Heidi Dorber - Cake Baker & Decorator
What do you do?
I own and run a home-based business, where I bake and decorate cakes, cookies and other sweet treats that people order for birthdays, weddings and any other events you can think of.
Is this your whole income or do you have other side hustles?
I also work part time (3 days a week) as a Nanny. I used to think of my cake business as a side hustle, but these days I think of my Nanny job as a side hustle and my cake business as my main job. I certainly spend the most time on it.
What are 3-5 things you love to do on your days off or 3-5 quirky things about you?
Things I love to do on my days off are getting a coffee and wandering around the shops, going out for dinner, going to the movies, spending time with my nieces and nephews and I love to seeing live music when I get a chance. I got to Church on Sundays and I also love nothing more than to binge watch entire seasons of television on Netflix! My most recent favourite was Sherlock. Something slightly quirky about me is that I don't like to bake for myself! I like to bake for other people and I almost never eat the left overs of my cakes - thankfully there is usually always someone else around that will do that for me!
What were 3-4 significant events that led you into your current creative practice?
When I was younger, I always loved to bake and cook but I never entertained the possibility of people paying me to make cakes! I do remember thinking as I was baking and decorating a cake for one of my little brother's birthdays, imagine how great it would be to get paid for this! It was never my plan to start a business.
A friend of my cousin was getting married and she was only 19, so was having a very relaxed wedding. I said I'll bake your cake and she said ok! So she was my first ever paying client. She ordered a 100 cupcakes tower. That went really well and I got lots of positive feedback, so I began to think maybe I could have people pay me to bake. At the same time at work, I used to take the little boy I was nannying to a play center/cafe in Mosman that had recently opened, and my boss suggested that I should see if they needed any cupcakes. So I took them a free box of samples of little cupcakes decorated as animals and they loved them. I supplied about 60 cupcakes to their cafe a week for three years.
People would ask where the cakes were from and so I would pick up clients that way. I also had a really great boss who would order cakes off me for her parties and tell her friends, who also started ordering cakes off me. I also had lots of friends and family orders. I had to supply the cafe with an invoice and have an ABN so that forced me to register the business and suddenly (and very accidentally) I was a business owner!
What are three creative tools you couldn't live without?
There are sooo many, but three that make baking and decorating cakes SO much faster and easier are:
a cake turn table;
my Kenwood Chef Mix Master; and
a second empty fridge!
What are 3 business or self-management tools that you use to help make running your own business easier?
I LOVE Instagram and also have a Facebook business page. I have never paid anything for marketing - all of my work has come from social media and word of mouth. I am actually terrible at marketing and don't really enjoy "selling" myself at all, so just being able to put up a photo of my work and let it speak for itself has been the best thing for me. I also created my own website (with some help from family) and wrote all of the content on it using wix.com and it has worked really well for me. I also try not to edit my photos so much that clients will get an unrealistic expectation of what their cake will look like in real life, but I do use some Instagram filters and editing tools and also an app called Instasize which lets me put photos of very tall cakes up without having to crop them to fit the standard photo sizes.
Which artists in your field are you enjoying right now?
There are so may amazing cake makers out there! Some of my favourites are:
Can you describe a working day for you?
It really can vary depending on what the orders that I have for the week are, but it can range from doing admin, responding to enquires, designing and quoting cake prices, modelling fondant figures and making edible decorations to making multiple batches of buttercreams, baking the cakes, cookies and cupcakes, going to the flower markets, icing /stacking/ decorating cakes, doing all of the ingredient shopping and ordering and finally (the most nerve wracking part) driving through Sydney traffic and delivering the cakes!
What are the perks of your job?
Definitely being my own boss and getting to decide what orders to take and what to say no to. Managing my own time and being able to fit work in around whatever else I have going on. It is also such a blessing to do something so creative. I love helping to guide clients into the direction that they know they want to go to, but aren't quite sure of how to get there! Being able to combine all sorts of different creative fields from painting to floristry to trying new delicious flavour combinations. It is also really special to be a small part of my clients special occasions - it is usually a fun and happy time for them and it's nice to be a part of that.
What are some of the challenges you encounter?
It is a lot of work and not all of it is fun and creative! I am forever washing up dishes! I also do find marketing a real challenge and being proactive in promoting my business. It is always challenging around tax time, making sure I am doing the right thing and sometimes it can be difficult working out pricing - baking a cake may look simple, but there really is so much time put into it that it can be hard to strike that balance of feeling like you are being compensated for your time but also making prices accessible for people.
For all the creative artists in our community, what are 5 tips you can give them that you've learned through your career?
Learn to say no! You don't have to take every order that comes your way, especially if you are going to be miserable doing it.
Be honest and upfront with everything from the beginning. Don't promise more than you can deliver, just be really open with your pricing - if you charge for delivery, tell them that in the initial quote so there are no surprises or awkward conversations where you need to ask for more money. Above all, don't compromise. If you keep discounting your product, it will only make you end up resenting your job and your clients.
Be generous. If you think your cake needs extra flowers that you didn't charge for, just add them! In the long run it will help your business and people will see that generosity and be more likely to recommend you to their friends. It also makes you feel good!
If you have a not so great feeling about a particular client, you don't have to take their order. If you can tell that they are very demanding, try to haggle your prices down and are never happy, just let that order go - the money you might make is not worth the stress the job causes.
Take great photos! You might have the most amazing cakes in person, but if your photo has terrible lighting, a messy, busy background, that is what people will see and remember.
What advice would you give to someone who says they're feeling overwhelmed and anxious trying to self-manage their creative career and are in need of some practical advice?
For me, it really helps to have another job. This has taken all of the stress out of the financial side of my creative business. Just knowing that I have a regular income that will take care of the bills makes it easier to focus on the fun, creative side of my cake business. Make sure to schedule in some time for a break. There are weekends when I say not to any orders in advance, especially if I have another thing on that weekend that I really want to just enjoy without having to juggle orders around it. This helps to make sure I keep loving what I am doing. There is nothing more destructive to the creative process than hating the time you are spending on creating it! Try to make friends, or attend business events with other creatives - it can be isolating sometimes working alone, so it's great to be able to mix with other people who are in the same industry and position as you. Finally believe that your time and talent are worth being paid for!
Why do you work in the arts and why do you create?
I enjoy using my creative gifts and find it fun.
How does your art form make you see the world differently?
When I see a bakery filled with different cakes or am at an event where there is a special cake, I understand how long it would have taken to make and am even more appreciative when eating it! I also see flowers, fruits and colours and am constantly thinking of different ways to incorporate them into my cakes.
How do you balance business and creativity in your life?
I am forced to balance those two things because so much of running a business is about the business side of things, so it's just something I accept as part of the job. The business part of the job is what allows for the creative part.
What do you think it means to live a creative life?
I just think it is doing what you love and enjoy. Being open to learning and trying new things creatively and not being afraid to make mistakes along the way.
Any final advice or words?
If you find yourself not enjoying the creative process, take a step back and have a break. It's amazing how a little time away can really help to refresh your passion for creating.
Where can people find out more about you?