How To Get Friends To Pay For Cakes And Get Word Around

Business By Shockolata Updated 12 Nov 2015 , 8:40am by Pastrybaglady

Shockolata Posted 11 Aug 2015 , 6:54pm
post #1 of 45

I thought that it was a good idea to make cakes for friends' special celebrations to show them what I can do but in the two years I have been supplying them with cakes, they have never once offered to buy one or even pay for the cost of ingredients. I got really annoyed with my bestie because she went and bought cake from Costco for her kids despite me offering to make it for them. She said Costco cakes are within her price range and are loved by everyone. Please note that I did not ask for money but we had talked in the past about how I wished to make this into a business. 

How on earth do I get to move forward with this? If my friends won't let me do their kids' cakes so other parents can taste and be enticed and order, too, what does that mean? Aren't friends supposed to support each other? 

How do I get people to know that I exist and I bake delicious cakes? I have a FB page with a few hundred likes but it does not generate any business. I have also contributed to bake sales at my daughter's school that have earned the school amounts like £80 and over, whereas most parents just bring a tray of supermarket sweets which they bought for £1 which the school breaks up and sells for 20 p each. I had so many compliments for my cake pops, for example, and people were discussing them enthusiastically. My daughter's teacher had approached me and raved about them and encouraged me to open up a business because "these were the best" she had tasted and she was "a baker herself and should know." She had no reason to flatter me. I believe her to have been genuine.

So... what do you think? There is probably lots I am doing wrong at the moment, so would appreciate any feedback. Should I get a website with recipes, for example? Is that going to bring any business or will it just consume more of my time without result? Any ideas are welcome! Thank you in advance.

44 replies
costumeczar Posted 11 Aug 2015 , 7:06pm
post #2 of 45

The first thing you're doing wrong is assuming that friends and family are going to be your customers. They're the worst.

They might not be able to afford what you'd have to charge to make a profit, or they might really like Costco cake better. Most people have palates of cement and don't care what they're eating as long as there's sugar in it. Also, if they're feeding a bunch of little kids, most people wouldn't want to pay more than they have to since the kids aren't going to appreciate it anyway.

Try marketing outside your circle of friends. They're not obligated to buy cakes from you, just as you're not obligated to buy every candle, scrapbooking supply or tupperware container that they decide to sell.

Also, don't pay attention to people who say "Oh, you should start a business!" Everyone says that, and they have no skin in the game, so it's an easy thing to say. Do research to see if your area can support another custom cake business at the prices that you'd have to charge to make a decent profit for yourself. It's possible that there's no room in the market right now since there are so many people making cakes for pocket money. If there is a niche for you, then go for it after you've done your research and figured out your pricing. And stop donating things to the school fairs, that's a terrible thing to do because it just makes you mad to see how little they sell your hard work for!

mccantsbakes Posted 11 Aug 2015 , 7:30pm
post #3 of 45

As the "baker" in my family, I am virtually expected to provide custom cakes for family.....for free of course becasue THATS what family DOES for one another.......right?   SIGH.   

sometimes, I am more than happy to provide a gift cake to close friends and family.  Because I love it, and it's a nice a point though.    I find that my free cakes to close family tend to be the "oh, whatever...just do something simple......but I really want a 5 tiered, lace covered, gumaste flower, premium flavors alll the bells and whistles cake to serve 100 people....FOR free....because we are FAMILY.....and that is what family does for each other right?"

I HAD to stop.   I have a BIG family.  Seriously, I was going broke pumping out free much so that I KNOW the cakes started tasting like resentment and anger.    and who wants to eat my resentment?    

So no more free cakes....sorry.

But NOW I get the "I know you can't do the cake for free, but my friends so and so's whatever is having a party and they are really strapped and you know, maybe you could make the cake....they can maybe pay half."

i kid you not.....I actually have that situation RIGHT NOW.


I happen to think costco is a fantastic option for cake with a 20 dollar budget......even if my bestie chooses it over my cakes.    This keeps us friends.

bakernoob Posted 11 Aug 2015 , 7:36pm
post #4 of 45

You are not alone. When my late daughter was getting started out she had the same issues with her friends and even some family. They made the worst customers and she eventually decided she would only serve the public because it was becoming such a problem. 

