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In need of advice for efficiency

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 

Hi Everyone,

 

I started a l little cake/cookie business under the Cottage Food Law here about a year ago.  Lately, it has been getting less and less "little" (thank you WASC!).  And lately I've felt at times that I've wanted to throw in the towel with all the late nights and the enormous amount of time it takes me to complete an order from start to finish.  I'm wondering what you folks do to save time.  Do you bake cakes in advance and freeze?  The same with buttercream?  Did you buy or rent a bigger mixer?  I'm working with only 2 4.5 quart stand mixers.  

 

I can't keep this up.  Last week I had to turn away 3 people (though they did call last minute).  What started as a dream a year ago, turned into a nightmare last week when I tried to complete 8 orders in 4 days.  I think I'm at a crossroads:  Either I need to get some help, or I need to make an effort to slow things down.  It seems like bringing someone on would be risky though.  I'm afraid that they would not take the time and care to make a great tasting cake (just overbaking a cake can ruin it).  And financially it will massively cut in to my bottom line.  With orders that go well, I make about $10 per hour.  With things like the fondant nightmare of last week, I end up making about $3/hour and am up until 2:30a.m.  Side note: any advice on the easiest fondant to deal with?  I am DONE with trying to make it!!  Covering a cake with MMF was a nightmare.  Then I turned to Satin Ice and that was still too soft to cover a 12" cake with.  I had to cover up all the seems creatively to make a nice presentation.  

 

I would SO appreciate some encouragement here or words of wisdom from those of you who have a business and love what you do.  Things like: How you took the next steps, how you drew your limits, and how you manage to make decent profit.  Or anything else!

 

Thank you so much!!!  

 

And BTW, you guys are amazing out there!! Most of your creations give me low self esteem!  :)  

 

Shauna

post #2 of 21

I don't have a business, but I do think you need to be paying yourself more an hour. Even if you increase your efficiency and are working well making $10 an hour, I don't know of many industries who pay their workers like that anymore. That's what I was making at a supermarket checkout while I was at school 20 years ago!! 

 

If you are getting busier, you probably should think about increasing your prices slightly. I'd be curious to see examples of your work and what you charged for them. Not that I am a professional or anything, but I do want a business one day and I'm always interested in what other bakers do. This could actually turn into a great thread with lots of good tips for cake bakers, so thanks for starting it!

post #3 of 21
Thread Starter 

Nadiaa,

Thanks so much for your thoughts.  I agree, I am making peanuts.  I am also a part time tutor, and for that I am paid $30/hour.  And before that as a school counselor I was of course salaried.  So this is REALLY hard to swallow (pun intended?  :)  )   But I think at least part of my problem is that I am SLOW!  I never went to culinary school or anything, and I am learning my skills "on the job."  This doesn't help my per hour rate.  :)  If you'd like to PM me I'll send you a link to my website, and you can take a look at my price list.  But as an example, the Strawberry Shortcake picture (my profile pic) was a 10" cake that was sold for $50. The customer provided the doll-Strawberry herself isn't made of fondant!

 

Thanks for taking the time to write.  I appreciate it, and I do hope this turns into a really useful thread for many of us!

 

Shauna

post #4 of 21
I had this problem. And my quality suffered because once I get tired, I'm incompetent. So I do everything as far ahead as possible.

1. Bake and freeze
2. Make large batches of butter cream and fridge it freeze
3. Make fondant decorating and gum paste wayyyyy in advance.

Another thing I do is I have a set number of hours I work a day. I do this full time. So I work no more than 6 hours a day. I find that it helps me keep up the High quality.

I have only been doing this about 2 years, and have recently taken the "next step" trying to be more professional and what not. So I don't have it all figured it out yet. But those are just a few tops I've found that help
post #5 of 21
Also-- charge more. A 10" serves 38. At $50, that's only $1.31 per serving. You may get fewer orders, but you'll end up making more money.
post #6 of 21
There are many wise bakers on here who will tell you it's better to do one cake for $150 than three for $50 each. Raise your prices and you'll probably lose some customers, but you'll keep the ones that think you're with it and will pay you accordingly.
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post #7 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by belindaking View Post

Also-- charge more. A 10" serves 38. At $50, that's only $1.31 per serving. You may get fewer orders, but you'll end up making more money.
Yep. I can't remember whose signature it is but it says something like "a cheap baker will always be busy." I know it can be hard to just raise your prices but you can do it in increments. One thing that I've found helps my sanity is to turn down last minute orders. They're never worth the hassle in my experience.
post #8 of 21
There's nothing wrong with making cheap cakes, just be sure they are cheap to make. If you can knock out a $50 cake in an hour (and still meet the quality expectations of your target market) you can make quite a bit of profit.

