Are you ready to turn your cake hobby into a business?

Like many of you, I started out as a hobby baker. I’ve mentioned it before in various places including this post about how I went from home baker to teaching 100+ workshops around the world, but I started baking as a hobby in 2012 while working full-time in an office. It wasn’t until a year later that I opened the Don’t Tell Charles café and now more than nine years on, here we are.

The conception of my cake business went a bit like this:
Me taking some very amateur, homemade macarons to a birthday party. 

Yep, that’s how my business was born.

I started selling just cupcakes and macarons on Facebook because well, they were all I knew how to make. Back then, my ‘business’ was called Bake’n with a cute piggie’s face on the logo (get it?). A year later, I opened the cafe and the rest is, as they say, history.

Are you ready to turn your hobby into a business?​

Throughout the years, I’ve noticed a similar pattern with a lot of my students and many other people who start baking as a hobby. They’d bring their baked goods somewhere, someone would ask if they sold it and off the cusp they’d respond ‘okay, sure’. Or, as a way of showing appreciation for the free baked goods, friends and family would often urge ‘you should start selling these’. This is how the ‘business seed’ gets planted for a lot of hobby bakers. 

As you would all agree, there is a certain satisfaction that comes from making something nice and delicious and then realizing that people really enjoy it. Maybe it’s the praises, maybe it’s the making people happy part, maybe it’s both and more. Whatever it is, it is undeniably a nice feeling of reward. And right now, because there’s no pressure attached to your baking, that feeling of reward is pure and simple. 

Ask yourself, are you ready to let money get in the way of that?

Thao putting up Don't Tell Charles decal sign in bakery
Me installing the cafe sign myself before opening, July 2013

Have a Flexible Business Mindset

When I first began selling my cakes, I already left two unfinished degrees behind me – journalism and landscape architecture. I didn’t finish either of them because I just couldn’t see myself working in those fields. 

I opened the cafe with the mindset that it was going to be my business degree. Sure, it would get me into a certain amount of debt, but so would another formal education. At least this way, I would get to learn in real life, and learn I did. 

Going in with this particular mindset helped me to be flexible when it came to running a business. My objective in the beginning was to learn, so I was able to be open to pivoting when the business needed to pivot.  From just a hobby to a café, my business evolved into a designer cake studio and workshop then to an online school for modern cake designers. 

Sure I had dreams and visions for what my business would be but in reality, sometimes (aka most of the time) things don’t turn out the way you envision. Being able to let go, reassess and adapt to new challenges is extremely crucial in maintaining a successful business, as well as your emotional well-being.

Thao at Don't Tell Charles x Cakes by Cliff workshop in Sydney
Me at a Don't Tell Charles x Cakes By Cliff workshop in Sydney

Do you think you’re ready to transform your baking hobby into a business?​

I could write a book on this subject, however, for the sake of keeping things short and digestible, here are some quick tips for you further to the ones above. I’ve gone through all of the below and have learnt the hard way, which is why I’m here trying to save you some valuable time and head/heartache.

Tip 1.

Get your sh*t together

Before you even think about business, get your skills up to scratch and your processes in place. Don’t start a business unless your kitchen is in order. I’m talking about having reliable recipes, solid foundational cake making skills and efficient processes and systems in place. If you’re not there yet, don’t panic. It doesn’t need to take years to master these things. We got you covered with our online courses. You can check them out here.

Tip 2.

Start as a Side Hustle

Don’t go quitting your day job just yet! Slow and steady wins the race, especially when you lack business knowledge and experience. It’s helpful to start your business as a side gig so that you’re able to test things out while still having the assurance of a steady income. Only launch into your business full time if you’re still enjoying it and are beginning to see profits that are close to your current income.

For duration of the first two years of my baking career (one with Bake’n and the next with Don’t Tell Charles), I kept my job as an Owners Corporation Manager, working at an office. Only when the work a the cafe got too overwhelming and I thought we were going to make it financially without me having to hold a second job, I let the office job go. 

Tip 3.

Choose Something Profitable

Personally, I think selling cupcakes is the most profitable baking business venture. They don’t take as long or cost as much to make as a cake does. Especially if you’re using our DTC cake recipes which can also be used to make cupcakes and baked donuts. They are super quick and simple. Between Buttercream Cake Mastery and The Versatile Baker, you’ll have everything you need to start a cupcake shop. 😉

This doesn’t mean everyone should go and open a cupcake shop. Choosing something profitable just means that you have to be mindful about profits when starting a business. After all, that’s the point isn’t it?

Tip 4.

Don't Be a One Stop Shop

Pick one thing, and do it well. Don’t try to be a one stop shop. Don’t offer cupcakes, donuts, cookies, custom cakes, mousse cakes, sponge cakes, mud cakes, every cake under the sun. Unless your business is a bakery, and you have a team of staff. If you’re a bespoke kitchen and a one man band (which you likely would be if you’re transitioning from a hobby), the wise thing to do is to hone in on one thing and really use it to define your business. Let it be what you are known for.

Tip 5.

Don't Do Wholesale

Wholesaling is a big production game. It requires you to produce large quantities of products but sell them under retail prices. The profits from wholesaling comes from volume, and volume is only possible with a production kitchen. If you

a) don’t have a large, production-style kitchen,

b) don’t know much about wholesaling as a business,  and

c) are a one-man band, the easier option is to stay away from it.

Okay, I may have scared you off starting a business altogether, and that’s not my intention. But, with today’s start up and hustle culture, so many are being told to just go for it when they’re not ready. I’m not saying don’t start a business ever. But if you need some time, take it. Don’t let social pressure and unrealistic pressure either from yourself, family, friends or social media drive you to dive into something that you’re not sure about.

As mentioned, I could really write a whole book not his subject as I’ve made so many mistakes and have learnt valuable lessons from them in the past. If there’s anything you’re struggling with in deciding whether to turn your hobby into a business, let me know in the comments 🙂

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4 Responses

  1. Hi Thao ,
    Im a pastry Chef , I took the diploma here in United Arab Emirates, the reason why I make the school was Cose I was so passionate on baking and thought that I will make something out of it later .. some how COVID come and everything was shut down here , during this time I Never stopped learning and baking, for me friends and family, now to make the story short whenever I tell anyone that for example this one will cost like this much ($) , they are like is so expensive and ppl wil not buy it Cose one cake in some store is this much ..($) plus u don’t have a brand.. in order to make a brand u have to sale a a bit cheap🤔
    I reach to a limit when i don’t have any more energy to explain them that How much work involved to bake , and I use expensive ingredients as well , I use Valrhona and store use ordinary chocolate , or I use Madagascar organic Vanilla and so on… there are many aspects especially here in Dubai if the box is golden and looking expensive the cake is nice 😊, if u copy one cake they like from istagram u are good , they will come again to u !
    So now I wana start making some investment to make something online , but I’m so confused don’t know how to start , to not come a crossed this negative people,
    Thanks Thao , for everything you do for us ! You are great .

  2. Hi

    I am interested in this course and would like to know more about it .
    I dont have much experience but want to learn and start my own small home business. Pls help me find a suitable course to get me started

    1. Hi Ashwini, The Buttercream Cake Mastery course is the one stop shop course you’ll need to get started and build the correct foundational skills as well as efficient systems and processes. It will teach you everything from mindset, planning, kitchen set up to baking from scratch, buttercream making, working with buttercream, tiered and square cakes & contemporary decorations such as chocolate sails, fresh florals etc. Send us an email at classes@donttellcharles.com.au if you have any further questions 🙂

  3. Hi I would love your recommendation
    On which course to take I’m interested in cupcakes and cookies
    Thanks 💕

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