Live Chat with Michelle Green, The Business of Baking

First, a huge welcome to Michelle Greene, the baking and business guru behind the blog "The Business of Baking" - and also a past Cookie Connection business contributor! We sure have missed Michelle's presence on this site, but we are thrilled to have her here today! If you're not familiar with Michelle's background, please click on the blue "i" next to the title of this chat, and Michelle's bio and other info about this chat will reveal.
Hello to everyone joining us as well! I encourage everyone to jump in with questions. These chats are always more fun and informative when people don't hang back on the sidelines!
Though . . . before we dive into Q&A, just a few housekeeping notes for newbies to our chats: questions are answered in the order received, but they will not post to the public/viewable area of the chat until Michelle reads and answers them. We'll work through questions that were logged in advance first; then start working on questions asked live during the chat. That said, please be patient and do not re-post the same question. It may take some time to answer your question, depending on where it sits in the queue. But I will personally make sure every question gets answered before we're through.
Also, please ask just one question at a time (per post); it's easier for our guests to keep up and others to read the chat transcript if they're not hit with too many questions at once. Thanks!
I'm going to start with posting advance questions while we wait for Michelle to join us. I don't see her online, but perhaps she is having technical issues??
Hi, my name is Valerie. I’m from California, and I’m so happy to have this opportunity! I want to get into the business of selling my handmade decorated sugar cookies. But I’m scared that I will be working my butt off for $4,000 a year. I’m a stay-at-home mom who would love to bring in extra cash (around $10,000 a year would be great for us), but, after I’ve done some calculations on how many cookies I can make a week and how often and how much I could charge per cookie, I came up with $4,000. That would come out to $10 an hour, and, when I quit my job 6 years ago, I was making a little over $15 an hour. So I feel I would be working very hard for very little pay. Is this an accurate amount for all the other cookie businesses out there? I can’t tell if it’s worth it. I would love your input on the matter and any advice. Thank you, Valerie
COOKIES AND CAKES: Great question. Though just to clarify: are you talking about gross revenue when you mention the $4000 and $10,000 figures, or operating profit or net profit? I am assuming the former based on your calculation method, but I think it's important to very clearly distinguish between revenue and earnings of various types when running a business. I hope Michelle will clarify these different terms and also address the importance of earning enough revenue not just to pay yourself a decent wage, but also to have money to funnel back into the business and a net profit at the end of the day.
VALERIE: Hi. There are two issues here- one, the money - and Julia is right that you need to clarify if that money (the 4k) is what you're keeping AFTER expenses, or if it's what you're making before expenses (in which case, the pocket money you end up with will be smaller.) Second - and to me MUCH more important - is to think about this side job in terms of non-financial benefits. Will that cash allow you to stay home? Will it feed your creative soul? Is it about being an example to your kids? Would it keep your mind busy, give you a purpose? What would you stand to gain from this venture other than the money? While I am about earning money, I also think it's important to recognise what you could earn which isn't about the money itself. WHY do you want to go into business, if money is not the (only) motivator?
I had a bunch of questions for Michelle that I logged in advance too - so I'll start posting those while I try to locate Michelle. Perhaps she miscalculated the time difference from here to Australia . . .
MICHELLE: We all have non-financial as well as financial motives for starting a business, but, at the end of the day, most of us need to make money through our work. That being said, and considering that decorated cookies are extremely labor-intensive, do you think it is possible for someone to run a profitable decorated cookie-only business (and, by "profitable" I mean having money left over after deducting all expenses from revenue, including reasonable wages for owners and workers)? Why or why not?
JULIA: (Financial v Non Financial) - Quite honestly Julia, I think it's especially hard for cookiers to make profit. It's a labour intensive product and it's small. When something is tiny, it's harder for consumers to see the value. Not that the value isn't there (it is) . . . but the general public will struggle to see value in smaller things, especially when cookies are not the "star" of the show (as a cake might be, sorry cookie makers!) and they disappear so quickly.
MICHELLE: In your experience, what's the biggest mistake you see new bakery business owners making when they start out? And how you would recommend others avoid this pitfall?
JULIA: (Biggest mistake) By far - it's not making efforts in marketing. Most of us came to this via the product so that's were we focus our time, money, and energy. Once this becomes a business, we need to shift our focus to include the business itself - and marketing is where most of us fall down. So - if you're going to start a business, your marketing should start BEFORE you get going and should be an ongoing thing for you.
