Archive | May 2012

I’m Not Worthy

We’ve all seen the people who bow to someone and say “I’m not worthy”. I am sure most of us have said it at one time or another and I can guarantee that everyone has felt that way at some time I will be honest, there are days I feel like that.

Cindy Morrison wrote me recently telling me that some of the Yummy Arts members feel like they are not worthy of wearing a chef coat. She said she even worried about wearing one. I have noticed several comments on my coat giveaways where people think that they aren’t “legit” and don’t deserve to wear a coat. Cindy asked me if I would tackle the question of who DESERVES to wear a chef coat.

The first thing I need to tell you is that there is not a chef coat policeman out there who is going to write you a ticket for donning a coat. Today’s chef coats are not the same as those fancy chef hats that are awarded after you achieve a certain rank or level. The chef coats today are bright, colorful and often full of personality and anyone can buy one.

They do not mean that your are implying that you are a pastry chef! You all know that I went to law school, not culinary school. I am not a pastry chef. I have never held myself out as one. Yet I have been wearing chef coats for a decade. The only thing I am trying to convey with my coats is an air of professionalism. I put on my coat when I am at work. For me now, that means when I am at any cake related event. When I owned the bakery, I only wore it on deliveries or if I was being interviewed. The coat was simply the proper uniform for certain situations.

I know a LOT of home bakers who wear chef coats. Not having a store front does not mean that you are not worthy. If you make cakes for people, you have every right to wear a chef coat. You choose when it is the right time for you to wear it. If you want to wear it to a cake show or Day of Sharing or on a wedding delivery, then do it! I promise you that when you put on the coat, you will find that you walk a little taller, that you have a little more confidence and that you receive positive attention from others.

Why do people give respect to the coat? I think it is because we all like someone in uniform. It signifies an organized, responsible person to us. Wearing a chef coat may cause a venue to believe you are serious about cakes and place more orders. It might cause people to remember your name. It might help you get recognition you have long been deserving.

I think that if you ask folks who wear the coats, they will all tell you they were nervous the first time they put it on. But they put on that coat anyway! I promise you that if you wish you could wear one, then you deserve to wear one. You are worthy.

Crooked Brook Chef Coat Giveaway 6

Hi everyone!  This next coat giveaway is perfect for everyone who hates the longer coats!  Maybe you’re petite, maybe you think you just look better in a cropped coat…regardless, this one is for you!

Although all Crooked Brook chef coats are made to order, they have various styles and sizes that were not made according to the customer’s specifications or have slight imperfections. These are the men’s and women’s chef coats I have partnered with Crooked Brook to offer as giveaways.

Since 1989 Crooked Brook has designed and manufactured chef jackets for the world’s most recognized chefs. Each one of their chef coats and aprons is made to order in the USA, and can personalized with your choice of fabric, pockets, buttons, piping and embroidery.

Size 6 cropped- Chef Coat Style BSW 105H
● Black, Supima Gabardine

● Square cuffs

● Red Tagua Nut top buttons

● Red Berry piping: double collar & front

Extras: Spider embroidery on left shoulder

● Irregularities; None

 

(Regular Price: $178.00 including shipping)

For question regarding size, please refer to their size chart or contact them at 315-733-1992

To enter, visit Crooked Brook and leave a comment here with the description of a chef coat that you would like to see offered as a giveaway in the future.

Terms & Conditions:

You must be 18 years or older to win.
Contest ends midnight (Eastern Standard Time) 06/08/12.
Winner will be chosen by sugarzen.wordpress.com and contacted by email.
Winner will have 48 hours to reply or a new winner will be chosen.
Crooked Brook will ship the prize to the winner within 30 days of contest end.
Physical address required for shipping; no PO boxes, US recipients only residing in one of the 48 contiguous states.

Crooked Brook T Shirt Giveaway 1

Happy Friday everyone!  In honor of Memorial Weekend, I have another bonus giveaway!  Crooked Brook does custom printed tshirts in addition to all the great chef  Crooked Brook wants to give one of you one of these, too!!

 

Custom t-shirts are one of the most inexpensive yet cost effective marketing tools available. One of the advantages they have over other promotional products is that wherever people wearing t-shirts with your logo on it go; your brand goes. It is a great way to convey your business image and build brand awareness.

