Even though the chats in our CookieCon 2018 Speakers Series are now over (our last chat was on November 3 with Katy Metoyer of @Sugar Dayne), the in-depth Close-ups continue! (HUGE sigh of relief. ) This month, we’ll be tapping the brain of cookier @Jodi Till, with whom we first chatted back on September 22 (here).
In case you missed Jodi’s chat, here are some of the things we learned about her then . . . Jodi grew up baking cookies with her grandma, aunt, and mom, but she didn’t begin her cookie business until 2014 when her sister suggested she start a Facebook page to sell her creations. Being a fresh “empty nester” and seeing how expensive it was to keep two kids in college, Jodi latched onto this suggestion and soon launched the page “Kids to College Cookie Creations.” Four years later, Jodi loves to teach cookie classes several times a week, bake mini pies, and also develop new cookie cutter designs for the cookie world. As a CookieCon instructor in 2018, Jodi put her college biochem classes to use by exploring the science behind royal icing. Her presentation demystified things like cratering, botoxing, and dehydrating! Jodi was also a first-place winner in the CookieCon Sugar Show in both 2017 and 2015. When Jodi isn’t cookie-ing, she works as a court reporter and enjoys hiking through the mountains of northern California, USA, where she lives with her husband.
While the chat unearthed a lot of great info about Jodi, I feel like we just scratched the surface - as usual. So, today, we’ll dive deeper into how Jodi got to where she is today, and how she has been spending her time since CookieCon.
JMU: Welcome back, Jodi. I can’t wait to pick up where we left off, so I’m going to jump right into questions. Let’s back up a bit . . . I’m assuming that, at the time you launched your cookie page, you were primarily selling cookies and not teaching or doing any other cookie-related stuff. Is that right? At that time, where did you operate your business – from your home or in another commercial kitchen, and why? Also, roughly how many cookies were you making and decorating per week?
JT: Thanks, Julia! Yes, when I first started as a business, I would take orders as they came in, and I was thrilled that someone I didn’t know was going to pay for my cookies! Then it seemed like every time I’d post a picture of the cookies I had done, then I’d get a couple more orders out of it. Since I was just a part-time baker, I operated my business from the coziness of my own little kitchen through the cottage food law.
Hmmm, how many cookies per week? I would say the quantity of cookies differed a lot each week, but I do vividly remember when I got my first order of 150 cookies and it nearly killing me back then! LOL!
JMU: It sounds like your business has since shifted away from selling cookies toward teaching and designing products (i.e., cookie cutters). Is this an accurate statement? If so, what was the reasoning behind moving your business in this direction? Were there certain aspects of selling cookies that made it less appealing to you over time? If so, what were they and how did they influence your change of course?
JT: I’d describe my business as taking a turn toward mainly teaching and then designing cookie cutters for other cutter businesses on the side. This was a slow shift that evolved after I started realizing how much time I was spending making cookies for the amount of money I was getting. I also hated turning people down because there just wasn’t enough time in the day to say "yes" to their orders. One day I just said, "I’m going to teach moms how to make cookies for their own kids’ parties", and one cookie class turned into monthly classes, and then into private classes and parties, and now my calendar is full with just teaching opportunities. I found I really enjoy passing on the tradition of decorating cookies.
JMU: I hear you! Making money on cookie orders alone can be very challenging! So, how much of your time do you now spend on your cookie business versus working as a court reporter? And how much time do you spend on average (per week) on each of your primary cookie activities, i.e., teaching cookie decorating, designing cutters, etc.? Why have you chosen to allot your time this way?
JT: I work as a court reporter about four days a week. But, after work, I go home and then have to edit and proofread my court transcripts before I turn them in, so, therefore, it ends up being more than a full-time job. The one saving grace of my job is there is a lot of downtime in the courtrooms, so I bring my cookie planner with me. Every spare minute is used managing my sites, planning, drawing, returning messages, thinking up new class themes and colors, making checklists, and then shopping my way toward home.
