As many of you know, I do marathons and half marathons to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Since I am a walker, I am out on the course for a long time. I like to observe human nature and always seem to find a way to relate it to my cake life. I was thinking about how differently people approach a race and realized that it is very similar to how people approach business. As always, I am not going to tell you one method is better than the others, but you need to think about your choice and what it means for your business.
My first marathon mentor told me that she picks out someone ahead of her and works towards passing that person. She is very goal and task oriented. She achieves time goals and feels a reward for her efforts. This symbolizes the bakery owners that pick out their biggest competitor and decide that they want to work to be that good. They don’t copy what their competitor does, but they strive to come up with their own signature items or style. They will put in whatever work is necessary to achieve their goals.
When I first opened my shop, I was definitely a forward focus girl. I decided what I wanted my bakery to be known for and went through the necessary steps to create that image. I pushed myself to always do more, to give more, to do better. I did not choose any particular shop that I wanted to “beat”, I just wanted to be one of the most recognized and respected.
This is a great type of focus for a new business. The hard work usually pays for itself. The important thing is to not lose focus on your goals. At some point, once you start achieving goals, you may find that this approach is exhausting. It is hard to push yourself twenty four seven for the life of your bakery. Unrelenting focus can flat out wear you out. I equate this with when runners “hit the wall”. When you see people burn out at the top of their game, I think this is caused by the mistake of not taking a break.
Even if you’ve never done a marathon or race, you’ve probably experienced this type of person. This is the runner always trying to make sure that no one is going to pass them. I see this on the highway all the time. Drivers will feel threatened if you start to pass them and they will speed up to prevent it.
I think this is so much more involved than that. It is almost an over zealous protectiveness of your business. These bakery owners are constantly worrying about whether someone is copying their cakes. I understand that you might feel violated by it, but really…how does it truly impact you if someone in another state posts your picture as theirs? What is the real damage to YOU? Not much. The greater damage will be to their own credibility when they cannot recreate your work. I see so many decorators who seem to burn a lot of hours checking to see if their cakes are being copied. That has got to be incredibly draining.
There is an old racing adage that you don’t look behind you because that motion to look back actually slows you down. People have lost races for years doing this. I worry that this contributes to the burnout some decorators experience. You’re so busy holding on to what you have, that you forget to look ahead to the next goal. Invariably, you will be passed by someone who is running their own race. The next time you sit down to start scoping out what competitors are doing and whether they are copying you, consider looking forward to doing something no one else is doing instead. What will be the next big thing in your town? Try to go out for a new goal instead of looking at your past goals.
I am a walker on race day. I maintain a pretty uniform pace and I can do it for a long time. Invariably, I end up crossing the finish line with the run/walkers. This is a well supported run method where you run for a set amount of time, then walk for a set time. The theory is that for runners who cannot maintain a fast speed the whole time, this gets them time to rest and keeps the run portion of their race productive. I have a lot of friends who do marathons with this method and it does make them faster.
For the bakery world, this is someone who sets goals, achieves them, then coasts for a bit before setting the next goal. Maybe they only focus strongly on their business during the busier times at their shop. They use the rest of the time to simply enjoy the bakery and cakes. They do not burn out nearly as much as the Forward Focus owners. This became me at some point. I had established my bakery brand and would not push for another goal until I could sense that it was time to introduce a new product. Sometimes I would go to a cake show and come back with a new idea or focus. This allowed me to conserve my energy so that I could love the bakery for many years. I firmly believe that many long term bakeries fit in this category.
I have a few friends who run races like this. They have no time goal. They don’t care who passes them. They just run or walk as the mood hits them. If they see a picture opportunity, they are off the course for a bit. On the highway, these are the folks putting on makeup, eating or texting while driving. Their focus is NOT on the road ahead. While they will pay attention from time to time, they really just wander.
I see these bakery owners on Facebook. I guess calling them bakery owners might be a stretch. These are the folks who will do a cake order every now and then. They might focus for a brief time on building a business, but they cannot seem to commit one hundred percent to being in the cake business. This isn’t to say that people who do cakes on the side, but have a full time job are this type. In fact, I know many people who juggle what amounts to two careers. These are people like one of my former employees.
She started a web site to do cakes from home. She struggles to get through any order she takes. She usually had to enlist help from friends to complete the order. She had an idea in her head of running a business, but not the focus to see it through. If you keep stopping and starting your business, I am probably talking to you. If you truly want to move forward, you will have to find a focus.
This is my marathon personality. I have an internal rhythm and keep to that steady pace. I have forced myself to stop worrying about who beats me. I forced myself to work at the pace that keeps me happy and that I can maintain without injury or burnout. I know that a run/walker may pass me during their run portion, but that I will pass them when they start to walk. Neither passing truly matters.
In business, this person does their own thing without worrying about what anyone else in town is doing. They don’t go in the other bakeries. They don’t troll websites seeing what others are doing. They decide what they want for themselves and they simply do that. I think one of the best examples of this is my Sugar Sister, Pat Jacoby. She has had her bakery for over thirty years. And she still loves it! She decided a long time ago what types of cakes she wanted to do, established that brand and does her thing. While she has been copied by competitors when she introduces new things, she does not attack them. She just lets her work and the taste of her cakes do her work. She sets goals, but realizes that sometimes the line isn’t straight and sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward.
I have been finding that, since I shifted to just teaching, I am having to work on building an internal focus for my business. It is easy to worry about things like someone teaching a similar class. It is easy to feel like I got passed when people get to teach internationally or get picked to do a Craftsy class. If I am completely honest, I struggle with not letting these things make me feel bad. We decorators can get down on ourselves so easily. What I try to remember is that I cannot look at anyone else’s race. The truth for most of us who do marathons is that we are not going to win the race. Therefore, the goal has to be something different. I am working to remind myself that my steady teaching pace will pay off in the end. People might pass me professionally here and there, but that doesn’t make me less of a teacher. In the end, I must be true to myself and my goals. I am not Marina or Nick Lodge. I am not anyone but me. And if I just focus on that, perhaps thirty years from now I will be like Pat Jacoby…still in love with the business I built. And, in the end, isn’t that much better?