In response to this, I have teamed up with my friends at Crooked Brook to sponsor a custom t-shirt giveaway.

The prize is a White, Gildan, G200 6.1 oz. Ultra Cotton® T-Shirt made in 100% preshrunk cotton, taped shoulder-to-shoulder with a seamless collar and double-needle stitching throughout with the image of the winners logo printed on the front or back.

Although the most popular method of printing t-shirts is screen printing; Crooked Brook t-shirts are printed using Direct to Garment Printing (DTG printing or digital garment printing) which is the process of using inkjet printers to print an image directly onto a t-shirt without the use of screens like with silk screening or screen printing. The only thing DTG printing requires is for the image to be high resolution resulting in photographic quality printing with no setup fee or minimums. DTG technology uses eco-friendly, water soluble ink, unlike some screen printing methods that layer Plastisol (a suspension of PVC particles in a plasticizer) on top of the t-shirt.

 

The winner will be chosen randomly…

 

Terms & Conditions:

You must be 18 years or older to win.

Contest ends midnight (Eastern Standard Time) 06/08/12.

Winner will be chosen randomly and contacted by email.

Winner will have 48 hours to reply or a new winner will be chosen.

Winner’s artwork must meet requirements for Crooked Brooks DTG printing.

Crooked Brook will ship the prize to the winner within 30 days of contest end.

Physical address required for shipping; no PO boxes, US recipients only residing in one of the 48 contiguous states.

For question regarding size, please refer to their size chart or contact them at 315-733-1992

Crooked Brook Chef Coat Giveaway 5 Winner!!

 

Happy Wednesday, Friends!  It is time to draw the winner for the fifth Chef Coat giveaway!!  Just like last time,  I took the entries received from entering a comment on my fifth giveaway and put those names in a bowl.  You only go in the bowl if you comment on that particular giveaway.  Here we go for the Crooked Brook Chef Coat!

And the winner is…

Kathi Atamanuk!   I don’t know Kathi, but she commented that this is her size and color, so I bet she is going to be excited that I drew her name!!  I’m excited for her.   I will be sending an email to her shortly with instructions on how to have the coat mailed to her.  Thank you to all who commented on the fifth giveaway.  Don’t forget to check in each week to see what the next prize is!

Crooked Brook Custom Polo Shirt Giveaway 1

Happy Wednesday everyone!  I have another bonus giveaway!  My dear friend LaMeeka Howard had Crooked Brook design a polo shirt with her bakery logo on it…how cool is she??!!  Crooked Brook wants to give one of you one of these, too!!

Polo shirts are another inexpensive yet cost effective marketing tool. More casual than button-front shirts and dressier than t-shirts, embroidered polo shirts are part of the uniform for many businesses.

Polo shirts embroidered with a company logo given as gifts or giveaways are called promotional polo shirts and are great way to get your name out there business and build brand awareness.

With that said, I have teamed up with my friends at Crooked Brook to sponsor an embroidered polo shirt giveaway.

 

Please Note:  The winner has the option of getting the polo shirt blank or with their business name and a cake embroidered on the left front chest (as pictured). If the winner would prefer to have their logo embroidered instead, that would have to be discussed with Crooked Brook.

 

These giveaways are first quality, polo shirts from Crooked Brook’s inventory and the brand and color will be determined by what Crooked Brook has in stock at the time the winner is announced. Crooked Brook will try their best to send winner’s a polo shirt as close to their request as possible.
The winner will be chosen randomly, from those who post a comment with an answer to this question;
What color, gender and size polo shirt would you like to win?
Terms & Conditions: You must be 18 years or older to win. Contest ends midnight (Eastern Standard Time) 05/??/12. Winner will be chosen randomly and contacted by email. Winner will have 48 hours to reply or a new winner will be chosen.  Crooked Brook will ship the prize to the winner within 30 days of contest end. Physical address required for shipping; no PO boxes, US recipients only residing in one of the 48 contiguous states.

 

With a logo embroidered polo shirt, all you need is an apron and your uniform is good to go!

