It's an honour to be featuring award-winning cake decorator Sharon Wee on the blog this week!
I've had the wonderful pleasure of meeting with Sharon in person - she's the most genuine, caring individual you'll ever meet. She has a sincere passion to see you grow and win in your cake business.
To date, Sharon's creations have been featured on TV, in magazines and the radio #impressed. Not to mention that she's published two cake decorating books, full of incredible and inspiring projects (I'm lucky enough to own one!).
In today's interview, Sharon gives us insight into her process for creating 3D cakes and talks about the most common mistakes people make when they first enter into their cake business.
Sit back with a cuppa and enjoy!
Tell us how you started your journey into cake decorating. If memory serves me correctly, you originally worked in marketing...?
Yes you have a great memory! My background is in marketing and my first job out of uni was as a marketing assistant. I didn't have the best manager and as a result I felt really unfulfilled in that role.
I've always enjoyed being creative and making things with my hands so one day while feeling particularly down on my job, I decided I needed a hobby. Just so I could keep myself busy and have something to look forward to each week.
I picked up our local community college brochure (the only option we had for short courses at the time) and found a cake decorating course that was due to start in 2 weeks. So I signed up! At the time, I thought cake decorating was all about using fresh fruits and creams on a cake. You know, like the kind of cakes you'd find at the supermarket or local bakery. But when I showed up to class, I learnt all about this medium called Fondant/sugar paste instead. And it was so eye opening! You could play with it like play dough, make so many cool things but also eat it!
Those classes were the start of a decade long and still going strong obsession. I started making cakes whenever I could and my friends and family encouraged me to start selling them. So with nothing to lose, I thought why not? Two years after I started my first cake decorating class, I quit my corporate job to make cakes full time. And the rest was history.
I'm really lucky, in the last decade, I've been able to make all sorts of fun and unique cakes for wonderful people and had the opportunity to travel and teach all over the world. I've met so many interesting people and made so many really good friends. All because of cakes 🙂
Your talent for 3D cakes is amazing! My personal favourites are your iconic mice and milk jug scene and 'Katy Parrot'. Could you explain what the process is like for designing 3D sculpted cakes? I feel that there are so many different factors to consider (compared to designing a two tier cake, for instance).
Thank you! 3D cakes are challenging to design, plan and execute for sure. But this is why I love doing them. Every project is different and poses different challenges which just makes it more fun for me. To start with, I get my inspiration from things I see at a shop or from illustrations I find online. The two cakes you are referring to were designed for the purpose of teaching, so that process is slightly different than designing for a client. I'll try and explain how.
When designing a cake for a client, I am usually guided by what the theme of their event is or their personal preferences, number of guests and budget. All these factors have an influence on the final cake design.
However, if I am designing a cake with the purpose of teaching it, while in theory I am able to design what I want, I also have to think about other factors like if there are enough learning outcomes, will the design appeal to a wide audience, can the required tools and materials be easily sourced, and can everything be done within 1-2 days in a class environment.
So no matter what I design, there are always some guidelines around it and it applies to any type of cake. But with 3D cakes, there is the added complexity of how you will cover the cake to minimise any seams (and if the method is easy enough that 12 people can replicate it in a class environment!) and how you will build the cake structure to prevent any disasters. After all, it's not enough for the cake to be standing and stable on the table you made it. It needs to survive being carried, slightly tilted and transported. That's why with all my 3D cakes, I spend at least half a day to 1 full day researching, drawing and planning the structure before I even start.
What's your advice for those of us who are too intimidated (eek!) to create 3D cakes but would LOVE to actually give it a go? What's a good starting point?
There are two options. Find an online class or tutorial, then set some time aside and give it a good go! Don't wait until you want to make a cake for someone. Just do it without a deadline in mind. This way you can really take your time and there is no pressure for the cake to be perfect or to be finished on a particular day. Don't even plan to eat it. That way the only thing you have to focus on is learning and trying something new.
If that still sounds little too intimidating, then find a local class or book a private class with an experienced teacher. Of course this is a costlier option, but it's also faster. You'll learn right from the start how to set things up and organise yourself properly which will save you a lot of doubt and heartache later. An in-person teacher will also have all the right tools and materials set up and be able to correct any techniques or mistakes right away which again will help with your confidence.
I know there are many sides to your business - you teach in-person and online courses, you've published two cake decorating books and you even boast a jewellery collection #impressed. However, I'd like to specifically focus on one of your more recent business collaborations...You've united forces with Michelle Green in your joint business adventure 'Sweet Side Gig'. Could you tell us more about this 6 week cake-business course? What sparked the idea?
Sweet Side Gig started during one of the many conversations I had with Michelle about our industry. We were discussing how people never seem to get the right information when they start out. Most people start out as hobbyists who don't mind that they are not making any money or are just covering their ingredients. But when they decide to start really selling their cakes there is not as much information available to them. Michelle already runs a blog called the Business of Baking but that primarily focuses on how to set up a longer term business. But what about those who want to make cakes as a serious hobby, make some money but do not necessarily want to run it as a full time business? We realised that there is a whole part of the industry that no one is helping so we decided to create Sweet Side Gig.
Sweet Side Gig is a monthly membership platform that starts with 6 weeks of foundation courses. The foundation courses sets you up to be in the right mindset and gives you a quick no nonsense overview on pricing, time management, marketing, and more.
It's for anyone in the sweets industry who would like to earn income from their sweets but may not necessarily want to run it as a full time business or is considering transitioning from their hobby into a full time business one day.
Because we know that people who are making sweets as a side gig are short on time, it means that the information we provide is to the point and effective. Every topic we cover is specifically catered to this group of people. Each month we release a new topic and as long as you are a member you have access to all the topics we have released. Some of the topics we have already covered include social media, marketing on a budget, how to raise your prices, other ways to earn money that does not rely on custom work, email marketing, setting up an online store, etc
Lastly, what's the most common mistakes you see people make in their cake business?
Not investing in marketing properly. And I'm not referring to spending money as such, but rather a time investment. Because many people start their journey as a hobbyist, they generally create a social media page as quick a way to showcase their work at the beginning.
However, as their business grows or many people never move past that stage and don't consider who their target market is or other forms of marketing like a website, newsletters or even business cards. Simply relying on one channel for marketing is really risky. Imagine if you lost your account or the algorithms change. Your visibility and audience can disappear overnight. I have seen many businesses struggle through this and trust me, when you suddenly see a drop in sales and have to try and think of other ways to make up for it, you can end up making silly and desperate decisions.
Not to mention that any marketing takes time for you to see the results. So another thing businesses don't do enough of is to plan their marketing. Depending on the type of products you are making, you should be planning at least 4 - 12 weeks out. You need to market before you need the orders not on the week you need the orders 🙂
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