Rachel Brenke: Hey guys, thanks for joining me today on this episode of the Business Bites. I’m Rachel Brenke, your host, and today I am super excited to talk to Michelle Green, from the Business of Baking. We’re going to dig in a little bit about learning about business stuff of course, but going from hobby to business, how to make the jump to business owner, and I actually just love the fact that Michelle has made a business around cake because I love to eat cake, so she likes to make and talk about the business of cake, so right there we’re best friends. Thank you for coming on Michelle.
Michelle: My pleasure Rachel.
Rachel Brenke: Well I’m super excited. One of the things that you guys probably are going to hear, probably haven’t heard yet, is that Michelle has an Australian accent. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, but now she’s been living in Australia, a country that has my heart and I can’t wait to go back. But her accent is going to be super fun to add to the list of guests that we have on the show. Michelle, do you want to tell us just a little bit about the Business of Baking. I mean you’ve got a blog, a best selling book, you have your own podcast, which is The Business of Baking. You’re a pastry chef, which is so super cool. What else do you want to share with the audience about yourself?
Michelle: Probably that I actually started out life in a completely different career and then I did jump over to the pastry and cake world. The current, what I do currently with the Business of Baking, kind of was born out of owning my own cake business. So I owned it for 10 years, and I loved it, but I was getting so many phones calls from people going can I pick your brain? How did you make it work, whatever? So it’s funny I kind of consider this my second career out of cake, even though I like to joke that I’m retired from the baking part.
Rachel Brenke: It’s funny because that’s honestly how all of my stuff came about. I was a business consultant before becoming a lawyer, and it all came from people just asking me questions, and me offering unsolicited feedback sometimes. So it’s interesting because I feel like I live parallel lives as well. I still actively practice law, but then I’m teaching about it over here. I love that you’re able to confine that. I feel like you’re kind of my soul sister there. I also see you have triplets. That is incredible. I’m just going to throw off all the questions that we had intended to talk about because now I want to know, how do you get everything done with having triplets and all that you’re doing?
Michelle: You know what? I’ve been really, really fortunate in that one of the advantages of having, well kids in general, not just triplets, is that you just train them really well. So when they were little, I trained them to put cupcakes on stands, and tie ribbons on bags, and whatever. Now that they’re a little bit older, you know, I’ve trained them to be quiet when I’m doing a podcast or I’ve trained them to come with me to conferences or help me pack books or whatever. So they’ve been like this really great labor force, but the truth of the matter is, I think I’ve just done my best to fit them into my life and me fit into their life. I haven’t tried to give up my life for them, nor have I asked them to expect the other way around too, so they’re part of the family business.
When I first got my first boxes of books, you know, and I was like oh my God and I was all excited. They sat there and packed them, and taped them shut, and wrote the addresses on. They’ve been a part of it from the beginning. So I’m pretty proud of them actually. They’re 16 now and they’re right in the middle of school exams at the moment, so they’re a little bit stressed out. So I’m trying to just steer clear of them at the moment. I just throw food at them and hope they’re going to be okay.
Rachel Brenke: Same thing for you with baking, and it’s like with the custom cake company for how many years that you had that, and then now creating this business out of it. I just love connecting with other people. Something else you just said really hit home that I always try to impress upon my audience is you don’t have to pick family or career. One of the big things that I always talk about is it’s called filling the rocks first. The way that you can get everything done. Family is one of those rocks that goes in this vase. That vase represents my time. I only have a certain amount of time and I always try to fit my rocks in of my family and myself, and then the sand then I pour in after the rocks is all the business stuff. So I love hearing you having the kids doing the tags on the cupcakes, or the book stuff. Do you have any other tips for maybe some other moms that may be overwhelmed trying to figure out how can they split themselves amongst these different roles or how they can kind of integrate it all together?
Michelle: I think that for me one of the ways I kind of got through it all was simply acceptance. I know that that sounds, maybe it’s a little bit easier said than done. But I was like, you know what, I’m just going to accept the fact that sometimes it’s cereal for dinner. And I’m going to accept the fact that sometimes I’m going to have to say to a customer or client, “I’m going to have to get back to you because my kid just fell down.” Or whatever. I’ve always lived my life, and now my business life really, on this kind of like I just accept it’s not going to be perfect all the time. I won’t necessarily get it right all the time. You know what? Life happens. And I think I’ve taught my kids really that it’s okay to say to them you know what, I have this other priority right now, but I’ll get back to you. I’ve had a big thing about if I give you my word, to my children, then my word counts.
So if I tell you I’ll be there in five minutes, it actually means five minutes. Not 20. Not an hour. Not three hours, it actually means five, so that’s been probably my overarching thing, and I feel that same way about clients. If I said I’m going to get back to you tomorrow, then come hell or high water I’m getting back to them tomorrow. If I can’t, then I’m really big on communicating. I know I said I’d get back to you tomorrow, but here’s why I can’t do that and here’s when I will. Like I’m really big on boundaries, saying it like it is, and sticking to my word. I found that my kids are much more tolerant if I say to them, “Guys I’ll be there in five minutes,” and then I’m actually there in five minutes they’re kind of cool with it. As opposed to if I said I’ll be there in five minutes and then I never show up, right?
