I’ve been baking cakes my whole life, but I’ve only treated them as an art form these past 10 years. While I wouldn’t call myself a real expert, I’ve worked both sides of the industry. They both have their Pro’s and Con’s, and at the end of the day you have to decide what is right for you. I know that I prefer being my own boss, but I only found that out after I worked in a bakery for 5 years.
There are some things in life that are easy, the hardest part is getting started.
Cake Decorating isn’t one of these.
To be a Cake Decorator, the easiest part is getting started. After that, it can spiral into, “What the Heck” and “Let me Out of Here” pretty quickly if you don’t have a solid plan.
When I first started out, it happened by accident. Social Media became a “thing” in my life, so I started posting photos of fun cakes I was making. Friends saw them and started asking me what I would charge to make one for a birthday or special event, and the next thing I knew, I was an actual Cake Decorator.
Okay, here are my observations.
Cake Decorating: At HOME (or rather, Be Your Own Boss)
Con: It’s illegal.
You better know that right away. In most places, baking and preparing food from home is a Health Code violation, so this section is more appropriately about being your own boss. Be professional, don’t try to hide under the radar, it isn’t worth it. There was a local cupcake bakery that had a write up in the paper for their success, a few years ago. The woman told her story, of how she started out at home until she had a loyal following, and then opened her location. The next week, she was back in the paper again, this time because she was fined by the Health Department for her confession of home baking. You’re making food, the laws are there for the protection of the people, and in this age of extreme food allergies and intolerance, do you really want to mess around with all of that?
Pro: Maybe you can’t afford to open up a location right now, that’s okay! There are ways to do this still, without having to open your own bakery. When I first started out, I made cakes for people and accepted donations towards my hobby. I never gave them an amount, ever. Even when they pressured me, I always told them, “You’ve asked me to make you a cake and I will. If you’d like to donate to my hobby, it would be appreciated but isn’t required”.
Sometimes I was paid in gifts, like canned preserves and knit dishcloths. Sometimes I was given an envelope, with more cash than I would have imagined. At the end of the day it was for experience, to build a customer base, and to see if I really wanted to do this professionally. It was a good system for starting out. After a few months of low key success, I decided that – yes – I was going to have a go at making this my job.
Look around your area, you will find kitchens you can use. I found a catering company that only used the kitchen part time. They happily let me rent their kitchen from them for the times they weren’t using it, and even gave me a small closet to store my items. I had no lease, and negotiated a monthly rent that was acceptable for both of us. After all, an empty kitchen makes money for no one.
Pro: You are free. Freedom might be important to you. Are you going on vacation? Don’t book cakes for that time. Need a day off? Don’t book cakes for that day. Only want to do a few cakes here and there? Turn down orders you don’t want. Writing up a quote for a customer who is already a nightmare and you haven’t even started yet? Refer them to someone else. You don’t need to overload your schedule unless you want to. If you price your products properly, and manage your time properly, you will never feel the need to take on more than you can handle. If you’re goal is growth and expansion, you may work long hours, but this will be your decision and for your own personal gain.
Con: Poor time management, and lack of confidence, will destroy you.
While being your own boss can often mean working harder than everyone else, it doesn’t actually have to. As long as you can pay your rent, buy supplies and have money for yourself, it’s all in your time management and pricing. There is a phrase I’m fond of: Work Smarter, not Harder. Working smart as a cake decorator means pricing higher to account for loss, and setting aside twice as much time as you think you’ll need. When things go south in the kitchen, and it’ll happen… you’re still going to be on track. I have this listed as a Con though, because unfortunately too many people lose it all before they actually learn and implement this lesson.
Pro: You never stop learning new skills.
Your need to gain more business will force you to scour the internet for fresh ideas. You’ll take classes, and you’ll be determined to master new techniques. The hunger and drive you have, as your own boss, will keep your eyes focused on the horizon and that’s a good thing!
Con: You really need to know how to bake.
Like, really well. Know you’re ingredients. Read the ph balance of your flour before you buy it, know you’re oils and fats. Understand why buttermilk is required in some recipes and don’t be cheap with your vanilla. Use the real thing. Don’t use cake mixes, and above all, don’t ever just go by the opinions of your family and friends. They love you, they’ll lie. Find someone, or someplace, where you can send your baked goods and get real feedback. For me, this place is my husbands work. His coworkers have no problem being my focus group, and they respect my attempts enough to give me real feedback. If something is dry, they’ll tell me. If the flavour is faint, I’ll know. They aren’t cruel or dismissive, they’re honest, so when I get rave reviews over something, I know I nailed it!
Cake Decorating: In a Bakery (Working for a company or someone else)