Pricing (yes again)

In my last post I was trying to understand why so many home-based, celebration cake businesses are closing down.  One of the reasons I’ve seen quoted time and time again is that customers want cheap cake and home bakers can’t earn a living providing it.

I confess, like a lot of other bakers, when I started out, I didn’t charge enough for my cakes.  I think this stemmed from a lack of confidence in my ability, lack of experience and not thinking much about being in business.  The problem with doing this is that customers always expect you to be cheap but there comes a point when you realise you cannot continue to put in the long hours without making any money.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are other benefits of working from home and I and others in the same position, do appreciate those, however, the simple fact is,  we are running businesses.  Any business selling a product or service needs to charge its customers enough to cover its running costs, pay staff, invest back into the business and make a profit.  If all these costs aren’t covered the business will not be successful or survive. I am the only staff member, being a sole trader, but I still need to pay myself a wage for the hours I work.  Making cakes from home needs to be worth it financially or I’d also have to close down the business and find a job outside the home to earn enough to pay the bills.

When I started my business over 10 years ago, there wasn’t the information available on running a baking business from home that there is now.  I have learnt so much in the last few years, many things I wished I’d known before I started (I’ve added links below to some I found invaluable).  As business owners we have to educate ourselves so we can all charge what we are worth.  We have to remember that not everyone can bake, design and decorate beautiful cakes, that’s why our customers buy from us and we shouldn’t sell ourselves short.  It is not ‘just cake’!

Something else to remember, everyone has a choice when they buy products.  Sometimes cheaper, mass-produced, off-the-shelf items are all they need, other times they require something special, something unique, hand-crafted, made with love, care and attention to detail.  If they choose the latter they must expect to pay a higher price.  This applies to cake too.

If you are thinking of starting a celebration cake business from home here are a few points to consider

  • charge for your time right from the start.  How much you charge per hour is your choice but remember, unskilled workers get at least the minimum wage.  As a skilled artist why should you earn less?
  • time yourself when working on every cake, at least until you get a good idea how long certain aspects of cake decorating take you.  I use an app called Timesheet for this. Make a note of how long it takes to line tins, prepare and mix ingredients, level, split and fill the cakes.  How long does it take to crumbcoat the cake, colour the icing, cover the cake, cover the board? How long do different types of decoration take?
  • another essential part of running a business is admin.  Don’t forget to work out how long it takes to design a cake, work out a quote, deal with correspondence and phone calls.  How much time do you spend shopping for ingredients and equipment?  What are your stationery and printing costs? How much do you pay for insurance.  All these costs and others have to be taken into account and paid for by the cakes you sell.
  • don’t forget, when pricing your cakes, to include everything you use in the production.  Its not just flour, butter, eggs, sugar and icing, there are boards, boxes, dowels, colours, cleaning products, equipment to buy or replace etc.  Keep receipts for everything used or you’ll soon find yourself out of pocket instead of in profit.

Here are the links to some of the best business advice I’ve found, a lot of it is free some isn’t but I’ve not regretted paying for any of it.


Good luck




What’s Going On?

Each week it seems that I see a post in a Facebook group where a baker/cake decorator is giving up selling cakes and are closing their business.  They give varying reasons, the long working hours, the customers that want bespoke cakes for supermarket prices, to name a couple. How did it come to this?

I think one of the reasons is the way that many bakers find themselves in business.  Quite often, as was the case for me, they start making cakes for fun for family, then for friends and before they know it they’re getting enquiries from friends of friends and decide they’ll try turning their hobby into a business.

The main problem with this quite often turns out to be that while they love and understand cake they don’t love or understand the business side. They see themselves producing works of art in a calm, organised environment, wowing customers with their delicious cakes and amazing decorating skills and earning thousands of pounds (this was my vision too).

The reality is often very different.  They find themselves working very long hours, often until the early hours of the morning.  They get stressed trying to get orders completed ready for collection whilst juggling the demands of perhaps another job or a young family and frequently for very little financial reward. Its no wonder so many are saying enough is enough and giving up the dream.

I think many of the cake decorating programmes on TV can also give customers an unrealistic idea of what is achievable, particularly the competition type.  The competitors have 4 hours to produce huge 4 or 5 tiered extravagant cakes with a team of helpers.  Most cake decorators working from home have no assistance, they do not have 3 extra pairs of hands, let alone 1 and a 4 tiered cake will take many hours of work for one person.

I think many bakers would carry on with their business if they felt they were earning a decent wage for the hours they put in and for the high quality, bespoke product they are selling. I’m not sure why there is such a problem commanding a high hourly rate for a work of art just because it is in cake form.  Other skilled artists know their worth and charge accordingly, why not cake artists? I will discuss the issue of pricing again in my next post and welcome your thoughts and comments.

