So You Want to Bake for a Living?

So you want to bake for a living? If you’re thinking of jumping ship, changing your life, and job to something more sweet – you may be wondering which path to go down. Today I’m sharing some of my insights as an entrepreneur for those of you who are interested in baking or cooking, and think you might want to make a living from it.

To be honest, when I opened the bakery, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew I loved baking and I thought that opening a bakery was the best way to do that every day. There were so many things I didn’t know, didn’t think of, didn’t think I’d have to do, or didn’t think would be part of the job. I was 25 years old, give me a break, haha. Now that I’ve run a bakery for over 10 years and even made the decision to retire from it when it was doing well, I like to think I’ve gained some knowledge.

As I have grown as an entrepreneur, I’ve been able to explore more areas of baking and cooking and go down different paths that I never even knew existed when I was 25 years old. There’s so many ways to work with food and desserts, especially these days! So, I want to share with you some of those ways incase you are exploring getting into the food business.

I’m going to share some of the main responsibilities and day to day tasks that you’ll do if you choose different food jobs as a career. I’ll also include some skills that would be a plus, and some things that could make you think twice about each career path. It’s a new year, and always a great time to start something new! Remember, that I also do consulting, branding, and web design at my business Above 8000 Creative, and always love working with new businesses, so email me if you’d like to talk more – mimi@above8000creative.com.

Bakery Owner
So you want to own a bakery, huh? Let me tell you how much work this is! It’s so rewarding, but it’s also a lot of work. Here’s some insights on being a bakery owner.

Workaholic
Do you love to work all the time? Perfect, because you will (at least for the first five years, haha). But if you value your social life, then being a bakery owner is not for you. At the beginning you’ll have to work a lot, and you’ll have to give a lot of your time to your business. That means giving things up. So, if you value spending time with friends and going out, then this might not be for you. Or, if you like having set days off this might also not be for you. Remember, you’re the owner. So, if something happens, if someone calls in sick, or quits, then it all falls on you. And you have to show up. There will be times when you think you had scheduled the day off and you ended up working a 15 hour day.

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Fast Paced Environment
A bakery is a fast paced environment, and if it’s not, then you’re probably not making enough money to stay open, haha. In the commercial baking business, time is money, and you gotta work quick and make fast turn arounds for orders on a daily basis. And you’ll do even better if you can take on rush orders for same day as most people honestly don’t remember their husbands, wives, or childrens birthday, haha! I am serious, that blew my mind at the bake shop all the time – how did you forget your kids birthday? But, if you like being busy and sometimes having more work than you think you can handle, then this is the job for you!

Manage a Team
You’ll be in charge of your team, yes your team. You get to pick and choose them or more so, you have to pick and choose them! You may hire a manager or someone to help with this eventually, but at the beginning it’s all you. And, even if you do hire a manager and head baker to manage staff, you’ll still have to manage them. Managing a team is something you cannot get away from when you own a bakery. There’s also other possible roles you’ll have to manage depending on how much you want to take on yourself. Those roles can include, accounting, cleaning crews, social media management, photographer, marketing, and more.

Customers
Customers are a crucial part to owning a bakery, believe it or not! Do you like serving your local community? Do you like seeing familiar faces and new faces daily? You’ll be helping customers discover new and amazing desserts or ordering cakes for their special occasions. So many customers are amazing, and they are what keeps your bakery going. But, there’s always a few bad eggs in the bunch. Everyone will have an unhappy customer at some point. This is a fact. No matter how hard you work, no matter how good your desserts are, no matter how nice your staff is, someone is going to be unhappy. And most of the time, it probably has nothing to do with you, your baked goods, or your staff! But, it can feel that way. People can be in a bad mood and take it out on others and sometimes there’s nothing you can do to make them happy. Trust me, I’ve been there. It can be very upsetting but you also have to be able to get over it. You can’t please everyone, and you won’t be able to please every single person. That’s a huge thing to remember if you own a bakery. You’ll even get crazy requests from customers like “If I bring in my Grandma’s recipe card for X can you make it for me?”, yes that has happened to me. No I can’t make your Grandma’s recipe, that’s now it this works! And even if you say that in the nicest way, the bottom line is no matter what it is, if you don’t give people what they want then they can get upset. If you’re really sensitive then this could be an upsetting role for you at times. But it’s part of the job to handle it. You can always have a manger handling these things eventually, but at first it will probably be you.