Once I’m home, it’s either baking, making icing, or decorating class samples (depending on which day it is) while my husband and I watch FBI shows. LOL! I can’t really break up what I do in hours, because it’s a smattering of everything here and there, whatever needs to get done, but I can tell you this: I actually spend less time teaching classes, and am less fatigued than I was when making tons of cookies for other people!
JMU: It sounds like you made a great cookie-transition for you! Fatigue remains my nemesis! Do you ever envision a time when you will work in cookies full time? Why or why not?
JT: Oh, all the time! You should see my private Pinterest board dedicated to “My Cookie Business Dreams.” But it’s just that for now - a dream. I’d love to have my own little shop, but it’s not economically feasible in California. And when I really think about it, do I really want to be tied to the business to the point that I start dreading the smell of cookies? I don’t know. I’ll keep daydreaming for now.
JMU: So, let’s talk about your cookie cutter designing for a bit. Why did you decide to design cookie cutters and not some other decorating tool? And why did you decide to have others make and sell them for you, rather than taking on these activities yourself?
JT: Cookie cutter designs just kind of happened, more as a hobby, when I saw a need for a particular cutter that the cookie world didn’t already have. I started making designs for the awesome Bobbi’s Cookies & Cutters and then more recently for Sweet Elite Tools (which should be coming out any day). I really enjoy the designing aspect and seeing a physical product that results from it. And I especially love seeing others using the cutters. I do have other things I am toying with, which are still in the research stage. I guess I have a lot of courtroom downtime to daydream!
JMU: Now, onto teaching. You mentioned in your bio that you teach several times a week! Admittedly, I had to read that line a few times, because I can’t see how anyone can teach more than a few cookie classes per month! The prep alone for one class per month just about kills me. Please tell us what your typical cookie class schedule looks like, and how you manage to pull off the prep for so many classes per week. Do you have any helpers?
JT: I outlined my planning stage (above), which I do Monday through Thursday during my work day. Planning is what actually takes most of my time. Just getting everyone signed up and paid takes nearly a full day of managing. I’ve had to streamline the payment and signup method over the years to what works best for me. For me, there's only one way to pay, which is online, and only one way to sign up, which is through Facebook, on one given day.
On Thursday nights, I get my checklist of things done for one Friday class and up to two Saturday classes. This list includes bagging my icings (which is my least favorite task of all); making and copying practice sheets, transfer images, recipes, and my tips flyer; gathering prizes for drawings; and then sending out reminders.
To keep my sanity, I do try to have one class theme per weekend. I also have two people share icing bags during class, and I try to limit my colors to six colors to a theme. I found having a class of 11 is the perfect fit for me.
I feel so blessed to have such an awesome husband (Dave) who actually sets up, tears down, and does light cleaning and vacuuming after class. He is also my accountant, my alarm clock, and the defender of his own meals on occasion. I truly wouldn’t be able to do it without him picking up my slack. We make a good team, because Dave goes to Bass Pro Shop on Friday nights during my class, and then on Saturdays he often goes fishing.
JMU: Wow, a husband who vacuums?! What a novelty! Backing up a bit, again . . . why did you move from selling to teaching, apart from it being hard to make money selling cookies? I ask because teaching cookie decorating is very different than decorating cookies. It requires an additional set of skills, IMO. When did you know you had acquired enough decorating and teaching skill to start teaching? Did you do anything special to gear up for the teaching part, and to hone that skill set?
JT: You are right! Teaching isn’t for everyone. For one, your communication style and personality must be suited to it. I’ve taught various kinds of classes over the years, from ladies’ conferences to kids’ classes, and I actually homeschooled my kids part time. I really enjoy teaching, so I think it was probably a natural step for me.
As far as skill set goes, I don’t think most of us feel that we have acquired enough skill to arrive at “teacher.” I look at teaching as helping out someone else who just needs to learn what I know. I’m always learning.
JMU: Wise words, especially the "always learning" part. Where do you usually run your classes – in your home or at other venues - and why? Do you ever travel out of your town, state, or country to teach? Why or why not?
JT: I love having classes in my home where I’m comfortable and never have to worry about forgetting my scribes, towels, or icing bags, or getting there on time! When I do travel to teach, I charge a lot more just for the sheer stress of it all.
