As we are approaching my three year anniversary, I want to go back and explain some of the things that have helped me start my business. Today specifically I want to talk about where is the best place to start or host an online business.


There are several different platforms out there to help you host an online business. But it’s really important to find the right one for your business model and what you’re trying to accomplish. Etsy, Facebook marketplace and websites are the most common.


There are pros and cons to all these options and we’ll go over that here in a little bit but the first thing that you should do before you even decide which platform to use is to figure out how you want to sell your goods. Now this goes for anything whether it’s baking, crafts, whatever it is that you do.


What I mean is are you going to sell custom items, are you going to pre-sell already created items, or are you going to do a mix of both?

Selling Custom Items


I sell mostly custom items. That’s because I get more enjoyment out of the different themes and concepts that come to me from my customers. It allows me to be creative within certain boundaries and that’s the model that works for me.

The difficulty with custom orders is that you need to have a platform for your customers that’s able to track customer requests. These are thinks like how many cookies they need, what themes they want, when they need them by, and so on. The unfortunate thing is that business providers don’t offer such customizable listings without pre-paying for them.


Selling Pre-Made or Pre-Sale Items


Pre-made items are products that you've already made that you are listing for sale. This differs slightly from Pre-sale items that are being sold but that are not yet made.


Selling Pre-made items is an easy way to create whatever you want and people buy what’s there. If you’re selling goods and are just starting out, it may be challenging with this model because you have to keep inventory of items which takes of space.

Pre-sale is nice and is what many people including myself do for big events such as the holidays. I pre-make one set of cookies, photograph it and list it for pre-sale and people can purchase the listing. This lets me control the quantity and the items I’m making. You will still have to build a customer base to get your items seen which can mean paying advertising costs. A great example of a Baker with pre-sale or premade goods is my good friend, Charlee at Confections by Charlee (ig: @confectionsbycharlee).

Regardless if you go pre-made or pre-sale. there are a lot of options when it comes to business platforms just because they’re easy to list and sell.


I strongly caution against doing both custom and pre-made orders. Especially if you’re in your first year or two of business. The reason being is that it can get very overwhelming as you are trying to deal with custom orders for people as well as trying to for fill the orders that are either supposed be pre-made. I struggle with this for the holidays every single year and now block out the entire month of December from any custom orders in order to be able to have enough time to fulfill everything.

Selling Online

So let’s get into the actual platform discussion. Each platform has its own pros and cons and I’ll talk about the main ones that I know of or that I have used as both a customer and a business owner.



Email

Email is a very powerful way of interacting with your customers that people don’t always realize. You should always have a business email set up regardless of the way that you take orders because it looks professional and it’s a easy way for people to call you that separated from your personal email. I recommend using Google because Google comes with a lot of helpful apps to help you interact with your customers.


Pros

  • If you do use Google, it comes with Google forms. This a form maker that is free that you can use for customers to put in quote requests. How it works is they would email you for a quote, you’d send them the quote form link, and go from there. You may also be able to have customers make purchases but I'm not sure

  • Gmail also comes with Google drive to help you keep your business files up to date across mobile devices. This means I can put photos from my phone and files from my computer in one location

Cons

  • The bad part of using email for all of your orders is the fact that customers don’t have a landing page to view your work or other information about you or see pictures of previous work that you’ve done.

  • It can be also be difficult to build up a client base with somebody that you’re just emailing. It’s kind of like online dating. You’re not really sure what you’re going to get. If you do end up going to email route, I do recommend setting up an Instagram page or a Facebook so that people can view other photos of your work. Just remember that not everybody has Facebook or Instagram. You can see as I’m discussing it that the problems emails get longer and longer and longer.

Websites

Websites are my personal favorite and that’s only because I have a degree in graphic and website design. There are several website hosting sites such as WIX (what's used for this site). Squarespace, Wordpress, and Shopify to name a few. Below is a list of pros and cons for websites as a platform. Just know they are usually best suited for custom orders or once you have an established customer base though I started my website before I had a customer base which took a lot of work but worked out for me.

