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My Journey In Cake Design

by | 18 May 2020 | Journal

How did my cake making career begin?

Why did I move into the wedding industry? And how did I become a multi award winning cake designer with a strong brand identity in just over two years?

 

If you had asked me back in summer 2017 (when I set up CakeBuds) where I would see myself in 2 to 3 years time, it would not have been where I am today! I honestly have to pinch myself sometimes as to how much I have achieved in such a short space of time.

Many of you who follow me on instagram will know that my cake making career all started after making my daughters 1st birthday cake back in September 2016. Fast forward 10 months and CakeBuds was born. Fast forward another 2 years 4 months and i’m a Multi Award Winning Cake Artist with a strong brand identity!

But how did I do it? 

Well it’s not been easy and has possibly been the hardest couple of years of my life, and I’ve not done everything right thats for sure! I’ve made mistakes. I’ve nearly packed it all in on several occasions and things such as business processes and time management are still a work in progress for me to find a routine which fits around my family.

Running a small business is hard, but I’m hoping my story will inspire you, even in these unprecedented times, to keep going and to overcome any challenges you’re facing in your business so you can crush your goals!

Remember “It always seems impossible until it’s done”  Nelson Mandela

Setting out on my journey

So you may be wondering how I initially marketed myself after setting up my business in summer 2017. The answer – social media!

Like many cake artists I initially started out making cupcakes and celebration cakes. To celebrate my launch I set up a promotional offer (advertising on local facebook pages) for my first 5 customers giving them a 20% discount in the hope it would help to get my name out there.

This didn’t quite go to plan though as in the the midst of it all my grandad became ill and sadly passed away. I had to cancel two of these promotional orders over that period and being the type of person I am, I felt bad and offered them a free cake the next time they ordered with me. Needless to say I made no money what so ever from those 5 orders!

But I didn’t let that setback stop me. I continued to advertise on local facebook pages once a week and responded to posts from people looking for a cake maker. At the same time I was slowly building my instagram following and the orders slowly came rolling in.

The problem was, I knew deep down I wasn’t making much money. I was undercharging for my cakes and facebook was not where my ideal client was hiding. But at the same time I just wasn’t sure where to find my ideal client and how to start charging my worth! People just didn’t want to pay hundreds of £££ for a birthday cake and if they did, I didn’t know where to find them! So I knew if I wanted to make a career from my cakes, then I had to expand into the wedding industry.

The first wedding cake I ever made in January 2018
The very first wedding cake I ever made back in January 2018. Photography by Dom Balls Production.

Branching into the wedding industry

 

In January 2018 I made my very first real wedding cake after responding to a facebook post. Looking back at this cake now I MASSIVELY undercharged however at the time, honestly I just didn’t know what I should be charging. I almost saw this order as “training on the job” and with a lack of experience didn’t feel like I could charge my worth. Im sure every other cake makers have felt the same at the beginning.

In February 2018 I then had the opportunity to participate in a styled shoot at The Barn at Avington. Again this came from me being proactive and responding to an opportunity I saw on social media asking for a cake maker for a shoot. The professional images by Angela Ward Brown were amazing and having professional shots of a wedding cake helped my portfolio and website look more professional.

My first wedding cake and styled shoot were a great opportunity for me to get my foot in the door of an already saturated market.

But now how did I get the orders coming in?

As I work from home and don’t yet have the benefits of a lovely cake studio, I decided to start offering wedding cake consultations at the couples homes. In the early days I did do these for free.

I know, I know – I can almost hear other cake makers tutting at me! But it wasn’t long before I realised this wasn’t working as I was clocking up the miles and some couples were just after the freebie so I was wasting my time and money.

I then thought, just because I don’t have a pretty cake studio doesn’t mean I can’t do the consultations at my home! And it would give the couples a much more personal service. They would see where their wedding cake would be made and they could look at my display cakes. I don’t have anything to hide.

I also started to charge for the consultations but made it clear the cost of the consultation would be deducted from the couples final balance should they go ahead and book with me. This worked out much better as the enquires I started getting were more genuine rather than couples just after a freebie.

