! You will also be required to keep records and will need to be aware of and follow food hygiene rules and regulations. It’s generally pretty basic stuff and you can do a basic food hygiene course online and download your certificate at the end.
♦ 2. Am I prepared to register as self-employed with HMRC and complete a self-assessment tax return each year? You will have to keep records for accounting purposes such as receipts, details of your revenue, expenses, etc. It is illegal to earn money and not declare it for income tax purposes.
♦ 3. How much will insurance cost me? A customer could claim that your cake gave them food poisoning. A wedding cake could get damaged on the way to the venue. You need insurance to protect yourself. I got mine through the British Sugarcraft Guild which was very reasonably priced and meant that I was a member of the guild and got to enjoy their newsletters. If you are regularly delivering cakes as a business, you may want to check that your car insurance covers business use. I crashed my car attending a school shopping evening where I had a cake stall and the insurance excess far exceeded the evening’s profits but let’s not dwell on that …!
♦ 4. Am I confident enough to charge what my cakes are actually worth? It is hard to charge enough – after all it’s just a cake, right? Wrong. People aren’t paying for the ingredients – they’re paying for your time, expertise, creative talent, all of the hours you have trained or practiced. If you’re working for 50p an hour, it’s not a business. Don’t forget to include everything in your costing – ingredients, cake drums and boards, boxes, dowels, electricity, cake cases, ribbon, transport costs if delivering, and TIME! Sort out your pricing strategy before you begin. Advise customers of the cake cost and have an agreement before you accept their order.
♦ 5. Are my cakes good enough? Do I have the skills to create anything people might ask for? So far your friends and family have raved about your amazing cakes, of course. But are they actually of a professional standard? Have you had enough practice? It’s not ideal to test out new recipes and techniques for the first time on paying customers – particularly those people you don’t actually know personally. You can limit what you offer to certain types of cake, particular flavours, even an album of tried and tested cake designs that people can choose from, but this may restrict your business potential.
♦ 6. Do I want to work unsociable hours and long hours? People always want cakes for weekends, which means Fridays are busy and Friday nights are even busier! Assuming you’re already a cake decorator, you’ll know that things always take (much) longer than you think!
♦ 7. Am I good under pressure? It’s a cake – what can go wrong? Everything! A real disaster can mean having to start from scratch with a cake and working through the night. Do you want to tell someone that you weren’t able to provide the cake for their Grandad’s 90th birthday … on the morning of the party? Or face the bride on her big day to tell her that her dream wedding cake is smashed? If you say you’ll make the cake, you have to make the cake! You could develop a network with other local bakers in case one of you is ill and is unable to provide a cake at the last minute. You can at least offer this as an option to the customer.
♦ 8. Do I have the time? Being self-employed can be a great business to fit in with the kids, another part-time job and other commitments. Flexibility is great. But people want a cake when they want a cake. What if you’re having to work while the kids are running round your ankles, throwing their toys at your sugar flowers?! I’ve taken a day’s holiday from my other job so I can work on a cake. Is that worth it?
♦ 9. How will I promote my business? It’s never been easier with social media but that all takes time too – you want to portray your business in the best possible way, respond quickly to customer queries and comments, and keep your online presence regular and up to date. Can you set up a website? Are you prepared to pay for someone else to design this for you? Have you got the skills and time to keep it up to date? A poor website will let your business down, however fantastic your cakes are. You need great quality photos. Also don’t moan about difficult customers on Facebook, complain about your personal life, or be rude to people who leave unpleasant comments or complaints. Always keep it professional.
♦ 10. Am I self-motivated? Being self-employed has many advantages. But it’s not the easy option. There’s no sick pay, no annual leave, no getting paid for wasting time making coffee. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid. Can you set & achieve your goals? Do you have vision?
♦ 11. Do I want to do this because I think it will be fun? Coming up with a name for the business and a cute logo is great fun. And making cakes is great fun. But …. you know how much hard work is involved … and it’s worse at 3am when the cake still isn’t finished!
♦ 12. Do I need to invest a lot of money to get started? If you’re already a cake decorator you probably have most of what you need, but if your old food mixer is on its last legs you may have to consider shelling out for a new one before you launch your business. You may also need to buy extra equipment to meet the needs of a particular cake request such as a particular shaped cake tin, although you can hire.
♦ 13. Will you deliver? Within what distance? Will you set up the cake i.e. at weddings or parties? Will you hire out cake stands? You may be happy to do this for local customers but ensure you factor in the time and fuel cost into your pricing.
♦ 14. Decide your policies before you start. Do you need a deposit? When is full payment required? Do you have a minimum order? People will ask for 6 cupcakes in 2 different flavours and ask for them to be delivered and don’t want to pay more than £1 per cake! Will you allow people to see a photo of the cake in advance of collection/delivery? This can cause issues with customers asking for last minute changes which cost you a lot of time and work.
♦ 15. Can you say no? If a customer requests something that you know is too difficult? Asks for something that you know will be a disaster (you’re the expert!)? Begs you to make a cake when your diary is already full?
♦ 16. Am I aware of copyright? It’s ok to make your niece a Minnie Mouse cake. But you cannot reproduce copyrighted characters as a business without obtaining permission which is pretty much impossible, and it costs money if you can get an agreement.
♦ 17. Will you just bake to order? Will you do cake stalls? A regular market or farmers market stall? The trouble with cakes, as opposed to say, knitted items, is that obviously if you don’t sell everything, you can’t just stick it in the spare room until the next market 2 weeks later! It can be difficult to judge how many cakes you will sell. If you have left over cakes do you have another way to sell them quickly? You don’t want to sell out half way through either with customers wanting more.
♦ 18. Is there a lot of local competition? Cake businesses have become so popular lately that customers are not short of choice. Will you have sufficient business? Can you attract customers? Can you compete with the level of other local cake makers? Do you have a unique selling point?
♦ 19. Are you prepared to set up a business bank account? Personal bank accounts don’t allow them to be used for business purposes. It is also a really good idea to keep your business finances completely separate from your personal finances and a business account will help you to do this. Some banks offer free business banking for new customers for a couple of years.
♦ 20. Where will you source your ingredients? Will you be able to buy cheap in bulk? Will you only use locally produced ingredients and use this as a selling point? Quality ingredients cost more but may produce better results and people may be prepared to pay more if their cake was baked with eggs and butter from the local farm.
So does it still feel like your dream job? If you have thought everything through and planned your business carefully before you start, you have a much better chance of success. Good luck! If you’re feeling less eager now, either you have areas to work on before you start, or maybe it’s not the right route for you and cake decorating might be best continued as a fantastic hobby. You can still make cakes for all your friends and family, you can enter competitions, share your cakes on numerous social media sites, and even start a website or blog! 🙂
I hope this has been useful. Please comment below if you have any questions ♥
I have also just launched a cake decorating discussion page on Facebook where you can share your cake photos and discuss all things cake-related! Join the group here! ♥