Working from Home: The good, the bad and the ‘that’s it I quit’ moments

Firstly, I have to say I love my job and a lot of the time it doesn’t feel like work but don’t get me wrong, running a business, any business, is hard work.  I run my cake decorating business from home and mostly that is a positive experience but it does have its downside.

The good

  • I can set my own work hours to a certain extent. As long as a cake is ready for collection on time then my work hours are flexible.  This means I can take a morning, afternoon or evening off to catch up with friends etc (Also see under ‘The bad’)
  • I can watch TV or listen to music etc while I work
  • I don’t have to commute

The bad

  • This first one goes along with the setting my own work hours mentioned above.  When I am very busy and have several cake orders to complete in a week, there aren’t enough hours in the day.  I will often work all morning, afternoon and evening.  Many cake decorators are familiar with the ‘up until 2am’ moments. This is usually only something that can happen if someone works from home.
  • Other people not taking the business seriously because it is run from home and not understanding the work involved in running a business.  Its not just the actual cake production, its also the many hours of designing, paperwork etc
  • very occasionally customers will turn up without making an appointment
  • as with other self-employment there are no perks, no holiday or sick pay, regular wages etc.  If I don’t work I don’t get paid.
  • a particular issue with family members is them assuming I can run certain errands for them because I don’t have a boss to answer to.  Yes at times this is possible but during very busy periods it isn’t.  Every cake I make has a deadline and even if I can make certain decorations ahead of time, a cake is a fresh food item and has to be made as close to the celebration as possible.
  • it can be lonely at times

The ‘I Quit’ moments

These don’t happen very often but usually result from having numerous cake orders, some members of the family not pulling their weight around the house (I still have to cook, clean etc) and me feeling a little overwhelmed because of my lengthy to-do-list. I wonder if it would be easier to give up the business and go out to work.

It may seem that there are more bad points than good but for me the good points outweigh the bad because I love what I do and couldn’t imagine not baking and decorating cakes.

I’d be interesting to hear of others experience working from home.  Do you find the same lack of understanding from others?  How have you tackled any problems that have arisen?





Cake Competitions (part 2)

As I said in my previous post, I learned a lot from entering my first competition, although some lessons are harder to learn than others.

Once I was back from Birmingham, I checked the date of the next competition at the NEC, saw that it was only 4 months away, had a small panic, took a deep breath and started planning my next design(s).

I decided to enter a wedding cake this time and also another decorative exhibit.  I started drawing up a few designs for the wedding cake.  I had already decided that I wanted to use edible lace in my design but also wanted to incorporate as many skills as I could.  Personally, I love wedding cake designs that include two, high contrasting, colours.  I picked pale blue and black for my cake.

When I first started working on the cake, I added frills and drapes to two of the tiers.  I knew how I wanted it to look but it just wasn’t working out right and the response from my mother was less than enthusiastic.  At the same time I discovered Pretty Witty Cakes a brilliant website full of tutorials (a lot that are free), a shop, forum and more.  I watched a video presented by Nivia Rodrigues about entering cake competitions.  She put a lot of great advice in the video, reiterating what I’d already picked up, give yourself time and if you’re not happy with anything, change it.  It was at that point I pulled off the frills and drapes, recovered the cakes and started again.

This is the wedding cake in its spot at the NEC



I was thrilled to get a Bronze award and the feedback from the Judges was lovely.


I also entered a decorative exhibit.  I completely changed the subject of my design for this as I wouldn’t have had time to complete my original idea. I’ve been a Bowie fan for over 30 years and wanted this entry to be about him.  I decided on a Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars theme.  My design being Mars, with ‘Ziggy’ sitting on top, surrounded by spiders.

Another thing I learned from this entry; don’t try using a new medium for the very first time. I’d ordered some Flexique at the last minute, hoping to use it to make the kimono that Ziggy wore.  Unfortunately, when I placed the order I couldn’t buy the edible glue to use with the Flexique and discovered, without that, the product on its own is impossible to stick together.  In the end I used the Flexique with a fondant icing sheet that’s used with edible image printing and managed to stick the ‘clothing’ together with edible glue.

I think I made the head for the figure at least 3 times and tried various techniques for the hair before I was happy(ish) with it.  I know its not a very good likeness of Bowie but as the Judge said, its more difficult to try to get a good likeness of a well known face.  Overall I was happy with the result and the Certificate of Merit.

I really didn’t give myself enough time for this entry so knew it wouldn’t get a high award but it was done more as a tribute to Bowie than to win anything.




Cake Competitions

I know, I know its been a while.  I find it hard to understand how other people manage to write regular blog posts.  I mean to post more frequently  but so many other things seem to get in the way. However, I have a few spare moments so I’m back!

