The cake industry earned over $51 billion in 2022. The market continues to expand at a projected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.29% from 2022 and 2028. With custom cakes and fondant art continuing to trend on social media, the demand for creatively decorated cakes outstrips what most retail bakeries offer.
From starting a cake pop bakery to a boutique wedding cake business, the possibilities are vast for those with skill, passion, and a bit of business savvy. The cake community also thrives on sharing knowledge, meaning abundant free resources are available online.
This guide will walk you through how to start a cake business. Topics include food business market research, competitive analysis, observing cottage food laws, forming an LLC, obtaining business insurance, and other details integral to starting your own cake business.
1. Conduct Cake Market Research
A cake decorating journey isn’t completed blindly in business. From local laws to trends in birthday cakes, market research is important for starting a successful cake business. It offers insight into local competitors, fluctuations in the home baking business market, and details on your target market and potential customers.
Key factors driving growth include:
- The rise of social media spurring demand for customized and elaborately decorated specialty cakes.
- Increased consumer spending power on small indulgences.
- The growth of cottage industries allows at-home bakers to sell online.
- While large commercial bakeries focusing on cost leadership dominate grocery and big box store channels, the highest profit margins exist in specialty cakes.
- The personalized and elaborate wedding cake segment alone is estimated to be worth $380 million. The decorated and custom cake segment expects strong continued growth.
- Despite market saturation in some sales channels, independents can still competitively enter by differentiating into a niche specialty.
- Starting as a home-based business allows testing concept viability at lower risk and overhead.
- Mobile treat trucks and cake pop kiosks provide other low-barrier opportunities.
- Upfront costs to launch a home-based cake business can be as little as $2,000-$5,000 depending on existing kitchen equipment and level of customization.
- Some equipment like stand mixers and baking tools can be acquired secondhand further reducing startup costs.
- While larger corporate bakeries focus on mass production efficiency, independents can build a loyal customer base through quality ingredients, customization, and forming community relationships.
- The rise of cottage industry laws and the availability of commercial kitchen rentals further enables small independents to legally grow.
Overall the cake industry remains steadily growing and not yet saturated. Opportunities remain for differentiated concepts to carve out market share both online and offline. The custom and specialty cake segment provides particularly strong profit potential.
2. Analyze the Competition
Conduct an online search for local cake bakeries and businesses decorating cakes to understand store proximity, offerings, and price points. Sites like Google Maps and Yelp provide customer reviews and help benchmark product quality and service levels.
Some ways to get to know cake decorating and baking competitors include:
- Analyze bakery websites and social media presence for branding, photography styles, products, and engagement levels.
- Visit physical bakery locations to evaluate the in-person experience.
- Research best practices for assessing competitive online presence.
- Analyze competitor product assortment and pricing across categories like wedding cakes, cupcakes, custom designs, ice cream, and other everyday treats.
- Price compare commodity items to understand market rate expectations in the area and opportunities for differentiation with premium ingredients.
- Regularly order competitor products under mystery shopper pretenses.
- Critically evaluate if quality and execution live up to branding, pricing, and external presentation.
- Use insights to outline where the competitor falls short and how you might improve upon their offerings with your unique concept.
Ongoing competitive analysis both online and through in-store experiences allows new cake entrepreneurs to carve out a unique niche, exceed local quality and service standards, optimize online discoverability, and regularly adapt offerings based on evolving demand.
3. Costs to Start a Cake Business
Starting a cake business requires both upfront investments and ongoing expenses. Here is a detailed breakdown of estimated costs to help new entrepreneurs budget and prepare:
- Initial Startup Costs: -$1,000 – Legal, licensing, permits – Costs to formally register business, comply with cottage food laws or local health codes
- $3,000 – Bakery equipment – Essential tools like stand mixers, ovens, pans, decorating bags, etc. Secondhand can reduce costs
- $1,500 – Ingredients, packaging – Initial inventory of baking staples, boxes, stickers, ribbons
- $500 – Kitchen storage and small wares – Containers for storage organization, piping tips, spatulas, thermometers
- $1,000 – Point of sale, accounting software – Tracking sales, costs, managing invoicing
- $500 – Marketing collateral – Business cards, logo design, website domain, and template
- $250 – Insurance policy – General liability to protect against risk exposure
The total estimated costs to start a cake shop run around $7,750.