They’ve learned that they can trust what my boundaries are, and therefore that makes them a lot happier to be willing to accept those boundaries, so it’s worked pretty well so far. Knock wood right?
Rachel Brenke: Well you know, that whole thing … Go ahead.
Michelle: I was going to tell you one of the interesting, I had a very interesting conversation. I kind of forget how much my kids learn just by listening and observing me. I had a great conversation with my son recently. So here in Australia, we recently had a vote about same sex marriage. The vote went through as a yes vote. It’s not law yet, but it was an opinion poll and it went through. I commented to my son that same sex marriage would probably be the only thing that I would come out of cake baking retirement for because it’s something I feel really, really positively and strongly about. I said to him, “You know I should just come out of retirement, start the cake business up again, but that’s going to be the one thing I’m going to do is same sex marriage wedding cakes.”
He kind of smiled at me and he said, “Mom that’s a great idea. It’s like business 101 right? You like see a gap in the market and you fill it.”
Rachel Brenke: Oh love it. I love that.
Michelle: And I was like yeah. He just kind of blew me away. I was like wow. All this time that I’ve been writing and talking and whatever, you’ve been listening. This is really amazing. I was like wow. I think we forget how much our kids actually, I don’t know. I think they just absorb a lot more than we think they absorb. Right? Which is, again, why being, that being a woman of my word thing is a really big deal to me because I want them to be people of their word so the best way to do that is for me to be that person too. Yeah.
Rachel Brenke: Well you know I see that also paralleled with other entrepreneurs. I often forget, even though I’m talking to entrepreneurs, and I personally am teaching entrepreneurs, I forget that they’re seeing another side and they’re learning something else than what actually is coming out of my mouth. I could be teaching them the legal and this business strategy stuff and everything, and it’s so funny because I’ll stand up in front. When I came to Australia, I got up, gave the keynote, talked about all this stuff, and then when people ask questions they’re asking things like this: How do you manage your kids and your family and all this?
I’m going, did you not listen to me for the last hour? But then I realize they were listening. They were listening and riveted, but they were hearing also another, they were looking below the surface and they were seeing everything that goes beyond that because they’re also entrepreneurs. They know what it’s like behind the curtain. So I think that’s super fun. I always try to remind myself that other entrepreneurs are also watching. They’re not just listening to the message that I’m giving, but they’re watching how I carry out my business on a personal level. So I always try to remember that when I’m interacting online and what I want to post.
Because I fell into this whole not sharing too much personal stuff, and my audience started saying, my audience and other entrepreneurs started saying to me, we miss seeing pictures of your kids. Because I started to think, “Oh my gosh, they’re going to be so overwhelmed. They don’t want to hear about my kids. They want to hear only about business.” When I made the shift mostly to business, I got great pushback and requests for the mom side of the stuff. It really made me realize they’re listening to not just what I say, but they’re watching what I do as well.
Michelle: I think actually, I don’t know if you’ve felt this Rachel, but I think in the last, I don’t know how long. But in the last little while let’s say, there’s been a real return to wanting personal connection.
Rachel Brenke: Yes.
Michelle: And I think that nowhere is that more true than in business actually. Like I’m finding people, like we’ve all seen those articles about the train company whose Twitter goes viral because a 12 year old is the one who’s doing the tweeting or whatever. That kind of thing. I think it’s because we actually have a, as much as I love the online world and social media is great and whatever. I think we almost took it a little bit too far. You know? We lost a lot of that human connection, so I think a little bit of people asking us those kind of questions is that desire for human connection. We actually want to go back to real people and feeling really connected to one another. Having a connection beyond here’s the talk I’m going to give you. So it doesn’t surprise me at all that you’re finding that people are wanting to know the story behind the story.
Rachel Brenke: It’s interesting you say that, with the timing of this podcast, I had a funeral for my last living grandmother last week, and one of the things that I thought about when I was standing at the funeral besides I was going, “Oh my gosh my parents are like next in line,” was this whole idea of I fell into this fallacy of believing that the social media presence in the online engagement that I’ve been giving, whether it’s with family, friends, or just fellow entrepreneurs, I was thinking I was using the most efficient way to connect. And I realized standing there that I really wasn’t connecting cultivating relationships, and even scarier a part is that I told myself I’m going to commit. I’m going to home. I’m going to make more real connections, but then the scary part was it’s almost like I’ve forgotten how to because I have fell into this only business focused online.
Only this filtering of what message that I’m going to convey, and get so wrapped around it like what the mission statement, and what the brand should be, that yes, just like you said. I feel like it’s swung all the way to being more polished, and now it’s coming back. And I almost feel, I don’t know if maybe other people feel this way or if it’s just me and I’m all by myself. I feel kind of scared of how do I get back to actually connecting on a real level. Because we’ve been so far into this polished and deliver only your message, how do I get back to that place of realness?
