Two years ago I was given a piece of advice by my good friend and business mentor, Nathanael Hubbard. He told me I had to learn to say no. I didn’t quite understand at that point how valuable that advice was and how it was going to shape the future of my business.
Starting with no
I was at the start of my Little Birdy Cakes journey, it wasn’t even Little Birdy Cakes at this stage. I was keen to learn, grow and move forward with my plans. My business was changing from a custom cake decorating business to a corporate cake making service. The space was untested and very niche. The average price of my cakes was dropping from several hundred dollars to about $50 a pop. I had a hard time understanding how saying no to easy money from clients I already had would prove beneficial to me.
How could saying no move my business forward?
Our average spend per business client over two years is approx $1,600
Nathanael explained it to me like this, while I was off spending 4-8 hours decorating a cake for “easy money”, I was missing out on opportunities that could potentially bring in more money over the long term. Most custom cakes are a one off experience for most people. A 21st, a 50th birthday or a wedding for example. Some people and families will do it every year or at least more than once but for most it is a milestone only. Repeat business from clients was not always a given. My potential to earn beyond a few hundred dollars per customer was minimal.
In the corporate sector, we aim for repeat ongoing business. Customers who use our service repeatedly and who we know intimately. Although our cakes only average around $50 each, the ongoing spend per customer over months and years is far greater than a one off custom cake. Once I saw the figures laid out it made so much sense about how valuable my time is and where it is better spent.
Why confuse people?
The second reasoning was that it confuses our message. If I was to say yes to a custom cake and the client loved the cake, they then recommend us to their friends who in turn ask for a custom cake and so on and so on. It definitely sends the wrong message about who Little Birdy Cakes is and what we are about. It is already a misunderstood space to be in with people making assumptions about us. When people ask me about my business and I say corporate cakes, they normally hear the cakes and not the corporate. As a result, the conversation often starts to move towards custom cakes and wedding cakes. People show me the cakes they have made (which I love by the way), tell me about an amazing cake they had once or ask me if I do baby shower, wedding, christening, 1st birthday (choose any) cakes. The story shifts from our primary message about helping businesses celebrate to personal/private celebrations with family and friends.
It actually lies at the heart of our mission
The flip side of this is that I love doing special things for our regular customers. Some occasions require something a little more. I recently did a special cake for a leaving celebration for one of our regulars. A suspended coke bottle pouring coke all over a cake. The person leaving was moving into a job with Coke and I really wanted to do something they would remember. Even though this would seem like something I should say no to, it actually lies at the heart of our message. To help businesses in Brisbane foster an environment of camaraderie and community. The cake was about the team and that they were sorry to see this person leave.
This picture did not make it to any of our social media platforms, for the very same reason why we say no, it confuses our message. But it is part of our story which is why I saved it for this blog post. It is all about context and how the message will be received. A fellow cake maker once told me that not every picture has to make it to your feed. If the cake is not on brand or doesn’t help promote your message then don’t post it.
Saying no is sometimes as simple as we don't have the time. I often get asked by customers to do special things at times when we are really busy (think Christmas or Valentine's Day). A lot of times we would love to say yes but it is just not physically possible to fit it all in. These are the hardest to say no to.
Saying no has been a hard lesson to learn. It’s not in my nature, as I think is true for a lot of people. As a business person you want to please people and you want to make a sale. But a sale for the sake of a sale is not always right for you and your business. When I talk with other business owners, you will often hear me passing on this piece of advice. Some take it on board and some don’t. At the end of the day, saying no to business that doesn’t work for us and our mission is what is helping us move forward. Our message is so important as it can easily be confused. We want people to know what we do and how we do it and not be distracted by the three tier wedding cake in the corner.
Have you learnt to say no?