Organized
Are you organized? Being a business owner, especially a bakery owner, requires so much organization! I cannot stress this enough. You have to have your polices, procedures, training information, recipes, and so much more organized at all times. So much of your success depends on your organizational skills. If this skill is not one you possess, it may be difficult for you to handle everything that’s going on, because there will be a lot going on. And I haven’t even talked about baking yet! Now onto the baking stuff…

Food Ordering & Costing
You’ll have to order all your ingredients, keep track of the cost of everything, and cost out every single thing you sell. Sourcing ingredients is the first step, keeping track of all your vendors, finding the best prices for the ingredients you want, it’s a lot of work. You also need to make money on every single thing you sell, it’s the most important part of owning a bakery! This can be challenging if you’re not a numbers person. You can get consulting help if you’re unsure on how to price your menu so that you actually make money (it’s something I do at Above 8000 Creative, email me if interested). But, this is a huge time suck in the beginning as you’re creating an entire menu! And it’s also something that you need to keep up on. As costs rise frequently, you also have to adjust. Plus, if you offer custom things, you have to make sure you’re making money on custom orders. You can’t sell a cake for the same price for the life of your bakery. So costing is something that has to be done and updated frequently. I did it yearly when I owned my bake shop. And sometimes what you really want to make doesn’t make the cut because of costing reasons – it may be too expensive to produce the way you want in order to sell it for a price that customers are willing to pay. There’s a lot of time and effort that goes into your food ordering and costing.

Recipe Development
The most fun part of owning a bakery is creating recipes, in my opinion! It’s one of the main reasons I started a bakery. That being said, if you’re not that creative or have a hard time coming up with your own recipes, and you just like to bake, then owning a bakery might not be for you.

Teaching
Do you like teaching people? This is a huge part of owning a bakery. Yes, you might hire chefs or bakers that have went to culinary school (but, I owned a bakery for 10 years and never have). But, even if someone has a degree or knows how to bake, it doesn’t mean they know how to bake your recipes. You’ll still have some level of teaching no matter who you hire.

They say running a business is a full time job, and it definitely is. But as a small business owner, a lot of the time you end up having to do all of this on top of working in your business for long days. Sometimes you can get so busy working in your business that you forget you’re running it too, which can leave some things undone or not done to the best of their ability. That’s why it’s so important to think about the time that goes into starting and running a business. If you just want to bake, then owning a bakery might not be best option as you don’t always get to do just that. You’re probably doing more of other things than baking if you add it all up.

But, if you want the bigger picture – being a part of your local community, providing jobs, creating recipes, being a part of people’s celebrations, and being a retreat that people know and love and want to come into every day is really special! If these things make you happy, then owning a bakery is definitely for you!

Baker
Do you love baking? Love being in the kitchen? But, you don’t want the responsibilities of owning a business? There are plenty of jobs out there for bakers. You can bake and then leave after you shift is done, without the worry of payroll, costing, marketing, customers, and more.

If you just love baking, being in the kitchen and working with your hands, and can stand on your feet all day long, then being a baker is for you! You’re not afraid of hard work, long days, and a face paced work environment then you will excel as a baker and any employer would be lucky to have you.

As a good baker, your skills would include:
Know how to follow a recipe
Detail oriented
Amazing at multi tasking and can easily jump from one thing to another with ease
Good under pressure
Love being in a fast paced work environment
You’re not concerned with perfection, but are concerned with doing things right
Good memory
Can work well independently as well as part of a team

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Needless to say, if you don’t think you have all of these skills – such as you are a perfectionist and like to take your time making things look perfect, then working in a bakery might not be for you. Some bakeries might have jobs that are more detail oriented, depending on what kind of decorating they do. When I had my bake shop, we didn’t decorate in detail. We made cakes look stylish and simple. But, I needed bakers to be able to put together a cake in 10 minutes and have it look the same every single time. I didn’t care if our cookies were perfectly round, but I did care if the recipe was followed exactly and that they tasted the same every single time. Many commercial bakeries are like this, where volume is more important than perfection. So, if you’re a perfectionist, think about what type of bakery job you apply for. Ask them about their volume, how long would you spend on one cake, and if they decorate cakes there as well.

