Who is it suited to?
Making cakes isn’t all butter icing and hundreds and thousands: as many people who own cake businesses will tell you, keeping your head above water in the industry will require organisation, a good head for figures and a certain amount of artistic flair.
Lynn Oxley, who has been running Oxley’s of Morpeth and its accompanying website, Cake Perfect, since 2003, says a good business brain helps. “Most of the traits you need to set up a cake-making business are the ones you need to be a sole trader in any industry,” she says.
Like any business, hard work and good organisational skills will help it to flourish. “We work very, very long hours and it’s very tiring, because you’ve got to hit delivery times spot on,” explains Oxley.
“We book six to twelve months in advance to make sure we hit the deadlines. You have to be careful because if you’re not organised, a bride isn’t going to be happy when you say, ‘well actually, I want to take a holiday this week, so we’ll do it next week instead’.”
Catherine Knight started her business, Cate Bakes Cake, after she was made redundant from The Times. As one of your jobs will be to deliver to events, she says, a cheerful disposition is a requirement. “You often deliver to birthday parties so you can’t be moody.”
Jane Asher, whose best-selling books on cake making inspired a generation of confectionary addicts, agrees. “You’re at people’s happy moments – anniversaries and weddings and so on. It can be just lovely,” she says.
Similarly, says Knight, it’s not a job for the healthily-inclined. “You need to like eating. You have to taste what you’re making, so you can’t be afraid of eating sugar.”
Cake making is a popular business, so to compete, you’ll need to make your cakes look as professional as possible. Training in all aspects of the industry, from sugarcraft to marzipan techniques, is essential if you want to be able to compete in an increasingly packed marketplace.
There are various qualifications you can aim to do – from NVQs to City and Guilds qualifications – but the good news is, there are hundreds of courses for all levels, so you should be able to find one which will suit your commitments.
Oxley started going to classes to ease the tedium of raising her four children, three of whom were under the age of two when she began. “I started cake decorating at a night class and went on to do the advanced course and my City and Guilds in sugar flowers.
“By the end of that, news gets around and you end up making cakes for friends and friends of friends. I had absolute strangers knocking at the door saying, ‘I’ve heard you make cakes’,” she explains.
Cake making courses start at around £190 for 10 weekly sessions, rising to around £500 for a 30-week NVQ course. Alternatively, The Bakery School has an online course which you can complete at your own pace. A one-year license for the downloadable software costs £250 plus VAT.