Tips and Advice for Beginners given by Professional Kenyan Bakers

Hello Bakers and Bakerettes, this year has been quite a challenging one for many. Unfortunately many have lost jobs or have had to find a way to supplement their income for their families. One of the industries that has had rapid growth and entry into the market is the Kenyan Baking industry.

As a Baker in the Kenyan industry; I’ve been excited and happy to see new bakers and lots of growth in our industry. It is important to note though, that we have seen lots of challenges as well. The most common being new bakers taking on orders that are too complicated for them and the end result being a rather negative one – especially from unsatisfied customers.

This inspired me to reach out to a few Bakers in the industry who have been doing business for a while and have experience that they can share with new bakers. If you are a new baker in the industry or even if you have recently just started baking for business – I hope you take all these tips and advice into consideration. All this advice is invaluable and truly helpful. It is a very positive and I know for many – an exciting journey; but you have to be careful and patient as well. Take your time to learn; be patient and build your skill. Don’t take on too much – especially if you’re not confident enough.

I approached each baker below; shared 4 questions with them and they sent me their responses which I did not edit and have shared below. I am truly grateful for the time and advice that each baker has shared below. This is just a fraction of the very many bakers in Kenya – these are just the few that I was able to get a quick response from in a limited period of time. I will add on any more advice shared as Bakers continue to share their tips.

The questions I posed to the Bakers:

  • What advice would you give new bakers looking to take on orders that they are not sure they can handle yet? e.g. a fondant cake order & they are not proficient in fondant-making.
  • What 3 tips would you give to a new Baker in the industry when it comes to order taking and confirming orders?
  • Any advice on dealing with difficult customers?
  • Lesson you learned that you will never forget when it comes to customers and/or customer service that changed how you do business.

Quick mention about Sheeroh Kariuki of Taji Cakes who went an extra mile to share a video with her advice. We shared it on our YouTube channel, please click here to watch.

Owner of Taji Cakes, Bakery based in Ruiru, Kenya

Advice from Gilbert M’mudi of Mudi’s Cakes who has been in the Kenyan Baking industry for over 20 years.

Q.What advice would you give new bakers looking to take on orders that they are not sure they can handle yet?

A. Don’t take orders for the sake of being busy , take orders that you can effectively and efficiently execute and at the end make a realistic profit. Its better to do 2 cakes properly and make ksh 1000 profit than to make 10 cakes and make ksh 1000 loss.

Q. What 3 tips would you give to a new Baker in the industry when it comes to order taking and confirming orders?

i. Give your customer a cost that you know is profitable for you- not what is comfortable to the customer and a loss to you. As in the long run you shall cut corners and compromise on quality
ii. Do not focus on the price but on the cake , keep the customer eyes on what they are getting and not what they are spending
iii. Regardless of who is making an order treat each person as a client whether it’s your relative, friends or stranger… keep business as business

Q. Any advice on dealing with difficult customers?

A. Difficult is relative , I would say challenging customers. Take time to understand where the customer is coming from and take time to understand your potential to deliver and merge the two.
You will realize not everyone is part of your customer base and not every order needs to be taken.

Q. Lesson you learned that you will never forget when it comes to customers and/or customer service that changed how you do business.

A. I have learnt business growth takes time, client trust in your brand takes time. Be ready to learn from successes and mistakes. And most of all stick to your lane of doing business.
I focus on pleasing the customer and to have a long term relationship of service to each customer to create loyalty to my brand, as the loyal customers are ones greatest marketers

Owner of Mudi’s cakes based on Ngong Rd in Nairobi, Kenya

Advice from Maggie Njoroge of Hope Cakes Kenya who has been in the Baking industry for over 8 years.

Q. What advice would you give new bakers looking to take on orders that they are not sure they can handle yet?

A. Be honest with your clients if you know very well you can’t hack that cake design. To date I still pass on sculptured cakes to a baker who does it effortlessly. It’s not always about money. Pass it on and take the challenge of learning. Or give the client an alternative design.

Q. What 3 tips would you give to a new Baker in the industry when it comes to order taking and confirming orders?

A. a) Give the clients a timeline, how many days/hours in advance should they book the cake order.
b) Deposit; let the client know that you require a deposit to confirm their order.
c) After taking the order, kindly put all the details down on an order form, send that to the client to reconfirm. This will ensure you captured all the details correctly.