Pros

  • Websites are extremely powerful in the fact that you have your own branding and your own products and no one else is on your site.

  • You can format it the way that you want to and you can sync it to your Square or other payment methods.

  • You can also set up a quote page like the one I have on my site so that you can direct all customers whether they’re contacting you via social media on the phone or via email go to your website and fill out one quote form so that you have them all organized. My “forms all come back to my email so I got an email notification every time somebody fills out a new quote form.

  • You also have the power to stop excepting quotes which is very important. I have learned especially in my second and third years of business that I have to only take orders in three month increments otherwise people will try to book out for the entire year and it throws off how my revenue comes in and customers tend to get a little angry with the fact that I’m already booked up for the rest of the year.

Cons

  • Websites are the most difficult out of all platforms. This is because they require you to create and customize everything on your site as well as keep it up to date. You can pay somebody to do this for you and to maintain the site however that can get expensive. There are several website providers that will help you set up your website and it’s very easy to do so however you can always pay someone to initially set it up then maintain it yourself.

  • There are fees associated with hosting your own website. You’ll have to pay an annual domain fee that’s for your actual web address (www.yourewebsite.com) you might also have to pay a site fee to the provider that you’re creating the site on. Depending on which features that you use you may have to pay for premium features.


Etsy

Etsy can be a great starting place for owning a business. It works especially well if you already have a premade product or pre-orders. Just know as you grow if you want your own website, you'll have to steer your customers that direction otherwise Etsy gets grouchy if you start putting URLs to other websites in your store.


Pros

  • Etsy is widely known and excepted by makers and customers everywhere. Therefore you can usually start selling right away without much effort

  • Etsy offers deeply discounted shipping rates and they create all of the labels for you. This means all you have to do is print it out the order form and label with your printer at home and stick it to the box and you’re good to go.

  • You can set your store on Vacation mode when you're unavailable

Cons

  • Since there are so many people using Etsy, your listings can get a little bit lost if they’re not tagged right or set up correctly.

  • Many sellers on Etsy tend to undercharge for some of their goods while others charge accurately. Unfortunately, many people are often looking for the better deal and since there are so many people on Etsy selling the same thing, you're either forced to bring down your prices or risk lower orders because other people are less expensive. I highly recommend against lowering your prices if possible and instead you can update your store page to explain that you offer quality goods with premium ingredients.

  • Etsy is NOT great for custom orders. it was not made for this purpose so if you have a listing out there then it must have a dollar amount attached to it. This means unless someone messages you directly to ask, there’s not a easy way for you to do a quote. Some people offer "generic" custom order listings at a set price but depending on what the customer wants, the order may actually cost more than the original price on the listing.

Facebook and Social Media Marketplaces


Lastly, let’s talk about Facebook marketplace and other social media market places. I know that Facebook as well as Instagram both have their own market places I’m not sure if any other social media does. These spaces have come a long way since they were first created.


Pros

  • You can set up a listing and it runs very similarly to Etsy.

Cons

  • Not everybody has Facebook, and not everybody wants to pay for things on a social media platform. I for one don’t mind buying household goods such as a new printer or something like that from Facebook marketplace but as a consumer I would not want to buy some thing that was baked on Facebook because I have no clue who that person is and it doesn’t seem as professional. But I do know a lot of people who have gone that route and if that’s what works for them, that’s great. It’s just not my provider of choice


In the end we’ve talked about a lot of different options. We talked about how you’re going to take orders in terms of custom or pre-made/presale. We talked about several different providers and pros and cons of each of them. I’m not going to say that you should do one or the other because each provider works best for different people for different reasons but I hope this at least give you a foundational understanding of what providers are out there and if you need help with Etsy or website design please let me know.

I hope you all have a wonderful rest your day!

