A lot of business procedure is just good manners and plain common sense, but it can be very easy to overlook these basics if you do not carefully consider them as an important part of your business planning right from the start. The personal nature of the service you are providing with your cake decorating business makes it extremely important that you take great care over this part of your enterprise.
Be Punctual Punctuality is important in all areas of life, not just business. If you arrive late for a meeting or appointment, you are disrespecting the other person’s time and telling them that you don’t care enough about them to arrive when you say you will. Being on time is easy, but being late is an easy way to offend and annoy people. In a business like cake decorating where it is important to engender confidence in your clients that you can deliver what you promise, punctuality is fundamental, and it is one of the first things people will judge you on. Remember that for your first consultation with a prospective client you do not have the finished cake to show them – they have to trust that you are able to deliver it at the agreed time. This is an enormous amount of trust to ask a stranger for, so prove that you are trustworthy by always being on time (or slightly early).
Be specific Don’t say “sometime on Wednesday”. Say “10 o”clock on Wednesday morning”, and stick to it. Don’t just promise someone a spectacular cake, tell them exactly what will be on it to make it spectacular. If you are using sugar roses, specify the colour, the size etc. If you appear too casual when making arrangements with a client, it will lead to the assumption that you are also fairly casual about the whole transaction. This will not inspire confidence in a potential client, and it won’t inspire them to contract you.
Avoid mistakes before they happen Everyone makes mistakes, it is expected occasionally and they can be forgiven, but it is how you respond to them that people will remember. Timely and efficient response to problems is what counts. Of course, you cannot keep making the same mistake – if you do, you might as well have not bothered fixing it in the first place. This is true in most situations, but – to put it bluntly – there simply is no room for mistakes in the cake decorating business. A retail operation can afford to make the occasional mistake when they are selling a large number of mass produced items – they can replace faulty goods immediately from off the shelf – but you can’t do this. This is a business dealing with one off products designed to individual requirements. It is labour intensive and takes several days to create the product. If it is discovered faulty on the wedding day, or at the birthday party, it cannot be fixed with an immediate replacement.
So – practise your skills. Schedule your working time so that you do not have to rush, and so you have time to make repairs if necessary. Take extreme care with everything you do, especially when it comes to the delivery and installation of your cake.
Have a policy in place to deal with complaints and problems. You need to know your position in advance, for instance if a problem can be repaired or replaced, or if it may require a partial or full refund. At what point do you stand your ground and not fix a problem? Are you available to fix a cake damaged by a drunken dancer at the wedding? This is not a hypothetical situation – just check out You Tube to see how many wedding cakes are damaged carelessly -but you need to be clear in your own mind before these situations arise. (The answer to this one is yes you should be – but be careful not to admit liability, and also to be clear that you will repair to the best of your abilities, but you cannot work miracles). People will especially appreciate you responding to emergencies that are not of your making. This is part of good customer service, even if it is a little inconvenient for you.
All the points covered in this article are just a natural part of the transaction – things you should do anyway. In part 4 of this series, I shall look at the concept of ‘going the extra mile’ for your clients, as a vital part of good business practice.