Starting a Cookie Business

Starting a Cookie Business

Have you been thinking about starting a cookie business? Do you have cookie creations which started as a hobby and then grew into people asking you to make them for their parties? Your love for making cookies which started as a hobby has now morphed into a cookie business. Or has it? Are you struggling to navigate past being a hobby baker to having a cookie business? Do you feel lost trying to figure out the laws?  Have you even defined if you truly want to own a business? My husband and I are going to help you jump through those hurdles in our blog series: Cookie Business 101. While I graduated with a Degree in Organizational Leadership in Business, I sadly threw much of what I knew out the window when I started my cookie business.  It wasn’t until my husband threatened to call the labor board for paying myself under minimum wage. He straight up said, “you have a hobby, you don’t have a business.” Businesses have to pay at least minimum wage, or they get fined by the labor board.  Take your degree and your knowledge and apply it. If not, I am shutting you down. Those who know our family, know my husband was not kidding.  My first response was “if I price my cookies appropriately, no one will buy them.” My husband’s response, “then you don’t have a business.”

farmhouse kitchen

I walked away aggravated, but I knew he was right. We live in a Pinterest world that often tells you to follow your dreams and be passionate. I quickly learned that passion and dreams are not enough to sustain a business over time. Opening a business, even if it is a home based business, is a serious venture. Are you willing to ask yourself the tough questions? Are you willing to let someone else ask them? Over the next couple of weeks you will get to know my brilliant, sarcastic, attorney husband, who happens to be one lab accident away from becoming a super villain. He is going to share his perspective on business and cookies.  Two years ago, I was ready to open a store front. As my husband and I were looking for property, he asked me some probing questions. Once again, I was aggravated and he was right. This happens often. I realized while my passion and dreams of a store front were great, I was not ready to take that leap after contemplating his questions.

My husband’s name is Dann. He is going to take over now. He has successfully started, run and sold three different companies.  He is now currently the Director of Legal and Compliance for a company in Phoenix. He is a wealth of knowledge. Feel free to ask questions. He loves to help.

Many times in business, one looks to the internet to see what other people in their industry are charging.  This is not uncommon if one opens a local hardware store and surveys Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and other supply shops to determine if their prices are in line with their competitors.  However, the small business owner is often left to bemoan that they cannot truly compete on an equal playing field with these businesses as they do not have the distribution lines to buy in the same bulk nor do they have the pull with distributors to actually negotiate their prices.  However, in the field of “home bakeries” we are left to compete not only with Costco, the local supermarket, the brick and mortar bakeries, but also hobbyists.

farmhouse kitchen

I guess the first question you have to ask yourself is “am I a hobbyist?”  Please note that I will not be addressing competing against “competitors” in this blog, but I will touch on this in the next one.  This blog is devoted to “the hobbyist.”  I have nothing against the “hobbyist,” but it is time to ask you to come out of the closet.  The closet is not a scary place, and many of the “hobbyists” don’t even know they are in the closet.  I pause a moment to laugh at this as the room is dark, the light is off, and you should be claustrophobic at this point; this is why I am snickering.  For most snickering is an insult, but don’t be alarmed as my wife states that I am laugh deficient and this is the best that I can do.

A hobbyist has no business plan, they have not determined the cost of goods, they don’t know who their target customer is, and they don’t even notice the creepy music playing next to the stale cookies at the market selling 12 per box for $.99.  If you have never heard the creepy music as the lights glisten off the plastic cookie casing, you are usually the first casualty in the horror movie.  Don’t be alarmed over ninety percent of the teenagers in the movie are killed, and if your contract does not contain a clause for a multi-picture arc, you most likely are one of the first casualties in the horror film titled “These Cookies will Kill You due to Chemicals as well as Pricing.”  Yes, I agree the name of the picture is not catchy but look how many people have fallen prey to this.