Fixed monthly costs differ slightly from initial startup expenses, including:
- $800 – Commercial kitchen rental – Shared access for permits, scaling
- $500 – Online expenses – Website hosting, subscription tools, paid ads
- $300 – Accounting services – Outsourcing bookkeeping, tax prep
- $150 – Packaging supplies – Baked goods containers, labels, paper goods
- $600 – Business license renewal fees
- $500 – Equipment maintenance/replacements
- $1000 – Insurance policy
- $3000 Marketing – Photography, advertising, expo booths
Bakers must balance upfront investments to minimize startup costs against variable expenses that rise in step with increased sales and distribution reach. Starting lean initially allows testing proof-of-concepts at lower risk.
4. Form a Legal Business Entity
Selecting the right business structure is an important decision for new cake entrepreneurs. The most common options each come with pros and cons to weigh:
A sole proprietorship provides the easiest and lowest cost setup. Little paperwork is required beyond usual permits and licenses. Owners benefit from simpler tax preparation by using a Schedule C personal tax return. However, the owner assumes unlimited personal liability for debts and obligations of the business.
Partnerships like general partnerships allow multiple owners to combine expertise under one business. However, each partner is jointly liable for the actions of the other partners including debts, contracts, and liability claims. Partnership interests may also be difficult to transfer if an owner chooses to exit the partnership.
Limited Liability Company (LLC)
A Limited Liability Company (LLC) provides personal asset protection for the owners while avoiding double taxation. Profits and losses pass through to personal returns similar to a partnership while owners enjoy liability protection like a corporation. Startup costs tend to be low and there is greater flexibility to treat owners as partners or corporate shareholders depending on the situation.
A corporation provides the strongest protection from personal liability but comes with more complex tax filings and start-up paperwork. Double taxation occurs on corporate profits.
Overall an LLC can provide the best pass-through tax benefits with liability protections to shield personal assets as a cake business scales.
5. Register Your Business For Taxes
An Employer Identification Number (EIN) serves as a business’s tax ID number with the IRS for tax purposes. Sole proprietors without employees can use their SSNs, but formal business structures like LLCs must obtain an EIN.
Applying online takes only minutes:
- Navigate to the IRS EIN Assistant
- Answer questions about business structure, owners, and activities
- Provide owner’s SSN when prompted
- Obtain EIN immediately upon submitting an application
The EIN is required for opening business bank accounts, paying employees, filing state taxes, and more. Speaking of state taxes, cake entrepreneurs should also register with their Secretary of State to obtain sales tax permits. This enables charging sales tax on transactions with customers within state borders. Registration fees are typically less than $100 annually.
Applying online for an EIN takes less than 15 minutes, can be done from anywhere, and is completely free for new business owners. The EIN and state sales permits provide the essential legal scaffolding around which cake entrepreneurs can then build their delicious empires!
6. Setup Your Accounting
Proper financial management and accounting practices are crucial for cake business success. Neglecting books can lead to painful IRS headaches down the road.
Investing in tools like QuickBooks automates tracking income, expenses, account reconciliations, and balances across integrated business bank accounts and credit cards. This eliminates manual paperwork and provides real-time financial insights.
Hire an Accountant
Outsourcing to an accountant optimizes taxes and ensures full legal compliance. Typical monthly bookkeeping services like payroll, data entry, and report generation run $200-$500. Come tax season, accountants can save more than their fees by maximizing write-offs and credits. Form preparation starts at around $500.
Open a Business Bank Account
Keeping business finances fully separate provides better transparency into true profitability and is vital for accurate tax deductions. Apply for dedicated business checking/savings accounts and credit cards solely used for company purposes.
Apply for Business Credit Cards
Business credit cards allow tracking baking expenses separately from personal purchases. Issuers determine limits based on business revenue and creditworthiness rather than personal scores. Have your EIN and associated legal documents ready to apply.
