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The Perfectly Perfect Cake Consultation

What percentage of the clients you are meeting with are you closing the sale with?  Do you know?  What percentage of the clients who attend a tasting or design consultation call you back?  Do you know?  What percentage of the clients you meet with are meeting with other cake designers to compare prices? Do you know?  Who is your competition? Do you know?

These are all questions a small business owner selling cake or desserts for profit should be able to answer.    Approximately seventy-eight percent of my business is wedding cakes, fourteen percent would be groom’s cakes, and the other eight percente is special occasion cakes and donations. I am going to share with you some tips that served me very well when I incorporated them into my business model.

When doing my marketing plan, I went to my Chamber of Commerce and public library and did demographic research by zip code to identify my competition.  I also sent secret shoppers posing as clients to understand fully the consultation, tasting, and sales experience at competitors I felt might pose a threat to my success.  Once I identified my top five competitors, I began developing my marketing plan and designing my studio and cakes to reflect my design aesthetic.  Remember, in order to be relevant in the marketplace and reach your target market, your designs need to be relevant, fashion-forward and “trendy” (I am not too fond of that adjective, but it is necessary).

There is a basic and very simple business practice that can identify some essential key elements to setting up a successful consultation and tasting experience for your client. In my experience, it will almost ensure success in closing a sale.  This tool is called a S.W.O.T analysis.  When doing this activity, as when doing your business plan, it is imperative you be brutally, brutally honest with regards to your findings.  Even if the truth hurts!

S       =       Strengths

W     =       Weaknesses

O      =       Opportunities

T       =       Threats

Divide a page into columns with each of these words at the top and list below them all the good, the bad, and the ugly of the findings of your research.  You may have some repetition and overlaps in some columns. This is OK. Do not let this stagger your thought processes.  Just remember to be brutally honest.  It will serve you well.

Creating a memorable design and tasting consultation experience for your client: 

  • Your website is likely the first place clients are going to see your work and make their initial decision to pick up the phone and call you to schedule a tasting and design consultation. I put a lot of thought into my website.  All the photos and content are directly relevant to creating a call to action for the client to call or email us.
    • Clients only see beautifully styled cakes photographed by a wedding photographer. These people understand the clients you are marketing to and why you are spending so much time making this perfect.
    • Do not be reluctant to list your base price per serving and the minimum number of servings you are willing to take on as a job. This is crucial to your success.  Through your business plan, you should have identified your base price per serving or unit that must go out your door.  This content gets two things across to your perspective clients: 1. If they are researching cakes solely based on price, you have informed them up front of the minimum price for which you are willing to work, and will weed out those clients who simply cannot afford you.    They will be well prepared should they make the decision to contact you for a tasting and design consultation.
    • Once your website is in place and reflects your brand, image, and the true depth of your skillset, it is time to prepare for client visits to your studio.
    • BE PREPARED
      • Arrive early.
      • Prepare fresh samples.
      • Use real plates, water glasses, and tasting spoons.
      • Provide comfortable seating for yourself and at least four to five guests.
      • Create a beautiful and relaxing area for the tasting. For example, my studio has hardwood floors, chenille sofas and chairs, large area rugs, a fireplace, chandeliers, and soft music. Another nice touch is a well-produced branded looping slide show that clients can watch while you are preparing to meet with them. The content can be comparable to the content from your website that inspired their initial decision to contact you.  I have several large lighted display cases of my handiwork reflecting at least some styles that resonate with any client. (Trust me, your clients have done their homework) After five years in business, I have approximately one hundred cakes of all shapes, styles, and colors on display.
      • Always make the client and their guests feel warm and welcome. Shake their hand or give them a gentle hug and thank them for coming in and giving you the opportunity to share your work with them.
      • Create a dialogue where you can speak confidently about what will be accomplished over the next hour.
      • Start out by telling them a little bit more about yourself, your philosophy, and the importance you place on listening to them and capturing the essence of their vision for their cake and reception through this consultation process.
      • Be prepared to ask a series of questions that will give you a stepping-off point for creating a custom design just for her. Many times, a client will have seen a design on your website and have her mind made up when she gets to you.  That is why it is so important to display the cakes from your website in your studio so she can see the size, workmanship, shape, and silhouette of her chosen cake in person.
      • Place beautiful calligraphy or printed tint cards on the shelf in front of each display cake showing the number of servings it provides.
      • For custom designs, be prepared to sketch and add color if necessary or possible so she will get a visual of her cake.
      • Please put away the lookbooks, photo-albums, etc.… Most of your clients are technology savvy and will be very impressed that you have integrated technology into the consultation process.
      • I use my iPad to sketch cakes, and can print or email the sketch to the client while sitting in front of her so that she has it in her inbox almost immediately. You shouldn’t provide this unless she decides to pay you a retainer for your services to book her date.  This prevents her from taking it to your competitor, who may underbid you by only $50 and cause you to lose the sale.
      • Use a reputable accounting system to create professional estimates and invoices. This accounting software, if used properly, can be integrated into the everyday workflow of your business and be a very powerful tool to track expenses, reconcile bank accounts, and efficiently generate your payroll.
      • Last but certainly not least, CHARGE WHAT IT SHOULD COST!!! Many times, we undervalue our art because we are afraid we will lose business if we price it too high. Most of your clients are coming to you because they cannot get what they want from a supermarket.  That comes with a price tag.  And remember, not all business is good business.  Know when to say NO!  You are the expert!  You can be busy twenty-four seven, exhausted, and still not make money.  Well, I could sit at home for free and do nothing!  There are people who will pay for your work.  It does not matter what part of the country you live in.  They will pay for good cake and good cake design.  There are wealthy people in every city who get married and have lavish events and can afford a cake worthy of the occasion.  This is your target market for this type of business. Also, I like to work with wedding and event planners, because these brides tend to have larger budgets and these professionals are more informed about what wedding cakes or special event cakes really cost.

These are only a few tips of the many I have used and integrated into my business.  Not all of them will work for everyone, but I have about a 97% close rate on sales.  As many of you have heard me say before, “image is everything!” At least I find it is in the wedding and event industry.

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