-A


When you’re a new cookie decorator every order is super special. Every customer is a gift so you want to accommodate everyone. But it’s really important to find a balance between the cookie decorating and other responsibilities/important things in your life. Often times, and this is true even for me. We get so wrapped up in the cookies that we let our personal lives slip past us and then the people around us start feeling that we are not giving them the love and attention that they need from us as a mother, wife, or a family member. That’s why it’s really important to learn when to say "NO".

If you’re like me, you want to please everybody under the sun and the prospect of saying, "No" and potentially losing a customer is very very scary. However, in my experience saying, "no" can actually be a very good thing. To help with this, I learned to set a cookie limit and a series of polite but firm ways of saying I cannot accommodate anymore orders.


Set a Cookie Limit


First off, before I even think of saying no, I have to understand my baking ability and what I can reasonably accomplish in a given week. Therefore, I set myself a cookie limit per week. This is the amount of cookies that I can do in a typical week between Monday and Wednesday (sometimes Thursday mornings) and still have enough time in the week to dedicate to my family, my own personal interests, and work because I do actually have a full time job on top of all this. My soft cookie limit is 50 but my hard limit is 75. What I mean by soft and hard is I like to take about 50 cookies a week which is 4 dozen however I will take up to 75 depending on the order. With this limit in mind, every single week that I block out in my calendar is based on this number. Once I hit that limit I no longer take any more orders for that week.


Learn a Different Approach

When I’ve hit my limit, that’s when I say, "No". While this sounds all good and dandy in theory, in practice it can still be hard to do. Luckily, there are ways around it. such as offer another option, refer a friend, or find a polite way to say you're booked.


Offering another option


There are times where I will look at my calendar and somebody wants a quote for two dozen cookies but I only have availability for one dozen. So I am honest with the customer about the situation and explain I can only accommodate the dozen that week.


Another option is always mini cookies. I can push out 2 dozen minis for every dozen regular sized cookies so often I've suggested 1 dozen regular and 1 dozen minis if they truely want 2 dozen cookies total


Refer a Friend


While it's rare a customer does not want my suggested option, it is always possible they will ask for a referral to another baker if you cannot accommodate them. While you may feel that this will discourage people from ordering from you in the future, in all actuality, if you're professional, courteous and helpful, they will return to you. This has happened to me on several occasions. I also happen to be very very lucky and live in the state of Colorado which has this wonderful cookie community that I CAN confidently recommend other people and I do so. If you don't have this luxury, look for a FB group in your state or city and see if you can make friends with a baker or two. Offer a cookie swap so you can try their product and become referral buddies. Fingers crossed they'll feel comfortable referring back to you as well.


Find a Polite Way of Saying You're Booked


In the event you don't want to refer customers (which is totally okay) or don't know anyone to refer, you can resort to actually saying, "No" but in a way that is firm, polite, and professional. To do this, I use the formula, Positive, Negative, Positive. What I mean by this is start by saying something positive, then tell them no, then say something positive again.


An example of this is:


Positive: Thank you so much for Reaching out! We appreciate your willingness to fill out our quote form!


Negative: We are currently already booked for your date at this time.


Positive: Please check in with us in the future as we would love to help make your cookie dreams a reality.


In this case, the positives will outweigh the negatives and as people, we recognize that we ourselves cannot do everything under the sun so if you’re asking a service of somebody and you really cannot accommodate it, most of the time they’re going to be understanding especially if you've phrased it the right way.


In fact, most of the time customers feel that by you saying no, you are in higher demand which means they are more interested in coming back and working with you. And they feel like you're a respectable business that understands your limits.


Don't Apologize


Lastly, It's important that you do not apologize for being booked. This is something I still struggle with but that my good friend, Sara (ig: @sugarandspoonbakingco) taught me. You should not apologize for not being able to take an order. This indicates that you are doing something wrong and you are not. It's often the root of our guilt when using the , "No" word to begin with. There are several ways you can say no without apologizing such as the examples below: (P.S. You're totally allowed to use the following examples)


"Thank you so much for reaching out, we are currently booked for your date. We do hope you keep us in mind as we would love to work with you in the future".

