Archive | October 2013

Now Hiring

It’s the day you’ve dreamed of and dreaded with equal fervor. You are so busy, you need to hire a helper. What happens next? My first two employees were my best friend and then my sister in law. The scary part was that day when I hired the first person that I did not already know. I was hiring a baker. She would work when I wasn’t there, baking my cakes. The day I gave her the key to my shop, I thought she was going to have to pry it from my fingers! I kept picturing coming in the next day to find all my equipment gone. Trusting a stranger with my dream, equipment and reputation certainly gave me pause.

Over the course of my bakery ownership, I probably had 120 employees. On average, I had sixteen employees working for me at any given time. Some stayed with me for years. Some lasted weeks, days or hours. All in all, I think I was pretty lucky about the people who came to work for me. I considered more than a few to be friends and still stay in touch with many of them. That being said, I also saw just about every type of employee out there! I want to share with you some of what you might encounter. Maybe it will help you decide who will be the right fit for you.

The Competitor
This person does cakes from home, but thinks you don’t know. This person gets mysterious illnesses on days when they have orders going out. I had one that seemed to always get a “Fridaygraine”, a migraine every Friday so she could finish her wedding cake. Usually an excellent employee, unless she is overbooked. You need to lay ground rules at the start about what you will and will not allow your decorators to do.

The one who knows better than you
This employee isn’t in charge, but is always telling others what to do. This person has a loud, dominating persona and can ruffle feathers with how she says things as much as with what she says. You have to put a stop to this quickly or the person will continue to try to run your business.

The drama queen.
This person never has an ordinary day. There is always a crisis, real or manufactured, going on. They are constantly on the phone and texting dealing with these family issues. They will only give you the very minimum amount of work. They need to focus on their lives and just can’t be bothered to actually work. As soon as I discovered I had one of these, I worked very hard to squeeze them out. They disrupt the entire flow of a bakery.

The misfit
The seemingly quiet one that you think will be a great worker. And they are, but they cannot interact with customers or other employees. You find yourself trying to isolate them from others. With one employee, I found a way to make it work. With another, she quit when I would not let her work alone in a quiet room. (Where on earth was I going to find this quiet room?)

The cleaner
The one who is always cleaning, fixing and organizing. Sure, there’s some OCD at play here, but this person seems to get their job done and make the place look better. Grab them. Keep them.

The right hand
The one who sees how hard you work and does everything they can to make your life easier. They anticipate what you need. They keep things running when you aren’t around. A true gem. Treat them well. Keep them by your side as long as you can.

The troubled ones
I saw more than my share of these. People fighting addictions. People struggling with mental illness. They did not last long. They would always disappear back into their problems and stop coming in.

The teller
This one never asks off. They tell you they are leaving for a month. Or two. It’s family. It’s important. Often, it is, but they never bother to ask. They just make pronouncements. You have to decide whether they will have a job when they return. I had a couple of these over the years. Both were very good employees and were in unique situations, so I let them come back. But I never stopped resenting that they just told me how it was going to be.

The insecure one
This one is constantly asking for help with their work. They ask for multiple opinions before starting. They second guess themselves and will work at a snail’s pace. They drain your resources because another employee always has to help them finish their work. They have talent, but are afraid to believe in their own judgement. I always tried to make it work with these folks. I would compliment and build them up, but you cannot make someone believe in themselves. I was always relieved when they left.

The thief
They slip money from the register. They “borrow” cutters, books, pans, product with no intention of returning it. Get them out as soon as you figure out who they are.

The half asser
They don’t read the order thoroughly. They mess things up constantly because they just aren’t giving their full attention to work. They aren’t really paying attention to anything. You will be doing refunds non stop until you get them out.

The spy
This is the person who starts working for you to learn you recipes, methods and organization. They will leave to set up their own competing business. For me, it was one I did not expect. Luckily, she wasn’t really that good at doing it all (baking, decorating and working with customers), so her efforts had no impact on my business.

The handy one
Not only is this person good at their job, they also have useful skills. They fix things. They are your MacGuyver. Hold on tight and treat them well.

The mid life crisis
They have a great, well paying job. They want to leave to follow their passion. They talk a good game. You give them a chance. They last only days when they realize how hard “decorating cakes” really can be. I regretted each of these hires.

