Cookier Close-up: Marlyn Birmingham, Cookie Videopreneur

While contemplating paths in the cookie world, a Cookie Connection member recently commented in one of our forums about the seemingly endless choices for cookie expression. Should she blog? Expand her for-profit cookie business? Teach classes? Try to do it all? Or distinguish herself in a completely new niche?

 

Whether seasoned or just starting out, many of us grapple with these same questions. After all, making a choice means taking a leap faith. A considerable amount of courage and work is required to clear a new path and pave it into a road to personal success. The rewards can be high, but there are always the risks . . . opportunities forgone, money lost, time poorly spent . . . It takes a daring cookier to boldly leap into the unknown and carve out a distinctive sphere in cookie space.

 

MarlynHeadshot

This is why I’m so fascinated with the subject of our next Cookier Closeup, Marlyn Birmingham of Montreal Confections. She’s exactly this kind of cookier!

 

You see, Marlyn was one of the first decorators to venture into cookie expression on YouTube. In January 2012, she started her channel, also called Montreal Confections, and now, a mere two years later, it is home to nearly 29,000 subscribers and 190 delicious cookie, cupcake, and cake tutorials. Through her videos, like the recent one about how to turn a Christmas cookie into a toy (below), she’s become widely recognized for her clever yet doable cookie designs. (More cases in point: her paint palette and gender reveal cookies, also below!) 

 

 

In this Cookier Closeup, we’ll cover the usuals – how Marlyn got started in decorating, her typical day, etc. – but we’ll also explore why she chose YouTube as her cookie platform and what it takes to be a successful videopreneur.

 

Coloring-Book

 

So let’s get started, OK?

 

JMUHi, Marlyn. I’m so pleased that you’ve agreed to share your unique path with Cookie Connection members. Thank you!

I know you’re more than a cookie decorator – you also play in cakes and cupcakes. And in addition to your videos, you sometimes take customer orders. Is this right? How did you develop your interest in and aptitude for decorating all things sweet? How long have you been operating in the world of sweets?

 

Gender-Reveal

 

MB:  Once upon a time I did take orders, but with the success of my YouTube channel, I no longer have the time or inclination. I began baking when my first child started school. I would bake for her little parties and bake sales. This is where I saw, from people’s reactions, that what came easily to me wasn’t easy for everyone. 

 

JMU: When did you decide to parlay this aptitude into a business? And which came first – selling sweets or teaching how to make them?

 

MB: I started taking orders in 2008. I had been looking for a way to earn a little extra money and so I built a webpage with Yahoo, posted a few photos, and it wasn’t long before I was turning people away. Baking is hard work and, before I knew it, I was burnt out and couldn’t stand the sight of my mixer anymore. I needed to find my way back; I couldn’t understand how I could hate something that had brought me such fulfillment. That is how I found my way onto YouTube.

 

JMU: Well, I found you on YouTube through your lovely peacock cookies (below). I loved that tutorial, and still do!

 

From your videos, it seems as if you have a special fondness for decorated cookies. Is this fair to say? And if so, what draws you to decorated cookies more so than cakes or cupcakes?

 

Peacock

 

MB: You are right, my preference is to decorate cookies. With simple royal icing and a piping tip, you can achieve such amazing results. I love working with them. 

 

JMU: Some people teach through written tutorials; others through in-person classes. But you’ve carved out a teaching niche in the video world, specifically on YouTube. Why did you choose video as your medium for cookie expression?

 

MB: When I started thinking about making tutorials, there were already many successful blogs on the topic. I needed to find a way to compete with the teachers whom people had grown to know and love. I had previously posted a very primitive video for my friends who wanted to see a wet-on-wet technique. The video quickly reached 10,000 views and so I figured I’d give YouTube a shot.

 

JMU: Wow, that's an amazing trajectory for one video! A corollary to my last question: why did you choose YouTube as your video marketing/distribution vehicle, as opposed to selling DVDs or choosing another platform like Vimeo or Craftsy?

 

MB: A positive about YouTube is that you have little to no expenses. If I had to hire a camera person and a video editor, the channel would not be sustainable and I would be unable to cover all my costs. As for a CD or Craftsy, the same applies; you need to produce a certain level of quality to justify charging people for these tutorials. On YouTube, people are getting their lessons for free, so they are much more forgiving about bad lighting or less than perfect editing.

 

JMU: Can you briefly describe the process you go through to conceive of, shoot, and edit your videos? For instance, do you fully script out what you’ll say? Do you shoot and edit everything yourself, or do you have help with any aspects of the production?