For question regarding size, please refer to their size chart or contact them at 315-733-1992

Terms & Conditions:

You must be 18 years or older to win.
Contest ends midnight (Eastern Standard Time) 06/6/12.
Winner will be chosen by sugarzen.wordpress.com and contacted by email.
Winner will have 48 hours to reply or a new winner will be chosen.
Crooked Brook will ship the prize to the winner within 30 days of contest end.
Physical address required for shipping; no PO boxes, US recipients only residing in one of the 48 contiguous states.

A Message From the Front Lines

After my last blog on the realities of teaching, I started hearing from many of the organizers of mini class events and those who host teachers at their shops. These folks are on the front lines of the teaching world and have a unique perspective. Since I have already addressed things from a teacher’s view and from a student’s, I decided that we needed to hear from the folks who make these classes possible. After all, I have been on all three sides and remember well what went smoothly and what did not. This blog is for everyone who teaches and anyone who thinks they want to teach.

There are some very common mistakes that many of us who teach make – and fixing these could make a host’s job so much easier. Additionally, I will tell you a bit about how they decide who to host and what helps you be invited back.

The first common mistake is writing a poor class description. The sins committed in this arena could keep English teachers busy forever! People must write these late at night, after several drinks or one minute before they are due. The worst things? Sentences that aren’t real sentences – they are two thoughts combined with a couple of words accidentally left out so that it makes no sense whatsoever. Poor grammar and spelling are the next most mentioned issues. I am sorry, but if you are in business, you MUST learn the difference between your, you’re, to, two, too and other words that spell check will let you use improperly. The hosts often cut and paste the descriptions onto their sites, but cannot save that time if you failed to do your job properly. Then we come to punctuation. Not! Every! Sentence! Needs! An! Exclamation!! Point! Or! Three!!! We understand you want to convey excitement for and about your class, but step away from the exclamation point.

If you are craptacular at punctuation, spelling, grammar or anything like that, please cultivate a friendship with someone who excels at those skills. Have someone else read over your class description before you send it to a host. I promise that a well written description receives more favorable attention over an incomprehensible one any day. Are you wondering if this is something you are guilty of? Look at class postings and see if the host had to change your words, spelling or more. This will tell you that you need to pay attention to this aspect of your business, just like you do the skills you teach.

The second common mistake is the understatement. These teachers must believe that the title is enough. For example, if the class is Royal Icing Piping, the description will say that you will learn to pipe with royal. Wow. That is helpful. I know just what my project would look like leaving that class! Seriously, you MUST promote the class with an enticing description. Read restaurant menus. They excel at making a hamburger sound gourmet and making you feel like you can taste the flavors. The words you choose will determine whether people want to sign up.

The third common mistake is the over promise. I love these. You will be assured that in this two hour class you will learn everything there is to know about this technique. Really? Everything? That is simply not possible. So let’s be realistic with the students and tell them what the project is, what techniques they will learn and what they can expect to leave class with.

The fourth common mistake and one raised by every host I spoke to is that a picture is worth a thousand words. Good picture quality of a good project sells the class. Too many teachers are like me and offer classes that are designed in their head, but not in actual sugar. When there isn’t something photographed, people tend to keep promising to send the picture, but it never arrives. Class enrollment is typically lower for any class without a photographic sample.

What makes it a good picture? Look in any sugar art book. The item will be well lit, with a clean or complimentary work surface around it. The picture will be in focus (don’t laugh!). The picture will not be from a cell phone. The picture will not be cluttered with everything imaginable in the background. Are your photos good? Compare them to these guidelines. Your camera comes with a flower (macro) setting. Use it. It allows you to get crisp, clean detail shots up close.

The fifth common mistake is last minute planning. Everyone forgets something sometimes, but if you show up for class without numerous supplies, you may not be ready to teach. If the host needs a supply list from you so that they can provide things for the class, you need to get those to them by the deadline! Your failure to plan well can wreak havoc on a class and the costs for purchasing the supplies. And for goodness sake, don’t have supplies on the list that you do not even use. I truly hate that!

The sixth common mistake is to rest on your laurels. You might be the great and mighty Oz, but Oz needs to get busy with Facebook, twitter, emails, instagram and word of mouth promoting the class for the teacher. Part of the reason you were chosen is to help draw new focus to the class or event. You cannot and should not rely on the host to do all the promotion. If you are not savvy with social media, please take a class or learn from a friend who does it well. This is an integral part of marketing in today’s society. This is part of your job as a teacher.