MICHELLE: Too many cookiers get nickel-and-dimed by customers even when (IMO) their cookies are often under-priced. So, for the first part of this question: What's the best way to price decorated cookies to ensure profitability?
Oops, Michelle has something to add about my first question of whether it's possible to be profitable in a cookie-only business. Here's what she said to that . . .
JULIA: (Financial v no financial) I also wanted to add - the cookiers I know who turn their work into a profitable business tend to do so via diversifying. So they might also teach, sell tutorials, invent products, do farmer's markets, and so on. I think it's possible to make profit from a cookie business but in my opinion that's going to depend on diversifying.
I completely agree with the above statement about diversification, BTW!
Now, back to the question of pricing for profitability, here's what Michelle said to that . . .
JULIA: (Pricing) Oh, the nickel and diming thing happens in most creative foods . . . and the problem isn't ensuring profitability, it's getting people to pay the prices that include profit. I think this is an exercise in being prepared to educate your customers, market TO THE RIGHT PEOPLE in the first place, and understand that not everyone needs, wants, or values the work we do. That's totally okay - it's just how the world works. So rather than focus on all the people we are not getting, we need to focus on 1) finding the right people and 2) educating consumers as to why our product is worth it.
Hi, all who recently joined us . . . Michelle is not yet here on the chat. I don't know where she is, but I still have a few more questions that she answered in advance and I'll continue to post those . . . then I'll need to figure out a Plan B.
MICHELLE: And, for the second part of my pricing question: When one knows s/he has set price properly and fairly, what's the best way to handle those nickel-and-dimers?
JULIA: (Dealing with nickel and dimers) - I think there are 2 consumers. 1) People who will not pay your prices no matter what (often for many different reasons) and 2) People who MIGHT pay you prices but need a bit more education. So again, this is a marketing exercise. Figure out why your product is worth it (it's handmade, it's personal, you use organic ingredients, etc. - your list of "what makes your products awesome") and then go about conveying that message. The people who flat out come to me with price as their only factor for decision making are not usually the kind of people who will be swayed by this info, so I leave them by the wayside. Also - coming back to finding the right people - if you're looking for customers in places which are traditionally cheaper (like buy/sell/swap groups on Facebook) then don't be surprised when what they care about first and foremost is price.
Thanks, one last question from me and then we'll turn to live questions . . .
MICHELLE: What, in your opinion, are the three most important things that new bakery owners should keep in mind or do when launching a startup operation (in order to ensure a successful startup)?
JULIA: (Successful startup) 3 Important Things: 1) Know that it will take longer than you think to get to where you want to go. It's not a "build it and they will come" situation. 2) DEFINE where you want to go. How MUCH money do you need, how MUCH time can you invest, what are you trying to achieve with this business? Why are you doing it? and 3) Ensure you have money in reserve to keep the business going for at least 6 months regardless of the orders you get. Most new businesses I come across are underfunded from the get go.
Okay, so gang, I truly apologize, but I've been trying to locate Michelle and can't get her via email or social media. We chatted yesterday and confirmed all of the chat details, so I really don't know what is going on . . .
What I plan to do is post the five pending questions that I can see into the chat space. If I can lend any insight, I will. If not, I will see if Michelle is willing to reschedule, and we'll answer those questions then, or I'll have her answer them offline and I'll post them as a blog post.
No worries. Life happens to us all.
Is there any way around the law that won't allow me to sell baked goods from my home?
JIMMY: My answer on this is not to circumvent the law in your area; doing so will only come back to bite you in the butt. Pardon the French!
I started my business from my house (which was illegal in the state of Missouri at the time). Someone loved my work so much that she mentioned it in an article to the press . . .
The next thing I knew, the Department of Health was knocking on my door, and insisting I find another location . . .
I hustled and did so, and it all worked out in the end, but . . .
I also don't think it's fair to and respectful of other law-abiding business owners for others to try to skirt them. It creates an uneven playing field, and competitive advantages (especially in terms of pricing) that those people don't have because they have the overhead of licensing and other costs to bear.
Okay, I think I might try using a bakery space of someone that I know, it's just sooooo convenient to bake and decorate from home. Thank you, Julia.
I know, JIMMY, but you can only fly under the radar for so long. Having to rent space also forces one into the discipline of understanding their true costs, which is essential ultimately in running a profitable and successful business. When I got pushed out of my house, I ended up sharing space too at first. And it worked well . . .