Michelle: It’s interesting. People tell me, because I work in the cake world, like this works on a totally micro level. This getting back to real thing. People say to me, I post a picture of this beautiful stunning, amazing cake that I spent two weeks of my life on, and like five people comment. I post a picture of my messy kitchen, with my toddler, with icing all over their face and the thing gets shared 10,000 times.
Rachel Brenke: Right. Right. You know.
Michelle: This is like this whole real connection thing is true on a micro level as much as it is on a business level. It happens every day all the time. I guess for me, I’ve always had this very no BS, what you see is what you get kind of attitude, but really kind of the flip side of that is really interesting. I have this argument with my mom all the time. She’s really into hair and makeup, and beauty kind of stuff, and I’m just not. I’m like jeans, t shirt, if I brush my hair it’s a good day. She’s constantly like you know Michelle, when you teach, you should dress up. You should wear makeup. You should whatever. I’m going, “Uh that’s never been who I am, and to try to be like that now, people would be like what is wrong with you?” Right. It would give me, exactly like you had the pushback about where are the kids, I would have the pushback about what’s with the makeup, you know.
It’s funny, I’ve never, I guess I’ve never, I’ve kind of failed at that whole be a brand thing. My brand has always been what you see is what you get. This is me. But I do think there is a lot of subtle pressure to be branded and to have this kind of beautiful logo, and beautiful this, and have it all together, and whatever. Certainly I do teach the value of having consistent branding, and consistent marketing, and all this kind of stuff, but I’m also like, you know what, especially for a small business, people need to know you’re a real person.
Rachel Brenke: Right. Yeah. Yeah. That’s actually the benefit of being in the small business, is that you are a real person because think about the last time you walked into a large corporate store. You’re just looking for a worker bee. A manager. You’re not looking for the brains and the heart behind it. You couldn’t even pick that out because of the marketing. But you know, one of the things that I also kind of struggle with being real, because I kind of that’s the way I came out with my business, and I honestly think that’s why it was so successful in the beginning. Then I’ve shifted to this whole want to look more polished and professional, and now I’m struggling to get back. But I also worry that I feel like there’s been this trend in social media, especially with online entrepreneurs, of wearing troubles and wearing stress as a badge of honor. Not in the way of to facilitate real connections.
I don’t really know how to articulate this. Do you understand what I mean?
Michelle: It’s like when they all come out with these ad campaigns that are like, “I was on welfare. And this, this, this, and six months later I had $100,000, or whatever.”
Rachel Brenke: Right. Right.
Michelle: I agree with you. It does seem like they highlight, well, you know the frustrating thing is that I’ve seen so many of those that I now, I kind of doubt the veracity of those claims now.
Rachel Brenke: Which is unfortunate for those that actually have that story. I think that’s part of what my apprehension of talking more about the struggles of being a working mom, even though it connects with the audience, I don’t want to be seen as one of those that’s, it’s kind of like not a humble brag, but it’s like a humble woe is me. I don’t really know how to, I should come up with a term for this.
Michelle: I totally know what you mean. I think, and particularly in the online entrepreneur space, it has become a bit of a thing to say I was on struggle street, and now I’m not anymore, and you can be too. You know? To me that feels, you’re right, the sad thing is, for many people that is 100% true. But I’ve seen so many of them now that I’m like yeah. Just whatever dude. It’s kind of sad that I really whatever dude them because I’m kind of like yeah you and everybody else was on welfare. Next. Like I actually would prefer to see the story behind the story.
Rachel Brenke: That’s the thing. Maybe that’s what this should all be about because we’ve kind of just totally evolved off the questions of what we were going to talk about, because I want it to be a more organic discussion, but if an entrepreneur comes to you and says, “I want to be real. This is my story.” What are some tips that we can give them so that they are seen as authentic and not wearing this fake badge of, not honor, fake badge of woe is me I guess.
Michelle: I think the first tip I would give them is if you’re asking me for advice on how to be real, that’s your first problem.
Rachel Brenke: Right. Right.
Michelle: Like if you need a procedure for how to do this, I think that that in itself is inherently an issue. Do you know what I mean? So that would be my first thing. I’d say stop looking for the right way to be real, and just stop aiming for the right method and just aim to put stuff out there.
Rachel Brenke: Just do it.
Michelle: And probably I would say, if I have to give them another tip, I’d say use your own voice. So I’ve noticed a lot lately, like sales pages …
Rachel Brenke: Yes!
Michelle: … and whatever feel very generic.
Rachel Brenke: Copywriting. Yes, I’m so glad you said that because I just was thinking that this week when I was looking at all, well for us, all the Black Friday stuff coming out, and I was thinking how polished it all is. How all gimmicky it all is. Everyone seems to be going in droves to copywriters, not that that’s a bad thing, but I think where they’re failing is they’re not having a copywriter adapt their voice.
Michelle: Correct. So that would be my second tip, would probably be like you need to write as you speak. In fact, I have to say Rachel, that’s one of my really big things that I’m super proud of is that when people come and learn a live class from me, one of the very first things they say is you sound exactly as you write.
Rachel Brenke: That’s awesome.