7. Obtain Licenses and Permits
Before selling a single cupcake, new cake entrepreneurs must ensure all required licenses and permits are in order. and federal license information through the U.S. Small Business Administration. The SBA also offers a local search tool for state and city requirements.
A food handler’s permit ensures basic food safety knowledge for preparing commercial goods. While requirements vary by jurisdiction, most counties require at least one employee present with this certification during operating hours. Courses start around $7 and are offered online for convenience.
A cottage food license provides home bakers an affordable entry to legally sell non-hazardous goods. Thirty states currently allow selling specific low-risk items from home kitchens directly to consumers.
Commercial kitchen rental agreements enable scaling baking production while complying with health codes. Until a full retail location opens, renting shared licensed space by the hour allows businesses to grow. Monthly memberships providing storage space and equipment access start around $200 on average.
General business licenses are typically required within merchants’ county, city, or town jurisdictions. Fees vary greatly but provide legal operating authority locally for a cake shop. Some municipalities require additional permits for signage or before construction improvements.
The regulatory environment for bakers strikes a balance between encouraging entrepreneurship and protecting public safety. Navigating licenses and permits may seem tedious but helps businesses avoid legal pitfalls down the road.
8. Get Business Insurance
Business insurance protects cake entrepreneurs against unexpected catastrophes that could create companies lacking adequate coverage. Policies shield against financial risks like property damage, employee injuries, and liability claims.
Without insurance, scenarios that could lead to bankruptcy include:
- A fire destroyed $15,000 of commercial baking equipment and food inventory with no funds to replace losses
- Slip and fall accident by an employee or customer generating a $50,000+ medical claim without protection
- Foodborne illness tied back to a bakery item resulting in a lawsuit seeking hundreds of thousands in damages
Safeguarding your livelihood is essential. Comprehensive policies start at around $500 annually. Key steps to get insured include:
- Assess operations risks needing coverage like property, commercial auto, liability, food spoilage, or employee benefits
- Obtain quotes from multiple business insurance providers like CoverWallet using your EIN
- Review policy terms to understand exclusions, limits, and deductibles before binding coverage
- Provide necessary business details including proof of licensing, permits, affiliations
- Submit payment to activate coverage immediately in as little as one week
Don’t let a fire or court case melt away years of hard work. Protect your cake empire through business insurance tailored for bakers.
9. Create an Office Space
As cake businesses scale, dedicated office space helps improve productivity and professionalism when meeting clients. Options balancing affordability and capabilities include:
Converting spare rooms or basements into workspace runs a low cost of around $100-500 to set up desks and WiFi. Meetings with clients can get awkward in personal living spaces, however.
Shared offices like WeWork provide stylish, flexible memberships for $300-800 monthly. Basic tiers offer mailing addresses, printing, and conference rooms to host client tastings without bringing strangers home.
Retail Shop Office
Eventually opening a bakery retail location provides a built-in office at the cost of commercial real estate. Storefronts have the bonus of showing off products to walk-in traffic.
Standalone office space leases Class A small units starting around $1,000 monthly. Keeping bakery operations and corporate/sales functions separate may make sense as specialization occurs.
10. Source Your Equipment
Launching a cake business requires outfitting a commercial kitchen with essential baking equipment. Aspiring entrepreneurs have options to acquire necessary ovens, mixers, pans, and decorating tools through buying, renting or leasing:
One-stop restaurant supply retailers like WebstaurantStore sell quality ingredients, small wares, and commercial-grade ovens/ fridges priced at $5,000. Budget start-up kits offer basic gear bundles too.
Tool rental companies like Baker’s Buddy rent commercial ovens and mixers by the week for under $200. Allows flexing capacity for large orders without huge upfront buys.
Some specialty leasing firms offer 0% short-term finance deals on ovens, showcases, and front-of-house bakery gear. Build credit history while keeping initial cash outlay lower.
11. Establish Your Brand Assets
Establishing a strong brand builds dedicated customer followings for cake businesses through consistent visual identity and messaging. Key assets require investment upfront but pay dividends through improved recognition and preference.