Q. Any advice on dealing with difficult customers?

A. You calm down, don’t blame the client, listen to why they are upset, is it a late delivery? Calm them down, apologize, and SPEAK the TRUTH always. Give the client options like picking the cake (from them) and re-doing it, please don’t hesitate to redo a cake for a customer who is willing to give you a second chance. Before I “baptize” my customers as difficult – I do my best. If it’s not working, I release you. If it’s not working, I walk away.

Q. Lesson you learned that you will never forget when it comes to customers and/or customer service that changed how you do business.

A. i)The customer doesn’t care what you have been going through to deliver your cake. Please save the customer many details – “Ooh, my house girl didn’t show up ooohh…” Please deliver no matter what.
ii) Cash is King, collect your monies un-apologetically. Period.
iii) As you perfect your baking and decoration skills, please invest in customer service. Pick that call; even when you are extremely tired, be calm and talk to the customer as if you are a customer care agent. You understand, don’t tell the customer in a very tired voice that – “Oooh I can’t speak now..” They can tell you are seriously overwhelmed. Please stay calm, tell them you will call them later. And REMEMBER to call.

Owner of Hope Cakes Kenya based in Nairobi, Kenya

Advice from Wanjiku Mugo, founder of The Bakers’ Club. She’s the creator of one of the largest platforms in Kenya that helps bakers learn and connect with vendors and customers. She’s also a trainer.

Q. What advice would you give new bakers looking to take on orders that they are not sure they can handle yet?

A. Take time to fully practice your craft so you can be confident when called upon to deliver. Invest in your skill. Practice on your family cakes until you can comfortably execute what you intend to offer for sale. Tell the client the truth about your skill level. The client may still want to engage your services even if you have not handled a certain design before, or they may decide to change to one that you can comfortably execute.

Q. What 3 tips would you give to a new Baker in the industry when it comes to order taking and confirming orders?

A. Advertise only that which you can deliver.

Write down the order details accurately and ask for as much details from the client as needed. This includes design, type of icing, allergies if any, date and time of delivery/pick up.

Discuss other costs involved e.g. Delivery, toppers and other additions.

Q. Any advice on dealing with difficult customers?

A. Patiently listen to the client and get to understand what their expectations are. Do not be afraid of referring them elsewhere if you feel you cannot deliver to their expectations.

Q. Lesson you learned that you will never forget when it comes to customers and/or customer service that changed how you do business.

A. Over time I have learnt that everyone is an expert in their field. Your client may not know much about your cakes/products and may rely heavily on your advice and guidance. Be knowledgeable enough to advice and explain what it entails to deliver the kind of product they are looking for. Guide them through the order process and you will have an easy time delivering to their expectations and win yourself a repeat client.

I learnt from a Customer service workshop that “The client is not always right; but they have a right to be wrong”

Founder of The Bakers Club, largest forum in Kenya for Bakers to connect

Advice from Julius of Almasi Art who has been active in the Baking industry for more than 13 years.

Q. What advice would you give new bakers looking to take on orders that they are not sure they can handle yet?

A. Time is of the essence; as a new baker, if you have time to do the research or learn on a certain design that you haven’t done before or per customer’s specifications – well and good,you can go on and take the order. If you don’t have enough time or it’s a last minute order; please don’t take that order, it’s better you refer that customer to another baker rather than disappointing him /her and you end up regretting.

Q. What 3 tips would you give to a new Baker in the industry when it comes to order taking and confirming orders?

A. (a) Understand what your customer wants.
(b) Take all the necessary details from your customer
eg: design, flavor,colors, cake message etc.
(c) Ask for a deposit before you start baking.

Q. Any advice on dealing with difficult customers?

A. a) Keep calm
b) Don’t be rude
c) If the customer becomes more difficult for you, it’s better to cancel the order. Or you can return the cash if he/she had paid any amount.

Q. Lesson you learned that you will never forget when it comes to customers and/or customer service that changed how you do business.

A. The customer is not always right.

Owner of Almasi Art based in Nairobi, Kenya

Advice from Gacery of G.G’s Sweetthings; a cake artist who has been in the Bakery industry for over 8 years.

Q. What advice would you give new bakers looking to take on orders that they are not sure they can handle yet?

A. It’s alright to say No to a particular style of cake or technique that isn’t your forte. If it’s a cake design that can be executed with a medium you’re more familiar with e.g buttercream frosting, then offer that as an option. If it’s something you can’t do well, be confident enough to say “you’d hate to turn down the order, but it’s something you can’t execute” and if you do know a baker who can do the job well, refer them to that baker.