Jinkies Posted 11 Aug 2015 , 7:41pm
post #5 of 45

Costumczar is totally right.  Friends and family are the worst customers.  Everyone loves your cake when they are free or discounted but those same people are not gonna want to pay.  I rarely get referrals from family or friends.  Most of  my referrals come from former clients that had no connection to me and I like it that way.  Anytime it's through someone I know, they think they'll get a cheap cake because they're friends of so and so.

I had so many people who said they were gonna order from me when I started my business-never did.  You have to find the right clients.  

I will say that out of all my clients so far, only one seemed to have an upper income.  The rest did not seem like they could afford one of my cakes.  They each had a special occasion that they felt deserved a custom cake and did not mind paying for it.  Those people do exist, it just takes time to find them (sadly).  In other words, it's not about the income or area it's about the person appreciating a custom cake-at least that's my experience.  Now, you do have to have better cakes than the cheap cake lady in your area.  If the cheapies are selling the same quality as you for $25, you can't really compete with that.  You're only gonna find the people who will pay more if you offer a better product.

And, yes, you should have a website-that's how most of those people will find you.  But, beware, there is a lot of work involved in getting your website up on the search engines.  I'm still working on that....

Anyway, in my experience so far, if you are priced well and want to actually make money on your cakes-it will take time to build your clientele.

Jinkies Posted 11 Aug 2015 , 7:43pm
post #6 of 45

@mccantsbakes  "the cakes started tasting like resentment and anger"

yes, soooo true.

Shockolata Posted 11 Aug 2015 , 8:10pm
post #7 of 45

I hear you. So no more freebies for friends. No more school fetes. Check out the competition in my area. Maybe have a website. 

I asked a mother from school who owns a pizzeria if she would be interested in ordering some cakes from me but she does them in house (Betty Crocker mix and frosting). It is such a pity that some businesses will not think of offering something higher class that will attract more customers. Who does not like a lovely piece of cake? Had I the youth and stamina, I would have opened a little cafe serving my cakes... 

johnson6ofus Posted 11 Aug 2015 , 8:24pm
post #8 of 45

And don't be offended if the Costco cake IS in their budget, and your custom cake is not. I spend more on ingredients than the whole darn completed Costco cake. I could not afford to buy my cakes for the price they would need to be priced at. 

I would much rather have the friend who goes and buys her own "within her budget" Costco cake than tries to to guilt me into making a custom creation for a Costco price budget. 

Custom cakes are Ferraris. And while everyone "wants" one and everyone eyes them, not everyone will break out the cash to buy one. And that's ok....

Shockolata Posted 11 Aug 2015 , 8:39pm
post #9 of 45

@johnson6ofus  I had this conversation in another forum where Greek people were thinking that the cost of our traditional Christmas sugar cookies was OTT. I tried to explain to them that I use real butter and not margarine. I use quality flour, not the cheapest in the market. I use organic/free range eggs. I use expensive brandy to flavour them and so on. I even put the cost of things from a website that they could check and verify. Then people began chipping in with offers 'come, I'll give you some for free, my wife made plenty' and doubting that better ingredients make for a better result. Sometimes it is pointless to argue with people who do not get it. I liked your comparison of custom cakes with Ferraris. There are some cakes out there that blow my mind off and are worth every last penny those artists are charging. 

mccantsbakes Posted 11 Aug 2015 , 9:48pm
post #10 of 45

In all seriousness though, even a baker with a kindergarteners caking skills located in dump truck USA can't compete with costco pricing.   Even a glaring cake wreck costs more to produce than a box store.   Sadly,  too many pretty talented cakers DO price their cakes at Costco level pricing.   A lot of the "cheap cake ladies" are also "quite skilled cake ladies with darn tasty cake"   

I also could not afford the high end custom cakes at retail pricing.   

(I will eat the off cuts of the Ferrari at home after delivery and pretend I can) :)

Gingerlocks Posted 11 Aug 2015 , 10:23pm
post #11 of 45

Doing free cakes for your friends children's parties so the other parents will order, will never work out for you. They just won't order. You need to value your work enough not to give it away for free or no one else will value your work. 