I agree with the rest of the comments in this thread though, for the product you are offering you need to significantly increase your price (check out the pricing formula link in my signature for more info) and start turning down orders once you have reached capacity.
post #9 of 21
It's all very well being busy but if you're not making a lot of money for your trouble then what was the point? Success is not defined by how much you work, but by what you get out of it.
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post #10 of 21

I agree with everything that has been posted on here so far. I too was in your shoes last year and this is what I did to help:

 

1. Bake at least 5-7 days prior and freeze cakes

2. Make fillings, buttercream 1-2 days in advance (I use fresh ingredients- I could probably get away with making the fillings and buttercream 3 days in advance, but I'm worried about everything staying fresh!)

3. Make fondant, gumpaste, all edible decorations as soon as possible- weeks in advance if possible (this will save a lot of time!)

4. Cover all cake boards etc (I'm talking about what the cake will actually be on-I usually use a triple thick cardboard and wrap it with floral foil)

5. PLAN PLAN PLAN ahead! Once I receive payment and the order is official- I go to my calendar, enter the order then plan the previous 7-10 days before that order is due. If I am lucky to get more than 14 days notice, I will plan weeks ahead of time and make gumpaste flowers, figures etc weeks ahead of time then store them safely in a plastic storage box. Make lists of ingredients and supplies that you'll need for the orders of that week so that you're only making 1-3 trips to the grocery store or cake supply store.

6. Charge more for your cakes, set a minimum dollar amount or serving amount.

7. Only take a limited number of orders per week

8. STRICTLY ENFORCE #6 and #7- I think I'm superwoman sometimes and overbook myself which results in very late nights and grumpiness- if you have any doubts as to whether or not you can fit it all in, don't take the order.

 

I do buy pre-made fondant. I use Fondx to cover the cakes. I use Satin Ice pre colored fondant for all my color needs. This saves a LOT of time- you're not sitting there kneading color into fondant all day!

 

Make sure to take care of yourself during the whole process! If you aren't well, then your cakes will suffer. Take a weekend off if you need it. I took the entire summer off after getting burned out during the spring wedding season. It was exactly what I needed and I got all my cake motivation back!

 

I think we can all agree that sometimes cakes take longer than you planned- I think that's something that can never truly be avoided no matter how much experience we have :(

 

Make sure to really ENFORCE charging more for your cakes and taking a limited number of orders! This will really help! I hope that helps! :)

post #11 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by kikiandkyle View Post

It's all very well being busy but if you're not making a lot of money for your trouble then what was the point? Success is not defined by how much you work, but by what you get out of it.
Amen! Often I see threads with stuff like "business is booming, I'm always booked." Then I find they're making zero profit when the math is done or even paying to sell their cakes. Not worth it.
post #12 of 21

Raise your prices.  Seriously.

Tact is telling someone where to go so nicely they can't wait to take the trip!
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Tact is telling someone where to go so nicely they can't wait to take the trip!
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post #13 of 21
Assembly line as much as you can. And if I were you, I'd keep a couple of prebaked white and chocolate cake layers frozen for all the last minute orders and then charge them a rush fee.
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post #14 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by vgcea View Post


Amen! Often I see threads with stuff like "business is booming, I'm always booked." Then I find they're making zero profit when the math is done or even paying to sell their cakes. Not worth it.

It's so true. I can't imagine why anyone would want to work for 40 hours to make $100 when they could earn it in 4 hours instead.

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post #15 of 21

Here is a thread on fondant. http://ca kecentral.com/t/746221/fondant-comparison-taste-and-workability I know a lot of folks on here use Fondarific. I have tried MMF, Wilton's, Satin Ice, and recently Pettinice. I like the Pettinice the most.

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