Another way I got my name out there in the early days was to attend a few wedding fairs each year. If i’m honest, these weren’t hugely successful for me as the majority of couples attending these wedding fairs were not my ideal client or they were newly engaged and hadn’t even booked a venue yet. So a cake was the last thing on their mind. Yes I did get some bookings months down the line when they finally got around to considering their cake, but personally I didn’t enjoy doing the fairs. It was always such a pain transporting the cakes, setting them up and taking them down again at the end. Plus I would lose a whole Sunday with my family. So I have now taken the decision to only do fairs at the venues I am a recommended supplier.

Some of you may be wondering how I become a recommended supplier for venues. Well, venues need to be able to trust you before they are willing to recommend you. A lot of the venues who recommend myself are ones I originally worked with on styled shoots. Following the shoots I then sent the wedding team at the venue a box of cake samples to enjoy so they knew my cakes were good – as lets face it – who’s going to recommend you if they haven’t tasted your cakes!

Others venues I wanted to work with I just sent a box of cake samples to on the off chance and other venues I sent Christmas cards to saying “I hope we can work together soon”. It’s all about networking, being proactive, getting your name out there and building the relationship. It may take weeks, months or even years. But just keep at it!

Networking with other wedding suppliers is a key area I focused on in my early days of caking, and still do. I think coming from a corporate world where we were constantly encouraged to network and build those business relationships, it just came natural to me. 

There are lots of communities and groups out there for wedding suppliers, so just have a look and find one. Join in and go along to events. Once suppliers get to know and trust you, then the recommendations will start coming in.

I joined a community of wedding suppliers called The Hampshire Wedding Club (HWC) which is part of The County Wedding Clubs. This was a massive turning point in my business. Not only did I meet like minded business owners, but many of them I am now able to call my friends. Tasha who runs the communities is utterly amazing! She puts so much energy into supporting wedding creatives, giving us advice on how to book our ideal clients, how to up-level our products and branding and how to find our place in the wedding industry and stand out. I have learnt so much from the HWC that I honestly don’t think I would be where I am today if I hadn’t of joined.   

So network, network, network! It can lead you to some wonderful opportunities. And if you ever feel you need a mentor who can give you the support and accountability in your business, then don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Something that is worth remembering is that many of the most successful people in the world have mentors!

Copper Geometric Wedding Cake
The first styled shoot I took part in was at The Barn at Avington. Photography by Angela Ward Brown.

Winning my first award

 

In September 2018 I made the decision to enter The Wedding Industry Awards (TWIA). I’d only been in the wedding industry for 9 months at that time so I didn’t expect to win anything and entered purely for the client feedback which you get at the end of the awards. So when my name was called out as the winner at the South Central Regional awards in November 2018 I was so so shocked and completely overwhelmed. I don’t think I stopped smiling for a week! It felt like my business was finally being recognised and now had so much more credibility behind it.

It also meant I got through to the National Awards in January 2019. I knew I wouldn’t win anything at the Nationals as I was up against some amazing cake artists, but just getting there and having the opportunity to meet the other regional finalists, was enough for me and I have built some brilliant friendships from it.

Copper Geometric Wedding Cake

I now feel my new branding reflects the contemporary, modern cakes I want to be making

Creating my Brand

 

For months I would admire the work of many of my cake idols, Jasmine Rae, Have Some Cake, Lima Cakes, Tortik Annuchka, Maggie Austin, Angela Morrison, Cupcakes and Counting (to name a few) and loved how one of their cakes were instantly recognisable. And that is exactly what I wanted! I wanted people to see a picture of one of my cakes and know it was mine but knew I was far from achieving this dream.

What I did know was that in order to achieve this, I had to refine my branding and style within cake design.

Luckily I already knew the type of cakes I enjoyed making. They were the ones which I was always drawn to. The ones which took my breath away when I looked at them. The more unconventional ones. Don’t get me wrong, more traditional wedding cakes look very pretty, but I am not, and never will be a pretty in pink girl! It was the different shaped cakes, the unusual textures, the bolder colours, the organic sugar flower arrangements, the pieces of edible art that really got my heart pumping!

By the beginning of 2019 I had already created several display cakes in my own style. So I took the plunge and invested some of my savings into rebranding. I had a branding shoot and video done by the amazing LaHu Brand Elevation.

Lauren is just simply an amazing human being and she completely got the type of look I was trying to create with my branding. I didn’t want the traditional light and airy photos which the majority of wedding suppliers have. Believe it or not I am a bit of an introvert. I tend to be focused more on internal thoughts and moods rather than seeking out external stimulation so I didn’t feel that light and airy images reflected me as a person. Instead I wanted my images to look a bit darker, a bit more industrial with almost a mysterious feeling about them. As I’m a strong believer that when it come to creating a brand, you need to be true to who you are. 

Following the shoot I commissioned Keady Row to create a new logo and marketing materials for me. I chose Nat and Tim as they specialise in branding for contemporary creative businesses. With their love for minimal designs and clean lines I knew my branding would be in safe hands and they definitely didn’t disappoint. I am absolutely over the moon with my new branding! If you’re looking to rebrand, remember that there are a lot of different branding specialists out there. Don’t just choose the first one you find. Do your research. Make sure you like them and that you feel confident they will deliver on the look you are desperately seeking. But also try not to be too controlling over the look you want. Give them a little bit of creative freedom as this is when creatives usually do their best work!

Once the brand images and identity were finalised, the next big job was to redesign my website. I have always been quite savvy when it comes computers, maybe because my dad was a computer programmer before he retired, so I cut out the middle man and did all of this myself. Something i’m actually quite proud of myself for. 

The whole rebrand took a LONG time from start to finish. I got the motion rolling back in February 2019 and finally received all my marketing materials in December 2019 and there are still a couple of bits I want to do. So you’re looking at around 12 months. But the overall impact it has had on my business has been phenominal.

Due to this rebrand I’m now getting the types of clients who want a stylish wedding or celebration cake with a little bit of a difference and most importantly, in an industry where so many cake makers are not even making a living wage, i’m happy to say that I am. Its far from the money I was previously making as a Forensic Accountant, but I didn’t go into making cakes for the money. I chose this career for my kids, so I can pick them up from school and see them before bedtime, so I can go to their parents evenings and nativity plays, so I can take time off in the school holidays to spend time with them.

It was at the point of my rebrand where I also made the decision to stop making novelty and buttercream covered cakes and to only post images of cakes on my social media which fit my branding and I would want to make again. I knew that if I kept posting images of semi naked cakes then I would keep getting enquiries for those types of cakes. I knew I had to consistently put out there the types of cakes I wished to make.

One of my most recent cakes which I made for the The 2020 Wedding Industry Awards National Judging.

Becoming Multi Award Winning

Following my rebrand I was delighted to go on and regain my title as South Central Regional Winner in TWIA for a second year running. I almost didn’t enter the awards again, but after lots of umming and ahhing I took the plunge at the last moment and was over the moon my hard work paid off. 

I then went on to be awarded National Highly Commended in TWIA in January 2020 and received some excellent feedback from the judges, in particular on my branding. Branding isn’t just about having a pretty logo. It’s about making sure that you create an emotion whenever a customer interacts with you on any level. Your branding therefore needs to be consistent and reflect you and what you are selling. 

Following my Highly Commended win I have also been asked to be a Judge for TWIA going forward, so it is very exciting times ahead indeed! 

Collecting my National Highly Commended trophy at The 2020 Wedding Industry Awards.

Final words!

 

So that is my story! I honestly never thought in a million years I would get to where I am today in such a short space of time. Especially with having to juggle everything around such a young family – I’ll share those challenges in another post!

Yes I have made mistakes along the way by undercharging and doing things for free and in hindsight I would do things differently if I had to do it all again. In particular, getting my pricing and branding right from the offset! But if we all waited until we were ready to do something, we would be waiting for the rest of our lives. Business is a learning curve and there is no such thing as overnight success.

We need to remember, especially in these extremely challenging times with weddings and events being postponed and all of our plans and goals for 2020 having gone out of the window, never to give up! Instead let’s take this time we have been given to reflect on ourselves and our businesses and just remember “Staying positive doesn’t mean you have to be happy all the time. It means that even on the hard days you know better ones are coming.” (unknown).

And just because there may be many other cake artists who appear way more successful that yourself, doesn’t mean there isn’t room for you at the top too! So stay positive, work hard and anything is possible!

You’ve got this!

Liz

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“Do what you love, not what you think you’re supposed to do!”

– Unknown –

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