I do think it's odd that your friend opted to buy a cake when you offered to make her one for free; but again I think that is because she doesn't value your time or your work. 

Apti Posted 11 Aug 2015 , 10:36pm
post #12 of 45

Shockolata~~Making beautiful, artistic, custom cakes and baked goods is the "easy, fun" part.

Getting the highest compliments on these baked goods is also the "easy, fun" part.

Business, however, is neither easy, nor fun.

"...cakes for friends' special celebrations to show them what I can do but in the two years I have been supplying them with cakes, they have never once offered to buy one or even pay for the cost of ingredients."  

Friends, family, school associates, work associates, and all the people you see on a daily or weekly basis are usually NOT your target customers for high-end, very expensive, luxury items like custom cake.

"I got really annoyed with my bestie because she went and bought cake from Costco for her kids despite me offering to make it for them. She said Costco cakes are within her price range and are loved by everyone. Please note that I did not ask for money but we had talked in the past about how I wished to make this into a business."

It is your responsibility, not your BFF's, to create a business.  Personally, I applaud her for being honest and letting you know that Costco cakes are in her price range since she apparently knows that the ingredients and time for your cakes are out of her price range.

How on earth do I get to move forward with this? If my friends won't let me do their kids' cakes so other parents can taste and be enticed and order, too, what does that mean? Aren't friends supposed to support each other? 

Again, it is your responsibility, not your friends', to create a business.  Family/friends are NOT your target customer base (unless they all happen to be in the upper-middle-class or higher income range with a lot of disposable income for luxury items).    Friends and family are there to provide emotional support as you struggle with the business aspect of gaining customers.

"How do I get people to know that I exist and I bake delicious cakes?"

Ahhhhh.... here's the root of the problem.  In the USA there is a superb organization called SCORE which allows retired business people to provide mentorship and advice to new business people.  In most cases, this mentorship is free.  I suggest you go to this website and read the information, then see if you can find a UK version in your city.  The easiest way to find a comparable organization would be to contact your nearest College or University and ask to speak to a professor that works with small business entrepreneurs.   

Best of luck to you!

*Last edited by Apti on 11 Aug 2015 , 10:38pm
Pastrybaglady Posted 12 Aug 2015 , 12:53am
post #13 of 45

@Shockolata   I am of the belief making a delicious cake is simply not enough if you want to be paid top dollar.  I think simply delicious cakes only work for brick and mortar bakeries.   If you are a home baker you have to bring something else to the table, literally!  I kinda went along like you hoping all these people raving about my cakes would ask me to bake for them and offer to pay, but nope.  It wasn't until I declared myself open for business and stopped baking for free that people started to ask.  It wasn't very long before I realized people never wanted a straight forward delicious cake or cookies, they wanted artistic and sculptural and the wow factor.  For THAT they will pay.  Many had said to me, "I don't want to buy one of your cakes for so and so because they won't appreciate it.  So I'll just buy a Costco cake."  As I got into the cake decorating aspects then I started getting more inquiries.  This is my third year in and I'm slowly finding my customers, people who don't mind spending money for a high quality product.  Now I have regulars to hang my hat on.  I get really interesting requests and the stranger they are the more people respond to them.  My customers post the cakes on their facebook and that's kind of how it works.  I do not advertise, it is only by word of mouth.  I do not want to deal with the general public and all their drama and the scams, omg the scams!

littlejewel Posted 12 Aug 2015 , 2:10am
post #14 of 45

I am glad you asked this question because I am in the same boat. I figured the same as the useful commenters but needed some reassurance, which I think may be the same for Shocka. It' ironic how your friend can pay for a Costco membership, but won't pay you for a cake.