I ended up learning a lot about kitchen management and other business practices from those folks, as they had been in the food service business far longer than me.
Onto the next question . . .
Hi, Michelle. I'm a hobby baker who would love to be able to sell my cookies and hopefully, one day, with a bit more practice, teach what I've learned. I know that marketing is a very important part of business, but as you can probably tell by my designs, I work on a shoestring budget. What are some ways that I can market my product (cookies/cookie classes) without spending a lot of money?
SWEET PRODIGY - I'll try to tackle this one as well, at least from the marketing of cookie classes standpoint, because I do that regularly.
I don't really market myself for classes in a formal way. I got noticed simply by posting my work online, which was great free advertising. I believe my YouTube videos also assisted in selling classes in a way that just posting photos cannot. They demonstrated, I think, that I could also teach in addition to creating.
Both skills - creative/technical and teaching - are key to selling classes and giving good ones. So your marketing should demonstrate that you can do both.
That's all I have on that topic . . . Michelle can hopefully add more later.
What is the best way to pay yourself? Weekly, monthly, by order? Last year was my 1st year tracking expenses and filing as a business (LLC), but I didn't take any money for myself.
Hi, HEATHER0308, Interesting question. First, I am super glad to hear your thinking about paying yourself so soon in the process.
Too many cookiers think that if they just cover their materials costs, that's fine, but ultimately you can't grow a business and sustain growth unless you pay yourself (and ultimately those workers you bring on to expand the business).
Though with regard to frequency of pay, I'd say that's up to you and your business and personal cash flow needs. If cutting weekly checks is onerous, then you could pay yourself monthly. Conversely, if you need the personal cash flow or the discipline of knowing your cash flow at all times, then paying you and your workers with greater frequency may be better. Paying workers is a different story; most hourly food service workers are used to weekly pay checks . . .
Hi Michelle. RE: the Financial vs Non-Financial response... do you feel the same way about high-end/personalized cupcakes? I restarted my baking biz back in Jan 2018 after being laid-off from my copr job of 13+ years. I'm having a hard time figuring out the most profitable product-- cupcakes, which is what I'm stronger at), cookies or cakes.
Hi, LINDA! I have no idea how Michelle would answer this, but I'd say a cupcakes-only business might be rough too. When I had my shop, I did nearly 100-percent high-end custom wedding cakes - high margin products, which are also more cost/labor efficient than either cupcakes or cookies - and I had a tough time making ends meet without supplementing with more easily mass-produced items from time to time.
So, LINDA, in addition to diversification, I also practiced design simplification . . . not everyone will pay a premium for a super highly decided product, so it was nice to offer some less designed, but still lovely products to help expand my clientele/market.
Okay, I will look into it. Thank you for answering my question.
Sweet Prodigy- your work is amazing! You should already be teaching!!
Are there areas where we should focus our marketing? I'm on Facebook and Instagram, and my goal is to get a website this year. Are there other areas (maybe outside of on-line) that should be a focus?
HEATHER0308 - I think your marketing plan needs to be inextricably tied to your business goals. When I had my business, it was before social media. Websites were also just taking off . . . yet I did quite well for a period of time, because my business relied on local clientele. I really wasn't aiming to ship product beyond my metro area, so I focused on more local forms of marketing. The fact is that bakery items are perishable and a pain to transport, so I found that developing a local clientele was key. Even if I could have accessed social media at the time, I most surely would have supplemented my marketing by attending bridal fairs, networking with referral sources (bridal planners), and so on.
Michelle mentioned marketing. I have a Facebook page and Instagram, and I am working on getting a website. What other social media areas should I look at? What non- social media areas should be considered?
Hi, HEATHER. Again, I would think about who you are trying to reach and who you want to serve first - and then let that define your marketing plan. If you need/want to reach people beyond your local market, then social media might play a bigger role than other forms of marketing. It is free, so it has advantages that way too. But, if you want to stay focused locally, then you might find some of the things I mentioned earlier to be helpful too (i.e., networking with referral sources, attending bridal shows or farmer's markets, etc.) The one thing I did very little of was any paid print advertising - I just didn't see the payback.
Sorry for the repeat question, Julia.
NO problem. I thought it was a little different!
Thanks Julia! I've been thinking about a less expensive/more basic cupcake product. Thanks for confirming this is the right way to go!
