My Rise into the Baking World
“May, how did you get started in the baking industry?”. This question, and ones like it, are ones that I get asked often. So today, I’m going to share it all with you. From my humble beginnings to where I am today.
The industry has changed. A LOT! The internet and its social media platforms are omnipresent in today’s world. Businesses simply can’t dream of achieving any level of success without them. The great virtual window that those (essential) tools have provided, however, could easily fool anyone into thinking that starting a new business is a piece of cake (pun intended). The reality is not so simple.
I’ve always loved baking. It’s something I did for fun. And I was good at it, but making it my career was never even on my radar. After getting my degree in hotel and restaurant management, I worked in sales. Talk about left field! What I wanted at the time, like most of us do, was to have a decent job and settle down. Everything was going according to plan until after my third child was born.
In Canada, we’re pretty lucky, we get a cozy full year of maternity leave that allows us to stay at home and take care of our kids. Between the sleepless nights, managing 2 other toddlers and Pinterest rabbit holes, the then emerging cake pop craze snuck up on me and bit me. HARD! I still have the scar on my left butt cheek.
I was in love. This new innovating sweetness sparked my imagination like nothing else had ever done before. Cake on a stick? Pretty colors? Delicious, mess-free explosion of flavor in one bite? Where do I sign up?! Pairing this new found obsession with a relentless desire to find a way to stay home full time with my kids, left me looking for MY lifetime membership. This was it. I had found my golden ticket to the chocolate factory.
So, step 1 was clear: make cake pops and sell them. Easy enough. Surely, everybody would want some. Solid plan. So I got to work in the kitchen. To the delight of my 2 older girls and anyone else in arms reach, I experimented and found my stride. I was pretty darn good at this!
Now on to step 2: make millions of dollars so I can quit my day job. Right… With only getting about half of my regular salary on maternity leave, very little savings, and an eminent need to return on the hamster wheel of my sales career, I had to make a choice. I decided to work my butt off and figure out this entrepreneurship thing while working full time and taking care of 3 kids. Boy was I in for it. IT WAS HARD! Imagine a world without YouTube “How To’s”, Ted talks and Facebook lives. I was in a big lonely void of “figure shit out by myself”. No one to tell me how to do ANYTHING. No mentor. Nada. Just me, myself, books, what little I found on the internet and a bunch of (invaluable) mistakes.
What I did have was determination and the best of friends to share what knowledge and insight they did have with me. Funny how resources can often be found pretty much everywhere you don’t look. I had a friend show me how to write my business plan. My husband to tell me what not to do (don’t worry, I figured out later on that that’s a very good thing). Family volunteering their taste buds to find the best recipes. None of these people were in the baking world, but they did provide me with the vital information I needed to build mine.
So how did I figure it out, you ask. Well, let me tell you…
First thing’s first… Build your foundation. Figure out what you want to do/sell. Even if it’s only 1 thing, do that one thing and do it well! You can build on it later. I was all over the map. I wanted to sell cake pops, in addition to cupcakes. Then I started adding more desserts to my menu… It was never ending. You aim to please others and that shit gets old (and exhausting) fast.
Two years went by, I was getting contracts, but nothing that I felt was solid enough to QUIT MY DAMN JOB. So I decided to up the ante. In that second year of devellopement, I decided it was time to do what I really wanted, and that was sweet tables. The creativity of it, coming up with ways to show off my desserts and highlight my customers themes reveiled itself to be just the outlet I was longing for.
It was right when Amy Atlas came out with the trend and was taking off in the US. I jumped on it and became one of the first original businesses to offer sweet tables in my city. MTL’s Sweet table OG of sorts. Montreal didn’t know what hit it. It was a very exciting time for my company and I!
I had found my niche, my core business. One I knew I could grow into. My only challenge now, was to figure out how to sell it. That’s where the real hard work started. Pricing, target market/customers, establishing my business offering, taking market share, etc. Those were my pillars, and I had to figure them out.
I took my introvert self for a ride and went out there. I became familiar with other people in my industry and built relationships with different members. What grew of that was a tight knit community where we could be stronger together. Like most industries, there’s a lot of competition between bakers, so I wanted to help create a better space for all of us. Today, instead of the often cutthroat way of doing things, we refer potential business to each other when we’re too busy to take on clients. Collaborations and photoshoots happen regularly between us. United we stand, as the old saying goes.
“But May, why don’t you just keep all that goodness to yourself? Aren’t you just giving away business?” The simple answer is, you’re probably right. The reality is that everyone can thrive if everyone plays nice. Therein lies the catch. It’s all rainbows and lollipops until it’s not. Word to the wise: Don’t copy from each other! Don’t take from others thinking it’s ok. This is where the line gets blurred… Sure we can be friends, and we can collaborate. Sure we’ll throw each other bones once in a while and that’s all great… But I see way too many people starting out now and just copying those that have come before them.
Getting help or mentorship from someone does not imply permission to copy/paste that generous person’s ideas to your business brand. Part of being a business is to have your own flavor, your own take on things. Have fun with it, come up with your own words, your own menus, your own pictures. Too many people are becoming lazy and think it’s ok to take from others. It’s not! It never has been. Do the work! Otherwise, you’re just a hack. There! I said it. Sue me – But don’t. I’ll counter sue for copyright infringement and theft of intellectual property. Pheewwww… I feel better now.
Also, please stop asking “how much should I charge for this?” in the baking groups/forums. That just screams insecurity. If you haven’t done the work, like stated above, you’ll never be confident enough to sell your product for what it’s really worth. And by worth, I mean – you guessed it – doing the work. So don’t let your low confidence show, instead, DO THE WORK! Ok, NOW I feel better…
This will come as no surprise! There’s no magic formula, except maybe to DO MORE WORK! Level up! Your business is a reflection of you. If you stop working on yourself, it shows right away. The same goes for your business. When you evolve, so will your business. It’s the law! The best advice I can give you if you’re starting out is to do the research into owning a baking business. A great place to start is to take a course to really establish your knowledge base.
I highly recommend The biz of Baking, an online cake business course. She’s pure magic! She doesn’t tell you how to do things, instead she gives you a ton of information to help you figure out how to get to where YOU want to go. From pricing, to evaluating your business goals and marketing your brand, this is an investment in yourself and your business you won’t regret making.
Warren Buffet Martha Stewart Julia Childs, but I have been doing this for 7 years. My “full time” status as a business owner did not come until 3 years ago. It’d be awesome if it was ok to quit your day job the minute you found your passion. Truth is, there are no credits rolling at the end of this and this society we live in is no fairy tale movie.
I met so many people on the entrepreneurial journey that have the same back story… We all had a full time job with a side hustle. It’s ok. It’s actually more than ok. It builds you up to where you need to be. Grit. Hard work (there’s that word again). Determination. These are a few of my favorite things. Things I would not have had if I didn’t struggle to get where I am now. Don’t hate the side hustle, and don’t worry about your seemingly limited bandwidth during that stage. To this day I still strongly believe that it was the absolute best thing to happen to me. I am so much more aware of my “good thing”, knowing that the hard work I put into years ago, continues to pay me back in heaps today.
Everyone has their own journey to take. Make sure yours is a reflection of YOU and of your own very special, very unique, one of a kind heart!
Until the next table, stay sweet!