Home Bakery Business
Here’s where you can excel at being a perfectionist. Home bakers have more time and less orders to fulfill than brick and mortar bakeries usually do. Not to say that you can’t make a living with a home bakery business, but you have much more freedom than you would if you owned a storefront as you can accept or decline orders depending on your schedule.

Other benefits of owning a home bakery business, or cottage kitchen as they are sometimes called, is that you have very little overhead and expenses. Things you’d be saving on compared to a brick and mortar shop are: rent, utilities, payroll, workers comp insurance, other liability insurance – these couple things alone are huge costs of owning a bakery. You also have the benefit of working directly with your customers, so you can approve or decline any custom orders and know exactly what they want. This may allow you to get more creative than owning a brick and mortar shop as your menu can be more freeform, and you can accept custom orders whenever it suites you. There is also the benefit of going on vacation whenever you please, without the worry of having to close your shop and loose business as you can decline orders whenever you want.

Some downsides of a cottage kitchen might be:
• Your business is in your home, so it might be hard to separate home/work life.
• You probably aren’t doing enough volume to order wholesale with the minimums required for a restaurants and you also have no commercial space to deliver to. So you may be purchasing ingredients online or at the grocery store. This won’t allow your margins to be as good to compete with brick and mortar bakeries, so you may have to charge more.
• You’ll have to deliver all your orders, unless you want people coming to your home. But most cottage kitchens deliver their orders to customers, so that can be extra work as it’s not as simple as walking into a bakery and picking up a cake whenever the customer is free to do so.

Not all counties allow you to have a home bakery business either. And there are strict requirements even if it is allowed. So check with your local health inspector to get all the details if you’re thinking of going down this road – as you are technically still a business and there are guidelines you need to follow.

Food Blogger
Do we really need another food blogger? Yes, the more the merrier! I stumbled into food blogging as it wasn’t something I ever had a drive to do. I love writing, and I always have. English was always my favorite subject and I’ve always loved writing, editing, and telling a good story. I started my blog because my bake shop customers would not stop asking me for advice and recipes. I was sick of hearing it while I was working in the bakery, so I did it to shut people up! Haha! No, but I am truly thankful for the push I got from customers about the blog. It has become something I really enjoy creating and it has brought me opportunities I didn’t know existed.

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Anyone can start a blog, that’s the best part! If you need help, I can help you through Above 8000 Creative, email me at mimi@above8000creative.com. There are so many benefits of a blog. Lots of people start them as a side project and it can become your full time gig. The best thing about a blog, is you are your own boss. You can decide how often you post, what you post, and if you don’t want to post for a week – don’t. Obviously, growing a blog takes a lot of commitment, but it’s all up to you. If you want to work more, you can, if you want to work less, you can.

If you like writing that is a huge part of a blog. If you’re not super keen on it and struggle to link together words, then maybe a blog isn’t for you. Writing is a huge part of a blog, and you also have to keep keywords in mind as well and weave them in naturally in order to get traction. There’s a lot more than just putting some words and recipes on a page. I could write a whole post about it, but that’s not for today. The main things are if you start a blog, you should love writing! Yes, recipes and photographs are important too – but not as important as writing. That is your number one goal when blogging.

A blog also gives you the freedom to create your own recipes, or also share recipes from others. So, if you are working on your own creativity or also just really love baking other people’s recipes and want to share and talk about them, then a blog is totally for you! You can also take different approaches to a food blog, it doesn’t have to be all recipes. You can talk about techniques in baking and cooking. You can interview other people in the food industry. And you can even share and link to your favorite kitchen tools. A blog provides a lot of variety, so it can be a good place to start and see where your creativity and passion leads you.

Food Photographer / Food Stylist
This is something that had I known about originally, I might have gone down this road instead of owning a bakery. I love taking photos, but I didn’t know I liked it so much until I had to hire people to take them for my bakery when we first opened. I was always underwhelmed with other peoples food photos, so Delaney got me a camera and told me to do it myself. I have been teaching myself photography ever since. And now I am a freelance professional photographer and that is how I make my living.