Thank you Heather! I always think no one will come to the class!
Must I carry insurance on myself and or the business, since selling to the public
Yes, carrying general business insurance is always a wise idea when serving the public or when employing people, IMO. Food poisoning, employee injuries, etc. are all within the realm of possibility.
Julia , when you say "more easily mass-produced items," are you speaking of cookies?
Hey Julia and friends - looks like we had a time zone mix up.
JIMMY - I was speaking of less designed/less time intensive items of all kinds - cakes, cookies, etc.
It's not yet our start time on my watch but you guys have been here a while - I'm glad I jumped on! Hello all and thanks for being here!
PHEW! Hi, Michelle. I've been trying to hold court here, but it's been a while since I've been in the biz!
Sweet Prodigy- if you were closer, I would definitely attend! Your piping skills, and string work are amazing
Not sure what caused the mix-up; it's 4:45 central time here. But I'm going to turn questions over to you now. Maybe after we're done, you could review some of the previous questions and add your two cents offline and I can post them as a supplemental blog post??
It's 7:45am here.
Anyway, onto the next live question . . . for Michelle!
Sure thing, happy to help.
Operations question - is there a system/program that will help you manage inventory, helps sale recipes in different quantity, and maybe even help with invoicing/document management for bakers? Online I saw the Cake Boss tool, which seems to do all this, but never heard about it from any of the expert bakers, and I'm afraid of putting a big investment upfront not knowing if it will work. Thanks! :0)
We had daylight savings happen a week ago, guessing that's what messed things up.
No worries. Linda's question above is all yours!
Linda: CakeBoss is a GREAT program, there's also CakingIt. Then there are non cake tools which do the same thing but not specific to our industry - Honey Books, Dubsado, 17 Hats etc. My suggestion is to use the free trials for a couple of these and try them out to see if they have the features you want and if you're comfortable with them. Personally I recommend CakeBoss - it's good value and works well for a lot of people.
I'm going to extend the chat for about 30 minutes or so, so that people here can have more time with Michelle. Back in a sec. But I will post the next question first!
Have you had experience or know if farmer markets are a viable venue? We have a few "high-end" ones nearby and if I can get into them, they offer seasonal/holiday spaces, which in my thinking, would be the best time to sell decorated cookies.
Big Cookie Dream: I think farmer's markets are a great idea for several reasons. 1) Marketing - you'll get known in your local area, 2) Cash - it's a great way to raise some money in a quick period of time, and 3) Immediate customer feedback from your target market. You'll know their thoughts on your range of products, flavours, prices and so on. So I DO think they are worth it and cookies are especially good for these as they have a longer shelf life.
Is it best to offer predesigned sets than only take customized orders?
Big Cookie Dream: That being said, as they are on weekends, they can start to suck your life away. So seasonal ones are good, and also if you are going to start doing them regularly, just be aware that after a while you might burn out on those as they are a lot of labour!
BCG: At a market - yes!
What's your feeling, Michelle, on pre-designed sets vs. custom ones in general, even if not selling in a farmer's market?
Julia: My feeling is that you offer both - and at different price points. Custom work can and should cost more. So I think pre designed sets are great for bread and butter purposes, and then the custom work can be bonus work. Also with presets, you can make decisions on those which are efficient and effective so you can produce those at a higher speed.
How would I get started getting exposure for cookie sales? I live in a village as where I live now,Napoleonville, La. I would like to get started in the next 4 to 6 months. I thought of making cookies up and individually wrapped with a pretty tag and logo etc, and go around greeting and offering free cookies one to one, to get the word out and started. Any great suggesstions and what down sides if any to this idea? I live in a very small country town on the Bayou LaFourche. I would like some custom cutters made for local things I have thought of. Who would you recommend to make custom cutters? I also have always loved these decorated cookies, ever since I was little, and all the precious cutters too.
Cynthia: I think that's a great idea to offer the freebies, just make sure you're thinking about WHO is going to get them, you don't want to be handing them out to people who aren't your target market. I'd also look around to see if there are any local events you can get involved in - markets, fairs, film festivals, whatever. Local marketing face to face where people can see and taste your product is vital and the best way to get started locally. I'd also suggest that you make some offer on the tag - "mention this to get a free cookie" or something - so you can track how effective that method worked for you.
