For those of you who haven’t been around Cookie Connection that long, you might not know that this is our second (yes, second!) Cookier Close-up with Anne Yorks of Flour Box Bakery fame. We last spoke with Anne back in 2014 when she was on the cusp of teaching at CookieCon for the very first time. Now, she’s fresh off a stint as the CookieCon 2018 Keynote Speaker. Talk about skyrocketing to the top!
In our 2014 interview, Anne and I spoke at great length about how she started Flour Box Bakery in 2007, not long after graduating with a journalism degree from Penn State in 2001. We also discussed how she worked with her local small business development center and food safety department to launch her home-based cookie business, which operates in a second kitchen in her home in Happy Valley in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, USA. At the time, she was enjoying making cookiescapes like the Thanksgiving table spread, pictured below. She had also just made her first foray into teaching classes in her cookie school. Not one to rest on her laurels, Anne had ambitious goals, even then, as expressed in her answer to my last question of that interview:
JMU: And after CookieCon, what’s next for you and Flour Box Bakery? What other exciting cookie projects or events do you have planned for 2014?
AY: After CookieCon, I will continue to grow Flour Box Bakery’s cookie business. I also hope to continue to teach at my cookie school, work on my video tutorial shop, and offer decorating supplies in my online shop. I have been contacted by a few others to teach (in the US and overseas), and I’m excited to see where that will take me!
Fast forward four years to 2018, and Anne has done all she hoped to do and more! She’s released numerous video tutorials that have garnered her a massive social media following (1.5M on Facebook; 40K on YouTube); she’s selling countless cookie items in her online store; and she’s got three Craftsy classes and two CookieCon appearances under her belt. Plus, other things, I’m sure.
With that retrospective aside, let’s now check in with Anne to find out what she thinks of her journey, including her recent experience at CookieCon, and what she plans to do next.
JMU: Hi – again – Anne! Since we’re on the topic of your last interview, I’m going to start there. As I look back at your last four years, it seems as if your current business is perfectly aligned with what you had planned for it back in 2014. Is that a fair statement? Or has your business taken some unexpected turns that even you hadn’t anticipated? If so, what were those turns and how did you deal with them?
AY: Hi, Julia! Have four years passed? YIKES! Time is flying! I’m grateful for the growth in my business. Looking back, I am pleased I met the goals I set. I still love teaching classes, and I’m excited to introduce some new themes in 2019. We continue to expand the online shop, and I hope to build more connections with our customers. All this growth has been fun, but it hasn’t been easy. There have been a few growing pains and a few mistakes, but those were great learning opportunities. Personally, the last four years had some challenges. In 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Then last year, I helped take care of my mom at the end of her eight-year fight with cancer. Both experiences forced me to prioritize my health and family first over my business. Oftentimes, I had to remember that cookies have a place in my life, but they are not my entire life. Cookies were also a great distraction at times and a comfortable place for me. I love having a creative outlet like cookies.
JMU: I am terribly sorry to hear about your diagnosis and your mom. I had no idea, but I admire you all the more for knowing your priorities and keeping your business going in the midst of such huge personal challenges. I certainly hope your cancer battle is at bay, and you're on the road to sustained good health.
Looking at the business side of things, what would you say have been your one or two biggest crowning cookie achievements since we last talked, and why?
AY: It’s funny how some of the day-to-day achievements, while small, can feel so successful. Finding the right shipping app for the shop, creating a new way to organize inventory, or creating a cookie tutorial that I’m really proud of have been a few small behind-the-scenes achievements. I find when I do the small things right, the big things fall into place.
JMU: Conversely, what were the one or two biggest mishaps or missteps, if any, that you’ve had with your business? Now that you have the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, what would you have done differently to avoid those mishaps?
AY: Not having boundaries is my kryptonite. I am a people-pleaser, and this trait has caused undue stress and some "cookie resentment". In the last four years, I found a better work/life balance. I found my ability to say the word "no". At times, I missed some neat opportunities (like a high-profile cookie project or a special class opportunity), but this opened doors to opportunities that fit better with my current business and family life. Finding my "best yes" changed my approach to most everything. (BTW, The Best Yes is great book by Lysa TerKeurst.) I work fewer evenings than ever before and I LOVE IT! My husband and I have a regular game of cards (rummy) on every Wednesday night. After 10 years of decorating, I am glad to still be in this industry (the burnout is real!), and I think I will continue as long as I can have balance in work and life.
