When I was at the CKNL trade show last month, someone came up to me and said they knew someone who wanted started to their own cake/cupcake business and what kind of advice I could give them. I have been in business for 8 years now as of this month (we opened our doors May 2007) and I am CONSTANTLY learning the business. I can give some pointers though...
Do your research first. Go to your local city hall and health officials and find out what you need to do to start your own business. From start to finish, it took me about a year to open up for business, I had to get the necessary licensing, permits, and insurance. PLUS, I had to submit a menu to the health unit to get the okay. I also had to submit building plans to the city and the health unit before I started construction on my second kitchen. Once construction was completed, I then went through a final inspection. Another thing,... I have to get water inspections too. Even though we are on city water, I have my water trucked in, so I have to get my water inspected.
Now is also the time to set your policies.. in regards to delivery, pickup, forms of payment, deposits, hours of operation, discounts (if any or to who), etc.
In addition to research... take the time to get your recipes down pat. Once you are in business, it is NOT THE TIME to start looking for a vanilla cake recipes. Sorry, you should have done that BEFORE you got into business. How many times I hear people in the cake business requesting a recipe for a vanilla cake or a lemon cake. Now, it's still OKAY to try new recipes on the side and if you find one that happens to be better than the one you have, than OK ditch the old one and go with a new one.
3) PRICING, PRICING, PRICING....
Most importantly is your pricing... take the time to establish your pricing structure. Cost out your INGREDIENTS, OVERHEAD (power/fuel/licenses/materials/water/marketing/permits/ office supplies etc), TIME (this includes not just baking, but shopping, cleaning up, delivery, design time and discussion time with the client) and PROFIT.
Part of your research includes checking out what your competitors prices are. This is very important... DO NOT UNDERCUT YOUR COMPETITION. Not only does it hurt you, it hurts your competition and hurts the industry. It will put your competition out of business too. There`s not enough work to go around. Any market can only bear so much competition before it is over saturated. When the competition is over saturating the market and charging ridiculously low prices just to get business, it devalues the market. So, for example if your competitors are selling cupcakes for $3.00-$4.00/ea, then you should price yourself somewhere in that area too. If cakes are priced between $4.50 - $6.00/serving, then again price within that area. Bottom line... price accordingly!
Get your self a website. No... a FACEBOOK page is not a WEBSITE. A professionally built website gives yourself a professional appearance and level of credibility. Besides.. these days I find most people head to the internet in their search for a baker.
For myself, I have a website, a FACEBOOK page, BLOG, newsletter, twitter, and Instagram. I use each one differently for different purposes. The more you market yourself... the better.
Another thing about marketing... is deciding on what kind of image you want for your business and what kind of customer you want. For me, I promote to those clients who want a high-end quality cake using the finest ingredients, up-to-date with the latest decorating techniques and attention to detail with supreme taste. I do not do grocery style sheet cakes or the Wilton style star tipped cakes.With that in mind, I do not advertise on local buy and sell Facebook pages. Those sites are for those clients looking for a deal and that`s not my market plus it cheapens my image. You don`t see Mercedes or Porsche advertising on buy and sell Facebook Pages...need I say more.
5) Get the whole picture...
Before you get in business, think about your life and how much you value your free time. Plan for long late nights with little sleep with few weekends off, especially from May until September. If you have kids or family, you won`t see them very much. Trust me... I know. I see my kids more during the school year when I am ferrying them around to all their after school activities then in the summer months during their vacation. The key is to be super organized. I break each cake project into a series of steps doing a little bit each day. Plus, I try to work during the day while they are in school leaving me the evenings free to be with my family. A lot of it is trial and error, working out a plan that works best for you. Also, learn to plan your life and holiday time a year in advance. I already have brides looking to book for 2016 and we have just started the 2015 wedding season. After 8 years in business, I am starting to finally be a little bit selfish and take some time off for my family. I booked off at least one weekend a month so I could relax and do something with them.
So there.. just a little something to ponder. Now, you might say.. I only want to sell a cake here or there a make a few bucks, not to get into business. SORRY.. once you accept any form of payment for cake or cupcakes, YOU ARE IN BUSINESS. Pretty simple...
So there you have it.. just a few tips. Over the past 8 years, I have learned soo much (and a lot the hard way) and I am still learning more and more every day.