I feel like if I were located in a larger city I would be able to get way more work with more restaurants and businesses than I do now being so remote in Mammoth. I also work with national brands and small businesses, but there can be a lot of work for food photographers locally if you are in a larger city. I do work locally with some of the restaurants, but we just don’t have that many! But, that’s a great place to start if you are getting into food photography. Think about how many restaurants there are that could use photos for their Instagram, website, menu, etc. So, if I can do it in a remote town that is only 4 square miles, you can do it too!

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Being a food photographer is hard work because you are a freelancer. You have to be willing to put yourself out there and email people you don’t even know basically tooting your own horn. So, if that is something that is difficult for you then freelancing will be be really tough. You will also have to create your own pricing structure as well, as that is one of the first things people will ask you when you reach out to them. So make sure you are ready with all the information before you send pitch emails. But, you also are not always guaranteed a response from people you email, and that can be frustrating as you spend a lot of time finding clients. And you may not know where your next paycheck is coming from and that can be stressful. If you really value structure and stability, then this might not be the right career path for you as you really have to be willing to take a chance and believe that it will work out. Or you should have enough savings for a year to really give it a go so you have something to fall back on if it doesn’t work out.

Another option would be, if you love shooting food and want a steady job, you should look for a job in social media managing a food account. This will give you a day job that pays the bills and you can build up your freelance business on the side. Freelance is so hit and miss and it can take a while to build client relationships and steady work. I hate being stressed about money, especially if you’re trying to do what you love, it shouldn’t be stressful! So, finding a job that is similar and will give you practice and a steady paycheck could be a great way to still change up your job and do what you love. But, the main thing for a photographer is a portfolio. So start gathering your images to get a website up ASAP! Email me if you need help with that.

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I’ve also created this fun quiz to see what foodie job might be the best fit for you!

What Kind of Foodie Are You Quiz

1. What do you love most about baking?
A. Sharing baked goods with others.
B. It’s my escape, I like to do it when I have free time because it makes me happy.
C. Creating the recipe and talking about how I got there.
D. Photographing and styling them so they look even more delicious!

2. How would you like to spend your days?
A. In the kitchen all day, time just flies when I’m in there mixing up anything!
B. I’d like to be free to spend my days however I want, and bake when the mood strikes.
C. I love my day job, but I also love baking so I’d like to make both part of my week.
D. Shooting and styling photos of food and editing them.

3. If someone were to ask you to bake something for them, what would you say?
A. Whatever it is, I’m game!
B. It depends what it is and when you need it, but if it interests me and I’m free, then I’d love to!
C. Sure, let me just add it to the list of everything else I need to bake and I’ll get to it soon!
D. Will I be able to photograph it before I give it to you?

4. What best describes you on Instagram?
A. I don’t care about it too much, but I see how it can be a great tool to use for businesses.
B. I’m not always on Instagram, but when I am I look at all kinds of stuff and talk to friends.
C. I love seeing everyone get creative in their kitchen and especially love reading the stories behind their food!
D. I only follow accounts that have good photography that I like to look at.

5. What is the most important thing in your life?
A. My computer.
B. My family.
C. My recipe box.
D. My camera.

The results are in…

Mostly A’s – Born to Bake
Seems like you have the energy and drive to be a baker. You’re not afraid of hard work, a challenge, and spending all day long baking it up! That could mean owning your own bakery or it could mean working for one that you really love. As long as you’re in the kitchen using your hands, then you’re happy. Start out by applying at a bakery, from there you can see if you want something more.

Mostly B’s – Home Baker
You love baking, but you also love having your freedom. A cottage kitchen is your best bet, as you can accept or decline orders at your leisure and you’re not tied down with the expenses of running a brick and mortar shop. Start by word of mouth, baking for the people you know will get you started!

Mostly C’s – Blog Baker
You love the stories behind food and the variety a blog can offer. Starting a blog makes you your own boss. Sometimes creativity is at it’s best when it’s not pressured. So start your blog, keep your day job, and write about what speaks to you. Or don’t write if it doesn’t. A blog gives you freedom. It could be the creative outlet you’re looking for, or it could turn into something more.

Mostly D’s – Food Photographer
You love creating beautiful photographs. Yes, baking is fun too but styling and photographing is a big reason why you bake. Start getting yourself out there by setting up a website to showcase your work! A portfolio will get you in the door.

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