 

MB: I take care of every aspect of my videos from designing the projects to filming and editing. I start by researching what is already on YouTube. I proceed with an idea only if I don’t find an existing video. I don’t script anything. I try to talk naturally as if the people watching were sitting there with me.

 

JMU: Can you describe your video/editing setup, i.e., the cameras, lighting, editing suite, and other equipment or tools you rely on to get your terrific results?

 

MB: I have a somewhat primitive setup. My camera is on a tripod, angled down towards my hands, in order to film what I am working on. I don’t use any fancy lighting. I just film during the day using my photo camera on video mode. You will rarely see me on a video since it is difficult to film oneself while working on a project! My largest investment to date was the purchase of an Apple computer which has made video editing much easier. Their iMovie program is fast and easy to use. 

 

JMU: What’s your typical work week look like? Specifically, how much time do you spend producing videos versus doing other cookie work or other things?

 

MB: I have no set work schedule, but YouTube pros do suggest that you establish a programming schedule and stick to it, so I post every Tuesday and Friday. I have some weeks that are more productive than others, but I try to make at least two videos per week. The extra videos completed during my productive weeks are for those weeks where I’m uninspired or busy with my family.

 

JMU: What would you say to cookiers who are aspiring to get into the business of making video tutorials? That is, how do you measure the success of one of your video tutorials? Are there certain features that a video tutorial must have in order to be most successful?

 

MB: I don’t know that you could call it a business right away since it does take a while to develop a loyal subscriber base. I can’t say there is a set rule on YouTube since so many people are watching from all over the world, each with their own preferences. I do think that being original is important for success though. For me, it has been a lot of trial and error, trying to find my place in this new online world.

 

JMU: And are there certain features that a YouTube channel must have in order to be successful, i.e., well subscribed and regularly watched?

 

MB: Having many subscribers is nice but you get paid with views. The more views you get, the more successful you will be.

 

JMU: None of us wants to spend more than is needed to start a new business. Why assume the added risk, right? That said, what, in your opinion, is the minimum investment one should make in equipment or training in order to ensure a successful startup of a YouTube channel/video tutorial business?

 

MB: All you should invest in the beginning is your time, since there is no guarantee it will work. If you plan to teach cake or cookie decorating, you should already have all you need, such as the cake and cookie tools and a camera. Most cameras come with video editing software that should suffice to edit your first videos.

 

JMU: What would you say to cookiers who want to make money with their video tutorials? Is it possible to earn a living making decorating videos and doing nothing else? What sort of scale (number of subscribers or views) is needed in order to expect a reasonable return from advertising?

 

MB: It can take a while before you see a decent salary. Thankfully, I don’t solely measure my success by my revenue, but also by the letters and feedback I receive from all over the world. I especially love hearing from women thanking me for sharing my knowledge and giving them the opportunity to supplement their family’s income. It is pretty gratifying to know I have impacted a person in such a positive way.

 

JMU: I’ve noticed recently that you’re experimenting with different layouts and looks for your tutorials. Is this an indicator that you’re taking a new direction with Montreal Confections, or your video tutorials?

 

MB: I am always researching and trying to make my videos better, so the new layout was a test to see what the viewers wanted. [EDITOR'S NOTE: The trial layout allowed viewers to skip quickly to different parts of the video by clicking on embedded buttons.] I have viewers at all decorating levels. Some get the idea after a few seconds; others may want to watch a section more than once. The feedback to date regarding the new layout was mixed. I will make the buttons smaller and leave them on for a few more videos before I decide if they are staying or not.

 

JMU: You’ve charmed the cookie world with hundreds of videos. What or who allows you to keep up this breakneck pace? Will you continue along this path for the next few years, or are there other exciting plans in the works for you and Montreal Confections?

 

Stenciled

 

MB: The truth is that my husband has given me the opportunity to do this. If I needed to have another job that paid the bills while I grew my channel, it would be impossible to keep up this schedule. He saw how unhappy I had become taking orders and so we agreed that I would transition my baking business to YouTube. His support and encouragement allow me the freedom to do what I love without the pressure of immediate financial results.

 

Sugar-Skulls

 

Cookie Photo and Video Credits: Copyright Montreal Confections

 

Want to learn more about Marlyn? Stay tuned; I'm hoping to line up a live chat with her in the coming month. In the meantime, please visit her YouTube channel and blog, and like her on Facebook!

