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Cake Mama

After running a super-successful bakery for 12 years, Janelle Copeland is now helping others small business owners to succeed by focusing on what’s important

When Janelle Copeland and her husband Eddie lost their lucrative corporate jobs in the global recession of 2009, Janelle suddenly found herself with plenty of free time, some of which she spent watching baking shows on television. Inspired by these shows, Janelle decided to open her own bakery, The Cake Mamas in Glendora, California. In the beginning Janelle worked many late nights, and was sometimes forced to have her children crash in sleeping bags at the bakery while she worked. This led to what Janelle calls ‘Mommy Guilt’, and a fierce desire to spend more time focusing on family. Still, with frequent appearances on the Food Network and television news shows, along with millions of dollars in sales and over 110,000 social media followers, the bakery was a resounding success.

Janelle and Eddie began building their coaching and consulting business in 2017, drawing on their experience in the corporate world and Janelle’s experience opening and running The Cake Mamas. On her website, janellecopeland.com, followers can sign up for Passion to Profit (her masterclass), workshops, and retreats and listen to podcasts that encompass everything from parenting challenges to business strategy. During one podcast episode, she and Eddie announced the closure of The Cake Mamas, following this revelation with a discussion on the daunting sacrifice required for the opening of any new business.  As Eddie puts it, “For those that want to build something, just know that it comes at a cost – whether it be your sleep, your relaxation, your time.  Sometimes people think that because ‘This is hard, I must not be designed to do this, this must not be for me.’  The reality is, that’s the cost, that’s what it comes with.”  On April 1st of this year, Janelle’s aptly named new website, howtostartabakingbusiness.com, will launch with all the information bakers need to open their own businesses – including how to get a cottage license, decorating tips, and information on financial management and leadership.  These tools should make the process of opening one’s own bakery a little bit easier.

Janelle now has consulting clients all over the world.  She helps them address deceptively simple concepts such as pricing, rejection, and perfectionism and how to implement changes that make their businesses both easier to run and more profitable.  Most of her clients are women, and many have trouble pricing their products so that their businesses are profitable enough to enable growth.   “Women in the industry tend to put a price tag on their baked goods based on what they can afford.  They would never sell a cake for 2,000 dollars, because they would never pay 2,000 dollars for a cake.  You need to start investing in sales training, because you’ve got to learn how to sell your stuff, not just make it.”  In other words, delicious and popular products alone are not enough to catapult a bakery to success. Even after the initial period of intense effort that accompanies the opening of any business, bakery owners may find that despite being highly skilled artists, they are only doing a bit better then breaking even.  Prices that are set too low are a common factor in this scenario.  With a characteristically straightforward approach, Janelle explains, “You have to cover your costs, you have to cover your labor, and then you have to decide as a business owner what kind of profit your business wants to make. Profit money is going to allow you to reinvest in cool new gadgets or to take a class, so that way you can get better and expand your business.  People say things like, ‘Customers are cheap and they can’t afford my products.’ Okay, well, if you’re making a product that people can’t afford and that you don’t know how to sell, then you should stop and figure that out, because it’s going to make you miserable.”

Figuring out how to find the right customers (i.e., those who like and can afford one’s products) is a critical part of building any business and can be hindered by a poor response to rejection. “You have to keep showing up with confidence, and that only comes from repetition. So you get rejected and you figure out what the lesson is, and then you jump back in and do it again. But now you’ve refined it; you do it a little bit better, and you keep getting a little bit better every time. And then before you know it, you’ve got this amazing, beautiful brand, and you’ve stumbled into success through one rejection at a time. You’re gonna have to develop a ‘this is good, because’ mentality. This customer didn’t say yes to me, but this is good because now I know that some people don’t like black frosting.” In her 10 week Passion to Profit masterclass (a prerequisite for her ‘In Real Life’ retreat), participants spend the entire first week unpacking their views of themselves in the world and in business, and then trying on different perspectives. Their expectations surrounding rejection are a central focus of this part of the class. “You are going to interact with negative customers. If you can’t overcome rejection in your personal life, what are you going to do when you get your first negative Yelp review? Because you will. Not everyone’s gonna like your stuff. Disneyland gets negative Yelp reviews.”