JMU: That all being said, you seem to be doing more things right now than is humanly possible: being mom to two daughters (ages 7 and 11), fulfilling cookie orders, running an online supply shop, making video tutorials, teaching in-person classes, etc. On average over a typical week or month, how much of your time is spent doing each of these things? And do you have any employees (or volunteers) who help you manage/run the business, or are you still flying pretty much solo?
AY: I am streamlining things considerably. I take very limited orders. Much of my time is spent on overall business management, tutorial and cookie design, teaching classes, and product research. I have a team of people that moves Flour Box Bakery forward. We have two employees, Kristyn and Stacy, who handle much of the online supplies shop. My husband does all of the video work. I have a bookkeeper, graphic designer, web guy . . . and a housecleaner. There is no way I could do this all alone!
JMU: Great - you've spurred me on to find more help myself. (I've also put Lysa TerKeurst's book at the top of my reading list!) Which of the workstreams that you just mentioned is your favorite to do, and why? And do you envision focusing your portfolio of activities even more?
AY: I love cookie and tutorial design the most! I’m committed to designing cookies that are practical for decorators to recreate. I want my designs to be cute AND approachable. That is where I find the joy in decorating, and I hope I bring that to the cookie world. Sometimes I get a creative block and feel unproductive. I think it is part of the creative process. But I don’t let it stop me. I keep creating and eventually work through those blocks, and I’m always glad I do!
JMU: Let’s talk about teaching a bit. You teach classes at your place in Pennsylvania, at CookieCon and other events, via your own video tutorials, and online via Craftsy. Which of these modes of teaching is your favorite, and why? Which of these formats is the most difficult to do, and why?
AY: I love the video tutorials because I get to work with my husband, Topher, on those projects. I think we make a great team. I enjoy the Craftsy experience, but it is a lot of prep and planning (like months) to make that two-day shoot go smoothly. The hard work pays off though. I have connected with so many students through that outlet.
JMU: You seem to offer a wide range of standard classes on your website that range in price from about $100 to $110 (per person) and last about 3 1/2 hours. You also seem to limit those classes to two times per month. Why have you chosen to format and price your classes this way? Do you ever do custom classes? Do you ever travel to teach? Why or why not?
AY: I usually only teach two to three classes per month (usually two public and one private), because I’m only willing to give up one weekend a month from my family time. At times, I feel pressure to teach more because of the demand, but my girls are young, and it is important to keep that life/work balance. I love teaching in my "cookie space" in our home. It fits a group of 12 comfortably . . . lots of one-on-one attention. The price reflects my prep time, materials, and teaching. Since I host in my space, I don’t have to incorporate a room rental fee or any travel costs. I do custom classes for private groups. They are fun, and I love when the groups return for more classes. I have had the same group for four classes, and they still want to come back! I like getting to know the students. I have traveled to teach hands-on classes (locally and to CookieCon). That takes logistical planning, for sure! Those classes are priced at a premium due to the cost of traveling, shipping supplies, and time away from home. Out of all the classes I teach, I enjoy the beginner’s class the most. There is something so rewarding about introducing people to the joy of decorating!
JMU: I understand that Craftsy was bought by NBC Universal in 2017 and recently merged into bluprint, a community-based site that allows others, not just Craftsy-vetted experts, to share their projects and tutorials. How has this acquisition and site change impacted the business you do with Craftsy? Are Craftsy classes still a financially, or otherwise, attractive venture for cookie decorator-instructors to strive to do? Why or why not? What advice would you give to a cookier who wants to develop a Craftsy class? Please list your top three dos and don’ts.
AY: I am grateful for the merger, because it has launched the Craftsy catalog to a national platform. Since the acquisition, bluprint has contracted me to create short social media cookie video/tutorials, which has been an awesome opportunity to promote my three classes with them. In my opinion, I would do the Craftsy experience without gaining anything in return. It stretches me professionally and personally and there is so much value in that. But the financial reward is there, too. The unlimited subscription for bluprint has been an adjustment for both the instructor and the consumer, but overall it has been a good thing for both groups.