Oops, all! I noticed a typo in my previous answer to Linda: So, LINDA, in addition to diversification, I also practiced design simplification . . . not everyone will pay a premium for a super highly decided product, so it was nice to offer some less designed, but still lovely products to help expand my clientele/market.
"decided" was supposed to be "decorated"!
What ways can you market when your cottage food law doesn't allow you to ship cookies? Transactions have to be face to face.
Cynthia: Customer cutters - oh there are lots of companies that do this. I've had them made at Shore Cake Supply. Plus I think Whisked Away Cutters does these? I think Julia might be able to answer this better than I cna.
CYNTHIA: Yes, Shore Cake Supply makes them. So does Cookie Cutter Kingdom, Creative Cookier, etc. You may just want to shop around a bit.
BCG: Local marketing is, in my opinion, better than shipping anyway. You can do things like the markets we talked about, set up a "pop up shop" somewhere locally (for a temporary period of time), see if you can get a cafe, high end deli or other food establishment to carry some of your product, get involved in local events. Also get in touch with local organisations (Rotary, PTA at the local school etc) as they often have local events that you can be a part of.
The 3-D printed ones can vary in quality (some not as sharp as others); and you might prefer tin or copper, in which case you'd need to go some place else, as those people I mentioned all make 3-D printed plastic cutters.
Do you need to meet any regulations to teach baking demo classes in the home? (Does that count as serving/selling food?)
Not sure my question went through before:
Got it. It was just at the end of the queue. I post as I get them, one by one.
Home cottage laws in SC don't allow 3rd party selling
Suzanne - this will depend on your local food laws, but to my knowledge, if it's a demo, usually there's no need. If it's hands on - there's usually considerations like insurance.
DONNAS FLOUR GARDEN: They don't allow selling of classes or just not of baked goods?
Donnas: Yeah it varies SO much from state to state, so even if selling it wholesale into another company doesn't work there are other options for local marketing.
Baked goods
A friend of mine got in touch with a local author - and provided cookies for all her local book signings. So really, sometimes you just have to think a little creatively! (should be easy for you guys. )
I believe we also have some zoning restrictions here in MO that do not allow the conducting of any business in a residential zone (due to parking, traffic issues, etc.). But I'm not sure how classes would be handled specifically, especially state to state. My advice is always to research state laws, as they are very variable.
Thanks- where would I check regulations for the state of NY? Also, I'm a certified teacher in my state. Does that make any difference ;-)?
Michelle?? Do you know? I know local Departments of Agriculture and Health can give advice on local cottage food laws (just google cottage food law and your state, and tons will come up). But I am not sure about teaching requirements out of the home . . .
Suzanne: Also being a certified teacher doesn't make a difference to the state as far as I know, but you could add that to your marketing as a point of difference.
I am also a cookie maker. As far as farmer's markets, how do you know how much to bring with you? That has always put me off from doing them
Thanks Julia! Didn't even notice until you pointed it out!
In some states it's the Department of Health, in others it's the Department of Environmental Health. I usually suggest people start with the SBA in their area and go form there.
Oh, good to hear, LINDA!
And Thanks Michelle for your answer to the Ops question.
Julia - will there be a transcript of this webchat. Don't think I'll be able to stay much longer.
A really simple google - "Food Laws (my state)" is always a good start. Also, these rules change. So it's important to keep an eye on them.
Yes, LINDA, just return to this same link when it is over, and the transcript will be saved here.
Wow, that was fast, thank you!
With regards to DFG comment, exactly what is 3rd party selling? Thank you.
DFG = Donna's Flour Garden
selling to another company so they in turn can resell
FL cottage food laws don't allow 3rd party selling either. But I can look for local events where I can participate. Thanks.
Cottage laws on low risk foods, I thought one can not sell them to a cafe or such for resale, this they would make profit as well. Do you have to go to a commercial kitchen to resale?
Donna: How much to bring to markets is a great question. My rule of thumb is to ask the organisers what their average attendance is, and go with 20%-30% of that. It sounds low but we need to remember not everyone buys (though we want them to!) and we don't want a ton of left overs. Then once you go once, you can assess if that's enough or not enough. Also, I really recommend having a PLAN B for any leftovers! Either an organisation you can give them to, or a flash sale online, or some other event you're going to.