Michelle: And they often then tell me after they’ve met me in real life, they’re like I’m going to go and read your blog now and hear your voice in my head. So that’s one of the other things I’d say. I meet a lot of people like but I’m not a good writer. It’s like but nobody’s expecting you to be a good writer. They’re expecting you to send a message in whichever way you send a message. You know? Nobody’s expecting this perfection. No offense to copywriters, I agree.
Rachel Brenke: Yeah. Yeah. I don’t mean to blast them at all. Yes.
Michelle: No, we don’t. We don’t mean that, but it still has to sound like you.
Rachel Brenke: Right.
Michelle: I think the other thing I would say, my third thing if I had a third thing, would be don’t be afraid to show that it’s not all perfect. It’s okay to show that desk that’s a mess, or it’s okay to show that picture of you going I don’t look perfect today or I don’t, I think we have a real fear of judgment. What will other people think of us? The truth is, they would probably think more of us knowing that we’re like them. I’ve got a girlfriend who owns a small at home jewelry business. I’m always saying to her, why don’t you have a picture of you on your about page on your website and why don’t you show a picture of you wearing this jewelry. Because she rocks it man. She looks amazing, right?
Her answer is always, “Well I don’t think the people who buy my stuff are middle aged moms of teenagers in the suburbs.” I’m like, “who do you think is buying that stuff?”
Rachel Brenke: Yeah. Right. Right.
Michelle: Like the people buying your stuff are not the cool people from the pages of Vogue. They’re parents, they’re business owners, they’re employees, they’re teachers, they’re lawyers, they’re whatever who want to rock a bit of a funky necklace and you do that every day of your life. You know what? To this day I cannot convince her.
Rachel Brenke: You know what’s funny is … You know this …
Michelle: She has this weird thing about that image and I’m like you are the image.
Rachel Brenke: Well that’s the thing. Is you know, as someone who is middle aged, and is a working mom, I feel more connection, and this is really true. This is just client psychology or customer psychology 101, there’s more connection when it is on a body, an item is on a body, versus just being on one of those neck displays or a mannequin or so forth. So in this circumstance, I hope she listens to this, let’s send her this link when we’re done. Because …
Michelle: I think we need to.
Rachel Brenke: We do. I would love to see her, but honestly, because go through any of the Christmas marketing advertisements. Yeah they have product photos, but what are the largest photos in the thing? Is not to fill space. Trust me. Every single piece of the marketing advertisement is rip calculated. It’s prime real estate. But there’s a reason they have these large photos is because they’re marketing and selling to a specific person. So your friend, I’m saying to her listening, put yourself on there. Put other people like you on there. It will help to connect immediately with the people that are going to be purchasing your item.
Michelle: Yeah. So it’s interesting that she thinks by hiding she’s doing her business a favor.
Rachel Brenke: No.
Michelle: I’m like no, people want to see real people. You need to be out there. She’s like, “What are they going to think of me?” I’m like what they’re going to think of you is that you are unlike them, or you’re like them, sorry, and so therefore they’re more inclined to buy it. Like hello. So I think if I had somebody who was like okay how do I be more authentic, I’d say that. Put yourself in the picture. Literally and figuratively. Put yourself in the picture.
Rachel Brenke: You know what’s funny is I …
Michelle: Because you are your own target market. Well hello, show them how it’s done. You know?
Rachel Brenke: Well exactly. You know it’s funny because one of the things that I’ve always struggled with in my business is the MVP, the minimum viable product. It’s so easy for me to teach it to other people, and this is the same thing when it comes to injecting yourself, but I look at past photos of myself and there are things I didn’t like. I was having babies. I was up and down in weight. I was dealing with cancer stuff. My skin was not the best, and at the time I forced myself. It was the minimum viable product. I cannot speak, the minimum viable product. It was the minimum viable marketing piece. I knew I needed to connect with people who were me, so I needed to put myself in it. I was so scared to post pictures of myself looking like that.
At one of the worst times health wise in my life. Even now I look back at pictures and I cringe, but do you know some of the best feedback that I have ever received was when I was in the building stages of my business was from those photos. The best connections I’ve ever made with my audience, the best and most successful increase in business was from the realness of those photos. It wasn’t because, if I had waited until I was to the point that I had lost all the weight, and I had fixed this and that, I would’ve never had photos. I still wouldn’t have photos, and I’ve been in business for 10 plus years at this point. If you’re constantly waiting for something to be perfect like that, it’s never honestly going to happen.
Michelle: Okay, that I’m totally going to snatch that thing that you just said and turn it into something else, which is that …
Rachel Brenke: Oh gosh. Good or bad?
Michelle: Sorry Rachel. I’m like taking over your podcast. I was going to say that thing about waiting for the right time, can I tell you, originally in this podcast we were going to talk about people moving their hobbies into a business.
Rachel Brenke: Yeah we totally went off track.
Michelle: That what you said just there, sorry, I’m like totally hijacking you, that what you said just there is totally a thing.
Rachel Brenke: Oh yes.
