Last year, Jennifer Jacobs churned out more than 1,000 cupcakes, 2,000 macarons, 1,300 cookies and too many cakes to count.
At that production rate, you know baking isn’t just her weekend hobby or an evening stress-reliever, though that’s how it started. It’s now her business: Wandering Whisk Bakeshop.
The 30-year-old resident of St. Petersburg, Florida, earns a substantial income through her homegrown business — not enough to count as a full-time salary but definitely enough to help her buy her first home.
In addition to whisking up a storm, Jacobs also works a 9-to-5 shift as an associate producer at Home Shopping Network. After she packs up her bag for the day, she spends the next five hours filling orders.
So how did she build a full-fledged business while maintaining a full-time career and not lose her mind?
Admittedly, there were a few late-nighters where she found herself crumpled on her kitchen floor with tears in her eyes, but since striking up her business in 2014, Jacobs has pocketed a number of lessons to help propel her venture forward.
In hopes of inspiring others to turn their hobbies and passion projects into a profit, Jacobs shares her top tips for creative self-starters.
1. Learn How To Manage Your Time
These days, Jacobs works her 9-to-5 job at HSN. When she gets off work, she busies herself in the kitchen until about 11 p.m. — midnight tops. Sleep is important to her, and she promises herself at least seven hours a night.
But when Jacobs first started out, she pulled a number of late-nighters.
Why? She waited until the last minute to start filling orders, which isn’t ideal when a wedding cake takes a least 15 hours from ideation to completion.
Jacobs has overcome this challenge by prioritizing — and scribbling a ton of to-do lists. In fact, her grandmother recently gave her some cute Post-it Notes, which Jacobs sticks around her kitchen.
These notes help her figure out what needs to be done tonight and what can wait. She also makes an effort to work ahead, perhaps prepping the icing or finessing a design before the baking process begins.
2. Know It Will Be Slow At First (But Use That Time Wisely)
Jacobs’ business didn’t take off overnight. She’s been doing this for more than three years, and, while she’s constantly busy now, that wasn’t always the case.
“Don’t expect you’re going to announce you’ve started a business and that people are going to flock,” Jacobs warns.
The key is to be realistic and to remain patient. She laughs now at the idea of free time and encourages those who are just starting out to enjoy it.
Jacobs urges fledglings to use this extra time to hone their skills — to take classes, read books and learn new techniques.
Once business ramps up, you’ll be longing for that free time, she says.
3. When Business Booms, Learn to Say No
In early 2017, Jacobs had one of those moments that landed her in tears on the kitchen floor. She’d taken on too many orders to manage.
Since that night, she’s been careful not to repeat her mistake.
Through trial and error, she’s learned what’s doable. It’s taken time, she admits, but now she says “no” to orders she simply can’t fit into her schedule.
Jacobs also doesn’t hesitate to turn down orders that aren’t in her wheelhouse. For example, if someone requests a giant fondant-covered dinosaur for a children’s birthday party, she knows that’s not something she specializes in — or even enjoys. She resolves the issue by referring the customer to another local baker.
“You have to do what you enjoy,” Jacobs emphasizes. Otherwise, it could lead to burnout, which leads to her next tip…
4. Don’t Let Your Business Consume You
Living and breathing sweets sounds like a dream to most of us, but Jacobs has to be careful not to exhaust herself.
“It becomes your every thought,” she says of baking. “I mean, I wake up, and I think about cake. I go to bed, and I think about it. I’m on Instagram, and I’m looking at cake…”
Passion is key, but Jacobs encourages self-starters to strike a balance. If you don’t, you risk losing your passion — and your business.
The keys for her are saying no to what she can’t handle (see tip No. 3) and spending time outside the kitchen.
Jacobs admits it’s easy to forget her friends and family and charge forward with her head down, but she needs those people and her “me time” — that time to breathe in something other than cake.
5. Know Your Worth
Putting a price tag on your goods is hard. You know how much time and effort went into something, but do they? Will they pay that much for these cupcakes?
“I felt like at the beginning I was practically giving stuff away because I was worried,” Jacobs says. She’d find herself thinking: “This isn’t as good as what they may see on Pinterest or Instagram.”
But, over time, she was able to stop comparing herself to others. “Remember, they may have been doing this for 20 years or have gone to school for this,” she says.