The seventh common mistake is to think that the host is there to cater to you. You should never waltz in as the “talent” expecting that your class prep has been done for you. The hosts want to see you involved and committed to your classes. I have seen some celebrity teachers working their butts off to set a room and I have seen some newbies who thought it should be done for them. Of course, I have seen the reverse of that, as well. I don’t think it has anything to do with celebrity. You are either a hard working, industrious person who will get things ready or you grew up with a sense of expectation that things should be handled for you since your time was too valuable to do the menial things. I have made lots of promises so far in this blog, but venture one more. If you do not work as hard as the host, you will likely never be invited back again!

The eighth mistake is to think that the host is an ATM machine ready to disburse funds to you continuously. Unless room and air are part of your negotiated deal, forget it. Do not expect to be hosted for extra days so you can sightsee. How on earth does that benefit the host? Do not think that you should be paid up front or a month before class. Most classes are paid to the teacher at the conclusion of the class. Some venues or cake shows mail it within a week or two after. Know the standard and stop trying to buck that tradition.

The ninth mistake is forgetting that your hosts have lives. Don’t call when it isn’t business hours. This is your job. Late night calls are creepy and intrusive Don’t expect them to ignore their families or businesses in working with you. Yes, you might be the coolest thing since sliced bread, but their kids still have homework, the shop has graduation cakes , etc., and the host is juggling as well as possible. Be considerate. I think this one carries on after the class, also. You need to help clean the room. Wipe down tables, clean up spills on counters and floors before the stains set, put things back where you found them. People, this is all Golden Rule stuff here! Please make the hosts know that you appreciate them. The easiest way to do that is to use your magic words, “Thank you”. Thank them for inviting you. Thank them for bringing in students. Thank them for the use of their space and the graciousness of their employees.

The tenth mistake is to say that you provide everything, but you really don’t. If the students will need a box to carry home the project, they need to know that. Be realistic on what is included and help the host and students out by telling them up front what they will need to provide.

I am sure there are more things we do wrong as teachers, but let’s start by working on these 10. Next, we need to know how they decide who to bring in. I will say the widest variety of responses came here. Some hosts focus on international artists and want to bring in people that are not “regulars” in the US. Some hosts have built a name from hosting celebrity classes. A few hosts focus on established professional teachers. To a one, the hosts told me that they are hesitant to book a class with a newer sugar artist. The reasoning is simple…lack of worldly experience. Something will come up and that teacher will be less likely to know the answer because they have not seen that situation before. An experienced sugar artist has an entire arsenal of “if you do this, this goes wrong” stories. Most have earned their knowledge the hard way and the students get the benefit of their years of successes and mistakes. I brought in celebrity teachers and then started bringing in fundamental skill teachers also. I liked the mix.

Newer teachers also tend to lose a lot of class time telling you about themselves. I heard this a couple times from hosts and have witnessed it. The newer teacher wants you to understand that they are talented or ready to teach, so they want you to know their whole story. The old pros assume you know who they are and that you trust them to teach you.

One final note from the hosts. If they sell supplies, help promote their products. Look in their store to see what they carry and what you could promote related to your class. If you have products, allow them to sell them and give them a discount. If they do not want you to sell at their shop, then don’t do it! Most hosts make little to no money hosting classes. They do this to bring new folks into their store, to promote their products and to build a relationship with an established teacher. Your kindness in promoting their sales will forever be appreciated.

So, in the end, my advice is for the teachers to remember that you and the host are both running a business. Write well. Use proper photos. Thank the host. Be prepared. Be considerate. Be the type of teacher YOU would like to host.

From my selfish standpoint, I want to thank the mini classes, shop owners and cake shows that have allowed me to teach. Thank you also for sharing this advice with me and my readers. May we all do better in the future!

Show Me the Money

We all remember the line “Show me the money” from the movie Jerry Maguire. I have been noticing that many young decorators do well at a cake show, appear briefly on a tv reality show or hear how great they are from their family and the next words spoken are: “I should teach….I will make tons of money!”. Additionally, people always write or ask me how they can get more teaching jobs As a well traveled road warrior from the teaching circuit, I decided it was time for a blog on the realities of teaching.