Cynthia: It really varies. Some States are okay with 3rd party selling, others are not. I think it's worth finding out at least.
its so hot here in the summer, I'm not sure how well they would last
Cynthia- each states cottage food laws are different. I'm in Ohio and I can sell to restaurants and grocery stores.
DFG: Shelf life has to be taken into consideration in any season.
To be legit in terms of food safety regulataions, does the ENTIRE cookie process have to be completed in a commercial kitchen (Ie decorating the cookie) or just the baking part?
Thank you all
I've found this site to be super helpful in terms of giving an overview of differences on cottage food law across US states. I don't think it should be used to replace talking to your local agencies (or studying their sites), but it does show how widely rules vary from state to state: http://forrager.com/laws/
Suzanne: Again it will vary from location to location but yes, usually the whole process needs to be done in the certified location (whether that's commercial or home will again depend on your State.) NY State does not have cottage food laws (to my knowledge) so yes, it would have to be all done in the one external location.
on = in
Here's Forrager's info on what's permissible in NY state: http://forrager.com/law/new-york
Any more questions from those online?
One thing on kitchens, if your state does not have cottage food laws or allow baking from home, there are other options. Shared commercial kitchens, renting a small space, using the kitchens of other places (churches etc.)
If not, what I would like to do is . . .
. . . go back to the first live questions that I answered when Michelle was not here and have her give us HER take on them! Sound okay, Michelle?
Sure thing
I'll find the question and re-copy it here so you just have to respond. One sec . . .
First one from JIMMY: Is there any way around the law that won't allow me to sell baked goods from my home?
Jimmy: Don't do it. It won't end well. And really, if you want to be a legitimate business, start as you mean to go on.
Jimmy: So as I said a moment ago - look at shared kitchens, incubator kitchens (these are rent by the day or hour ones), existing kitchens (churches etc). There's always a way!
Looks like we agreed on that one!
Here's the next from SWEET PRODIGY: Hi, Michelle. I'm a hobby baker who would love to be able to sell my cookies and hopefully, one day, with a bit more practice, teach what I've learned. I know that marketing is a very important part of business, but as you can probably tell by my designs, I work on a shoestring budget. What are some ways that I can market my product (cookies/cookie classes) without spending a lot of money?
Okay, I'll be checking into sharing a commercial kitchen with someone I know. Thank you to you and Julia for answering my questions.
You are most welcome, JIMMY. Thanks for the great question and for being here today!
Sweet Prodigy: Great question - I think most of us start out on a shoestring budget! There are a whole lot of ways to market our businesses. For example, if you teach a class - encourage those students to leave an online review, or give them an incentive to tell others (encourage work of mouth). Try some of the local events we mentioned earlier in this chat. Social media is free, but exercise caution with that one as you're also in a sea of other cookie makers - so worth doing but be smart about it. One free marketing tool I strongly recommend is starting a database of the people who have enquired with you or bought before and stay in regular communication with them (monthly emails.). A lot of students become repeat customers so if you get in touch once a month and let them know what's coming up, that's a great reminder. You can also reach out to local newspapers who love to feature small businesses. Or you can get in touch with local food bloggers and see if they will feature you. With ALL marketing the process is: 1) Figure out who you want to reach (so create a picture of who they are) and 2) Figure out where those people spend time (both in real life and online) and then 3) Go where they are!
Yes just took me a minute to reply
Good answer! Much more insightful than mine!
Here's the next one from HEATHER0308: Here's the next from SWEET PRODIGY: Hi, Michelle. I'm a hobby baker who would love to be able to sell my cookies and hopefully, one day, with a bit more practice, teach what I've learned. I know that marketing is a very important part of business, but as you can probably tell by my designs, I work on a shoestring budget. What are some ways that I can market my product (cookies/cookie classes) without spending a lot of money?
Oops, reposted the same one. Let me grab Heather's question again.
Here it is: What is the best way to pay yourself? Weekly, monthly, by order? Last year was my 1st year tracking expenses and filing as a business (LLC), but I didn't take any money for myself.
Great advice. I will start to do my homework
Heather: It took me 3 years to pay myself regularly, because rather than take a fixed salary I chose to plow all my money back into the growth of my business. I'd just take money here and there as I felt confident to do so. These days I'd do it differently! Once I started to pay myself, I did it fortnightly (so every other week) and it was always a fixed amount. Admittedly to begin with it was a TINY amount and then every quarter I'd review my own salary (and got a raise every time. I love my boss, LOL.) Anyway for me the regular salary was about much more than the money itself - it really gives you a confidence boost, changes how you think about your business, and makes you take it all a lot more seriously. Personally I think monthly is probably too long - so weekly or fortnightly works better. Plus it's a nice little boost to see that money coming in more regularly.