You have to keep showing up with confidence, and that only comes from repetition. So you get rejected and you figure out what the lesson is, and then you jump back in and do it again.

One strategy for dealing with rejection that Janelle uses herself and recommends to her clients is the collection of positive customer testimonies. “Somebody says something nice about you. They call, compliment your products. You should create a file in your phone or on your computer where you can just put those little notes and then remind yourself that you’re great because you’re gonna have bad days and you’re gonna be questioning your whole existence as a business owner. And so you need some sort of strategy to overcome those bad days.” Janelle recently got another testimonial to add to her folder; at one of her recent networking retreats in New York and New Jersey, she suggested that the bakery owners stand up and introduce themselves, converse, and exchange phone numbers. A short time after the retreat, she got a text from one of the attendants thanking her for helping her forge a connection that had proved to be particularly useful. This woman’s cake decorator had given notice without a great deal of warning, and she was at a loss. She complained to a friend she met at the retreat, also a bakery owner. As it happened, the person she complained to had to let go of her own cake decorator due to budget cuts. The next day, that same cake decorator replaced the one who had given notice. Janelle’s client said, “I hired her today! Being friends with your competitors and working together is like such vibe and I love it!! All thanks to you.”

When people tell bakery owners or people who own small baking businesses, when coaches or mentors try to say you need different streams of revenue to be successful, I think that’s a lie.

Relying on others is something that Janelle considers critically important to effective leadership; not just other business owners for support and resources, but one’s own employees, as well. In her experience and that of the many professionals who have taken her courses, delegation enables both work life balance and the growth of a business.  For example, if someone else is managing your business’s books, then you can be freed up to focus on a range of other things – your family, finding new customers, product design, or taking classes to increase your sales skills. But all of that becomes difficult if one is unable to entrust others with tasks or positions, something that Janelle calls ‘hoarding’.  “Perfectionism kicks in and you’re trying to hoard all these responsibilities. Usually that’s the area where you’re not a very good leader, and so you’re not setting your employees up to win. And it’s stifling the growth of your business.” But she notes the dangers of relying on bad advice; doing so can come with disastrous results for one’s bakery, or other small business. “When people tell bakery owners or people who own small baking businesses, when coaches or mentors try to say you need different streams of revenue to be successful, I think that’s a lie. And I think it’s terrible advice, because if you’re trying to sell cupcakes – let’s say you’re not doing well – to say ‘I’m gonna bite off another kind of extension of my business and other project, and now I’m gonna do parties and host classes and be a teacher and do all of the other stuff’, it’s not gonna work, because now your time and your attention is being divided into two different kinds of businesses, whereas if you would have got good at marketing and advertising your cupcake business and figuring out how to find your ideal clients and figuring out how to maximize profitability there, you wouldn’t need a second stream of revenue, right?”

Empowering clients to decide how they want to do things by asking the right questions is what Janelle and Eddie’s consulting approach is all about. Instead of telling them what they should do to improve their baking businesses, Janelle uncovers what skills they have and what skills they need to get where they want to go – in terms of profit, leadership, and anything else required for growth and expansion. In an industry that is known for being demanding and driven, their motivated but patient style is a breath of fresh air.

(This article appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)

Photos Courtesy of Janelle Copeland

Genevieve Sawyer
Genevieve Sawyer
Genevieve Sawyer is a freelance food writer who co-wrote a cookbook tied to the Berkshires, Massachusetts art and history scene, with recipes created and inspired by cultural luminaries. Holding a degree in Baking and Pastry Arts from the Culinary Institute of America, Genevieve brings a blend of culinary expertise and artistic flair to her writing.