The plastic cookie casing is not your competitor.  However, you are not only letting the creepy plastic shell determine your pricing, but your customer as well.  You have priced yourself below market value not only in terms of the cost of goods, but you have not set a wage for your hourly work.  Your clients often ask you vague questions such as “I am throwing a “insert random theme” party here and I have no idea what type of cookies I want but they have to be “amazing, move around without a visible motor and be no more than the cost of the expire cookies found on the “Day-O Bread Rack.”  You are so determined to please said customer that may never use you again or recommend you, that it has not even occurred to you that you are now envying the wages of workers in third world countries.  You often are tucking not only your kids in bed, but your husband as well.  I would say that you would wake up from this nightmare in a cold sweat and realize it is only a dream, but alas, tomorrow starts a fresh new day losing money and working for less than what McDonalds’ cashiers were making in the 1980s.  I have good news for you my friend, you have a hobby.  There is good news, you have choices.  1) You can start treating this like a hobby and not let this consume your life; just think there is room next to your wooden tennis racket, your lace-up ice skates and the bowling ball in the closet as well, 2) You can focus on how to turn this hobby into a business, or 3) You can wait several years until you hit rock bottom and then join a support group.  For the rest of you who are running a business, in the next post I will address who your competition is and how you can react and adapt.

Cookie Business

 

Cookie Business 101 Topics to Come:

  • Why Business Plans are important even if you are a small home based business
  • How to define your mission
  • What is a SWOT Analysis and why it matters?
  • How to properly price your products?
  • How to determine if a “opportunity” is one you should go after or are you better to walk away?

No Kid Hungry Bake Sales Arizona

This past week I have been blogging about my adventures while I bake for our charity.  This week I turning my focus from our international mission for Micah 6:8 Sudan to one a little closer to home.  In case you have not heard No Kid Hungry Bake Sales 2013 have begun!  Bloggers and baking enthusiasts across America are joining together to raise money for hungry kids by hosting bake sales. Every dollar raised goes towards the No Kid Hungry program.

To find a bake sale in your area, search this list of bake sales hosted by food bloggers! Reach out to contact your bloggers or bake sale for details (time, place, etc.) and buy some yummy treats for a great cause!  I have decided to host an online bake sale during the month of May.  If you have been looking to stock up on salted butterscotch and brownies, now is the time!

Valentine's Day Treats

Salted Butterscotch

Local Items Available for Donation {Phoenix Area}

 Cupcakes for $24.00 donation

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  • Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
  • Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes

Cookies and Brownies {Local and Shipped Nationwide}

  • Salted Butterscotch $15.00 a dozen {plus shipping}
  • Espresso Brownies  $13.50 for half-dozen {plus shipping}
  • Turtle Brownies $15.00 for half-dozen {plus shipping}

Super Bowl Brownies

No Kid Hungry Bake Sale Weight Loss Option

  • No worries. You can still join with a tax-deductible donation!  See below how your donation can be put to good use with ZERO calorie intake.  Visit my No Kid Hungry Bake Sale Page.  Click the donate button on the up right hand side of the page and follow the directions.

To place an order send an email to melissa@thebakedequation.com

Include:

  • Item you would like to order
  • In the subject line of your email “No Kid Hungry”
  • address is being shipping
  • If local let me know which location you would like to pick up your goodies {North Phoenix/Anthem or Scottsdale}

No Kid Hungry Staggering Statistics

This year, nearly one in five kids in America will face hunger.  That’s more than 16 million.   But, there is hope.   Share our Strength is working to connect hungry kids with programs that can help them get the food they need to thrive.

$1 can help provide a hungry child with 10 healthy meals.
$4 can help provide a child facing hunger with a backpack full of healthy food over a weekend when school meals are not available.
$9 can help connect a child with healthy lunches during summer when school is out.
$35 can help a child care center provide free afterschool snacks and suppers to at-risk children all year long.
$65 can provide a grab-n-go breakfast cart to an elementary school so that every student starts every school day with a healthy meal.

Let’s roll up our sleeves, gather our ingredients, pre-heat the ovens and together we can bake a difference! Are you a fellow baker? Would you like to join my team? Just click on the Team Page and join my roster to bake for a difference!

