#1 The Business of Cake Decorating

by Earlene Moore

In the spring of 1996 I received a (free time- just try us) floppy disk from America Online in the mail and decided to see what was online about cake decorating. I found Dolores McCann (an ICES friend) from Ohio in the Cooking Club and she had several cakes with directions already online. She had also started a bulletin board there and was trying to help other cake decorators with questions or problems. As a result of the tremendous traffic in this area, America Online and the Cooking Club asked her (and she asked me to assist) to do a weekly chat on Thursday nights on cake decorating.

We did that series of chats on AOL for 3 years. We found a tremendous interest in how to get into cake decorating as a business including pricing, legalities, and etc. As a result of that and the many questions that American Cake Decorating Magazine received on this topic, this series of articles was written

How do I get started?

The business of cake decorating has many facets. Most people who are in this as a business did not start cake decorating with the intention of starting a business. Most of us did not intend to get into this as a business at all. Our business came because;
1. When our children were small we began doing birthday cakes or a wedding cake for a family member. Then friends, neighbors and acquaintances began asking us to do decorated cakes for them.
2. I took a class in cake decorating and found I had talent in this area and friends, family, and etc. began asking for decorated cakes.
3. Mother or dad were in this business and taught me. (Family owned bakeries)
4. I have an art background and needed to eat. Cake decorating used my abilities and paid me.

Why do you want to do this as a business?
You think it would be fun? You have small children and would like to earn some extra income and stay home with them? You have gotten into cake decorating and found your time being consumed with orders from friends of friends of friends?

Cake decorating is fun. Making a special happy memory for someone on a special day is indeed what we are all about. But behind that fun is a lot of work and expense. When you first get started you may only need a few basic tips, a mixer (heavy duty), food colors, bowls, spatulas, an oven, and a place that you can make a mess. Yes, cake decorating does make a mess. But it is a sweet mess. As a homemaker doing cakes for your family it may take you all day long (with the everyday interruptions of your life) to complete a birthday cake. Then it may take another hour just to clean up the mess and put your kitchen back in order.

Now, your friend who comes to the party - wants a cake for her little Suzy. Do you charge her for it? It is so much fun you’ll just do it because she is a good friend. WRONG. One, you will have expenses, two, you are using your time, and three, you should not feel funny about charging her. Up front from the very start - You should expect to be reimbursed for your time and expenses. Check out your area bakeries and DO NOT UNDERCUT their prices. If you are new at this you obviously cannot charge them for all of your time in decorating their cake. By the time you mix up one cake batter, bake it, make your icing and decorate your cake you have several hours of time in this cake. You are probably going to make about $1.00 an hour for your time (if you are speedy) for the first several cakes. You won’t get rich but you will gain knowledge and experience and hopefully pick up some speed.

Bakeries make tasty cakes but you should also have as good or better tasting cake than your local bakery. But, you say your skills as a cake decorator are basic. We all had to start somewhere. If you only have basic skills then you may need to keep your prices the same as the bakeries - NOT LOWER THAN THEIRS. As your skills grow you can re-evaluate your prices. I had a friend once who told me. “I feel like I should pay my friends to let me play and practice and learn.” You can play, practice and learn on your family. If others outside of your family ask for decorated cakes they should be willing to pay you. If you are going to make this a business you must treat it like one.

There are some negative aspects to cake decorating as a home business. It would be wonderful if this business was all fun and making people happy. But, it does require a commitment of your time that your family may not want to sacrifice. Your family’s support is very important if you are considering this as a home business because,
1. Most birthday parties, special celebrations and weddings are held on the weekends. This may mean that your time is also tied up when your husband wants to go somewhere for a weekend, the kids need you to take them to a ball game and etc. Advance planning and keeping a calender of events is a must when you are in this business.
2. You will need extra storage space (and that need tends to grow) for the basic equipment that is necessary to do this as a business.
3. Classes, and specialty equipment to advance your skills can be expensive.
4.Health requirements in your city and state will probably require a separate kitchen and entrance for your cake decorating business.

There are several benefits in operating a legal home business;
You have the privilege of being able to schedule yourself some time off as needed.
Smaller overhead expenses than you would have in a commercial location.
You have small children or a handicapped person who need your presence at home.
You can see prospective customers by appointment only. No drop ins.
You are available when children come home from school in the afternoons
You can work at your pace and when you need to. From 6AM to noon or from 6PM to midnight. Depending on when you are the most productive and have the fewest interruptions
As with any home business you must be a disciplined person who takes care of your business.
Your neighbors will love you - especially if an occassional good eating cake happens to go their house.

If you have considered all of this and still want to do this as a business - welcome to the wonderful world of the sugar arts. I personally have found this to be a most rewarding and creative business. Cake decorating is an art that keeps stretching your imagination, building your skills, and makes others happy. You can’t hang your sugar art on a wall for all to see. But to see those dancing eyes and smiling faces when you create a special cake of their dreams is a sweet reward. This art form requires a giving attitude along with a love for people. You create a masterpiece and know that at 4:30 PM it is going to be destroyed and you must be happy about that. (After all you don’t want it to shrivel and get green and yucky sitting around for months for people to admire.) Then you get the privilege of making a new masterpiece the next week. Although once in a while you may have someone refuse to cut your masterpiece and keep it in their freezer for a year. This won’t happen often and how good will that cake be in a year with them taking it out of the freezer occasionally to admire it again. All in all this is a very rewarding field for creative people.

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