Plus, she reminded herself that people aren’t just paying for her product and for the ingredients going into it. They’re also paying for her time (remember, it takes at least 15 hours to craft a wedding cake) and her talent.
And she’s found people are willing to pay. Jacobs now starts her pricing at $160 for tiered cakes that serve 32 people, $42 for a dozen cookie sandwiches, $35 for a dozen macarons and $22 for a dozen cookies.
6. Seek Mentors — Chances Are, They’re Willing To Help
This past September, Jacobs hopped on a flight to Lincoln, Nebraska.
Why? She was spending the day with Angela Garbacz, the pastry chef, food stylist and owner of Goldenrod Pastries.
Jacobs had connected with Garbacz through Instagram, and Garbacz had invited Jacobs out for a tour of her brick-and-mortar bakeshop.
There, Jacobs shadowed the owner, poking her with questions and observing her art. At the end of it all, Garbacz even offered Jacobs access to her business plan.
“You think just because she’s some big baker, she wouldn’t want to help, but you’d be surprised,” Jacobs says.
Jacobs is now starting to pay it forward. People will reach out to her about certain baking techniques or with inquiries about starting their own businesses. Jacobs is more than happy to answer those questions and to help others along the way — just as her mentors did for her.
“Just reach out,” she says. “There are so many people willing to help you — for free.”
7. Accept That Not Everyone Is Your Customer…
…but they can help you in other ways.
Jacobs remembers hearing this tidbit of advice somewhere, and it’s stuck with her:
People can support your business — even if they don’t buy or can’t afford a cake. Maybe they’ll tell someone about the awesome cake they saw on Instagram. Or that a birthday party they recently attended boasted beautiful succulent (like the plant) cupcakes.
“Word of mouth is the most important thing for any business,” Jacobs says.
It can also be that someone’s there to lend a hand — like her mom.
There was a night not too long ago where she started feeling overwhelmed. Her mom offered to stop by to help wash dishes, and Jacobs embraced her help and her warm company.
“Just surround yourself with supportive people,” Jacobs says. “Everyone has a different purpose.”
8. Leverage Yourself on (Free!) Social Media Platforms
Jacobs hasn’t paid a single penny to advertise.
Instead, she’s been smart about using free social media platforms to her advantage.
Her favorite, of course, is Instagram, which does justice to her artful creations. Jacobs invested in a refurbished camera and takes all her own photos. She’s able to connect with people near and far (as far as Australia).
She’s also been big on soliciting Facebook reviews.
Recently, Jacobs began following up with customers and encouraging those who were satisfied with her work to write a quick review for Wandering Whisk on Facebook.
“Almost everyone leaves a review,” she says.
Reading positive reviews might help new customers take a chance on Jacobs, even if they’ve never see her product in person or haven’t yet tried her banana Nutella cupcakes.
9. Build Genuine Relationships With Your Customers
Jacobs makes an effort to join her local alumni groups, attend meetups and to regularly put herself in situations where she can connect with new people.
And it’s not so she can shove her business card in people’s faces. She enjoys having genuine conversations with others. If Wandering Whisk comes up, great. If not, that’s OK, too.
In addition to networking, she makes an effort to build relationships with her customers. “You shouldn’t look at them as if they’re buying one product and giving you money,” she says.
Wandering Whisk gets a ton of repeat customers. In fact, one woman just placed her third order with Jacobs in two months.
“It’s really important to just be a real person and build a relationship and ask questions and to get to know them as a person,” she emphasizes. “That’s the reason I do this. I love getting to know people and hearing their feedback.”
10. Don’t Corner Yourself
Although Jacobs has mastered the technical art of the macaron, she refuses to open a macaron shop.
Why? That’s just a phase — just like cupcakes and doughnuts and everything else considered “craft” and “trendy” at any point.
Instead, she wants to remain Wandering Whisk Bakeshop, with an emphasis on bakeshop. She encourages others to enter their own industries with the same type focused flexibility in mind.
“Keep it broad and flexible and nimble,” she says.
And keep learning!
Read more about the start of Wandering Whisk here.
Carson Kohler ([email protected]) is a staff writer at Codetic. She’s more of a “wanderer” than a “whisker.”