 

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Baking for Charity Part II

Baking for Charity Part II

Welcome back! I know you must be dying to know how the value of land, the red headed mzungu, a Cottage Law, and a venture into crazy cookies all ties together, right? Many times I feel like we are putting together a 2500 piece puzzle. When you first start a puzzle the pieces look confusing. You have no idea of how it will come together. They just look like random shapes. Then you start connecting them and slowly but surely they begin to form a picture. When I started baking for charity, it felt a little like a puzzle.

Baking for charity is not all sunshine and roses. It has its ups, it’s downs and a few twists with turns.  There are so many valuable lessons that we have learned along the way. Let’s get back to where we left off from Baking for Charity Part 1.

In July of 2010, Dann and Permina traveled through Southern Sudan scouting different areas of the country that might be suitable for a farm.  Southern Sudan is made of ten states. While visiting the various areas and territories, they met with many  leaders.

baking for charity

Be jealous ladies. That is my mzungu in the straw hat! Now his version of the story is that his wife took his Detroit Lions hat out of his suitcase when she was hiding surprises in his luggage, so he was stuck wearing the big straw hat. {oopsie!}

baking for charity

This picture will be forever ingrained in my mind. This is at the airport in Jonglei. Can you spot the scale for the luggage? They were getting ready to leave and clouds were beginning to form in the sky. Rain was headed that way. Since the air strip is all dirt, rain is very bad for flying.  Thankfully, the plane boarded and they were on their way back to Juba. It was days later that we found out that if the plane had not taken off, Permina and Dann would have been stuck their for months. Torrential rains flooded the entire area for about six months.

Micah 6 8 Sudan

After all the areas they visited, Dann felt that the area that they had looked around near Torit, South Sudan is where the farm would eventually be located. After three and half weeks Permina said goodbye to his homeland once again and they began the journey home to America in August 2010.

Baking for Charity

Now what? The boys were home. Permina was back in school finishing up his last credits in college. It was going to be awhile before they would go back to the Sudan. One of the big decisions that we were awaiting was the outcome to the Sudanese declaration to separate from the North. In January of 2011, a referendum took place in Southern Sudan that would make it possible for the South to declare its independence from the North. The vote was successful and South Sudan was officially it’s own nation. Development opportunities began to open up in the South bringing companies from China and France. Yet, the problem still remained. They were not hiring Sudanese workers. They would either bring in workers from Uganda and Kenya or from their countries. As these companies came into South Sudan land costs were beginning to rise.  In the beginning the land we were looking at was around thirty thousand dollars in 2010, now the land cost was two hundred thousand dollars. What were we going to do? We can’t afford that? So we hit our knees and began to pray.

In the mean time all our family and friends were having me bake for their events. Only I hit a slight snag. Come to find out you can not sell food to your friends. I understood that I couldn’t sell to the public. I was confused. What? Really? I was so surprised. I live in America. If a friend wants me to make a cake, I can not make it for them in exchange for money?

What was I going to do? Bake sales had become a viable way to raise funds for our charity. I began the process of trying to make the necessary changes in our home so that it would pass an inspection to be approved as a home bakery but there is this thing called a grease trap. It is this really obnoxious contraption for commercial kitchens. Some kitchens need them and they are necessary but some do not.  Why would I need a crazy grease contraption for baking brownies and cookies? On to plan number two, we began looking for space that I could rent in a certified kitchen. Unfortunately, there is only one option in the Phoenix area and it was over 40 minutes from my house.

Sadness started to creep in. It was such a bummer. Then I stumbled across an article about Cottage Food Laws being enacted in different parts of the country. I was so excited. Arizona was on the list. I wrote our legislature. I wrote about our story.  One of the biggest complaints about the Cottage Law in Arizona was local business. Many business owners stated that home bakers would under charge for their products because they would not take into account proper overhead costs, labor and time. Back in the day I was confused by this statement. I am not any more. Even as a home baker I run into this problem. Many bakers price their goods by what they think people will pay instead of calculating what it costs them to do business.  One of the best things my husband said to me was is that there is a big difference between a business and a hobby. If we are going to make this a business then we have to run it like one.