I think that when students see some of the prices people charge for classes, they think the teachers must be rolling in the dough. I will admit that I see some prices and have thought the same thing. I decided it was a good time to talk about the costs of being a teacher, especially one that travels. I thought I should also talk about the perceived glamour of being a teacher around the globe.

Let’s start with the price people set for their classes. What goes in to the pricing? More teachers are providing all or most of the supplies, so that is the first consideration. Keep in mind that it is not just the cost of the materials like icing and armature, but also how much it costs to get them to the class location. Lauren Kitchens estimates that half her class fee is eaten up by this part alone! When your shipping costs alone exceed $700, you know that the cost of offering that class is HIGH! Classes with dummies, wood, metal armature and lots of fondant are expensive because of what you get to play with in the class.

Now let’s talk about the tools. There are a lot of things needed for the class that the teacher will be able to use in more than one class. The cost of purchasing and maintaining those tools still factors in. Think about how quickly it adds up to have 25 spatulas, tips, rolling pins, silpats, ball tools, etc. I remember a young talented artist who wanted to teach. He was outraged at the cost for the supplies and complained that he was going to have to spend all the class fees just to purchase the supplies – there was nothing for him if he did that. He wanted his boss to buy those so he could make some money I will admit that I smirked inside a bit. I had another friend who decided to teach. She had won one show and was ready. She said she had a list of 4-5 things she needed to buy to provide. Then she assisted in some of my classes and revised that list. In the end, it was three pages long! There is so much more than meets the eye!

And yes, it is expensive! I didn’t start full force into teaching. Over a three year period, I started purchasing tools. Each time I developed a new class, I had to start buying more tools. I was lucky that I could buy things over time and search for the best prices. If you wonder why some teachers never seem to develop new classes, this could be a factor.

Once you have all the stuff that goes into the class, you have more things to factor in. We will start with the easy things first. You have to book a flight or drive to the class location. Driving allows you to haul more without the expense of shipping, but eats up your days on either side of the class. The drive there is not so bad, but starting a long drive after teaching a day or two of classes is just too much! If you fly, you have to think about bag fees. Most of us that travel a lot are huge fans of Southwest, where our bags fly free. Even with that, most of us STILL end up with extra bag fees depending on how much we have to transport.

Then, we get to book hotel rooms and arrange for a rental car. True, some big names get this included in their teaching contracts. I expect they are not reading this and it doesn’t apply to the rest of us. We have to pay all travel related costs. Often, we get to pay to park that rented car at the hotel site. It is like a two edged blade! We have to rent bigger cars for the luggage. Every little thing starts to add up. This is why you will see me and many of my teaching counterparts rooming together and cramming too many people and luggage into a car…we are trying to save money to not go in the hole that trip.

The other really big variable is to compensate for the time you are gone from your business. If Lauren Kitchens is gone, cakes are not going out. That lost income does not prevent her from incurring overhead, payroll and all the other bills from running a business. She must earn enough to cover those costs or she cannot leave her shop. Ask any of the teachers in retail and they will say the same. And remember, it was probably much less expensive for me to leave my shop in OKC than it is for Ron Ben Israel to leave his shop in NYC. The fees are relative to what THAT teacher will lose by going away to teach. Now remember, we are still just working on the costs associated with teaching. Last, but not least, you hope to earn something for yourself to compensate you for sharing your knowledge.

One of my favorite stories is that Peggy Tucker’s husband had finished her books from a trip and said “You made $30 on that trip.”. She said, “I made THIRTY dollars!!!”. Irritated, he said, “yes, $30”. She was still glowing because she was just happy to be in the black. He thought she had to be crazy to have done that teaching trip for just $30. I have had many trips where I lost money by going, but refused to let down a show or class host. I have also had a few trips where I came out enough ahead to offset a loss or two. It is a bit of a crap shoot. And sometimes you must go at a loss to establish yourself in a new area. Think of it as a loss leader. You hope that IF they ask you back, your next outing will be for a profit.

Often, someone else picks what you are going to teach from a list of possibilities you provide. They also are just using their best judgement as to what they think people will want to take. The class that sells out in Virginia can be a bomb in Georgia. There is often no way to tell. Teacher extraordinaire Lorraine McKay posted the other day that she was going to stop offering classes in Scotland. She simply cannot fill the classes there. The economy is tough and money is tight. People fret over whether or not to take classes. I did the same the other day when I concluded that I simply could not afford to take Robert Haynes class…and I have wanted to study with him for a while!