Michelle: About moving hobby to business. We don’t have to talk about this, but it’s just enough to make the point. We try to make the point that people say to me all the time, I’m like why haven’t you turned that into something? Why haven’t you whatever, and they’re like oh I’m waiting. Exactly. I’m waiting until I’m skinnier, I’m waiting until I’m richer. I’m waiting until I find a new man or woman or whatever. I’m waiting until I’m this. I’m like you know what? Time is just ticking man. When you get there, it’s not going to be better. I lost an ocean load of weight about 10 years ago now.
Rachel Brenke: Congrats.
Michelle: I remember at the time, like 150 pounds, and I remember at the time being like, being one of those people like oh when I’m skinny I’m going to this. Oh when I’ve lost this weight I’m going to that. You know what? I lost the weight. Those things did not happen. I did not suddenly become a makeup wearing, high heeled [inaudible].
Rachel Brenke: But you could be if wanted to.
Michelle: It did not happen. You know the truth is I could’ve been at that weight too, because there’s nothing about being overweight which says you cannot wear heels and wear makeup, and pole dance. So honestly, I don’t know. I was killing, I was just kidding myself back then right?
Rachel Brenke: Right.
Michelle: But it’s really interesting to me how I meet people, and very often I’m like hey, haven’t you done that, why haven’t you done that thing? They hang their future on something which genuinely is unrelated to their future.
Rachel Brenke: I’m going to add on to that a little bit. Earlier you were talking about acceptance. Flipping that, I kind of when you said that I also thought about giving yourself permission. I think that’s one of the things that I find is that women, especially, don’t want to give themselves permission. It’s easier to come up with an excuse to wait. Oh I’m going to wait until the kids are in preschool, which there’s nothing wrong with that if you’re wanting to commit your time, but don’t let it be an excuse that is actually manifesting out of your fear. Let that actually be the reason why you’re delaying business or they’re just always going to be an excuse because they don’t want to give themselves permission to enter into something that is super scary. Going from hobby to business or maybe it wasn’t even a hobby, but just became a business idea and you want to act on it. They get paralyzed in fear, and it’s easier to make excuses than it is to just commit and give yourself permission.
Michelle: Oh my goodness. 100%. You know what? We see this fear of commitment thing everywhere. Like I know when I teach live classes, when I announce oh I’m coming to Chicago or I’m coming to whatever, right? In the first two weeks there’s this big flurry of mad sign ups, and then there’s nothing for months. And then the two weeks or whatever before that class suddenly it’s like all over again. I’m like where were you people in the last six months. Did you not know about it? The truth is they knew about it, they just didn’t want to commit.
Rachel Brenke: Right.
Michelle: It’s really interesting to me how much people are loathe to commit to things, and I think that that fear is probably part of it. What if something better comes along? What if something else happens? What if I need that money for something else? What will people think of me? We can spend all day in the swimming in fear soup, you know?
Rachel Brenke: That sometimes you may rest in this complacency of you know, success has come, but maybe I’ll get more if I’m lucky. Maybe you’re not that way. I just know that I find myself sometimes, I have to smack myself and remind myself in order to keep going I have to keep choosing to go. I can’t just wait for the opportunities.
Michelle: Oh yeah. It’s not a case of if you build it they will come. Ever. Ever. It’s never a case of if you build it they will come. I mean, I think we’ve got this culture of things going viral now. And people think oh I’ll just put together this video, 10 million views on youtube of whatever. It doesn’t work that way. It does not work that way. Actually, today I went to, my daughter had a, I went to this thing for my daughter today. And the principal of the school gave this speech and she was talking about J.K. Rowling, how it took two years from when she got picked up by Bloomsbury. It took another two years for her to actually get that, for the book to hit the shelf. After that, it took another two years after that for her to actually get any traction, right?
Because originally they only published, I think she said 1,000 copies or something. I found myself thinking that’s it. That is it. The fact is even she, and that’s after she had I don’t know however many dozen rejections or whatever.
Rachel Brenke: And she was in her 40’s before it was even ever picked up.
Michelle: Yeah absolutely. But if she had just come and gone yeah, I’m just going to write this little book here and kind of see what happens. It would never have gone anywhere.
Rachel Brenke: Right.
Michelle: You have to just kind of keep fighting the good fight. I think anybody who thinks, it’s kind of interesting right, like if we look at people like Oprah, or Ellen, or anybody at the top of their game, Elizabeth Gilbert. Anybody who’s at the top. It’s easy for us to think, “She’s rich and famous. She probably doesn’t have to work that hard.” I think actually, those people are working harder than anybody else.
Rachel Brenke: I agree.
Michelle: Because they’re still out there, producing TV shows and creating writing books, and going out to meet people, and doing charitable things. It’s not like you reach the top of your game and then just give up.
Rachel Brenke: Sit back right?
Michelle: You reach the top and you just keep pushing.
Rachel Brenke: You know what’s interesting, I actually miss the first few years of my business, when I made that leap from hobby to business because I learned, I mean I’m still learning, but I learned so much. It really was a baptism by fire. I told you. I was working. I was in school. Pregnant. Kids. Husband was deployed. I was doing the online businesses. The in person business. I was trying to make a go at it, and I learned so much about myself in that time. I mean just every day, a day did not go by where I didn’t learn a new thing or a new policy that I wanted to implement or new workflow. So if you guys are newer in your business, I know it’s hard to see it now, enjoy it. I really do miss the first few years.
