Sunday, 4 October 2009

Work thoughts

I don't like sat navs in cars; I like maps and roadsigns. I think sat nav makes us a bit stupid - like calculators for simple sums, and not knowing our own mobile phone numbers. If we don't do these things for ourselves we stop thinking we can. I know there are times these things are useful sometimes, but I'm all for using our noggins where possible.

However, I wish there were one I could borrow for business directions. I'm not sure where I ought to go next and if I don't plan things properly I could end up spiralling about uselessly.

I bake. That's nice and simple. But for whom do I bake and what? Shops, cafes and restaurants? Individuals, to order? Market stalls? Wedding and christening and that sort of malarkey? Just cakes? cupcakes, cookies, pies, puddings, scones, squares, brownies?

At the moment I'm a bit scatter gun really. I'm going where enquiries lead me. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but in the medium term I need to make some decisions about where I'm going. Packaging for shops is different to that for delivering to restaurants and recipes good for eaten-on-the-day birthday cakes are not the same as those that will still be delicious in a cafe after 3 days.

Selling to retail places means more steady orders, less profit per cake but more cakes overall. I'm more likely to earn actual wages. It makes having days off tricky when I have standard delivery days to meet. Do I want that while the kids are so little?

Individual orders have a higher profit margin per cake but the orders are more erratic, the packaging costs higher and earning a living is a little impractical, i think. However, I control when I work and when I don't, like not taking orders for out summer holidays and so on. And the cakes themselves are good fun, there's more variety and you get all the nice positive feedback of people getting all chuffed with their lovely cakes. I think this is the hobbyist's approach, and I don't think I just want to be a hobbyist, so it probably ought not be the core of my market unless I want premises.

Selling in shops and delis means I need to deal with labelling and packaging, and need to worry much more about products with longer shelf lives. However, that could be a really good way to get into more outlets and a more sensible income. And there's the puddings range. I'd need to think about things in individual portions as well as whole cakes.

Market stalls don't appeal to me right now. Everything I bake now is pre-sold, so here's no wastage (well, very little, but I can usually sell any spares pretty easily) whereas with a market stall you need to prepare loads of cakes for sale on the same day with no guarantee they will sell. I may change my view later, but for the foreseeable future it's not where i think i should be. Oddly, it is where almost everyone I talk to assumes I should be.

When I've finished the college course I could think about wedding and other formal cakes. There's oodles of money in it but it is very exacting and time consuming. There is clearly a demand as quite a few people have asked me about it already.

As to what i make - I like "proper" cakes, I like squares and scones. I am iffy about cheesecake because the risk of breakage is quite high when removing it from the tin to the cardboard box, and having to keep them in my (not very big) fridge overnight to set after they've been baked is a drag. I do love eating them, though... right, back to sensible thoughts. Pies. I don't want to do pies. I am still scared of pastry. I'm not good enough at fancy cakes yet but that's improving thanks to the college course (and practice). I love making cookies, that could be a goer. Cupcakes are time consuming but fun and popular.

If I focus a bit more I can be sure I am devoting my times and development costs in a direction best suited to my long term goals. Spending a month and £300 on packaging for a market I am not going to reach, for example, would be a bit dumb. no matter how pretty the packaging is and how much i fancy having a play with it.
(note to self, stop browsing suppliers online when bored - that way temptation lies.)

I still think that this is a business I could make a real go of. My advantages are that I love working for myself, I'm happy putting a lot of hours in, I enjoy the work itself, I don't have childcare costs, we can afford to take a year or two to build up the business to a "proper" wage, and I do make damned fine cakes.

My limitations are time, facilities and storage. Oh, and not driving. If this takes off, at some point I am going to have to consider learning to drive a car. Urgh. But not one with a sat nav.

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