For this last day of cake, I want to talk about the challenges of doing cake as a business.
Lots of people in Rankin Inlet like making cake, and are really good at it. Better than me. But not everyone wants to sell it. Have you ever thought about selling your cakes, and hesitated? Why? Have you started selling cakes and pulled back?
I think it would be awesome if more people baked and sold cakes in Rankin. Clearly there is plenty of demand. That’s the real reason I’ve written all these posts – I’d like to help others do this to. It’s flexible, it’s something you can do at home with kids, it has the joy of making something with your hands, and you get to help other people celebrate.
But I have learned that you really have to take care of yourself in order to make that work for you. Here are the issues I’ve run into:
Being a perfectionist. I’m really thankful that my mom is an artist. She taught me that when you are making art, you have to know when good enough is good enough. You have to learn how to make your mistakes into design elements. I think that’s part of why the actual decorating part is what I’m good at. I inherited that can-do attitude about art from my mom.
At the same time, when it comes to the baking – the hidden part of the cake – you do have to be a perfectionist. You are, after all, making something that is going to be eaten, not just looked at. This is where I really struggle, because if you get this wrong, it’s a major bummer for everyone. Even if you catch your mistake, you have to repeat a bunch of work.
Are you the sort of person who can take setbacks like that in stride? I am about some things. I love spinning and knitting and writing enough that I can find the energy to keep going until something is right. But cake is less forgiving than those things, and is on a more precise schedule, so that can really raise the stress level.
Do you like planning? I do, and this really helps me. I can plan ahead enough that I don’t get myself into very stressful situations every time. I know how to use excel to figure out my exact costs, and we have a whole spreadsheet system to help us plan our sealift. I don’t tend to procrastinate when I’m stressed; stress makes me more likely to work ahead. Which leads to another question:
How do you deal with stress? If you’re a person who freaks out under stress, selling cakes can be really hard! I don’t freak out, but stress does have a real impact on me. It makes me more likely to stress eat, which is an extra problem when there’s a bunch of cake scraps around to snack on. Stress also saps the creative energy you need in order to enjoy making the cakes, and to do all the ordinary things in your life that take creative energy too, if you’re also the person who needs to cook and clean at home, or if you have a regular job.
How do you deal with criticism? If you sell a lot of cakes, you will eventually disappoint someone. For the most part, people have not complained unless I made a legit mistake, like a cake being underbaked. In those cases, I do ask for a picture to see what happened, but after that I just issue a full refund. I’m a pastor in this town, and no supplementary income is worth the loss of relationship.
Now, this dynamic might be very different for other people. I am a pastor, I am white, I am an outsider in a small town. People of colour, people with lots of family connections in town… that really creates a different dynamic. Plus myriad other issues that might affect your level of resiliency.
Can we come together? This is part of why I wonder if we local bakers can support each other. Go in together on bulk orders of cardboard goods. Have a chat group where we can commiserate when an order goes wrong. Advise each other on sticky customer service issues. Pass on each others’ names to customers when we aren’t available. I don’t know. I’m just wondering.
And if you ever are trying to make a cake at home, I’m happy to help with that too! I grew up with my mom making cakes at home, and that’s how I started this. Tons of people do this already, but if you’re nervous to try, I’m happy to chat about it!
I’m going to be making a very limited number of cakes going forward. I find that baking really triggers some of my unhealthy eating habits, so I have to be very careful. I’ll be doing more of a spot system, month to month, and I won’t take orders during months that I am traveling. So I hope more of the awesome bakers in Rankin will be encouraged, so that together we have the capacity to meet some of the demand of our awesome town that loves to celebrate!