Not because it wasn’t easier, it was just different. I don’t know how to articulate it. I just, I can look back now and enjoy it because I was seeing the fruits of that, so I try to remind myself that the season that I’m now in growing, in hopefully a few years, I’ll hopefully look back and feel the same affection that I do for the beginning.
Michelle: The beginning is actually feels horrible, but in retrospect is fun.
Rachel Brenke: It’s so fun. I love it. I know. I know. So I hope that that’s kind of my big takeaway for those of you that are thinking of maybe you’re new in business, or you’re thinking from jumping from hobbyist to new business owner. It’s a lot of fun. There’s a lot of things to learn and I think that’s kind of where the overwhelming amount and the fear comes from, but if you just take it piece by piece, make the list and just chip through it all, I wish, I don’t have that checklist. I wish I had had one of my first checklists that I ever created. I can still see it in my mind. I don’t have the paper anymore. I would love to have it so I could frame it for my wall just because there was so many lessons that I learned out of that.
If there’s one thing that I could tell myself when I was a hobbyist or in the first few years of business, besides they enjoy this now because you’re going to miss it later, is this whole idea of like you said. Accepting how things are, but giving yourself permission to say no to this opportunity or not now. Giving yourself permission to say I’m closing everything down or even, I feel like sometimes in the growth years you just have to rally your people around you. Your family, your friends, and say, “In the next few months, I’m hitting the ground on X, Y, and Z. I just need you to support me and love me because I’m probably not going to be the nicest person when I’m working long hours.” I think that’s okay. Sometimes you just need to commit to a project and other times it can be the universe.
I tell my team, “Hey I’m committing to my family for the month of December. I’m going to be very scarce.” That’s okay. You are in control of this. It’s your design. It’s your decision.
Michelle: I think that’s true for everybody. I have an expression in my class that I teach, which is: your business, your rules.
Rachel Brenke: Love it.
Michelle: But I think that the extension of that is actually your life, your rules.
Rachel Brenke: Yes. Yes. I think that’s one thing that I find that sometimes newer business owners are so overwhelmed with trying to figure out this business things or wearing 500 million hats, that they forget that this is an integral piece of life. Life outside of that doesn’t stop. Your kids keep getting older. Your spouse or partner is moving on. They’re hoping you’re moving, not moving on from you but like you’re growing in your relationship and hopefully it’s together and not apart. All of these things to be vigilant of. But yeah, no definitely. I’m so fondly thinking about the beginning.
Michelle: It’s funny because listening to you talk I’m like oh my God. Those are really hard days. And you know what? They’re hard now, but they’re just different kind of hard. Right? That’s sort of like parenthood. When they’re little, regard, triplets, not triplets. Any kid.
Rachel Brenke: Triplets.
Michelle: When they’re little it’s really labor intensive and you’ve got no idea what you’re doing. You’re like I hope this kid makes it to the next day because honestly I really don’t know what’s going on here. And then the older they get, like now that I have teenagers, I just think the same is still true. I’m still trying to figure this all out, the difference is just that what I have to figure out has changed, but the fact that I have to figure it out hasn’t changed. I mean these kids did not show up in my house with a handbook, although many times I wish that they had. So I think growing a business is like growing a kid, right? Raising a child. You don’t know what the hell you’re doing, but at every stage and at every age you’re just learning, again, different parts of it. Like figuring it out as we go along pretty much, and hoping we’re all going to be okay. Is true for parenthood as much as it’s true for business hood. You know? So yeah.
Rachel Brenke: Well that’s something I think is good to kind of embrace, if you’re on the cusp in jumping into business or if you’re newer, it’s also okay if you recognize that you don’t want to do it. I think that’s one of the things I see in entrepreneurs. Sometimes they, because it is such a big build up in the beginning, they get overwhelmed and scared, and stressed out, and there is no real handbook for it no matter what everyone tries to sell to you. No matter what Michelle does or I try to sell to you, there’s no real handbook. You have to take what’s out there and you know kind of spin it for yourself, but there’s also a point that I see some entrepreneurs, they’re so unhappy but they’re afraid to give it up. They’re afraid because it’s going to look like failure. To me you recognizing that maybe entrepreneur ship’s not for you, being able to say this is not for me. I want to do something else is way more powerful and stronger than if you’re trying to power through.
And I’m not talking about in the moments where you’re so tired and you’re overwhelmed. Those days are going to happen. But if you’re consistently finding that you’re unhappy. It’s affecting you, your health, your relationships, and you’re just not in it to win it, it’s okay to walk away. I think a lot of times people feel like the commitment to become a business owner is final, once you make it you have to do it. That’s not true. I’m giving you permission right now. If you’re in that place that you just are not in love with it, put a pin in it. Maybe come back to it later. That is okay. You don’t have to continue doing it if you’re really not that happy.
Michelle: This is a major problem in the cake world, and I would venture to say in the creative arts world.
Rachel Brenke: Oh yes.