Get a Business Phone Number
Getting a unique phone number through providers like RingCentral boosts professionalism when booking client calls and orders. Choose one easy-to-remember number to display prominently across all touchpoints.
Design a Logo
A logo symbolizes the personality and values of a brand. Bold, friendly designs fitting cake shops can be created affordably using online logo makers like Looka starting at $20. Modern options like letter marks and badges make memorable impacts.
Print Business Cards
Business cards enable making great first impressions when meeting prospective clients and partners. Include cards with every order to generate referrals. Providers like Vistaprint print full-color cards for under $20.
Buy a Domain Name
Purchasing a domain locks in a web presence and conveys success by owning the ideal .com match to your business name. Sites like Namecheap make registering domains fast with packages from $9 annually.
Design a Website
Building a custom website engages visitors with the brand story and offerings. Low-cost DIY site builders like Wix provide professional templates for $4 monthly. For fully custom designs, specialized web developers can be hired affordably on sites like Fiverr.
12. Join Associations and Groups
Beyond scouring Pinterest for cake recipes and decorating tutorials, bakery entrepreneurs should tap local communities for mentorship and growth. Connecting with regional groups and associations builds networks to learn industry best practices.
Seeking out regional American Bakers Association chapters provides wildcard entry into the global confectionary creative scene. These tight-knit circles share trends, techniques, and business wisdom from established professionals.
Sites like Meetup centralize browsing upcoming tradeshows, seminars, and networking nights for the local cake community. Rubbing elbows in person often leads to mentorships and collaborations down the road.
Diving into Facebook Groups like Cake Business Secret and Cake Baking and Decorating in the USA builds connections while giving back. Share your wins and hurdles to pay it forward to the next generation of buttercream bosses.
13. How to Market a Cake Business
Marketing is oxygen for cake businesses seeking growth. While word-of-mouth referrals from delighted customers provide the most valuable endorsements organically, bakers must also dedicate time and budget towards targeted promotions to sustain momentum.
Offering referral rewards incentives like discounts or free treats to happy patrons activates brand ambassadors. A simple “Bring a friend, get a free cupcake” campaign easily stimulates sharing and activations.
Digital channels provide affordable, trackable customer acquisition opportunities:
- Google Ads targets hungry searchers proactively seeking sweet treats at the moment based on keywords
- Facebook and Instagram ads showcase mouthwatering designs while collecting contact info via lead gen forms
- Creating YouTube tutorials or TikTok shorts spotlight skills and provide value to earn clicks and follows
- Email marketing nurtures relationships with fans to announce new creations or promotions
Traditional outlets still wield influence in the local community:
- Partnering with complementary vendors like florists or event venues on co-branded promotions
- Donating goods to charity galas or school functions to mix with influential crowds
- Securing product placement or features in regional print food and small business magazines
A blended approach allows cake makers to intrigue taste buds while budgets allow experimentally determining optimal channels delivering real conversions. Consistently quantifying performance and doubling down on what moves the metrics converts curiosity into sales.
14. Focus on the Customer
Delivering exceptional customer service is the tastiest recipe for driving repeat business and referrals. Each client interaction for a cake shop presents an opportunity to create a memorable experience.
Carefully listening to custom order requests rather than dictating options shows respect for individual preferences. Giving a sneak peek at decoration progress via mobile pic builds excited anticipation. Presenting the final creation with a smile (and bonus macarons) sparks delight.
Following up after major events like weddings demonstrates genuine care beyond just transactions. Though time-consuming, handwritten thank-you notes stand out hugely for thoughtfulness. Seeking candid testimonials gives satisfied customers a soapbox.
With each feel-good touchpoint, the seeds of brand loyalty grow. When friends later inquire for celebratory confection recommendations, enthusiastic referrals for the shop providing such attentive service (and extras!) come instinctively.
Cultivating true customer relationships earns businesses that are more than transactions but become community pillars. The reciprocity of outstanding experiences exchanged for enduring support sustains brands for the long haul. It turns out the most essential ingredient is love, with a spoonful of sugar on top.