On July 20, 2011 the Cottage Law was enacted in Arizona. I am pretty sure with in five minutes after the bill passing that I started filling out my licensing paperwork to put everything in motion to start my baking company. The next thing you know the Arizona Republic called and asked if I was willing to be interviewed. Well, of course! Come on over.

baking for charity

The world was now my oyster. I had a tax id number. I had my LLC paperwork filed with state. I passed my food licensing exam. Next up, website development and social media. That sentence right back there contained 5 words.  The amount of hours that went into this development I can not count. Time, sweat, countless hours and tears went into this labor of love. There are many times in the midst of if all I have had to remind myself why I do what I do. It helps keep my perspective focused.

I know many states are waiting for their cottage law to go through. Many of my cake and cookie friends are fighting for their cause and we are rooting for you.   I am truly blessed that we have a cottage law in Arizona.  It allows me to keep my overhead very low so that we can maximize the profits for our charity.

Baking for Charity

Well, I have to get to decorating cookies.  There are orders that need to get out the door. Speaking of cookies. You might be wondering how did I make the jump from brownies and cupcakes to insane decorated cookies. Oh yes, I said it. Insane decorated cookies. There is no other way to describe them.  A long time client who ordered my brownies than I could count called and asked if I would make monogram cookies for an upcoming meeting. My response, oh no, I can’t do those kind of cookies. I can’t even imagine the amount of time they take. She asked if I would just give it a shot for her. How do I say no? She was my best customer. The only decorated sugar cookies I had ever really seen are the yellow happy faces at the grocery store.

I hung up the phone and decided to Google decorated sugar cookies. I was in for quite a surprise.  I stumbled upon this whole world of crazy cookies in all shapes, sizes and piping skills like I had never seen.  Needless to say I was completely intrigued. You think Pinterest is time sucker, when I stumbled upon The Adventures of Sweet Sugarbelle and Sweetopia‘s website I was mesmerized. I clicked back to their very first post and started reading from the beginning like it was a book.

Now that you are caught up to the events of 2011 you will have to come back for round three of our journey. After two years of working with our partners in Africa we would be approved as an NGO, finalize the land deal, and more on business of insane cookies.

 

 

 

 

 

Baking for Charity Part 1

Baking for Charity Part 1

When most people think of baked goods, I believe they think of expanding waist lines. I like to think about cookies and cakes just a tad differently. Three years ago I began baking for charity by selling lots of brownies and cupcakes. What started as a simple bake sale to raise money for Permina and my husband, Dann’s, first mission trip to Southern Sudan slowly morphed into something else.  It is hard for me to believe that I have been baking for our charity for three years now.

I am very bad business woman.  My brand tag line is “sweet treats for charity.”  While I thought most people knew that I baked for our charity, there are many who had no idea. When I announced that Dann was leaving for our farm this week and  that the proceeds went to support our farm in Southern Sudan, people began asking a lot of questions.

This is our signature picture for Micah 6:8 Sudan. I will never forget scrolling through all the pictures when my husband first came home from Southern Sudan. This one captured my eye. The land in the South is rich, lush and fertile. This led to a lot of questions from me. If the land is so fertile why is US Aid just delivering food to Africa? Why don’t we teach them how to farm their land instead? Before I fast forward to where we are today, I thought I would take you back in time to where it all began.

Baking for Charity

Three years ago my husband and I were at a church barbecue where he met Permina. Permina and Dann talked for about three hours straight that evening. Permina is known as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. If you have never heard about the Lost Boys plight, CBS just recently aired a story about their journey.

Permina was 7 years old when his village was raided during the Sudanese Civil War. He and other young boys walked to Ethopia where they sought refuge. Can you even imagine? I can’t imagine my 15-year-old walking that far.  He saw many things on the journey. Some to difficult for me to even write about.