Q. What 3 tips would you give to a new Baker in the industry when it comes to order taking and confirming orders?

A. * – If you took the order over the phone, re-confirm the order via text message/Whatsapp with the cake flavor, size, type of decor(cream, fondant, edible print etc) * -If using Whatsapp or email, attach images of the sample pictures of what you intend to do so that everyone is on the same page
*-Always confirm the due date/date of their event

Q. Any advice on dealing with difficult customers?

A. Never lose your cool, don’t be rude if they’re rude to you.
Be clear and concise in your communication, be firm in what you’re trying to put across without being rude.

Q. Lesson you learned that you will never forget when it comes to customers and/or customer service that changed how you do business.

A. There are customers who are very ‘laissez faire’ (very easy going) and won’t fuss about small details, and there are those who are extremely particular. Learn to read your customers, don’t be lax in how you do your work because one isn’t as fussy as the other one…give your all to all your projects.
Remember your client’s name and refer to them using their name as much as you can, it goes a long way in building customer loyalty, don’t use pet names like “sweety” and “dear” it’s unprofessional.
After confirming an order, thank the client for the order, appreciation goes a long way.

Gaceri of G.G Sweetthings based in Nairobi, Kenya

Advice from Jojo Lydiah of Little Hands Bakehouse in Nakuru. She has been a rising star in the baking industry for over 5 years.

Q. What advice would you give new bakers looking to take on orders that they are not sure they can handle yet?

A. For new bakers, I would advice them to appropriately advice the clients on what they can do and what the cannot. In most occasions clients appreciate the truth and can give chances to execute what your comfortable with…but if they really need exactly what they have in mind. Then they can opt for another baker.

Q. What 3 tips would you give to a new Baker in the industry when it comes to order taking and confirming orders?

A. When confirming orders; get all details correct i.e. agreed cake design, cake flavour, number of kgs and total cost discussed and agreed on.
All this should be given in writing not only verbally.
Also make sure to get a down payment and balance to be paid before the cakes are dispatched.

Q. Any advice on dealing with difficult customers?

A. Understand them and also educate them on your company’s policies and systems, so then can follow them to make everyone’s work easier.

Q. Lesson you learned that you will never forget when it comes to customers and/or customer service that changed how you do business.

A. There’s a client who could not make payment and close a deal simply because she doesn’t trust online sellers and we didn’t have a Till where she could send the cash.
From there we had to acquire one, just in case another client asks for the same.

Jojo – Owner of Little hands Bakehouse based in Nakuru, Kenya

Advice from Emily Sakwa – Madete of Lylisa Cake House in Vihiga. A very talented baker who has been in the Baking industry for a number of years.

Q. What advice would you give new bakers looking to take on orders that they are not sure they can handle yet?

A. Before you take any cake order it is very important that you must be able to deliver in all aspects of what has been requested This is in regards to the cake’s finishing techniques, decorative finishes and type of cake requested by the client. This means as an upcoming baker you must practice and practice to ensure you have a wide variety of cake textures and finishes to choose from. Alternatively you could decide to specialize in a specific type of finishing which will become your trademark. If a client orders for a specific finish e.g. fondant and you are not proficient in it, you could always be truthful and tell them you are not very good in it and suggest an alternative finish. If the client accepts your suggestion, then you can do a finish you are comfortable with and deliver a good cake. My advice is; do not take an order you cannot handle because a disappointed client can bring your budding business down through bad reviews.

Q. What 3 tips would you give to a new Baker in the industry when it comes to order taking and confirming orders?

A. 1. Keep a ledger. For every order; indicate the date order was received and when it is due. Then clearly describe the type of cake in regards to flavor, finishes and decorative elements. This will act as a reminder when you are making the cake so that you do not have to call the client again. Have a column which indicates amount of deposit paid and another for pending balance.

2. When taking an order; ensure a deposit of at least 50 Percent of the cost of cake is paid. In case the client cancels the order when the cake is already baked this deposit will be forfeited to cover your costs. If it is cancelled in good time you could refund the client. Payment of deposit for the order confirms the order. 3. Ensure confirmation of an order is done in good time to ensure you can access all requirements/equipment needed for the cake without getting into a crisis. As a rule of thumb I ensure clients confirm at least 4 days before order is due. But the earlier they confirm the better.

Q. Any advice on dealing with difficult customers?

A. Always deal with clients in a professional manner. Do not become overly friendly. Greet them respectably and with a smile, listen keenly to their order, confirm if you can deliver on the order. If you cannot deliver on the order, be polite and decline. This way you do not give a client room to get angry with you when the cake is not as was expected. Avoid shouting matches or exchange of nasty phone texts. If you made a mistake, apologize. If you did not make the mistake, give the client time to vent and listen to why they are so angry. You could make a decision in future not to deal with the client again and even refer them to another reputable baker.