I’ve been visiting cake shows for a few years now and had a wish to enter one day.  There was one thing stopping me, was I good enough to compete with the amazing cake artists that I follow on social media? My answer to that was a huge NO but I decided to give it a go anyway. (Not long after I started making my entry I read this post on one of my favourite blogs  and that inspired me even more.

I love make figures for my cakes so wanted to make that part of my entry.  My inspiration was one of my favourite musicals, Chicago.  I spent a bit of time considering which aspects of the musical I wanted to incorporate into my design and eventually decided on using Cell Block Tango as my starting point.

I won’t go into all the planning, mind changing, making and re-making that went into the piece but want to concentrate on what I learned from that first experience.

To be very honest, when I was looking at my completed entry sitting on my dining table ready to go, I was pleased with how it had turned out. I knew there were a few things I could have done better but overall I was happy with it.  When I got to the NEC to deliver my piece it was a different story and I very nearly turned round and walked straight back out without entering when I saw some of the other entries in the same category.

But, I was there so I registered and placed my entry on its designated spot. Phew!


What did I learn about entering the competition?

When you think about entering, give yourself plenty of time to make your piece.  This is one thing I failed in.  You need to give yourself time to re-cover, re-make, redo any little part that isn’t perfect or you’re not 100% happy with. If I’d given myself more time I would have re-made some of the figures and re-painted the wording on the ‘walls’.

If you do enter, take the time to get feedback from the judges.  It is invaluable.  I queued for over an hour and a half for my feedback but it was worth waiting for.

Read the instructions for each category carefully!  I have seen so many beautiful cakes at shows disqualified because they haven’t followed the rules (not using flower picks on dummy cakes, the piece being too big, using inedible items etc).

I got a Certificate of Merit which I was completely happy with, knowing I had masses of room for improvement and it spurred me onto do better the next time (yes I’m hooked now and entered again this year, blog post to follow on that experience).

If anyone is considering entering a competition I’d say ‘just do it’, what have you got to lose?




Pricing Revisited

Pricing of cakes is a much talked about topic on social media.  I discussed it previously on this blog but my views have changed recently for a few different reasons.

Firstly, I have become more business minded.  When I first started my business all I wanted to do was make cakes and get paid for doing that.  I lacked experience and didn’t feel I could justify charging a lot for my cakes.  I still feel it was right to do that to a certain extent but the problem with starting off charging low prices is that its easy to become known as the lady that makes cheap cakes.  That is not how I want to be known!

I have spent money, time and effort perfecting my product.  As well as the ingredients and other consumables relating to a single cake, there is equipment to buy, insurance to pay for, training, advertising, paperwork and all the other little things that every business uses.  This cost has to be passed onto my customers or I’d very quickly go out of business.  In fact I had got to the stage where if I didn’t start making money from my cakes I would have had to give up my business.

I’m not sure customers always consider all that is involved in producing bespoke items and as I’ve ready many times online, it is our job to make sure our customers are aware of what it takes. As business owners, we should not undercharge or undervalue ourselves and our product. I spend many hours producing designs for customers, quoting for different cakes, filling in paperwork etc before I even start making the actual cake.  Most cakes take about 2 hours to get to the ‘covered, ready for decorating’ stage (tins need lining, ingredients need mixing, cakes need levelling, filling, crumbcoating and covering with fondant), the decoration can take several more hours after that or even longer if flowers and models are required.  That is just for a single tier, round or square cake.

One piece of advice I read recently that made a huge difference to me (I’ll try and credit the author when I can find the blog) was to ‘take the emotion out of selling’.  I know I’ve been guilty of dealing with some customers on a emotional level in the past so, every time I feel emotions creeping into a conversation about cake, I remind myself that this is business. Yes I want to give every customer the very best cake that I can, I want them to be excited about it and I care about producing a high quality, delicious cake every single time but I cannot do that unless I can charge accordingly.

What advice would I give to anyone thinking about starting a cake business? Spend time perfecting your skills, take classes, practice, practice and practice some more and do not consider starting a business until you can produce a high quality product.  Then, as far as pricing is concerned, you can start off with realistic prices and your business has more chance of being successful.




Defining Success

Cake art is big business; more so than ever it seems.  There are many famous ‘cake people’.  I guess a lot of them are only famous within the cake world but if you are in any way connected with making and decorating cakes, there are some names that you will definitely be aware of.  There are also, of course, those that have appeared on our TV screens that a larger audience are familiar with. Did they set out to be famous or just to be the best at what they do?

Does having a cake business mean that I should also strive for ‘fame’?  Would I want to be famous?  Is that the definition of success for a cake artist?

Making a healthy profit would also be seen as being successful, I’m still working on that! Future success for me would be to have a book of cakes published.

At present I feel successful every time I make a customer happy with the cake I’ve made them, especially if the cake has been a challenge. I’m content with that, for now.

How do you define success in your business?