As we were leaving the barbecue, Dann gave Permina his phone number and said,”if you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to call.” Permina did not hesitate. He called Dann the very next morning. Our lives would never be the same. Dann began to mentor Permina. In the process he shared with us his dream. He was so grateful to have an American education and desired to go back and help his people. We decided we would come along side Permina to help him realize his dream.

Baking for Charity

We began to pray. We asked God for direction. We had no idea what we were doing. But God provided. He provided people who knew what they were doing. He provided resources and knowledge around the challenges that we would face in Southern Sudan.

We read a book called, When Helping Hurts, and it changed how we viewed everything. Originally, we wanted to bring water and food supplies but the more research we did revealed that it was not what the Southern Sudanese needed. Micah 6:8 Sudan seeks to help train Sudanese men and women in sustainable agriculture and biblical studies. One of the greatest problems that plagues many countries in Africa today is that we attempt to solve their economic problems through aid.  Aid helps temporarily relieve the suffering but it does nothing to help the long-term problems.   We are teaching men and women to stand in line for food instead of  truly giving them what they need; the training and education of how to work with the amazing resources they have in Southern Sudan.  Only one in ten individuals in the Sudan have a job.  There is a dire need for employment opportunities in the Southern Sudanese region where we are situated.  We are hoping to change these statistics by providing long-term employment opportunities as well as providing the only truth that can sustain.

One of the first charities we began to work with was Acres 4 Life. They were doing exactly what we wanted to do. My husband and I are not big fans of recreating the wheel. We reached out to Charlie at Acres 4 Life to learn more about what they were doing in Uganda.  Acres 4 Life seeks to feed orphans and widows through building farms in their home country. See their video{LINK HERE} to learn more about what they are doing in Uganda.

Today Acres 4 Life has a 12 acre working farm at African Renewal Christian College in Uganda. Jeff Atherstone is the principal at the college and fellow alumni from The Master’s College, where I went to school.  Pieces of the puzzle were beginning to come together. We were blessed to be surrounded by people who were so knowledgeable.  We were starting to have our vision focused on where we were going and what we were going to do in Southern Sudan.

We began to raise funds for the boys first trip to Africa. They would travel to Uganda to meet Jeff for the first time while they were waiting for their entry Visas into the Sudan.  Three years ago, Permina and Dann traversed all over areas of  Southern Sudan to find suitable property for our farm. Our original intent was to train pastors at African Renewal Christian College and have a farm but we learned at this point we can not handle both. We are starting with the farm and will work from there. One day we would like to be able to send men to be trained at ARCC.  Take a moment to watch the video below.  Investing in people is always worthwhile.

Brownies is where I come into the equation. While my husband travels and works with villagers, I am working behind the scenes.  Once the decision was made that we would move forward with Micah 6:8 Sudan, I went into fundraising mode. Most people heading out on a missions trip send out letters to raise support. We did that as well. But in a climate with a hurting  economy, people no longer had as much to give. Yet, the brownies were still selling like hot cakes. During the fundraising process, I found out that I loathe sending out letters asking for money. It’s just awkward. Then it hit me . People are always buying goodies. People are always having parties. I will bake my tushie off and raise money that way.  I started making trays of brownies. Seriously, I made trays and tray of them. Baking for charity was the answer to my dilemma. My husband would cart the brownies to his office and sell them. The girls in the office would sell them to the Fedex man and just about anyone who came in the door. Trust me, if you walked into Sterling Title you were not leaving without a brownie.

Baking for Charity

 

That is the snapshot of the beginning of our journey. You will have to come back for Part II of our journey. The value of land, the red headed mzungu, a Cottage Law, and a venture into crazy cookies. What ever you do don’t ever say, “I will never do ______!”