“But Ruth, teaching is so glamorous! You are always going somewhere fun!” True. I get to go to lots of places. Unless I add a day onto the trip, however, I never get to see the town. When you are there to teach, it is all business. Most trips, I arrive the afternoon before the class. I go buy supplies from the grocery store that I didn’t want to carry. I go to the hotel or class location to get my fondant, etc. Now I get to start the other thing you have to compensate yourself for…actual class prep. I mix colors. I divide the icing and bag it. I make any fragile parts needed for the students. Sometimes I am still editing class notes that night. Usually, I will get 2-4 hours sleep the night before a class.

You arrive for class early to set the room. You teach all day, rarely actually eating anything and often skipping bathroom breaks until the end of the day. You are generally dehydrated from talking the whole time and forgetting to drink your water (or coke)(which is also why you never went to the bathroom). Class ends, you pack up, clean up and end up eating a late night meal. Susan Carberry is the queen of late night room service when she finally gets to sit down and eat!

I forgot to mention the fun of schlepping all the supplies to and from your classroom. In Florida, Susan and I had 28 boxes, not counting our luggage filled with supplies. Many hotels will force you to have a bellman to use their luggage carts, which means you start tipping per box and piece of luggage! You get to pay from the car to your room, from the room to the classroom, from the classroom back to the room and from the room back to the car. I swear I heard Susan’s wallet scream in Orlando.

So am I telling you to forget your dreams of being a teacher? Absolutely not. I am telling you to do your research first. Know what the class you plan to offer will cost you. Know what the effects of travel will be on your health, happiness and relationships. Know how many students you must have to make a trip worthwhile. Know the business that you want to go into. And don’t mistake it…it is a business. But it must also be your passion. You must love teaching with all your heart. You must be doing it for that love more than for a paycheck. When you are missing your spouse, your children and your furry babies, you better be sure you live teaching with all your heart or you will not be able to do this for long.

You may wonder why so many teachers have become vendors. I always said that I wanted to teach, not to sell. The harsh reality is, the class fees just don’t cover it all. You have to sell supplies to increase your odds of not taking a loss on the trip. I always tell my students that I am a reluctant vendor. It is true. That is not my passion and I do not sell forcefully because that is not the reputation I want to have. But my husband has made it clear that he would like me to occasionally make a profit. And since he is letting me galavant all over the world, I can make that effort.

So what do you do if you know in your heart that you are dying to teach? Start locally. Demo for your cake club. Demo at the ICES Days of Sharing. Ask local cake shops if you can teach there. Offer a class at your bakery or home to a smaller group. Get your “sea legs” for teaching. Write an tutorial for one of the cake magazines and submit it for consideration Have someone tape you; then watch yourself to see where you can improve. Once you have your supplies, class materials and timing down, start volunteering within your region. If you attend a cake show, see if they need a demonstrator or teacher. Have references. Have photos. Do the same at neighboring Days of Sharing and other cake club meetings. Take classes from people you hear are good teachers. Learn from how they run their classes. See how they manage time. (read my earlier blog on what makes a good teacher!). Expect rejection, but keep working. The next time you ask could be the magic time.

I once had a friend complain that no one asked her to teach. I looked at her in surprise. I never thought to wait to be asked. I wrote emails asking to demo and asking to teach long before I was allowed to do so. I sent CDs of photos to Cake Camp and Florida Mini Classes, along with references and a resume. I never thought anyone was going to hand me the opportunity…I set goals and started working towards them. I was patient. I had decided it would take about three years of hard work to become a nationally recognized teacher. I probably underestimated. While I am getting closer to that goal, there are many parts of the US and oh, so many students who have no idea who I am. I am fully prepared to keep asking for teaching opportunities and will keep being one of the hardest working teachers on the circuit.

What is your takeaway from this blog? By all means, teach. But teach because you love to teach. Teach because of the joy you give to your students. Teach because you cannot imagine doing anything else Teach to keep this amazing art form alive. Forget about the money. Show me the passion.