oftheeicing Posted 12 Aug 2015 , 3:44am
post #15 of 45

I grew up watching my Aunt  bake  and decorate cakes, practically giving them away to friends and family for nothing.  My Mom would help her from Wednesday nights, or at the very least, starting early Thursday mornings to get the job done and delivered by Saturday.   Birthday cakes, wedding cakes with 300+ guests.... While I agree that you have to start somewhere,  and family and friends are the first go-to for taste or design samples, when you are in an actual business, you need to charge what you are worth!  I watched my Aunt, who had a full-time job get no sleep, and complain that she was losing money.  She taught me so much.  When I first started out, she told me to make sure that I was charging what I was worth.  I have made it a point to have friends and family around to watch me do my thing. I will admit that I have learned as I have grown, but  since then ... they do not ask me to do something for nothing.  I still struggle for business because there are still many uneducated cake people that are not willing to pay more than Wal-Mart prices for JUST a cake, but I do have loyal customers that always come back and refer me to new customers that make it worth my while and understand that time = money.  Friends or family. .. you need to charge nothing less than what you are worth.  It may take some time for you to gain a good customer base, but at least they will respect you, and more importantly,  you will  respect yourself.

Apti Posted 12 Aug 2015 , 4:02am
post #16 of 45

littlejewel~~I politely disagree about the friend and Costco.  We don't know any of the friend issues or their incomes, but many people belong to Costco in order to stretch their buying dollars for their family.    Most of my baking friends started because they wanted to create something special for their family and couldn't afford to pay custom cake prices. 

Example of the cost of a cake in the San Diego County area from one of the city's well-known, custom bakeries:   Customized, two-tier, 10"x4", 6"x4", fondant cake with fondant/gumpaste details (examples:  ballet slippers or a customized scuba scene) for a birthday.  Servings according to the Wilton chart:  50   Average custom bakery cost of $6-$8 per serving =  of $300 to $400

A Costco cake = $18 for 48 servings.

These are such vast differences in cost that quality or "made from scratch" ceases to matter.  That's why custom home bakers must  learn how to target and market to up-scale customers.  The best way to start is to talk to business people who have successfully started and had profitable part- or full-time businesses.

johnson6ofus Posted 12 Aug 2015 , 4:44am
post #17 of 45

Apti is 100% correct.  Look to the OP post:   How to get friends to pay for cakes.

I really don't want my $18 cake budget friends (great friends, but no spare $$$) to even try to struggle to pay for a $300 custom cake. I am REALLY happy they appreciate my work enough NOT to ask me to make them a 50 serving, $20 cake. I can't do it.  

Would I be offended if they bought a $400 cake from ABC bakery? Maybe. But not from Walmart, costco, Sam's, or the local grocery store. I DO want a shot at the $400 deal, but not the mass market cakes. There just is no profit in there, and no budget for premium ingredients or premium decorations.  And THAT is OK.  You should actually thank those friends for NOT trying to order from you. "I got really annoyed with my bestie because she went and bought cake from Costco for her kids despite me offering to make it for them. She said Costco cakes are within her price range and are loved by everyone. Please note that I did not ask for money but we had talked in the past about how I wished to make this into a business.".... My thoughts? She respected you and your time enough to NOT ask for an $18 cake. Very few people budget more that Costco prices for a kid's birthday. Thank her---- don't be annoyed. What would you/ could you offer her if she said she had an $18 budget? Would you, the baker, then not be posting....."She had the nerve to ask for a cake for $18?"

Few of us have many friends who go out and purchase custom cakes for events (other than a wedding). 

The real business success is getting into the right "circles" and "word of mouth" groups that CAN benefit your sales potential. 

ModernLovers Posted 12 Aug 2015 , 5:51am
post #18 of 45

I think a lot about why people questioning prices of custum made cakes and have the nerve to compare custom made with mass produced. I think it is partly because women have always baked for free. It has as well been part of the role of being a woman and thus has taken the work as part of making a cake for granted. When women then want to do business in their baking skill, it becomes a problem. One thing that adds more problems is that there is a cheap cake lady on every street corner as dumping prices. 

Please, excuse my Swenglish! :) 

littlejewel Posted 12 Aug 2015 , 8:34am
post #19 of 45

My city of around 200,000 people only has one custom cake shop, four cupcake shops, and one bakery. One of the cupcake shops, the first to open, seems to be doing well she has expanded to open a second location and added ice cream. Would you believe people find $2 too expensive for her cupcakes. Thanks fellow cakers, so what ever the reason is people who rather pay for a cheaper cakes at store bakeries doesn't matter because they are not your target market anyway. Shockcolata I wish you luck and hope you don't give up.