Baking for Charity

 

 

Valentine Cookie Kit

Valentine Cookie Kit

Yes, I know what you must be thinking. A valentine cookie kit, already? {Collective sigh} I just got my Christmas tree down. I know what you mean. When I walked into the grocery store on New Year’s Eve they were putting up the Valentine’s Day cards.  It seems like we just move for holiday to holiday these days. One of my customers helped me come up with a great new product during Christmas that I am so excited to share with you.  She wanted to decorate cookies with her family but her girls find cookie dough frustrating. She ordered plain cookies for her family to decorate.

Valentine Cookie Kit

 Then it hit me, why not offer a simple a valentine cookie kit. That way you don’t have to worry about the mess, cookies spreading, or figuring out how to get them to be the right thickness.  Hassle free. This frees you up to enjoy a fun day of decorating cookies with family and friends.

 Valentine Cookie Kit $30

In our cookie kit you will receive the following:

Valentine Cookie Kit

1 Package of CK Royal Icing Mix (1lb)

(all you have to do is add water and your favorite extract of choice)

3 KopyKake Pastry Bags

Valentine Cookie Kit

16 of our signature sugar cookies

8 Valentine’s Day Message Cookies

4 Large Fluted Heart Cookies

4 Plain Heart Cookies

Don’t be afraid to put in your order early. The great part about plain sugar cookies is that they freeze very well. Can I share a secret with you? I actually like our cookies better after they have been frozen. Weird, I know.   Then you can pull the cookies out when it is convenient for you and decorate.  The CK Royal Icing mix is really easy to make. It gives you directions for stiff icing and making flood icing. I know that some companies offer the icing already made in the bags. The reason I shy away from doing this is that royal icing can separate.  The last thing I would want is to ship your valentine cookie kit out and then by the time it arrives the icing separates. Plus, this allows you to mix the colors you would like to use!

We hope you have fun with your family this Valentine’s Day. Let us know if we can make a Valentine cookie kit for your family!

What’s in a Name-The Baked Equation?

I have been waiting quite awhile to start my blog. So many ideas have been swirling around my head.  So, where should I start? I thought I would begin with the question I am asked the most, “Why, The Baked Equation?” Why did you decide to call it that?” Anyone who has been with me in the kitchen will see me staring at the ceiling talking to myself about numbers. My husband’s favorite is when I look ever perplexed saying , “Is one-third plus one-third plus one third,  a cup?” Oh simple math, how it vexes me.  Well let’s take a step back to see where it all began.

My Dad spent many evenings trying to help me with my never ending math homework. When I was a young girl you would find me sitting at my parent’s dining room table working on word problems, grumbling about how math is lame and I will never need to use it when I grow up. My father chuckled at me and said, “Melissa, learn to embrace math because everything in life boils down to a number.” In true Melissa fashion, I retorted back, “I will prove you wrong.” Well I am all grown up now and have apologized to my parents profusely about how I thought I knew everything by the age of 13.   Now that I am older and wiser I know that everything does boil down to numbers, but this fact does not make math any easier for me.

So ‘The Baked Equation’ name came from my adventures in baking.  I have learned that baking is a science and a whole of lot word problems to create the right recipe. My life in the kitchen has become one massive word problem.  So in life it does not boil down to if you are math person or not; it boils down to just embrace math because you will be doing it the rest of your life.  So if your kids ever say to you I don’t need math, help them see all the equations that make their life fun. From baking to video games to the beloved IPHONE, sequences of word problems make all those neat things happen.

Want some fun homework? Here are some equations/experiments to try in your kitchen?

For Caramel Lovers:  Try using dark brown sugar in your cookie recipe versus light brown sugar? Dark brown sugar adds a rich caramel flavor to your recipes.

For Lemon Lovers:  Freeze your lemon zest before using (wrap in plastic wrap and then put in a baggie), we found it intensifies the flavor.

For Chocolate Lovers: Trade out water in a recipe and use strong coffee. Coffee and Espresso intensify chocolate flavors.

For Vanilla Lovers:  Use a mix of brandy and vanilla when adding extracts.  Baking alcohols help bring out the vanilla flavor.