As you may have guessed from her business name, Michelle is in ‘the business of baking’, where she inspires and educates cake decorators to achieve that sweet business success!
I know from personal experience that she’s an incredible, down-to-earth human, that is just as excited as you are about your business. Her no-nonsense approach to cake business is honestly refreshing and much needed in our industry.
Michelle has transformed thousands of cake businesses across the globe with her marketing know-how and easy break-down formula for pricing cakes (which I know a lot of us dread).
In today’s interview, Michelle talks about work life balance (which in her terms is ‘bullshit’ – right on!), the biggest thing people underestimate when going into business and shares pointed advice for established businesses and newbies.
Here’s to cake business growth!
Let’s talk about your cake journey! Before you started The Business of Baking, you owned your own cake shop called Three Sweeties. Tell us how you fell in love with cake decorating and the decisions leading up to opening your shop front.
I’ve always been interested in food and baking. I can remember from a young age making packet mixes, and coming home to make myself rather interesting after school snacks. My Mom (who is no good at any of this stuff) for some odd reason owned a book about cake decorating and I used to love looking at it.
The older I got the more I experimented and played around and eventually some friends got together and bought me a Wilton Level One Buttercream class as a birthday present. From there I was off on a great decorating adventure. I absolutely fell in love with the craft of cake decorating.
Like many of us, I started to make things for myself, then for family, then for friends, which led to the inevitable “you should sell those!” conversations. Before I knew it, I was selling things to work colleagues, which eventually led to me quitting my job to go to culinary school.
The decision to own a shop front wasn’t so much a decision as an organic progression, it just made perfect sense that a commercial location would be the next step. I knew I could not sell things from home (and quite honestly, I didn’t want to) so if I wanted to keep going I had to find commercial space to work from.
What sparked your transition from decorating to providing cake business expertise via The Business of Baking?
I used to get a lot of phone calls from people asking if they could take me out to coffee and pick my brain about running a business. I love helping people so it was no problem… until it became a case of not being able to keep up with demand. After I’d been running Three Sweeties for about 4 years, there was a boom in cooking and baking TV shows. Those shows really inspired people to get into the industry and that sparked a massive uprise in requests for those cups of coffee. I found that people really appreciated my no-nonsense approach, and willingness to help – and within myself I found a natural joy in mentoring and teaching.
What’s something that most people don’t realise or underestimate when they first dive into business? I feel like a lot of us tend to stumble into business (me included) and not realise what’s truly involved.
I think they don’t really realise how much time it will take to make their business a success. Many of us are fortunate enough to have early success with friends and family, but then we don’t really appreciate that the leap to a sustainable business based on strangers is a pretty big leap! As a result a lot of people (in my opinion) give up far too early – because they think “if you build it, it will come,” not really understanding that you need to build a reputation, a client base, processes and procedures and all of those take time.
Secondly, I think a lot of us underestimate the BUSINESS side of business. We get into it because we love the craft of it, and we think that by selling our creations we get to do more of what we love. While that is technically true, it also means the more we make, the more paperwork we generate, and the less we get to be creative because we are working to someone’s specific guidelines and desires.
I feel like that sometimes there is confusion around what classifies someone as a business. I know that alot of cake decorators consider themselves a hobbyist, but then also occasionally sell cake on the side to people they know. What are your thoughts on this? I feel it’s a bit of a grey area…
I personally follow the standard definition of business – which is that as soon as there is a transaction of some kind, that’s a business. Business isn’t about who you sell to, how often you sell, or how big the orders are. If you’re accepting something in exchange for your product, that’s a business transaction.
I think a lot of people out there call themselves a hobbyist because that’s a lot less scary than calling it a business – you can’t “fail” at a hobby the way you can “fail” at a business. A business often requires more formal structure, so again I feel a lot of people use the hobby title as a way of avoiding the formalities.
I don’t know how you managed to raise triplets AND grow your cake decorating business (it makes me tired just thinking about it!). Tell me…work-life balance – is there really such a thing??
Absolutely not. The whole idea of balance is bullshit. Hard to achieve, even harder to maintain – really, trying to find a life which is in balance all the time is setting yourself up for a whole lot of self-loathing. Either you’re beating yourself up for not managing it, or you’re beating yourself up for not keeping it. Just the thought of that is exhausting!
Personally, there are many times when my life is deliberately NOT in balance. When my children were young, my energy and focus needed to be more on them. When my business was young, my energy and focus needed to be on that. In times when my health or mental health were not good, I had to focus there.
I simply accept that at different times in my life (sometimes daily) my energy will need to be more in one place than another. Maybe that leads to an overall balanced life – I can’t really say. I simply accept that I cannot be all things to all people all the time – and acceptance to me works a whole lot better than balance.
I absolutely love your saying ‘your business, your rules’. I think you need to sell this phrase on t-shirts haha. How did this phrase come about?
I’d love to say I invented it but I didn’t. I had a business coach in the early days of Three Sweeties and I often used to ask him permission to do things in my business. “Is it okay if I don’t do deliveries on Sunday?” “Do you think I can raise my prices now?” “Do you think it’s okay to not offer gluten free things?” His answer to those questions was always some version of, “Michelle you have to do what works for you and for your business. Your business. You decide.” And that kinda morphed into “your business, your rules,” and it has since been the backbone of ALL the advice I’ve both given and taken over the years. As a side note, people have asked me for merchandise for a long time. Maybe someday.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for cake business owners?
This is a hard question for me because I’ve spent years giving advice, so it’s difficult for me to decide which single piece is most important – so let me break this down a little bit.
For absolute beginners, I’d say to make sure you are doing this for the right reasons, because YOU want to, not because other people told you it’s a good idea or pressured you into it. Find your reason for being in business and let that be your guiding light.
For anyone who has been at it for a while, I’d say to remember that there are highs and lows, and your success will depend on how resilient you are in riding those waves.
And for ALL people in small business, I’d say – you need to have money and time for marketing and actually DO it. If you need more customers, part of your work as a business owner is going out and finding them. Don’t be your town’s best kept secret.
Where can people find you if they’re keen to learn more business know-how?
You can find me via thebizofbaking.com – and that’s where you will find links to my online classes, can listen to my podcast, buy the book, join my Facebook group or just drop me an email to say hello. I’m always happy to hear from people, whether that’s to say hello or ask a question.
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