- Be specific in your approach to a topic because students respond to a focused class versus a broad class.
- Prep, prep, prep . . . it’s the key to a successful class shoot.
- Get excited to have someone do your hair and makeup. I know that seems silly, but it’s so much fun!
- Since #3 is silly . . . I’ll add on one more "do": take good notes as you plan the class and prep your step-outs (cookies in progress) as you work through the content. When I prepped for my first class, I didn’t keep good notes, and I didn’t prep my step-outs as I planned. For the second and third classes, I took really good notes and prepped all of the step-outs throughout the process. I froze the step-outs to keep them looking great for the shoot. This really reduced the amount of work just before the shoot. I went into the second and third classes with a lot more confidence and felt way more prepared and rested.
- Don’t teach what you don’t use. Be authentic and genuine.
- Don’t stress . . . the Craftsy team is there to help you be successful. With each class, I’m always encouraged by how the team works with me to make the class the best it can be. I love working in that atmosphere.
- Don’t limit yourself to the Craftsy experience. If that opportunity is not open to you, there are tons of ways to get into teaching cookies, so don’t wait . . . jump in and host live classes, post video tutorials, and get going.
JMU: On your last point, what advice would you give to those who want to start teaching their own cookie decorating classes? Again, what are your top three dos and don’ts?
AY: I’m passionate about teaching cookie decorating! I just released a book all about teaching classes (you can find it on www.flourboxbakery.com). Consider these dos and don'ts before taking the leap:
- Get excited to share the love of decorating with others! Teaching has been a financial boost for me, but, more than that, it’s been a great break from the routine of cookie orders. It’s a great avenue to consider if you’re feeling burnt out.
- Be ready to share what you know! Teaching requires letting go of your "secrets".
- Practice talking and decorating at the same time. Seriously – it took me a little while to get this down, and it is great for the cookie demos!
- Don’t underestimate the prep work involved with teaching. Make a plan, class outline, and prep list to keep organized.
- Again, don’t teach what you don’t use . . . stick to your best skills that you have practiced over the years.
- Don’t wait until you think you "know it all" to start teaching. We all have something to share, and hosting a basic class is doable for most decorators. So many people want to learn how to make the icing and basic piping/flooding techniques, which are a great foundation for a basic decorating class.
JMU: All great advice! Similarly, what advice would you give to those who want to start making their own online video tutorials?
AY: My best advice . . .
- The quality of the video is important, so invest a little in equipment and lighting to make sure your videos show your work in the best light. We are using a Manfrotto tripod for most videos, a cell phone camera, and Final Cut Pro to edit our tutorials. We also have an Arkon mount for live videos. We have been using short tabletop lights, but just ordered large floor stand lights for live broadcasts, cookie videos, and photography lighting. (Lighting always seems to be the area where we can grow the most.)
- Factor in the editing time as part of the process. I’m spoiled because I have my husband editing for me. IMO, editing is the hardest part of the process. He uses Final Cut Pro, but I hear there are some great, approachable Mac and PC options for software.
- Plan ahead. I don’t wing it when it comes to videos. I take time on the design process of the cookie. Plus, I have my cookies prepped to various stages in the process (aka, those step-outs I mentioned earlier) to make the video-shooting quicker. This prep takes a little work, but having those step-outs keeps the project on track. All tools and icing are prepped. Overall, have a plan going into the video so that it isn’t a frustrating experience.
- Avoid bad lighting/bad angles/bad sound. This point goes back to investing in a little equipment to make good quality videos.
- One size does not fit all. Plan for the platform when it comes to length and size/shape of video content. For instance, use short square 60-second videos for Instagram, vertical in-depth videos for Instagram TV, medium-length standard-layout videos for Facebook, and longer in-depth standard-layout tutorials for YouTube. If you’re brand new to videos, pick one platform to start and, as you gain experience, explore other platforms.
- Don’t forget to add a watermark, and consider adding a call to action to the video (i.e., a request for viewers to do something, such as clicking on a link to your site). Determine your goals for posting videos.