Michelle: Why this is a major problem, in my experience, is because the vast majority of people I meet in creative industries don’t go into business because they wanted to. They go into business because somebody else whose opinion they respect told them to. Like you should so sell those. You’d make a fortune. You know this kind of stuff and then they find themselves, like however much time down the line going, “Wait a minute. I’m really miserable. I don’t want this.” They kind of wonder how they ended up there and then exactly like you said. They feel sort of trapped. Now I made the decision, how can I unmake the decision without feeling like I’ve failed or feeling like people are going to be disappointed or whatever. It’s been really fascinating to me, how often people send me emails like this.
Like Michelle, I don’t really like this. I’m like, “Well why are you doing it?” Well because somebody told me I should. They get stuck in this kind of world where they have this business they never really wanted and now they’ve got to try to figure out how to undo their way out of it. I always like to say, every decision that has been made can be unmade. Generally speaking, other than parenthood. You know, most decisions can be pretty easily unmade.
Rachel Brenke: I have a good friend who is a photographer, big surprise, and she was 100% gung ho, I’m going to go out, do my own business. She was doing all the right things, getting all these clients, and this year one day she texted me and she goes, “Rachel. Don’t be disappointed,” which really broke my heart that she thought I would be disappointed in her. She goes, “I just can’t do this. I’m not happy to. I don’t want to be a primary photographer. I would be 100% happy still shooting, helping other photographers, such as a second shooter at a wedding, assistant in a studio.” I jumped for joy because I could already see that she wasn’t happy.
I was so excited, and she loved the acceptance that I was able to provide. Often times you won’t see that necessarily, especially maybe from a spouse or partner, or someone that has been by you. They may feel afraid that you’re making a rash decision, or that you’ve put in a lot of work and you should see it through. I think she really loved having someone to be able to come and say, “I’m just not in it to win it. This is what I prefer to do.” She’s a million times happier. Her art work, her photography has gotten better since she’s made this choice. She’s just a happier person in general. I said to her the other day, I texted her because I was thinking about this exact topic and I said, “You’re designing your life. It’s not what you thought it was three years ago. That I’m proud of you for making the decision to change.” Because I see a lot of, just like you said, they get stuck in it and they’re like how do I get out?
You don’t necessarily have to be in it or out of it. Find this in between. For example, she’s still technically her own business. She’s just not soliciting clients. She’s helping other people with their clients.
Michelle: Win win.
Rachel Brenke: Win win all around for her. So well, we have really hammered I think a lot of, a little bit more realness than I think I anticipated, but I love it because I think the listeners will really enjoy it. But I guess, I want to ask one last question, what is the hardest lesson? We’ve come over a couple of them, but what is the hardest lesson that you’ve learned in business?
Michelle: Oh my goodness. Probably that I cannot please all the people all of the time.
Rachel Brenke: That’s mine. You can’t take that one.
Michelle: I want to.
Rachel Brenke: That’s my lesson.
Michelle: Sorry. Sorry. But I think, you know what, and by people by the way, I’m not only referring to my customers, I’m referring to my family.
Rachel Brenke: Yeah. Yeah.
Michelle: Really that’s a life thing. You will not please all the people all the time, is actually more about your life than it is about just your business I think. I think in the beginning I tried really hard to be all things to all people. I just realized how that was kind of soul crushing, you know. That’s how I came up with that thing about if I make my kids a promise, I’m going to stick to that promise because I was trying to do that thing of work life balance, which frankly I think is absolute rubbish.
Rachel Brenke: I’m with you.
Michelle: I’d be like, and in my heart of hearts the answer is no I’ve never made a whatever that is in my life, but I’d be like, “Yeah. Of course. One of my favorites.” I would just like bold faced lie about stuff right. So because I was like yeah, I can figure it out. I’m a pastry chef. I can figure out a pecan pie, how hard can it be right? The truth is I could figure it out, but what was the point of that? It wasn’t serving them well, and it certainly wasn’t serving me well so what was the point of that, right?
Rachel Brenke: You know, I actually, this far in the business, I’m still a people pleaser, so I’ll have that impulse, like you just said to say yes, and I have to stop myself even still. I know that I can then remind myself there is great power in saying no and focusing only on certain things, but that impulse to please people never goes away.
Michelle: Oh I just heard this thing on the radio the other day, where they did some kind of study. Probably for the 10,000th time. I feel like these studies come out every five minutes, but they did a study about how human beings really dislike choice. And that the maximum amount of options you can give people before they get overwhelmed and upset is something like four to six. It’s a really small number, and I had to kind of laugh at that when I think about my colleagues in the food industry who have a menu or have a recipe or something, or a flavor board with like 10 billion things and yet everybody still orders chocolate. Like there’s a reason for that, right? It’s that human beings don’t like too much choice. It totally made me laugh that we kind of make a mistake when we feel like we need to be all things to all people, and give people a million options. We think we’re doing them a favor, and in fact we’re just stressing them out.
