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When you become your own boss, you have to learn to wear so many hats. You have to be a super decorator, a people person, an accountant, a photographer, stylist, logistics manager and so much more. Eventually, you may have a team of people working for you so you can start passing on control of certain aspects to them, but definitely in the early days, you are on your own (unless you have the cash flow to start with a team. In which case – lucky you!).
Over the course of running my business, I have learned that being good at just one or two things is not good enough. In order for the business to thrive and survive, it requires a delicate balance of everything. Of course you can outsource what you are not so good at, but you still need to know how it all works. Or else you risk either getting ripped off or being at the mercy of your supplier. Which means that when they are sick, their business closes or the prices go up, you either panic and have to find an alternative or have no other choice at all.
So I’ve decided to share with you the top 5 skills based on my experience that I think are important for any solo decorator. If you have any that you think are missing, feel free to share below!
1. Know the basics and do it really well.
Make sure your product is good to start out with. Learn the basics, perfect them and be really quick at doing it. I realised early on that if I actually wanted to make money from my cakes, I needed the cakes to taste good, I needed to work fast with all the basics (baking, ganaching and covering) and I had to be neat.
Clean and neat work means that I can take on the ‘simpler’ orders, charge a decent amount for it and not be in fear wondering how to cover any mistakes or flaws. This also meant that I was able to distance myself from the competition. Especially those that were new and undercharging.
Jessica Harris: Clean & Simple Cake Design - Learn more and get a discount!
James Roselle: The ultimate cake baking toolbox - Learn more and get a discount!
2. Get some business skills.
The business side may be boring but you need to understand it in order to have any chance of surviving. At the bare minimum, you should be comfortable with the money (accounting, how to price your products, what your costs are, etc) and the marketing side of things. Who are you targeting? Where and how are you promoting your products?
Michelle Green: How to Start Your Cake Business - Learn more and get a discount!
3. Know to create common, in demand decorations.
Almost every cake I have ever done has had some sort of topper or flower on it. Even if you don’t like doing them, it’s still worth knowing how to do them. Things like animals, people figurines and sugar flowers are super common on cakes and if you can do one better than the other, you can always keep recommending it to clients. The more skills and techniques you know how to execute, the more flexible and confident you can be with your client’s design requests.
For the longest time, I never really enjoyed flower making. I just did not have the patience for it. But I still forced myself to learn how to make at least one or two flowers so that I knew how to make them and would not lose out on a sale just because of my lack of flower skills. I knew I could buy them but I wanted the flexibility of making them to my client’s colour or taking on a last minute order.
Raewyn Read: Sugar Flower Essentials - Learn more and get a discount!
Brenda Walton: Too-Cute Toppers! - Learn more and get a discount!
Rosie Cake-Diva: Playful Toppers - Learn more and get a discount!
4. Be a good salesperson.
If you are currently not comfortable referring to yourself as a sales person, you need to work on it. Role play and practice on friends and family. You need to be able to confidently speak to clients, give them a price, relate to them, understand what they want and to be able to close the sale.
Typically, when all things are equal (your prices and quality compared to your competitors’) it will come down to which person your client likes and relates to better. Understand what makes them tick and use that to close the sale and make them feel confident in choosing you. Did they mention many times that it was important for dog to be on the cake? Focus on that to close the sale.
5. Take good photos.
Photos are usually the first impression someone has of your business and really reflects what your business is all about. Blurry, messy or distorted photos end up giving your business a cheap feel. Well-taken and beautifully styled photos makes a world of difference (you will look more professional, more deserving of higher prices and more desirable) and also sets you apart from your competition.
Carrie Sellman: Building Your Business: Beautiful Cake Photography - Learn more and get a discount!
All the classes I have recommended above are online classes, but if online learning is not your thing, then look around your local area for some classes. Some community colleges or pastry schools will have short courses available or if you need something more specific, why not approach an industry professional for some mentoring or one-on-one coaching?
I personally always make a very conscious effort to invest and train myself every year. That is the only way I can make sure I keep improving and therefore my business will also keep moving forward. If you are not sure what to start with, just take a look and analyse yourself and your business. Determine what areas you are a little weak in and start from there.
I hope this has been helpful for you!