In continuation of my series of interviews with fellow MOMtrepreneurs, I bring you...Debby Gerth, mother of 3 (8 yr old Natalie, 5 yr old Ethan, & 3 yr old Ella), and the master chef behind Home Run Cakes, LLC! Debby lives in Columbus, Ohio, which is where I met her about 10 years ago when we lived there for 4 years.
Read on to hear more about Debby and how she juggles motherhood, her own business, AND home schooling! Super woman, I tell you...super woman!!
Be sure to visit her website to see some of her amazing creations! You can also check out her work and become a fan on her Facebook page.
What did you do before becoming a Work-at-home mom?
B.C., (Before Children), I was a technical writer for a software development company. When my first daughter was about one, I began coordinating weddings. I'd done a few here and there on the side while still working full time, but I began my business Cord of Three Weddings after becoming a mom. After a couple years of the business, and with the addition of kid number 2, I found that I couldn't dedicate the time I needed to the business-- weddings are just too all-encompassing and I couldn't focus on my client meetings or especially, on-site vendor meetings, with two kids in tow. I started to pull back on my business even more with the addition of my third kid, and with the exception of coordinating weddings at the church I was attending, I stopped the business entirely. In the meantime, however, I'd learned a lot about how cake bakers work, and was appalled that there was only ONE baker in the entire metropolitan area that actually baked from scratch. By this time, we had gone "all natural" in our family -- cutting out all hydrogenated oils and (when possible) high fructose corn syrups from our diet. I knew that most, if not all, cake bakers were using cake mix (containing hydrogenated oils, HFCS, and aluminum) for their cakes, and a Crisco-based frosting and calling it buttercreme, even though it contained less than half butter, if any at all. So it got me thinking. I'd been making my own kids' cakes, and family members' cakes, for years now, and sometimes I would make cakes for friends as well, and charging a meager amount for my time and ingredients. I always got rave reviews on the cakes -- how they tasted, and how they were decorated.
In 2009 a friend of a friend called me out of the blue and asked if I "made cakes." She had been asking around for ideas of people who made cakes, and my friend (who last had one of my cakes about eight years ago) remembered how good it was, and passed on my name to her.
I made that cake, which is the cake on my website front page [pictured above], and had so much fun doing it, that I began thinking how I really should make this business legitimate, if I was going to accept money for the cakes from people not related to me! So, I registered the name and business as an LLC in the State of Ohio, as a Home Cottage Industry. (Which is legal in Ohio -- some states require home bakeries to be licensed, with fully seperate kitchen, refridgeration and storage facilities... so if you are wanting to set up a home bakery business in your state - PLEASE look into what is required by your state before doing so!)
My favorite cake so far is definitely the pink black and white wedding cake -- at least, as far as "pretty" cakes go. :-) As far as how much fun it was to make it, I really just had so much fun making the recent beach cake. It's kind of a week by week thing, though. I almost always like the one I've just finished the best. Until the next week. :-)
What skills or education from your background do you think help you the most in your success as an entrepreneur?
In college, I started out as a Marketing major and then moved into Public Relations before finally settling into Technical Writing in English. I can now see that each of those steps helped me in the entrepreneur mindset. Plus, this is going back quite a ways, but my senior year in high school, I participated in my school's DECA (Marketing Education) program, and we were the number 1 DECA organization in the entire country. It inspired me, even back then, to be entrepreneurally-minded. And I got married to a man who is an attorney, and is also like minded. He opened his own law firm. So, running our own businesses is just the family lifestyle.
As far as my success as baker and cake decorator, though -- I've loved baking ever since I was in high school and had to learn to cook on my own since my mom worked late hours. I learned to play around with recipes and find my own way of doing things. I took one Wilton class a few years ago, and learned a few techniques from it, but what that class mostly did for me was cement the knowledge that baking without cake mix and making frosting without Crisco was almost completely, shockingly unheard of. The class instructors could not even imagine there was another way of doing it. So I quickly found out how unique I would be in my area.
What new things have you learned since becoming a business owner?
I've learned that the business can quickly take over your life if you don't set boundries right from the start. For example, when I first set up shop, I figured I would be taking one, maybe at the most, two orders per month. I'm now booking cakes for every weekend, and I have to turn orders away almost every day. If I didn't turn down orders, I would be spending all my time making cakes, I would quickly lose my joy in it, and my kids would not have a sane mom. So as hard as it is to turn down someone offering you cash in hand, I've learned that my limit is two cakes per weekend (and even then it feels like too much), and I won't take on more than that.
I've also learned how to structure my time throughout the week. Since most cake orders are due out on Saturday, I've organized my weeks to do a bit of each project every day. Since we homeschool here, it's even more important that I break up the cake work throughout the week so that I'm not going crazy from Thursday to Saturday. On Monday, I go shopping, for household groceries and also cake supplies, and this includes the grocery store and the cake supply shop. The kids know, Monday is Cake Store Day. Tuesday I do any prep work, including making fondant or gum paste, which needs to rest for at least 24 hours prior to use. On Wednesday, I make any gum paste decorations that need to harden before going on the cake. Thursday is baking day, and Friday is decorating day.
What’s the most challenging part about being a Mom + business owner for you?
Giving my kids my full attention when they need it, and not being distracted by the Blackberry. I could easily spend all day every day answering emails, drumming up business on Craigslist, reading new techniques and ideas on cake decorating websites, and on and on. I've had to set priorities.
How would you define “success” for yourself and/or your business?
Success for me is providing a great tasting cake that looks good too. Success is when I post a photo of a new cake I just made and seeing the beauty in the art of it, and not just the flaws that I know are there. Some might define success for a bakery as opening up my own store front, but that's not where I'm at right now. I'm dedicated to homeschooling my kids all the way through, and because of that, I don't want to get any busier than I currently am! I am happy to have the whole calendar month ahead of me booked up with enough cakes to keep me challenged but not overwhelmed.
What advice would you give a new mom looking to start a business from home?
Define what your priorities are, and stick to that!
Thank you, Debby, for taking the time out of your insanely busy schedule to share your insights with us!! Be sure to check out her amazing cakes, everyone!