JMU: Let’s turn to CookieCon 2018 for a bit. I heard some talk about your keynote presentation – that it was about not letting perfectionistic tendencies get in the way of the creative process. But can you give us a more detailed review of what it was about, and the key messages or lessons that you wanted listeners to take away from it?
AY: Being the CookieCon Keynote Speaker was such an awesome experience. I brought 18 confetti cannons, and they all went off as I yelled "I LOVE COOKIES". Seriously, I have wanted to do that for a loooong time! My keynote address explored the world of cookie decorating through photos and videos. I celebrated the joy of the cookie and talked about our craft as an art that makes people smile and feel loved. But cookie decorating also brings challenges. We doubt our abilities and question our place in the community. We hide our fear and pretend it doesn’t exist. We only show others what we want them to see, and social media can be intimidating as we scroll through perfect cookie after perfect cookie. We also have life happening around us, and those demands can impact our creativity. I encouraged decorators to push through that fear and keep creating with confidence (#createwithconfidence). To not let that fear stop the creative process. To open their minds to learning, connecting, and creating. For me, this is the joy of what we do!
JMU: You’re one of the cookie “originals” – a real veteran in the business. So this next mini-series of questions is perfect for you given your depth of experience! You’ve now been designing and selling cookies for about eight cookie-years, which is like 30 actual years when one considers all the time and patience that goes into cookie decorating. What tips would you give to those suffering from cookie fatigue or burnout about how to succeed in the business over the long haul?
AY: When I have experienced cookie fatigue and burnout, I have taken time off. I schedule breaks after big cookie holidays like Christmas. It’s a time to refresh and renew. I also try to keep in perspective that most customers want pumpkins in the fall, trees in the winter, and hearts for Valentine’s Day. I think we all put this big pressure on ourselves to create something earth-shattering and new, but, in reality, we need to meet our customers' needs. Finally, when I feel overwhelmed, it’s a sign that I need to SIMPLIFY . . . simplify my schedule (say "no" more), simplify my designs (cute cookies don’t have to be complicated), and simplify my offerings (custom orders can overwhelm, and offering some standards is much more efficient).
JMU: What have been the biggest changes – good or bad - that you’ve seen in the cookie community, either here in the US or globally, since you started? (That is, apart from it growing explosively, which is pretty obvious. ) Did any of these changes come as a surprise to you? If so, why?
AY: I am so encouraged that, as the community has grown, the sharing and helping has not changed. Cookie people are so kind and helpful and funny and nice. It’s just the cookie way. I hope others find the cookie community to be a positive and encouraging space. And as the community grows even more, I would love to see that trend continue to positively influence not only decorators, but also the world around us.
JMU: As a follow-up to the previous question, what are the things you like most and least about the cookie decorating world and/or where it seems to be headed? How would you change or correct those things you like least?
AY: The thing I like least about the cookie decorating world is the pressure to do things perfectly. Feeling that, if our work isn’t perfect, it can’t be enjoyed and shared. But we are talking about cookies, and they will be eaten . . . LOL . . . there should be freedom in that! But I’d love to see more people share the ups and downs of the cookie experience to encourage longevity and perseverance in the creative process.
The thing I like the best about the cookie decorating world is the PEOPLE. #mycookiefriendsarereal. I love my cookie friends. They are loving, encouraging, and supportive, and they get me! I never expected this when I started cookies . . . the friendships . . . they're my favorite part!
JMU: And, last but not least, if I were to interview you again four years from now, what would you like to be able to say then about yourself, your business, and your place in the cookie world?
AY: In the next four years, I see my business moving into a new space that allows for larger workshops. We also need a great space for our online shop inventory. (We are currently looking, but haven’t found the perfect spot for us yet.) I hope my cookie experience is not just a personally fulfilling experience, but also one that will positively impact others with cookies through donations, teaching, and being a good cookie friend!
JMU: Well, if your track record over the last four years is any indicator, meeting these new goals should be a slam dunk! Thanks for spending time again with us today. I really appreciated your candor about life balance, and catching up with you was a true pleasure! I also look forward to seeing you in March at CookieCon 2019! (You all will be pleased to know that Anne is returning as a core instructor next year!)
All cookie and photo credits: Flour Box Bakery
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!
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