[This is a guest post by Michelle Green of the Business of Baking blog. Michelle will be teaching baking business courses all over Australia and the US so click here to find of if she will be coming to your city!]

On my Facebook page I recently shared a story of a woman who called me for a quote on a cake. She did not understand that a “decorated” cake meant that it has things done to it – she asked for details like borders and a message but then kept saying “I want a simple, undecorated cake.”

Funnily enough, all the comments had nothing to do with the actual reason for my post. I was posting to make the point that sometimes, the hardest part of my job isn’t making a cake – it’s communicating with people about cake. Nearly everyone who replied commented that it’s the word “simple” which makes them the most crazy when it comes to client interaction. “I just want something simple,” seems to be client code for, “I want it cheap and I also want it amazing, and did I mention I want it cheap?”

The average person has no real idea of what kind of effort goes into making a cake, and they don’t realise that the simpler something is, the harder it is to make! (You just can’t hide mistakes behind flowers or stripes…) They see decorated cakes in Costco, Wal-Mart or Safeway which sell for twenty bucks and think that you should be able to do the same, but better or cheaper. Some people have a really weird reaction to this, too – they get annoyed or pissed off when you say you can’t meet their budget (a budget which is frankly unrealistic in the first place.)

Many of the people commenting on that post said that they tell those “I want it simple (and cheap)” clients to go to a supermarket. Me? I think this can be dealt with in a different way entirely.

Basically – I would ALWAYS rather tell a client what I CAN do versus what I CAN’T do. Why? Because I’m a saleswoman and I want to close the deal. Guess what? You’re a salesperson too.

Here’s how I do it:

1) Educate them and use that as a way to show you’re better, not that the other companies are worse. They have no idea what goes into cake which is hand made as opposed to one made by the thousands at Wal Mart. Don’t justify your prices, educate about your prices. “My prices reflect the personalised service and hand made nature of my product. It’s quite different to what you can get at the supermarket, so it’s priced differently to the supermarket. It’s kinda like buying a Ferrari versus a Ford. My cakes are Ferraris.” Notice there’s not a huge amount of detail in that sentence, but it talks in language most people will understand. We’re trying to educate, not belittle.

2) Concede defeat but still be helpful and leave the door open. There are ways to nicely tell someone they can’t afford you or they are being unrealistic without YOU getting all defensive and pissed off about it.”If you’re needing something simple and quick for a small dinner party, I’d suggest you go to XYZ bakery. They make really lovely things and you can just buy them on the spot. Next time you need something fabulous and something with more wow-factor, give us a call and we’ll be happy to help.” I’ve even said to a client, “I’m a Mom too so I understand that not every party needs the super-fancy cake, they’re kids, right? Try XYZ bakery this time, and come back to me next time you need something a little fancier.” This is a great way to show them that you’re a decent person, and you’re trying to help even if it’s not you who can help this time. They will remember that next time – that you gave them great service, NOT that you couldn’t help with their cake.

3) Offer a range of cakes which are at a lower price point – which might not be at their budget still, but might be closer to it and they might be able to stretch that little bit. Basically, it’s a good idea to have something to bridge the gap between you and Wal-Mart until such time as enough people have been educated.

4) DO YOUR COSTING so that you know what your minimum charge is. Be clear about the kinds of cakes which will fit into that entry price point – and the benefits to ordering them. “Our minimum cake charge is $50, but for that you will get 20 servings, you get to pick from 10 flavours and fillings, and we give you birthday candles for free.”  If you get them in at the ground level NOW, they’ll love you enough to keep coming back and by then they’ll understand and value your reasons for your prices. Even if they come back and only ever order the minimum, that’s still a client you have versus a client you lost, and if you’re costing is right, you’re still making money.

5) Ask for a budget then tell them what you CAN do for that budget, don’t laugh or say “You’re dreaming babe!”  If their budget is ridiculously low, either offer them another product, “I can’t make a fondant covered cake within that, but how about a buttercream cake?” OR concede defeat (see #2.)

Your aim here is to KEEP the client, not LOSE the client – but your aim is also to MAKE money not LOSE it. A big part of your job is convincing people why they should go with your company – not justifying, educating. [Click to tweet this!]

your job is to educate

Make no mistake – you are a SALESPERSON. If all you ever wanted was to be in your kitchen quietly making itty-bitty flowers and never having to talk to other humans…do yourself a favour and just keep this as a hobby.

Of course there is always a percentage of people who frankly just want it fast and cheap and who will only ever pay for fast and cheap and you’ve got no hope of educating them. Over time you’ll be able to spot these guys from a mile away, but you should still at least have one good try at educating them – you’re helping yourself, you’re helping the industry as a whole, and it’s just good business practice.

There will always be a time, place and customer for whom the Wal-Mart cake is perfectly fine – hell, I have bought plenty of supermarket cakes in my life. I also know there is a time, place and customer for whom AWESOME cake will be needed. My job is help people understand the difference and come to me when it’s time for the awesome cake – which they’ll do because I educated them to do it.