Naomi Dunsen-White is a Michigan certified educator, a certified food safety instructor with ServSafe through the National Restaurant Association and operates her business out of a certified, licensed professional kitchen in Southfield, MI. Read our interview with the lovely Naomi below…
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
Since I was a child, I have always loved to bake cakes and cookies. Among family and friends, I became known as the “go-to person” for home baked sweets. I’d always wanted to learn how to decorate cakes, so I took a basic cake decorating class about 6 years ago. I become hooked and realized that I had a knack for it. I took several other classes along the way, and I learned a lot on my own. That inspired me to go further with it and actually sell cakes that looked as good as they tasted.
Tell us about your business.
Sweet Baby Custom Cakes, LLC specializes in special occasion cakes that are both “Beautiful AND Delicious.” Sweet Baby cakes are made with the finest ingredients. I’m known for my delicious, fluffy buttercream frosting, and my customers recognize the difference in the ingredients; like tasting real butter, real cream and real vanilla bean. I also love creating unique cakes for my customers. For example, character cakes for children or designing cakes to match party/shower invitations or themes. I like my customers to feel that their cake is made, especially with them in mind. Of course, it’s always an honor to be chosen to create someone’s wedding cake. It’s something I don’t take lightly, and I work very hard to ensure that the couple is happy and proud to display and share their cake on their wedding day.
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
Right now, as we approach the holidays, I have specials on cupcakes. Cupcakes are very popular and they are perfect for parties because they are self serve and the clean-up is minimal. Starting with the purchase of cupcakes for 50 guests, customers will earn free cupcakes. The more they buy, the more they get free!
Where is your business based?
I operate out of a certified, licensed professional kitchen in Southfield, MI. Most of my customers are from Oakland County and Wayne County.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
The first thing I did was obtain a DBA (Doing Business As) from Oakland County. Choosing the name was easy. My husband has always called me, “Sweet Baby,” so in my opinion, there could be no other name for my cake business. It was perfect! Of course, I wanted to make sure that I did everything correctly, from a legal standpoint, and the DBA is a must. After I had the DBA, I was still learning and perfecting recipes. I didn’t really sell the first year, but I was taking all the steps to put things in order for that. For example, starting a FaceBook page, practicing decorating techniques on dummy cakes to take pictures of and post. I took lots of classes during that time and researched a lot about the cake business before I actually sold anything.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
My most effective way of getting new customers is actually “word of mouth.” Compliments and recommendations are the best! To me, my customers are like my family. They stay with me, celebration after celebration, year after year. For example, I’ve done wedding cakes, and then that leads to a baby shower cake, and then baby’s first birthday cake, etc. Plus, all the family birthday cakes too! I love my customers and they know that I will only give them the best, in both taste and appearance. That’s why they stick with me and they are proud to refer their family and friends. That means the world to me.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Time is always my biggest challenge. Because of the nature of what I do, it takes my two hands to do it! I not only bake the cakes, but I do the design and sugar artwork. I’ve had help from interns from time to time, but basically, it’s me creating those unique cakes. That’s what my customers want and that’s what they will get. So, it’s a challenge when it comes to managing time. The business is more than making cakes, though. There’s a ton of administrative work to be done also. Invoices, purchasing, receipts, inventory, etc. All of this is time-consuming, and there are only 24 hours in a day. It can be overwhelming.
How did you overcome these challenges?
I’m blessed to have someone who takes care of most of the administrative work now, so that I can be free to focus on the creative side of the business. That’s what I love and that’s what I do best.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
Thinking of my customers keeps me motivated. There is nothing like the smiles on my customers faces when they come to pick up their cakes. The expression of surprise, delight and sheer joy is worth all the hard work and effort it took to create it. That feeling surpasses every moment of frustration or discouragement that I may have experienced in the past. I absolutely love making them happy, especially the children.
How did you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
I distinguished myself from my competitors by choosing to use good quality ingredients in my products. I feel that my customers deserve it and it makes me feel proud to know that even though my cakes are splurges and treats, they are still made with careful consideration. For example, in buttercream frosting, real cream and real butter taste far better than water and shortening alone. However, water and shortening is a buttercream standard recipe within the industry. Real vanilla bean tastes better than imitation vanilla extract. These ingredients cost more, but it’s worth it. It’s those types of extras that my customers love, and have come appreciate and expect.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
Someone advised me not to “sell myself short.” We were discussing the time and skill it takes to create some of the cakes that I do. It’s often tempting to worry that someone will think the cake costs too much because of the time it takes to create the art and design that they want. However, some cakes take days, not just hours, to complete. I’ve come to value and appreciate my own work, knowing that I take the utmost care and give attention to detail in everything I do. My customers value it too, and they trust that I am not overcharging, but putting a proper price on the work that I do to create their special cakes. I always want to be fair, and I am always concerned about fair pricing for my customers.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
I would advise entrepreneurs to prepare themselves as much as possible, before they officially step out into business. Prepare yourself for possible obstacles and problems that might happen. Look ahead to the “worst case scenario” so that these things won’t surprise you or knock you off balance. Of course, being an entrepreneur means that you are learning a lot as you go. You learn from mistakes and from other business owners and also from your own successes. However, it can be discouraging sometimes, because it is hard work ALL the time. It takes a lot of stamina and self determination and self motivation. So, preparation ahead of time will make the obstacles and challenges that are sure to come your way, a little bit easier to push through.
What is your favorite business tool or resource?
Facebook is my favorite business tool. It is an excellent way to generate a following, share what you’re doing, and create a community among your customers. Facebook is also a very affordable way to advertise. It’s perfect for small businesses.
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
“Think and Grow Rich” by Napolean Hill.
It isn’t just about getting rich in terms of money. It’s about working hard to accomplish your goals, your dreams, and being the best you can be at whatever you set your mind to. It’s about focusing your efforts to match the focus of your mind… which should be toward success!
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
I am currently looking to teach classes. I plan to teach cake decorating classes, because I’ve gotten inquiries from several people who are interested for themselves or their children. I am also a certified food safety instructor with ServSafe (National Restaurant Association). I’d like to get started with teaching those classes as well, for those who are looking to get certified and begin working in the food service industry.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
My goals for early 2017, is to establish a location and schedule for cake decorating and food safety classes. I am a Michigan certified educator, and I do enjoy teaching. This would be the perfect combination of doing the things I love and helping others at the same time.