"Due to ______ (holiday or event), we are no longer taking additional orders at this time. Please check back with us for your next event as we’d love to work with you"!

"We currently have several quotes out and until they come back I will not officially quote you as I cannot guarantee that I will have availability for your order at this time. I will reach out to you in the next 24 to 48 hours to let you know if I can accommodate your order".


In the end, saying no is hard however the more you do it, the more you will feel confident in yourself and your capabilities. Make sure to set your limits so you don't overwhelm yourself and know there are several ways of expressing that you cannot help someone that are less scary than that little 2-letter word we all hate. Hopefully this helps and I wish you luck on your No-Saying endeavors!


Until next time cookie lovers!

-A



Happy 2021 Cookie Lovers!

Hopefully things did not fare too badly for you in 2020. I am very lucky to say that the majority of the year has been positive both on the work side, the business side and the personal side. But as today is the start of the new year, one of the major things that impact several people especially those that run their own personal businesses, is TAXES.


So let’s talk about them. If you’re a relatively new business you might have never done taxes for a business before, or if you did them last year you might’ve stumbled through them hoping that you did them correctly. (At least that’s what I did my first year). But after three years of running my business, I think I have it mostly down so I wanted to share some of my wisdom on business entities, Sales Tax, Accounting Apps, and how to use them, so you can easily file your taxes. I've put quick links above if you only want to read a particular section.


Now please understand, this is not the way everybody does their taxes and I am not a tax professional. This is just the way that I have understood things to be able to do my taxes adequately for my business.

Types of Businesses

To begin, it's important to understand the type of business you want to be. It will set how you need to prepare your taxes and how the government will classify you. There are several types of business entities including, Sole Proprietorship (Sole Prop), Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), S- Corp, and C-Corp. It's very rare to have a small business be an S or C-corp so we won't focus on those. Instead lets look at Sole Props and LLCs.


Sole Proprietorship

Many small businesses start out as Sole Props including my own. In this case, you would file your business taxes with your personal taxes. Your business taxes would also most likely be under your social security number instead of an EIN or business tax ID number.


Limited Liability Corporation

A LLC has 3 smaller classifications: Single Member, Partnership and Corporation. They are the easiest to operate as you get to choose how you want to file your taxes, personally or as a corporation. As I don't own or use a partnership LLC I won't go in detail on that one.


Single Member LLC

  • Single Member LLCs work similarly to Sole Props however with an LLC I recommend applying for an EIN Number which is like a social security number for your business.

  • While it's not mandatory to have an EIN number for a Single Member LLC, it makes a difference when it comes to financial liability. For example, if you use your social security number to file your business taxes and your business goes bankrupt, you AND your business will go bankrupt. However, if you had an EIN number and your business went bankrupt, it would NOT affect you from a tax perspective.

  • Also! EIN numbers are free on the irs.gov website.


LLC Filing as a Corporation

  • An LLC can also be considered a corporation instead of like a sole prop. What's important about this is you will NOT file it on your personal taxes. You instead will have to file separate business taxes.

  • This is what I do, and this is why: Say you start a business when you're single and you get married. Maybe it doesn't work out. If your business is a part of your personal social and taxes, your spouse has the right to consider that joint income and could potentially keep half or all the business. I got married in 2019 and my husband and I now file our personal taxes jointly. Because my mom watches so many dateline and forensic files stories, she put in my head that if my husband (whom I love) divorced me, I didn't want him to take my business. (Again, I don't think he'd EVER do that but ya never know lol)

  • Just know that you are taxed at a different tax rate than your personal taxes.