The slug
They don’t even give a minimal amount. No one walks this slowly. Seriously. They have to practically lay down to take an order. They have two speeds. Slow and slower. Get them out!!!!

The gossip
They want to know what everyone makes. They pry in your office. They stir up trouble between employees. They cause people to mistrust each other. They are toxic to a work environment.

I’m sure I’ve only barely scratched the surface of the types I had over the years. The one truth I can give you is that you have to talk to a potential employee for a while. Maybe have them decorate a cake for you. Have them show you pictures of their work. Introduce them to the other employees and see if they seem to get along initially. In the end, you have to trust your instincts. They’ve gotten you this far! And don’t be afraid to take a chance on someone. One of the most talented people that ever worked for me had a rough interview. She was so nervous she got red, her eyebrow twitched uncontrollably and she barely spoke. Luckily, a friend had vouched for her. She turned out to be my right hand.

I hope you find great employees. Having a business that is growing is incredibly exciting! Enjoy the ride.


The Power of Words

The other day someone was talking about an upcoming cake event. A person posted that the classes sure were expensive. I went to see if they were higher than normal and found that they were actually on the lower end of class prices these days. What if I had not been curious enough to look? That one person’s comment could have caused me not to take an affordable class.

This is part of why word of mouth is so crucial for a business. If you hear from a friend that a place has good food, you are more likely to eat there. If you hear that someone is a jerk, you will usually avoid getting to know that person. We take advice given to us by people we trust.

Recently a tv show conducted an experiment on words. They took a group in and told them they received a half portion of pasta. That group ate everything on their plate and wanted more. The second group was told they got a full serving of pasta. They ate everything on their plate. The third group was told they received a double portion of pasta. They all left pasta on their plate. All three groups received the same amount of pasta. What did this show? Besides a lot about how we eat, it showed the power of words.

I always would hear people say that they didn’t like the taste of fondant. I would tell them it was because they hadn’t had my fondant yet. I would give them a piece and tell them that I loved it because it wasn’t as sweet and because it reminded me of Lucky Charm marshmallows. 99 percent of the time, they would flash back to happy childhood memories of eating cereal, the joy of catching a marshmallow in your spoon, and would declare that I was right and my fondant was great. I used words to plant an emotional response. I never felt like I was cheating because I DO think fondant is less sweet and because I DO think it tastes like Lucky Charm marshmallows.

I found that how I described something often determined whether a customer would buy it. I was so grateful to have an excellent vocabulary and a flair for descriptions. Even if you don’t feel particularly strong in this area, you probably know someone who is. Ask them to describe your chocolate cake or lemon bars. How you word things on brochures and websites truly makes a difference. Look at the menu at a restaurant and see what I mean. Dessert menus are especially descriptive.

I found that if I told a bride that clean, elegant lines were in, that is the style they chose. If I said that the trend was alternating shapes, they had to have that. You have the ability to shape the orders you take. I just caution you to use your words for good, not evil. And please, remember that an off the cuff remark could cause more harm than you expect. Savor your words and choose them wisely.

The Professionals

I follow lots of bakery pages and young decorators on Facebook. Lately, I’ve started to notice something that bothers me. When I am coordinating with a friend for dinner, we often text back and forth. That is how many of you do business. You may never actually speak to your client in person until they pick up the cake. Only then do you realize that there was a miscommunication and that you have done the order wrong or that they did not understand what you told them.

When I had my bakery, I absolutely refused to take orders by email. I cannot even comprehend taking orders by text. We made customers come in or call so that we could be sure that we both understood the order. I understand that many of you work from home and don’t want people coming there to order. Fine. Establish posted business hours. Stick to them and speak with your customers over the phone.

If you are going to text or email your customers, for God’s sake, please write in proper English and not text speak. I see many decorators post screen shots of conversations that look completely unprofessional. You are not a teenage girl making a date to go to the mall…you are running a BUSINESS. If people have not been treating you with respect in this profession, you might look to see if it is because of your own actions.

Home bakeries will get more prevalent with the influx of Cottage Food Laws being adopted across the US. To compete with store front bakeries, you need to act as they do. Get a good order form. Establish ordering procedures. Communicate in a businesslike manner.

I know that the world today is different than when I first opened my shop, but some things will not change. If you want to be successful, look and see what the successful people are doing. The best bakeries are NOT sending text messages back and forth with their customers. Please, please, please start doing business like a business person!