Rachel Brenke: I’m definitely one of those that I shut down when like the waiter is telling me the specials of the day, at like three I’m like okay just stop. You lost me on the first word. I’ll just have my usual fajitas or whatever. It’s true. Your customer shuts down if it’s not delivered the proper way or if it’s way too many choices. Like for me, there were a whole bunch of articles about Steve Jobs and other successful CEO’s floating around about how they have a uniform. I have a uniform.
Michelle: Oh yeah.
Rachel Brenke: I wear the exact same thing. Not the exact same clothes, but the exact same shirt, just in different colors and pants, every single day.
Michelle: Yeah well who wants to have to think about that stuff man?
Rachel Brenke: Not me. You and I are like kindred spirits when it comes to that. Some people listening, they thoroughly enjoy that, but then I have other things that I would love to have choice on. You know? It all just boils down to what your time, capacity, and your willingness is, so that honestly, that right there would probably be what my hardest lesson that I learned is knowing my limits on things. Maybe I do want to learn something new. Learn to make that new flavor, but if I don’t have the time, at what expense am I going to do it? You know what I mean. Like it’s super easy in the beginning, you’re talking about offering 500 flavors because you’re out of fear of not having the money and need the money or you’re going to lose a customer. But then I started noticing while I’m committing to that, and this circles back around to what we talked about in the beginning of this episode, if I’m committing to learning that new flavor, that time has got to come out of somewhere.
And I’m not proud to say, a lot of times it came out of my kids’ times. I regret that. I luckily learned that lesson fairly quick. I still have to remind myself sometimes but it goes back to, like I was talking about, filling the rocks. I put my family and myself as the rocks first, and then I try to pour the sand, which is the business stuff, and all of these people who I want to please in afterwards. But it is a, that was a hard lesson in the beginning and it’s something I still remind myself all the time to keep myself sane.
Michelle: Yup. I think we just, we learn these things as we go along.
Rachel Brenke: That’s the thing. There’s no ceasing of learning that at all.
Michelle: That’s it. We just learn these things as we go along, and hope that we all figure it out.
Rachel Brenke: We do. That’s the thing. I like to look at other people’s Instagrams, Facebook and their websites, I like to know what they’re doing, but I limit myself. I have like an egg timer. I don’t spend too much time because then I start falling down the hole of oh my gosh look how many followers she has. She must be doing this. She must be doing that. And it starts sucking the joy out of what I’m doing. It starts stressing me more, then it starts shifting everything in my vase. I get scared that I’m not doing enough and I start taking away from these other areas of life. I just end up not having a happy quality of life, which was the entire goal of me starting being an entrepreneur in the very beginning.
Michelle: That’s it. That’s it. It all comes full circle. We all learn what we didn’t, what the end lesson is we don’t know what we don’t know.
Rachel Brenke: Exactly. For sure. Well Michelle, thank you, thank you, thank you so much. We went a little longer but I think this was a then, I think this was great. This is a little different than the platform and the kind of set up that we’ve had in the past. I’ve really loved the real talk that we were able to have. I hope that listeners you’re going to take some of this. Permission to give yourself permission. The acceptance. Figuring out that whatever season of business that you’re in, how you can me the best of it, take those lessons, move forward to the future, you will continue to grow. I don’t know if you know this Michelle, I compete in Iron Man triathlons, and I kind of equate business to the exact same thing.
There becomes a point in the race where you’re literally just telling yourself just keep moving. Just keep moving and you will your legs to just keep going towards the finish line. I really find that business, sometimes when it’s not happy, it’s not fun and it just hurts, unless you know that you’re going to pull the rip cord and get out, you just have to keep moving to the end. So I hope that Michelle’s tips and my tips today have helped you guys. If you want to check out Michelle’s stuff, which I really hope you do, businessofbaking.com. She’s also on Instagram as Business of Baking. We’ve got Facebook of Biz Bake. I’m going to stick all of this into the show notes for you guys. You can check that out at businessbitespodcast.com. You can also learn how to start a cake business over there, but if you guys do it you have to promise to send me cake samples so that I can test them out and let you know how the flavors are.
So thank you Michelle.
Michelle: Don’t send me any. I’ve had enough.
Rachel Brenke: I’ll take them all for you. I’ll take them all. So thank you Michelle. All right.
Featured Guest & Resources
Michelle Green is the sole author of the Business of Baking blog, best-selling book and host of the podcast by the same name. A qualified pastry chef, Michelle owned a custom cake company for over ten years before deciding to sell it so she could become a full time mentor to the baking industry. She works as a consultant to a number of small handmade businesses and is a writer and educator to the food business industry at large. She has been featured in or written for a number of industry publications and websites globally including American Cake Decorating magazine, Family Circle, Cakes Decore, Cookie Connection and more. She is also a Craftsy instructor and and teaches live baking business classes all over the world to people starting and growing their businesses – taking them from idea phase to franchising and beyond. If that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, she’s also a Mom to triplets, an incurable bookworm and is hopelessly addicted to pyjama days
Rachel Brenke is a lawyer, author and business consultant. She is currently helping professionals all over the world initiate, strategize and implement strategic business and marketing plans through various mediums of consulting resources and legal direction.
Hi, I’m Rachel Brenke
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