Q. Lesson you learned that you will never forget when it comes to customers and/or customer service that changed how you do business.

A. Apologizing sincerely when the cake order did not go right! If the client is not happy it definitely means that you the “baker” did not deliver to their expectation. I had a client who picked a cake from me and they left it under the hot sun for hours during the speeches before it was cut. Now in Nyanza/ Western Kenya where I am based, we can have temperatures soaring to about 40 Degrees Centigrade. This exposure to very high temperatures resulted in the cake crumbling during cutting. According to the client; they felt the cake was substandard. When they called me back; I listened, apologized and I refunded her 100 percent of the cost. I had not explained to her that the cake should not be placed in direct sun. (After that I made sure I added a clause in my client cake agreement explaining to clients how cake should be handled once it leaves my custody).

Emily of Lylisa Cakehouse based in Vihiga, Western Kenya

Advice from Bilhah of Keky Tamu, she’s been in the baking industry for over 8 years.

Q. What advice would you give new bakers looking to take on orders that they are not sure they can handle yet?

A. Be honest, if it’s not within your skill-set don’t take the order until you have done research. Research extensively until confident that you can do the cake. Once you have studied heavily do it afraid 😃, at times I’m never confident, but I still do it anyway. never stop learning.

Enroll for classes to better your skill. Practice practice practice.
Buy dummies and practice. Use your family and close friends birthdays to try out new things then offer them to clients once you feel you have executed it well. Get a baker you admire, ask them to critique what you do and where you need to grow don’t be afraid of negative criticism. Use it to grow.

Q. What 3 tips would you give to a new Baker in the industry when it comes to order taking and confirming orders?

A. Establish the flavours you’re offering to clients. Don’t be quick to do a flavour that you have never tried. Create a methodology on how to take orders. Create an FAQ to enable clients to order well.

Accounting, start book keeping early, it becomes a bit more challenging as your business grows. It will help you know if you’re making a profit or giving your cake for free.

Q. Any advice on dealing with difficult customers?

A. Sieve what you hear. At times the client is right when they give negative feedback, at times the client is wrong and wisdom dictates you either keep quiet and let the matter slide or in a kind manner educate the client on matters cake. Either way, God brings them to better us. It could be measures/principles that need to be implemented in the business, a skill as a baker one needs to grow in or a way to grow your intuition.

Q. Lesson you learned that you will never forget when it comes to customers and/or customer service that changed how you do business.

A. I don’t always agree that the client is right; but how one handles issues or difficulties is highly important. Be quick to admit mistakes you have done don’t be on the defensive. And in honor, if the client is wrong handle the issue amicably and honourably. Stand your ground, be principled. Some clients will push you to better you some to harm you. Be wise to decipher the two.
Have a confidant who can tell you the truth to your face even if it hurts.
Honour everyone, rich poor, young old. Everyone is important

Bilhah of Keky Tamu based in Nairobi, Kenya

Advice from Martha of Baked Art by Martha who has been in the Kenyan Baking industry for a number of years.

Q. What advice would you give new bakers looking to take on orders that they are not sure they can handle yet?

A. My advice would be – learn to say “no I cannot do it” and reach out to a fellow experienced baker. As you are passing the work over to them; you can kindly request to go watch as they work, so that next time you can try on your own. You can also give the client other frosting options that you are comfortable with and can handle stress free.

Q. What 3 tips would you give to a new Baker in the industry when it comes to order taking and confirming orders?

A.

  1. Be very clear on what the client wants , if possible let the request be written, chat, SMS or email
  2. Try as much as possible to replicate the design given or if you will give it your twist , let the client know in advance.
  3. Do your costing correctly before sending a quotation, there is nothing as bad as telling client to add money because you under quoted, you will give an unprofessional image.

Q. Any advice on dealing with difficult customers?

A. We meet them every day; first understand them, know their taste, and if that doesn’t work – you can always say no for a peace of mind. I say this because some clients will always see fault in your work even when you have tried your very best, they will come with unrealistic demands and will even make you have self doubt. Please release them politely.

Q. Lesson you learned that you will never forget when it comes to customers and/or customer service that changed how you do business.

A.