 

 

Cookier Close-ups is the place on Cookie Connection where we celebrate the change-makers of the cookie decorating world. Whether forging new enterprises, inventing novel decorating techniques, or consistently charming us with their cookie decorating prowess, each of our featured thought leaders has redefined in his/her distinctive way how we interact, create, or otherwise do business here in cookie space!

 

If there are other cookiers you'd really like to get to know, please post requests in this forum. We'll do our best to round them up for an upcoming Cookier Close-up! Thanks!

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I just love you Marlyn, I love your videos and tutorials and I could watch you pipe all day! You have been such an inspiration to me and wait patiently every week to see what the next videos will be. Huge fan all the way from Australia!

Marlyn, and her tutorials, have been one of my greatest resources for development of my cookie decorating skills.  Great interview - answered questions I've wondered (like is there another person in the background filming?).  Great teacher - I do feel like we are just sitting down together and she is telling me how to make a specific cookie!  Thanks Julia and Marlyn.  Very interesting! (just finishing up my version of the nesting doll Santas tomorrow!!!  Further proof that when Marlyn does it, it looks easy...when Debbi does it, not so much! LOL!)

Originally Posted by Debbi Hook - The SPI Flip Flop Foodie:

Marlyn, and her tutorials, have been one of my greatest resources for development of my cookie decorating skills.  Great interview - answered questions I've wondered (like is there another person in the background filming?).  Great teacher - I do feel like we are just sitting down together and she is telling me how to make a specific cookie!  Thanks Julia and Marlyn.  Very interesting! (just finishing up my version of the nesting doll Santas tomorrow!!!  Further proof that when Marlyn does it, it looks easy...when Debbi does it, not so much! LOL!)

It is just like sitting down with her isn't it?  It's great I love that 

I also think of Marlyn as one of my most used resources.  Her videos are easy to watch and very beginner friendly.  Even if I was not looking for decorating ideas, I enjoy just seeing her do what she does.

Not only is Marilyn so inspiring with her knowledge, wonderful videos, and extreme talent but, Julia asked the most pertinent and engaging questions! what a great interview and thank you, ladies, for being so willing to share so much! I am always inspired by Montreal Confections and have been a fan for a long time! thank you, thank you!!

Marlyn is my main go to for everything cookie and cake related. Not only is she wildly talented, she's funny, inspiring and no nonsense. She is always showing alternatives to using certain tools and will show how to use the tool if and when you have them. The best.
 
 

This was an excellent interview Julia!. I met Marlyn for the first time in Flickr back in 2009. She is the reason that I decided to start sharing my work that year too. She was my first cookie friend, she introduced me with many of her cookie, cupcake and cake friends and I am thankful to her for inspiring me to be on-line, without her my life wouldn't have changed at all. Now I see with pleasure that we grew up similar, we used to do orders to help our families and now life has led us onto a different path that permits us go on. She always has been very inspiring to everyone, she is one of the most kind, talented, not to mention clever ladies I have ever met. She deserves ALL the success she is having and I am very glad that she is happy with what she is doing today. I think I've told you before Marlyn, but once again, thank you for your friendship and for all the inspiration that you share to the world <3
Love, Myri.

I have to admit I have only just started my cookie journey, and LIVE on Marlyn's channel! Hence when people ask how did I learn to do... I always say University of YouTube - so Thank you very very much Marlyn for all of your guidance and great videos!! May God continue to bless you and your gift and especially thank you for being so willing to share your knowledge with us!!

I have watched every video that Marlyn has made and plenty of them more than once.  I am always waiting to see what she is going to do next.  I have learned so much from her.  I appreciate everything you do Marlyn!! Thank you!

Marilyn's videos have meant the world to me this year and some I have watched several times. I've learned so much from them. Thank you for all the greet techniques I've used over this last year in so many different things. You are a very talented lady with such a great imagination and passion, it shows in everything you do. Thank you for sharing with us.

I always look forward to each and every video Marlyn produces. She is one of the smartest, most creative cookiers I know. I feel extremely fortunate to have met Marlyn a couple of years ago. She is as sweet and beautiful in person as you see/hear on her videos. Great interview! 

Thank you so much Tricia you are so kind, I also feel fortunate to have had the pleasure of meeting you.
 
Originally Posted by TriciaZ@The Cookie Loft Girls:

I always look forward to each and every video Marlyn produces. She is one of the smartest, most creative cookiers I know. I feel extremely fortunate to have met Marlyn a couple of years ago. She is as sweet and beautiful in person as you see/hear on her videos. Great interview! 

 

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