If I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve been asked this question in the last few months I’d be a very wealthy lady. It’s a question that often comes from friends, friends of friends, people who have just met me, colleagues and family members. I realise that that list is includes virtually every person in my life. Notice however that I have left ‘other decorators’ off that list!
In fact, those who do not live cakes every day (or have a side venture that is purely about their passion) are often surprised I have a day job AND a passion that funds itself…Conversely, I actually get asked a slightly different question from decorators who seek my advice on whether they should leave their day jobs.
Perhaps why I get asked this is because I take my passion very seriously and I also have a pretty serious “day job”. Over the space of just a few years, I have also invested a huge amount of time and effort getting myself qualified, trained and practising my skills in sugar art every day. Yes it is an obsession and I’m frequently unapologetic about that because passion is not something you can contain and I firmly believe you shouldn’t have to!
So let me explain now why I still keep my day job and by the same token, these same reasons also hold a lot of decorators back from going full tilt at their own business.
1. The first reason is I actually LIKE my day job. Most decorators who have successfully gone solo are ones that didn’t need a reason to quit their day jobs but cakes helped propel them down a path they were already travelling. I don’t see my day job as a day job…. and I actually don’t like using that term – “day job”. It makes it sound like I dislike it when in fact I actually quite enjoy what I do and love the intellectual challenge of solving complex business problems every day and helping clients to make big projects happen. I think my brain would turn to mush if I just looked at cakes every day – much as that is tempting proposition in itself!
I returned to my job after my sabbatical in New York last year because I realised I had unfinished business – goals I still wanted to achieve in my professional career that I wasn’t satisfied in just walking away from. I really wanted to get to a stage where I could be happy to walk away because I’d pushed my development to a level where I had learned as much as I could in the areas I was most passionate about. Only then would I be happy to walk away. There is still a lot left to learn in what I do but mind you, I will caveat all of this by saying that I do wonder what more I could be creating if I wasn’t at my desk everyday!
2. The second reason is I’m deathly afraid of killing my passion to maintain my lifestyle. Cakes are all about creative freedom for me. A lot of people think it would be really cool to live your passion every day and be doing what you love every minute of every day – the truth and reality of it is that I have done enough production, slaved enough hours in my kitchen and interned enough to know that passion compensates for a lot of gruelling hours, but it isn’t always enough. Cake decorators live very simple lives and only the very elite get to travel the world and make huge livings from teaching. High end custom cakes are lucrative if you’re smart about how you price and have razor sharp focus on who you market to however the “real” money is in high production volume.. i.e. Doing a lot of cakes.
Taking on work to bring the dollars in can often mean doing cakes that don’t push your development further. The more you produce to make an income, the more likely you are to take on orders that you know won’t add anything to your portfolio but that you also can’t say no because you need the cash. In creative fields, it’s the really really cool clients that commission you with few boundaries and true creative freedom that make life in your chosen art worthwhile and rewarding. I know many many decorators who take on projects that don’t extend their skills or push them beyond their current ability purely to bring the dollars in. Keeping my job means I don’t worry about this because I can be highly selective in what I choose to do and only take on very few orders so I can give each one enough attention to keep the quality of my work very high. It also means I don’t have to sacrifice what I enjoy doing in life because of limited income. On another note of slightly twisted logic, I like to think of my steady income as supporting my unsteady income – having more money at my disposal means I can funnel more back into my passion!!
3. Lastly… I’m still forming a sustainable niche for myself. I don’t think I’ve figured out my niche quite yet in this market – the hallmark of distinction that I’ll create a legacy for and makes me stand out from the crowd. There are so many avenues I haven’t yet explored and so many areas I see opportunity in that I’m happy just to explore at the moment. My natural initial reaction is to pursue them all at once, but I tried this for a few months last year and truth be told, it was really bloody hard! Living the “carpe diem” life is really really tiring. Now I’ve realised I just need to bite off opportunities in small chunks.
At the moment, it’s all about exploring teaching for me – and how good at it I might be. But I also think to myself: “I love teaching right now, but is it something that will keep me going for the rest of my life?” I don’t know yet. “How can I teach others if I don’t keep developing my skills?” Staying on trend and relevant is crucial in this industry so production work is pretty important too. Production work is exhausting but SO satisfying because you create something new every time and doing big bold cakes with a team is an irreplaceable experience. It’s actually pretty similar to what I do in the corporate world – big hairy projects that seem unsurmountable at first but as you get through each stage, you see things come to life and eventually it starts to take a life of its own and you finally let it go free into the world!
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that quitting my day job isn’t the right answer for me right now… But if you’re a decorator or sole trader out there who is still living your life in two worlds every day, you’re not alone! And thinking about which of the three factors above resonate most with you and your life situation now is a very individual decision – and it’s not one to be taken lightly, especially if you have kids and a family to support.
Some final thoughts…
I follow Flying Solo avidly – it’s an Australian community site for micro business which gives small business owners handy tools and an opportunity to collaborate and swap learnings. I just love the encouraging words from their facebook page that pop up on my feed every day. One particular post that was really thought provoking was: “What would you do in your business if you had no fear of failure?”. The most interesting response was “quit my day job” and the second most interesting one was “Start it”.
To all the decorators out there still finding their feet: you need to decide for yourself what is driving your fear of failure. Then break it down in small chunks to eventually overcome that fear. Often those failures are direct link to your personal values. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! If the first chunk is to free up your time without sacrificing your lifestyle or creative freedom then sure, go for it! But what will YOUR sustainable niche be in the market? Challenge yourself to specialise one day…. what will make you unique in 10 years time? This is the part which I don’t believe enough people spend time on defining and refining.. It’s too easy to caught up in just jumping straight in and not take a step back to ask yourself what you want your legacy to stand for.
Anyway, enough waxing lyrical from me… Hopefully I’ve put to bed the question I am most frequently asked by now and also helped some of you out there in some way.
In the spirit of exploring my own current “chunk” of teaching – my next post will be an illustrated tutorial.
On a totally separate note: I’ve also managed to somehow convince nearly 1000 others to join me on this crazy journey of mine on Facebook so I’m celebrating with a $150 voucher giveaway!! To enter simply leave a comment on this post or “share” this FREE CAKE picture on Facebook.
Adios for now and thanks for reading,
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