Another one from HEATHER0308: Michelle mentioned marketing. I have a Facebook page and Instagram, and I am working on getting a website. What other social media areas should I look at? What non- social media areas should be considered?
Michelle, thank you. I like the idea of starting with an amount and then reviewing that every quarter. I would like to go part-time at my day job (currently full time), so starting to take a salary from my baking will help me to understand if this goal is attainable (and work harder to make it so).
Agreed - it's good to get into the discipline of figuring out your time spent in the biz and what it's worth, and then paying yourself; it's really the best way to know if the business can be sustainable in the longer run.
Heather: The website is more important than you think - people "shop" via Google and if you don't have a website and they don't know your business name, they won't find you. There are ton of platforms for social media, but to my mind you're better doing fewer of them and focussing your energy on those rather than trying to be on all place at once. One thing to consider if you have the budget - paying for FB or IG or Google Adwords. I would not do this with no education (eg don't just throw money at it!) but I think those are all effective places to try and spend some money on marketing. For non social media, you can do all kinds of things - flyer drops (yep, they still work!), sponsor a local team (like a little league or a Scout troop), farmer's markets, etc. We've mentioned quite a few today. If any of you are on my newsletter list, I actually give you a free "100 Marketing Ideas" e-book. You can get it from thebizofbaking.com - just sign up at the top and it'll get emailed to you. Mind you, it might use the word 'cake' more than cookie but it all still applies.
Heather: Absolutely. Plus it's amazing how when we "pay when we think we can" the money never seems to be there but when we have an auto-pay set up, we make it happen!
Here's another from Linda: Hi Michelle. RE: the Financial vs Non-Financial response... do you feel the same way about high-end/personalized cupcakes? I restarted my baking biz back in Jan 2018 after being laid-off from my copr job of 13+ years. I'm having a hard time figuring out the most profitable product-- cupcakes, which is what I'm stronger at), cookies or cakes.
The above question related to whether you think it would be tough to make a cupcake-only business work, as you said a cookie production-only biz could be tough.
Linda: I feel the same way about cupcakes as I do about cookies - so you can make it work, but diversifying is going to play a large role in that. Cupcakes have the same problem as cookies in that they are small and easily eaten, so it can be hard for people to see the value (and therefore want to pay it). I also think in cupcakes you can have standard (still high end but standard in terms of you have them regularly) flavours and designs then offer custom work as well.
One more from earlier from CYNTHIA: Must I carry insurance on myself and or the business, since selling to the public?
Cynthia: Yes! Insurance protects the buyer AND the seller. It's important. Also a word on events - some event organizers will request that you have a specific amount of insurance (for example 5M public liability) so bear that in mind. In my case I had business insurance and i was able to buy "one off" insurance for events too.
Thanks, Michelle, for going back through all the earlier questions. I think we got them all!
Sure thing.
I do want to say one thing about business (cookies or not!)
Michelle, is there anything else (advice, words of wisdom, etc.) you'd like to lend to the group before we sign off?
Great! I see we were on the same wavelength! Shoot!
Thanks Julia and Michelle. I look forward to reviewing the transcript.
Thanks for your great questions, Big Cookie Dream and everyone else!
Just because it's hard doesn't mean it's not worth doing...AND just because everyone else (seems to) be doing it doesn't mean you have to. More than anything else I've learned that business is about your life - you can't separate the two when it's a small business. So decide if having a business is what you want for YOU and then make decisions based on that. Don't be scared off by competitors, and don't feel you've got to do things the way others do them. Basically - YOU DO YOU. (and bonus, this will make you stand out from a crowded market!)
Wonderful advice! And on that uplifting note, I want to thank Michelle for joining us today! I learned a ton, and could ask her questions all day!
thank you
My pleasure.
Thank you, Michelle & Julia!
Please, everyone, be sure to check out Michelle's site and online/in-person biz courses. She's a font of wisdom, and today was just the tip of the iceberg! Thanks again, Michelle, and, everyone, enjoy the rest of the weekend!
Thank you Michelle
I'm closing the chat now. Thanks to all for such great questions!
This chat has ended.
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