Sales Tax

Now that we understand business entities, lets briefly talk about sales tax. Depending on where you are operating your business, you may or may not need to charge sales tax. You may also need a license to charge sales tax. In Denver county, in the state of Colorado, I do have a sales tax license and it’s important to understand that if you make below $15 a year in sales tax then you only need to pay your sales tax one time a year. If you make more than that, you have to pay it quarterly even if you did not do any business that month and that’s very important.


If you do not file your sales tax properly, The government will just assign some random number that they think that you did sales for and you will owe that much until you fix your sales tax form. What I mean by that is you may have done $1000 in sales for the quarter, but if you fail to submit your actual sales tax statement, they may charge you for $20,000 worth of sales which would be a ridiculous amount.


Also, with a sales tax license, you do not need to pay sales tax on the materials used to bake your product. So for example, at Sam's and Costco, I am sales tax exempt because I charge customers sales tax.


Accounting Apps

QuickBooks is probably the best accounting software that there is at the moment. But if you’re going to use it, there’s a couple things that you should be aware of. If you are a single member LLC or a sole proprietor ship, there is a QuickBooks self-employed application that you can use for your accounting. This is SEPARATE from QuickBooks online or QuickBooks Desktop. For some reason the company that made them decided to keep them all separate and I have no reason why. It’s kind of a pain in the butt. I have not used the desktop version but I have use the self-employed and currently use the QuickBooks online. Just to make sure I'm clear, they are separate apps that require separate logins so just keep that in mind and I believe that the base version of both of them cost the same amount.


Pros and Cons

  • They both help you with your taxes and because they’re both intuit Applications, they work great with TurboTax which makes your taxes actually very very simple.

  • You can link your bank accounts to QuickBooks and it’ll pull up all of your transactions which makes attaching receipts and categorizing all of your transactions pretty easy

  • I really don’t like QuickBooks sales portion of the application. Instead I prefer to use Square and honestly you don’t necessarily need to hook up square to QuickBooks. You can but there’s really no point. If all of your money that you get from Square goes into your checking account then when you link your bank accounts to QuickBooks it’ll automatically think that. What square is good for is looking at all of the individual transactions that you’ve done to help you calculate your sales tax

Using Quickbooks

So then how do I categorize things in QuickBooks? It's actually fairly easy. You can either link your bank information and it will import all your transactions for you and you just categorize them. Or you can do it manually but it may be a lot of work. I’m not going to go step-by-step in terms of how to click on things because there’s tutorials out there for that. But what I am going to talk about is the difference between the different categories of income and expenses that there may be for your business and how to figure out which ones to use.

Equity

  • Equity can be any money you are putting into the business like an investment but it can also be money you are receiving from the business such as a payout.


Income

  • All sales are considered income. Any revenue that you get from sales whether it’s at a pop-up or a festival or you’re just selling from your home is all income.

Expenses

  • Anything that you use business money to buy is considered an expense. This all seems pretty straightforward however there are several types of expenses and you will need to categorize all of your expenses so on your taxes you can see which expenses were set aside for certain things. This is the accounting portion of taxes because really, once you have this all accounted for, you just plug it into turbo tax and essentially just press go.


Lucky for us, Quickbooks has these little ? marks next to most text that describes what different things mean but still, lets go over the common, out of the box expense categories and we'll use an old profit and loss statement to help understand what we're looking at.

Cost of Goods Sold

To start at the top we have the Cost of Goods Sold. This is the actual money I spent to make my product so it could be baking supplies such as flour, sugar, meringue powder and so on. I also lumped in here all the food coloring of the cookie cutters all the little tools that I used because I needed all of those things to make cookies.


Shipping

This is all the costs that went towards shipping and it covers the cost of the materials for shipping as well as the actual shipping fees.


You then see Gross Profit, this is just a section of a Profit and Loss Statement so there is another section for income that goes above it and that's where the $10,000 is coming from.


Other Expenses


Advertising and Marketing

  • This includes my website, ads from places like Facebook, Google, Yelp, Eventbrite

  • For me, it also includes business cards and the cards that I insert into all of my orders for my customers. The reason I consider them advertising and Marketing instead of office supplies is because that's the purpose I use them for.