Shockolata Posted 12 Aug 2015 , 11:23am
post #20 of 45

@Gingerlocks  Last time I made her a cake, she told me the very last minute, the evening before the party, so I had to work really hard to get it done on time (she never came to help as she had promised) and I pulled a muscle, so I could not even deliver it or even be present at the party. She probably felt bad about it. She has no idea how much work is required to bake because she has never done it, not even a simple thing like fairy cakes. I wanted to make her happy and ended up ill because of her lack of planning; up to the day before she was not sure she was going to have a party or not...

Shockolata Posted 12 Aug 2015 , 11:30am
post #21 of 45

@Apti  I am trying to talk to business owners but they are too busy to help out someone who is now starting and who may potentially be competition (despite living hundreds of miles away...) Maybe I am not asking the right questions or maybe I have not found the right people. I feel like a newborn lamb with my legs all over the place some days! :) I am happy to have found Cake Central where I can read and educate myself and share knowledge with others.

Shockolata Posted 12 Aug 2015 , 11:51am
post #22 of 45

I would not have minded making the cake for whatever Costco charged her for it. It would have been my contribution to the kids' presents and a lot less hassle than looking for a present that will matter to them and would make them happy. 

Costco can keep their prices low because the sponge is pre-made, the frosting is pre-made and they have machines that squirt the frosting on top of cakes so there is little technical knowledge required to build a cake. Personally I don't like their cake because I can taste the palm fat and the chemical additives that make their frosting long life. 

After reading your thoughts on the matter, I see the problem lies with me. I am the one allowing people to take advantage of me and having unreasonable expectations from my friends. I will try to be firm in the future and not even suggest to make any cakes for friends unless they ask me directly, in which case I will do the costing and add a reasonable profit and present them with a quotation. 

I need to get my business head on. It's been a long time since I ran a business - far too long! I allowed my disability to take over, mourning for the life I lost and the things I can not do instead of thinking of the things I can still do. 


littlejewel Posted 12 Aug 2015 , 11:53am
post #23 of 45

Shockolat a man from the small business association in my city suggested for me to ask questions and a for a tour from bakeries.that are that in central illinois since I live in Northern Illinois. In other words if the bakers doesn't  see you as competition they will be more willing to help you.

costumeczar Posted 12 Aug 2015 , 11:57am
post #24 of 45

I posted a blog article about pricing yesterday, read it:

Also, talking to other business owners in your area isn't going to get you anywhere because you're competition. Why should someone who's worked to establish themselves and who is probably having the same kinds of issues finding customers tell you how to do what they've done through trial and error and lots of hard work? Nobody has time for that.

If you want to learn about internet marketing there's a ton of information online. Asking questions here from people who aren't in your area is a good place to start, but don't expect bakers in your area to be super helpful.

You can also find networking groups for weddings in your area and get your name out to local planners and venues, that's always helpful. That's probably what @Apti  meant because that's where the business is, referrals from other vendors.

Shockolata Posted 12 Aug 2015 , 12:04pm
post #25 of 45

Thank you @costumeczar  

Jinkies Posted 12 Aug 2015 , 3:33pm
post #26 of 45

@costumeczar  GREAT article, thanks for sharing.

costumeczar Posted 12 Aug 2015 , 4:22pm
post #27 of 45

@Jinkies   Usually when I write something about pricing I get people telling me that I'm mean, so thanks, hahaha!

Pastrybaglady Posted 12 Aug 2015 , 5:20pm
post #28 of 45

I've come to truly appreciate the "mean", real deal, tough love, dream killing posts!  Not that I don't indulge myself with daydreaming about my beautiful little corner bakeshop, but thanks to CC it's proper place - in my head!

Jinkies Posted 12 Aug 2015 , 5:34pm
post #29 of 45

@costumeczar  Nah, not mean, helpful.  I love making cakes, but I don't wanna do it for strangers for free.  

johnson6ofus Posted 12 Aug 2015 , 6:25pm
post #30 of 45

Reality can be tough. No Prince Charming on the white horse to save you, no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, no $300mil lottery ticket and..... no FUN, CUTE, easy way to run any business, not even a cake business. 

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