I learned the hard way. One time I drove to someone’s house for a private party class. It was in such a bad neighborhood with no street lights, chain link fences everywhere, and iron gates over everyone’s windows. It took everything in me to get out of my car. At another class I did at someone’s house, it was so dirty that I had to scrub the table and pick up their clothes on the floor before I could proceed. Yuck!
With all that said, yes, I have been starting to travel outside of town now. I’ll be teaching in San Diego on June 28 and 29, which I’m very excited about! As far as out of the country, that would be a lot of fun, but I’m not a Julia Usher or a Sandy Beltran!
JMU: Awww, shucks! Traveling out of the country is fun, but not nearly as glam as it sounds . . . How is your typical class structured, i.e., how many students of what skill levels? how long? how many cookies, of what complexity, taught in that time? Why have you opted to structure your classes this way?
JT: I take up to 11 students, if the class is at my home. If it’s at someone else’s house, school, church, etc., I’ll take however many can fit around tables and comfortably see me decorating.
Classes range in length and content. My beginner party-type classes are only two hours, and we only do five to six cookies, taught step-by-step with me, in that amount of time. My classes tend to have slightly more intricate cookies than most other beginner-type classes, but I mainly do that for myself so I don’t get bored with just making one-layer hearts or wet-on-wet circles, etc.
My one-on-one (up to one-on-six) classes are four-hour classes where we go through the process of cookie making, baking, and icing, and then learn beginner, intermediate, or intermediate-advanced (whatever the class is designed for) decorating techniques on up to eight cookies.
Sometimes I do workshops for occasions such as Mother’s Day. I enjoy instructing students in making their own gifts, rather than making tons of cookie gifts myself and then packaging, selling, and having pickup days.
I’m intrigued with how cookiers do their businesses so differently. This approach is what tends to work for me.
JMU: Yes, there are countless ways to participate in the cookie world. So many, in fact, that the options can be distracting to the point of overwhelming. I think it's helpful from time to time to just put on blinders and tune it all out - and keep on doing what you like to do.
One more teaching question . . . What top three dos and don’ts would you give to cookie decorators who want to start teaching cookie decorating?
- Plan! Make lists! This is the biggest timesaver of all.
- Make the cookies that YOU have always wanted to make, or use that cookie cutter that you bought but never got the chance to use, or choose a theme that you’ve been dying to do.
- Enjoy your students. I’ve made quite a few cookie friends through classes. It’s a fun night out for them, and you are doing what you love to do!
- Don’t do more than six regular-size cookies at the most. You’ll save your sanity. (Six cookies for 12 people times three classes is about 220 cookies. And that’s 18 dozen to make enough icing for!)
- Don’t let your students take over and lead you with their best way to pay or handle refunds/rain checks, or their best avenue for you to reach them, etc. Keep things streamlined.
- I don’t do swag bags. I don’t want to start something that I would never be able to stay on top of.
JMU: Just one token CookieCon 2018 question, as we are nearly running out of space! If you could do your whole CookieCon 2018 teaching experience over, what three things would you do differently, and why?
JT: Not stress and worry about all the things I had to get done, and enjoy the experience more. I’d also be more prepared for the Saturday breakout session. I didn’t think anyone was going to come to my station! That’s all I can think of. Everything else was just wonderful at CookieCon 2018!
JMU: And, lastly, where do you see yourself in the cookie world five years from now? What are your cookie dreams and aspirations, and how do you plan to achieve them?
JT: Well, after CookieCon, I changed my cookie business name to The Floured Canvas since I no longer have to fund my "kids to college". So, at the moment, I’m just enjoying having a real logo so I can start marketing. I have a few small goals within the next couple years, which include making more Instagram and Facebook video tutorials, getting into online classes, finishing my series of cutters for Sweet Elite Tools, and continuing to experiment and teach classes. I’m also working on remodeling my kitchen and office. That’s about it!
JMU: Phew! That's plenty by anyone's standards! But, with all the planning you do, I have no doubt you'll be on target with meeting these goals! Thanks again for spending time with us today, and best of luck operating under your brand new business name!
All cookie and photo credits: Jodi Till of The Floured Canvas
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!