  1. Never compromise; don’t charge less to keep a client, charge what you’re worth.
    2. Have that personal touch – like remembering birthdays and calling them (your clients) for reminders.
  1. Once in a while; add an extra kg or topper to your loyal and regular client
  2. Nothing is free, let them know that from the get go especially tasters.
  3. If you wrong a client, apologize and do something to makeup don’t say ‘shauri yake’ – word of mouth is a very important marketing tool and one wrong move can make or break your business.
Martha of Baked Art by Martha based in Nairobi, Kenya

Advice from Ephantus of Ahava Cakes and events – who has been in the baking industry for over 6 years.

Q. What advice would you give new bakers looking to take on orders that they are not sure they can handle yet?

A. New bakers are always excited with new orders with is good and great. But when and how should they take orders of cakes recipes and designs they are not good at?

  • Always tell the client to give you time and you’ll get back to them on feedback, this will give you time to consult your mentor, trainer or baker friend how to go about that order.
  • If you are confident you can give it a shot; go ahead and make it. If not, kindly pass the order to another Baker who can deliver the kind of the cake the clients want and if possible let the client know it’s not you who is doing it, they will appreciate your honesty.
  • Always remember to charge correctly, take all information from the client including colors, delivery dates and location so that your co-baker doesn’t make mistakes.
  • Bottom line: Remember the client doesn’t care that you are a new baker. They want value for what they are paying for.

Q. What 3 tips would you give to a new Baker in the industry when it comes to order taking and confirming orders?

A.

  • Educate your client.
  • Take all necessary information about the cakes order as possible and note then down.
  • Price well.
  • Be confident and assure the client that you will deliver.

Q. Any advice on dealing with difficult customers?

A. No customer is difficult
No customer is right
No customer is wrong

  • A customer will seem “difficult” when you have not or you did not get all information about their cakes orde or when there was no clear understanding of what the client really needs or wanted. This will make the client seem difficult.
    Always educate your client, gather all necessary information and re-confirm in case of doubts. Be honest, price well, decline the order if you are short of time or you can’t deliver at that price.

Q. Lesson you learned that you will never forget when it comes to customers and/or customer service that changed how you do business.

A. No customer if difficult
No customer is always right
No customer is wrong

It’s important to always respect and appreciate every customer that calls or comes to you for a cake order. One of the greatest lessons I have learned, is to always look forward to educate your customer about the services you offer and different types of cake recipes you have with their different prices. This way, I have always seen customers appreciate and know they are valued at Ahava. I have met many customers who think cakes are only vanilla – flavored; after having a talk, they have a bigger perspective about cakes and they discover they have a broad variety to choose from.
Another great thing; is client feedback – whenever possible I text a client to inquire how their event went.. in the process I get to know about the cake we delivered to them. We get either positive or negative feedback which helps us to improve our services or products. Where apologies are required we give without hesitation.

Ephantus of Ahava based in Nairobi, Kenya

Advice from Vivian of Bakers Bounty Cakes who has been a baker for more than 9 years.

Q. What advice would you give new bakers looking to take on orders that they are not sure they can handle yet?

A. Don’t. Bite more than you can chew ! Be honest with your client and try convince them to consider an alternative (stick to what your good at) or have a mentor baker help with the cake order at a fee.

Q. What 3 tips would you give to a new Baker in the industry when it comes to order taking and confirming orders?

A. Learn to price right – don’t under value your skill Get all (order) details plus at least 50% deposit, and know your limits (don’t bake yourself to fatigue) Don’t be bullied into giving discounts.

Q. Any advice on dealing with difficult customers?

A. Swallow your fear and talk to a client directly , do not get into fights on social media . Create a policy on returns and refunds and stick to it.

Q. Lesson you learned that you will never forget when it comes to customers and/or customer service that changed how you do business.

A. Bridezillas / cakezillas can make or break your business , learn to sniff them out and manage them. Do not be driven by money but customer satisfaction.

A great big thank you to the bakers above who took their time to participate in this effort, much appreciated.

If you are a baker doing business, please heed the advice given above; it is truly invaluable. Share this post with a baker or even a new food business owner that you know will learn so much from this. If you have advice you want to add on below, please feel free and if you have a challenge you have encountered , feel free to share below as well.

If you’re looking for resources and information on baking for business; please check here.

Published by Maureen Kamari

Amari Baking Center offers baking classes to those who want to learn how to bake. We train our students using Cookswell original charcoal ovens. We also offer basic business start-up training for those who want to start small baking businesses. We do groups vocational training anywhere in East Africa as well. We hold classes in our home-based bakery workshop located on Ndwaru road in Riruta, Nairobi; off Naivasha road, next to Pelida School. We use original Cookswell charcoal ovens to bake and train our students due to their efficiency, effectiveness and economy. They are the best option for anyone starting a small baking business on a budget.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: