Monday, April 28, 2014

Gripe, complain,:Learn! "cakin' aint easy"

Well, once again, I find myself driven to make another blog post.  When I started this blog and my former one too I fully intended it to be a fun and dare I say it even educational blog.  How to make something, or what product I think is awesome, but it’s been derailed and I find that I get more value out of tackling the real issues that we all deal with in private.  The ones that we are sometimes afraid to admit because we feel it makes us look bad.  I think we all as artist want to be recognized for our skill and talents.  I know I do, but the problem is many people think that because you’re skilled and talented, the easy connection is making money and endless happiness!  I’m sure many of you reading this know, it’s soo not so simple!. 

I got pulled into another discussion this week on Facebook.  I wasn’t intending to be, but someone mentioned me in a post about being asked to do something, that for the money was by any measure ridiculous!   It turns out 5 minutes before the mention online, I had received an inquiry from a lady who was stressed out beyond any reasonable amount because she, after being dumped by her original decorator,  had been trying in vain to find someone willing to do the cake for her, and found that most wanted a whopping 10X what she had originally been asked to pay.  (It’s worth noting here that the 10X amount was, even if a little high, still much more realistic for the cake type she wanted)  Additionally she found that many of the people were rude to her as they became offended by the very fact that she could ask for something of such a magnitude and then hope to buy it on the cheap!  I talked to her for a few and she seemed to be very thankful that I even took the time to talk to her.  I quoted her a price, that I felt was very fair and she explained, politely that she was still going to look around, as she just couldn’t spend that much.  ( the design was for her son’s first birthday and followed a certain theme associated with her father, who had passed away on Christmas and had given the boy his nickname “ Bulldog”.  It was a very emotional thing for her to discuss which made it even harder for her to deal with the attitudes she had received from some of the shops she had talked to.  It‘s worth noting too, that I WAS THE CHEAPEST QUOTE SHE HAD RECEIVED!)  The post made online in reference to the client was short, and intended only to make the point of how frustrating it was to get asked for things that take worlds of talent and know-how, and for next to nothing, but the responses grew ugly and multiplied and when I spoke up in defense of the client, who was and is unaware of the post, it turned into a discussion about me being to sensitive!  So sensitive it seems that I got to pick at the scab and write about it today! 

As I read the comments, and so many of the same type and nature so often before, I was reminded that just as I mentioned in previous blogs, this is tough industry!    I’ve written blogs about trying to focus on yourself and your marketing.  I’ve offered alternatives to taking everything personally even, but in light of this past event, I thought I’d focus even more on this one issue…  Maybe I’m hardened to it?  I deal with unrealistic request every single day.  Many clients, simply never return your email or tell you they’re going to “ think about it”, while some take offense to the unbelievable nerve I must have to want to charge what I must, for a cake!  It’s a extremely common issue, but one we as cake people take very personally.  My point in previous blogs was the same as my point was on the face book comment.  Getting yourself so worked up every time that a client doesn’t get it is just flat out bad business!  That’s not to say I never complain, and I’ve even made a post before when a client asked me about my sexual orientation in regards to their cake order.  I still find myself  deciding in my head on the proper value of a cake, only to state one aloud to the client much cheaper in hopes that they’ll accept it, but also out of fear they‘ll reject it.  I don’t like getting my feelings hurt any more than anyone else does, and when I know the quality of my work and a would be client can’t see it, I have to remind myself not to take it personally!  My point is that we all have enough drama and stress in our lives that taking offense to each and every client that doesn’t get it, is added stress we just don’t need! 

With today’s digital attachments we all have new and faster ways to compare ourselves with people from not just down the block, but around the globe…  My phone is constantly attached to face book and other sites and sometimes, something will show up that another decorator has done and instantly I’m comparing myself to them.  XXX person, just went to some exotic local to teach a class and YYY person just did an awesome cake for a really cool client.  The fact is so many people out there are really good and when we forget that the majority of people only post their best work along with carefully planned statements often equating to propaganda,   the standard to which we have to compare ourselves becomes even more impossibly high! 
As cake people we often fail to realize that our clients aren’t following all the same cake people we are!  They don’t see all the great cakes each of my friends do every week, and they don’t read the discussions on price, undercutting and inequity.   They decided, often last minute and on a whim that they “want” a cake…  They went online and they did a search for “bulldog cakes”  and were quickly bombarded with some amazing work done by people from all over the world for an unknown cost, and decided…  “I want that one!”  The very next thing they did is contact a baker,  and with nothing more than a idea, tried to place an order.    We as decorators, forget that this is probably the first and likely the last bull dog cake they’ve ever needed or ordered, so the fact that they have no concept of the cost, shouldn’t be such a surprise, and it sure as hell shouldn’t be something that gets us stressed out, but it does. 

It takes focus and a stern constitution:

Our focus should be on our work.  Dealing with client inquiries is step one of our process.  For myself, I deal with a lot of “potentials” and I’ve had to learn that there is only so much time and stress that I can allow any of those to have.  When a new client calls or contacts me, I try to be very nice, but short and to the point.  I can’t afford to invest too much time in them at first contact.  Usually I inquire as to serving size and honestly from a strictly business point of view, I will focus harder on the bigger jobs.  I have a minimum size of 30 ( which is still to small to make real money on…)  I can equate this to a large restaurant at dinner time on Friday.    The last thing a restaurant owner wants is to have a party of 6 come in, be seated and realize they’re just here for chips n salsa and water!   It’s a business and to make money as I MUST, I have to have real money orders.  If a client tells me they need a cake for 10, I promptly ( and politely) tell them I have a 30 serving minimum which averages $200.00.  Most often, they’ll be on their way, and for others, they get to have leftover cake! 

My initial questions are (In order)  1. How many guest,  2.budget  3.When,  4.Where,  5. theme…  The questions are a sort of triage for me to sort out who needs more attention and who to spend the most time on!  ( to all my client forgive me!)   It’s not that I don’t want them to feel like they’re my only client, but if you intend to have a life (which I don’t) you’ve got to streamline!    If the cake is little and the budget non existent, I may find  that question  #3 gives me my out.  “ you need a cake for 300 and your budget is $75.00?  Ooh, I’m so busy that day, I just can’t take any more orders…  very sorry!”    I’m not trying to explain why I need to charge them $1800 for the cake they budgeted $75 for, and best of all I’m not going to let them piss me off because I quote them a price that’s 24 times their budget and they react by insulting me!   I get to go on to the next email, or call and my sanity is at least somewhat intact!   

Without them knowing I’ve just subjected my client to three test.  If they fail any of my three test, I toss them into the gorge of eternal peril ( if you get my Monty Python reference)  and move on.  If it’s reasonably  possible that I can land the order and make some money off the deal, then I ask my further questions.  Where:  …  Where is huge for me as I get request from people across the country at times who once again, only looked up something online, saw my work and decided to “call that dude” without regards to where I’m at!  I may consider a long haul, but it’s not going to be on my dime!    And finally my last question is their theme…  This is where I have fun and guide the client.  I already know what their concept is and even if their stated budget doesn’t support it, I may offer suggestions above and beyond what they told me.  If they don’t go for it, I “design” something that fits their budget best…  I try not to nail down to many details to firmly, as I want to be allowed to improvise if I need to!  I will always go above and beyond for a client, but almost NEVER do I do a sketch, or describe in to much detail what I’m going to do for them.  It serves two purposes…  For one, you’re not going to pay me for the detailed color drawing I can do for you, and it takes me a fair amount of time to do…  I wouldn’t do your cake for free so why would I do another piece of art for nothing…  My son would rather me build something with him with Legos! 

Finally (and usually in my first contact) I ask for a deposit.  I can’t even begin to explain how many potential clients will go along with me and pretend to place an order, knowing that they can’t afford it, or just don’t want to, Often they're afraid of offending me by saying "No Thanks", so they go along with it...  Asking for a deposit is the final test they have to pass before I consider a cake booked!  Until I get a deposit I will try to keep my emails and conversations short and focused.  Once we’ve booked, I’m more than happy to talk more in depth about the design and ways to up the coolness…    I use PayPal almost entirely for my deposits.  I can write up an invoice with company logo and give a brief description of the cake, list date and time, and even send a message to clients about details needed and terms.  (One of which is final payment is due week of the event)  Rarely do I accept payment from a client upon delivery, and only if I know them.  This is especially true of large events and weddings as the last thing I want to do (or have had any luck at!) is chase down a bride for her final payment!    I’ve found that about 60% of the time, if I’m not paid week of or day of at the latest, I don’t get paid.    It’s not like we have much recourse for a cake that’s been consumed.  Our job is tough enough as it is, to not get paid for it, that’s unbearable.

I’m not telling you not to be offended, and I’m sure not telling anyone not to vent when they need to.( we all need to sometimes!)  I do however think we aught first think about the energy we’re spending and the power we’re giving our clients if we don’t take the reigns and allow them to stress us to the point of posting it online!.  My initial contact with clients is a test.  It allows me to decide if it’s worth the time I have to take away from my kids ( which nothing really is) while taking up as little time as possible!  By taking control and asking questions without letting the client tell me what to do, I take much of the stress and honestly pain, out of the equation.  They can’t offend me, because for one, I won’t let them and two, I don’t give them that opportunity.  This isn’t to say it doesn’t happen, as every situation varies, but I try to stick to my plan.  One of the greatest mistakes I feel decorators make, is allowing the client to manage the situation…  As we discussed, they know nothing more about the cake they “want” then they learned online in a quick search.  Only you know how hard it is to make, what it will cost you in terms of materials and time, and what your capabilities are!  Looking at their cake request and saying, “yes I can make that cake” is a bad idea!  I always say, “yes I can do something “LIKE” that, but we never copy…”  This allows you to vary from the design either due to your preferences or even your skill level or due to time constraints!  We’ve all seen cakes online, next to the “Other” cake and a caption “ this is what they asked for--- this is what they got” !  don’t let yourself get drawn into that!  My Girlfriend/ partner Carey does cakes of a completely different style than I do.  She sends me clients she can’t fit in at times and I can assure you I can’t “match” one of her designs.  And honestly, I don’t want to try! 

Welp…  as life does, I just got a call from my son’s school and he’s got a tooth ache!  I’m off, but I hope that we can all work together to make caking more fun and less work.  There’s enough stress and drama in the world, why take on more of it then we have to?
Peace n Love

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