1242 WHITNEY AVE • HAMDEN, CT • 06517
PHONE • 203.200.0350
315 W 39th ST • STUDIO 708
NEW YORK, NY •10018
Having never owned a business before, there were some things I didn’t know when I first started. I mean, I knew them but I didn’t know them, you know? They just sort of didn’t register. (I’m the creative type, obviously.) So, in an effort to help others know the things I didn’t know, I’ve compiled the list below of Things I Wish I’d Known About Business Before Starting a Business.
1. You can’t please all of the people all of the time. One person says it’s too sweet, the other not sweet enough. Even if you have a great product, offer stellar customer service, or are just awesome at what you do, when dealing with the public there are going to be people NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO that don’t like what you have to offer. That’s just part of doing business. Stick with what you know works and try your best not to take it personally.
2. Things will change, and that’s okay. I wrote a business plan before we opened, but since I had just relocated from California to Connecticut, I didn’t know the local market. My estimations were based on the densely populated Southern California market I was used to. I’ve had to try new strategies–everything from pricing to marketing–to figure out what works here. My business is constantly evolving, and I’ve come to accept that as part of running a business. I wish I had known when I first wrote my business plan that my plan would change according to my business rather than the other way around.
3. Know your strengths and weaknesses. There are many things I’m good at, and plenty I’m not. I’ve learned to be a better delegator, to rely on my husband’s strong business sense and practical insight, and to appreciate different approaches to problem solving. I try to improve on my areas of weakness and capitalize on my strengths, and I’ve assembled a wonderful team to supplement the areas I’m weakest in.
4. You can’t do it all. You might want to, but you can’t. There are great people out there who are reliable, trustworthy, hard-working, and fabulous. Hire them, and show them that you value them. Learn to rely on them, and learn to give up a little control over the things that don’t really matter. (I remember the first time I asked Callan to create a design. I knew exactly how I wanted it to look, and I thought I explained what I was seeing in my imagination, but she did it totally different…and I loved it! I never would have done it the way she did, but that’s okay.) Create the kind of work environment you would want to work in. Build loyalty among your staff members. Depend on them.
5. The investment doesn’t end here. I thought I was done shelling out cash after I’d bought my equipment. Little did I know I’d have to constantly invest in my business. It’s the only way to grow your business.
6. Expect the unexpected. Owning a business is a lot like life in this way. You can’t predict when you’ll need a new car, that your kid will fracture her arm, or that your best friend will decide to have a destination wedding in Tahiti. It’s the same with business. There’s no way to know when the fridge will decide to stop working, that you’ll need a new laptop, or that your roof will leak. The best way is to be prepared for anything, both financially and emotionally.
7. Everyone’s an expert, and they all have different opinions. Clients will have lots of advice, and offer it often and gladly, whether you want it or not. Sometimes what they say makes sense, just not financially. (We recently started making gluten-free brownies instead of drop cookies because they’re so much easier to bake and package. A woman complained that the brownies are too big and that she preferred the cookies. We haven’t seen a big change in sales, so it doesn’t make sense for us to go back to cookies when they take almost twice as long.) Other times the advice just isn’t right for your business model. We get a lot of “You should…” advice. Most of it comes from my mother.
“You should make vegan desserts. You would make a ton of money.” Should I? Would I?
“You should sell your spiced nuts.” Should I, mom? Do you know how much nuts cost?
“You should make chocolate covered pretzels.” Any idea how difficult it can be to temper chocolate, mom?
“You should put nuts in your carrot cake.” Really? I love nuts in my carrot cake, but many of our clients are allergic to nuts.
I try to take it all in, consider it, and use only what works for me and my business.
8. Smart business is not the same thing as compromise. You know those businesses that start off strong with a quality product and seem to go downhill? They start cutting corners, using cheaper ingredients, and before you know it that dessert that was so rich, so decadent, and so delicious when they first opened is now lackluster. I hate that. And so, when I first opened my business, I promised myself that I would never change the quality of ingredients I was using. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted at times (cake mix over scratch-made, cheaper quality chocolate over imported), but in this competitive market my ingredients and from-scratch recipes are one of the only things that set me apart. And so I’ve stood my ground and stayed true to my original vision. That said, I have changed some things I never thought I would. I don’t like Oreos (weird, I know), but I love passion fruit. Unfortunately, passion fruit buttercream doesn’t sell, but Oreo buttercream flies off the shelf. And so, we rarely make passion fruit but Oreo is in the regular rotation. I don’t consider that a compromise. I consider it smart business.
9. It’s a business, not a hobby. Most cake designers start off designing cakes for friends and family. I know I did. But the purpose of being in business is to make money. Constantly re-evaluate your business and how you can work more efficiently. Buy bulk when you can. Be smart about your pricing. Factor in your overhead. And most importantly, don’t forget to value your time.
The best part of being in business for myself is getting to do what I love every single day. Here’s some proof.
A bright and cheery yellow version of our pinwheel cake for a bright and cheery bride.
Sexy and sophisticated in ivory and black.
Our first gender reveal cake. It was pink!
Planning on starting your own business? We’d love to hear about it! Please feel free to leave a comment and share your story.
Copyright 2016 Erica O’Brien LLC. All Rights Reserved.