Bank Charges and Fees

  • You can see is quite high because of reasons that I will not go into but it puts in perspective all the bad accounting choices you made for that year or quarter.

Charitable Contributions

  • You may laugh at this dollar amount but I ended up making a shoebox full of toys for a kid and I accidentally used my business card to pay the shipping fee so even though I paid for the toys themselves for my personal account. But normally I do about $500 of charitable contributions whether that’s a donation of a gift basket or some vouchers for a cookie decorating class and that’s the limit that I set for myself for the year. This helps me not only set a budget for donations, but it helps me learn to say NO when people ask for them. (BTW! stay tuned for the "Saying No" post that comes out next week.)

Insurance

  • Now I can go on about insurance in a completely different blog post but it is important to have business insurance for many reasons and that is an average cost of business insurance for me.


Meals and entertainment

  • This is very low for this particular year just because I did not have a lot of in-person meetings and I didn’t go to CookieCon. However understand that if you go have a client meeting or if you go to a business and have a business meeting and you end up ordering food or drinks for that meeting then that you can all write off as a meal and entertainment.

  • If you were to travel and go to something like Cookiecon you can expense that as travel and you would have a section here that would include your flight your hotel any other expenses you incurred on your trip.

  • While we're on the subject of traveling, for this particular year I forgot to track my mileage so that was on me but you can expense your mileage for deliveries or store trips. All QuickBooks apps have a mileage tracker that kind of works like tinder to help you categorize your miles. I recommend using it every time you make a delivery. You can also write off any oil changes or tire rotations that that you use for these deliveries because that is an expense that can be attributed to the business.

Office Supplies and Software

  • This is any type of notebooks, planner, paper materials that I might need a well as my QuickBooks subscription, my Canva Subscription and other physical and software items that I use for my home office.

Other Business Expenses

  • I can’t think of any off the top my head right now but if you have things that don’t fit in any of those categories you can usually use that category just make sure that when you’re reconciling your expenses that you put a memo as to what that was for and have the receipt for it.

Rent and Lease

  • You may not have this section but I have a storage unit that I pay for specifically for the business which is what this is for.


Taxes and Licenses

  • This covers any type of sales taxes or food safety licenses or certifications that I have to pay for and then I have some other miscellaneous expenses which are very low.



Receipt Tracking


So with all of these expenses comes receipt tracking. You should be keeping all of your receipts. For me personally, every time I’m out making a purchase someplace I take a picture of my receipt and I can add it to QuickBooks using the app. If it’s an online order, I typically make purchases from Amazon or using PayPal for all of my transactions when possible. I highly recommend doing this because then at the end of the year or at the end of the quarter (whenever you reconcile your receipts) it’s really easy to go into those applications and pull all the receipts and you can save them to keep your computer as I have them listed here that way you can easily upload them to QuickBooks if you don’t do it every time you make a purchase.


Is it the end of the world if you don’t have all of your receipts? I asked my sister who is an accountant this question the other day and she said no not really as long as it’s a common store that you would buy some thing from. But if it’s some thing that you’re receiving a reimbursement for or something that’s out of the ordinary then it’s good to have the receipts for that or a big transaction otherwise just keep track of them as best you can.


Even if you don't use QuickBooks, I highly recommend just taking a photo of the receipt because you can actually search for "receipt" in the photos on your phone.


Tagging

Lastly, QuickBooks has this wonderful feature called tagging. It works just like normal tags but I can tag purchases for certain things such as cookie cutters to see which purchases are just for those. So I do recommend tagging your expenses as you reconcile them.


In the end, taxes are just confusing and a pain but I do recommend taking a day at the end of each quarter and catching yourself up. This will save you a lot of time and hassle at the end of the year and you won't find yourself freaking out about a deadline you're not ready for.


As always I am available if you have any questions or comments and I hope this helps!


Happy 2021!

-A.