I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Stupidly Idealistic, or Just Good Business?

The cake decorating industry is a small one, especially here in Australia. It's filled with people who, on the whole, love what they do and are good at it. Many of them came to it via small beginnings; decorating cakes at home and learning the craft through books and online tutorials.  Some came to it through other means; by working in hospitality, qualifying as chefs, or just seeing a good opportunity and going for it.  My own philosophy about cake decorating as a business is that none of us are selling cake (or even cake supplies). We are in fact selling happiness - because do you know ANYONE who can stay miserable when given some sweet art to admire and devour? I certainly don't. We don't get called upon to create cake for life's sad moments - we get called upon to be a part of the milestone celebrations in people's lives, to help them mark happy moments, to bring a bit of extra sweetness to what is already something wonderful happening for them.

That being said, we're also in this industry to make money. Happiness is wonderful, but it won't pay my electricity bill or buy me groceries.  I totally understand that while I am in a loving, happy industry, at the end of the day no amount of love and happiness is going to keep me in business. I understand that. I do (I really do...have I mentioned my paranoid anxiety about all things money related?) Here's what I don't understand though - I don't understand the colleagues in my industry who think they are operating within a bubble of their own. I don't understand the ones who will rubbish other companies to their clients (even if they secretly admire them), the ones who will refuse to pass on a referral, the ones who will outright lie about other companies, the ones who won't open their mouths to say, "Hey, how can we help each other achieve this common goal?", the ones who won't share who their suppliers are, the ones who steal photos from other companies and claim them as their own. What exactly is the perceived benefit to any of that?

This kind of bullshit happens no matter what industry you are in - and it reflects nothing other than the different types of people who are in business. Some are nice, some are not. Not surprisingly I fall into the 'nice' category, and so I'll do what I think is right. Refer clients to other cake makers if I can't do what they want or if we're already booked out, share who our suppliers are (because I have yet to work out how that might damage us as a company), facebook post or call other companies to congratulate them on a recent win, ask questions of my colleagues and offer to do things together. I see my industry as a community and so I behave as I feel one should when they are part of a community - with morals, with responsibility, and with open communication. There are of course colleagues of mine who ALSO feel they are part of a community, but they are part of one which encourages the negative talk, the refusal to share information, the 'he said/she said' gossip. Their idea of the cake community centres more around the idea of  'us versus them'.

I don't want you to think I am an angel with a halo made out of royal icing. I'm not. I've definitely done my fair share of gossiping and carrying on - but on the whole I do it in the privacy of my own home, or within the confines of my kitchen, or maybe to a friend one-on-one.  Talking about other people is just human nature (what else can we possibly have to talk about?). And sure, some of that comes out of the sheer joy of knowing you know something other people don't (yet) know. Some of it comes just in conversation, eg "I heard X company was doing that, I don't think that's something I would do..." We ALL talk. I don't have a problem with it. I DO have a problem with the rest of it - the companies who will tell me I'm crazy for referring people on to others (seriously?),  the companies who will outright lie to you about really ridiculous things (we use half pre-mix and half scratch mix...), the companies who think that because I've asked them to send me some business cards (so I can refer on...) they think that I'm asking for some sort of nefarious reason. In recent weeks I've been really amazed at the amount of bullshit which is going on around our industry - I recently read on facebook a status update from a cake supply company which said something like, "I love my industry but I don't love all the drama, and I wish to stay out of it!" How sad to think a post like that is even necessary in the first place.  Last I checked we were all in business and out of the fourth grade.

People who know me in real life - in business or not - know that I am an open book kind of person. I say it like it is, regardless of who is listening. I lack a verbal filter at home AND in business - pretty much you just get what you get.  I'm smart, I'm ambitious, I'm clever, competitive and I'm damn good at what I do (modest, too)- but I'm not secretive, not political, and not capable of playing this stupid business game other people seem to feel the need to play. And of course, there are heaps of totally wonderful people who work in this industry who I love doing business with. I've met some amazing people who inspire me, and I probably inspire others in some small way, too. It's not all bad, of course it's not - and of course I don't expect that everyone will be on the same page as I am. It's more that I just don't really understand the need or purpose for the negative behaviour in the first place, I really don't.

So the only question left is - is my way of doing business, where acting like it's all just one big fat love-fest - stupidly idealistic, or just good business?

Either way, I go to sleep every night with a clear conscience and that, my friends, is sweet enough for me.

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