I have found that many myths accompany the idea of starting a business, and I found it out the hard way. In an effort to save you the effort of finding out yourself, I'm just going to tell you. Because just reading a blog post always saves you from the pain of learning yourself, right?
1. Perfection is Key
Being a perfectionist has been a part of my identity much longer than being a baker has. Ask anyone who has known me for a few years - they'll confirm it. I can't say I'm proud of it, or that it's something I really want to claim - but it's a reality. So you can imagine that starting a business provided lots of opportunity for my desire for perfection to stomp around. My expectations of this bakery were as follows:
Everything must be from scratch.
Everything must be delicious.
Everything must be beautifully displayed.
Each bake has to pass our meticulous quality standards to be sold.
Coffee must be hot and the case must be full at 6am sharp.
Everyone must be treated with the best customer service.
Everyone should be able to buy the product they want when they want it - meaning I can't sell out until the last minute.
Everyone must enjoy everything they eat.
Everything must be organized.
The environment has to be inviting, clean, bright, not too feminine, not too mainstream, and perfectly Mifflinburg.
That's not too much to ask, right?
It left no room for error, and just created in me lots of disappointment in myself and anger when things didn't go as planned. I realized how bad it was the day I flipped out on my husband for not waking up early enough to help get the coffee around for the day. The result was that at 6am, we didn't have everything ready. Instead, it was ready at 6:30am. And not a customer had come in for that half hour. And everything was okay. Except that I had taken out anger about my ridiculous expectations on someone I really care about. This wasn't okay.
So the truth I've found? Expectations are Key.
I find that 9 times out of 10, my expectations of me are way higher than anyone else's expectations. There are some standards I won't relax about, but I've learned how to manage my expectations on quite a few of those points - and I've found myself a much happier baker. Do I always expect the case the be ready at 6am? Nope. Are almost all of my customers okay with that? Yup. Do I sometimes run out of bread or sticky buns? Yup. Is anyone going to die (or really even be overly upset) because they came to get that product and it's not here? Nope.
Which leads me to my next myth.
2. Customers are out to get you.
Okay, so maybe that's an exaggeration. But having worked in various restaurant situations, this is sometimes the mentality it is easy to fall into by those in the serving-food world. It takes one bad experience with the lady who insists her cheese steak tastes freezer burned (OIP, waitress, 2011) to turn the whole lot into monsters who you will never make happy even if they see the steer slaughtered in front of them and thrown onto the grill. It takes that one customer who CLAIMS they ordered it with rainbow sprinkles when you know very well they forgot to mention it (The Purple Cow, server, 2012) to turn them all into ignorant stupid heads who don't know how to order. The silent war between picky customers and burnt-out servers has been raging for decades, with the weapons of snippy replies and 5% tips wreaking havoc on paychecks and good moods.
I'm calling for a ceasefire. Turns out, customers are people. And in general, people are actually really gracious. I have SO many stories of customers letting me off the hook when I mess up, and choosing to come back again and again despite a poor track record. I want to honor some of these awesome neighbors of mine, so here are some real stories.
Before the storefront was open, I had a difficult time organizing my special orders. I had taken a birthday cake, and a week before I had written down it was due I get a phone call. "Is my cake ready?" Frozen. Stomach drops through the floor. Heart beats in my brain. Shoot shoot shoot shoot. I didn't have it on the right date. And there was no way for me to get it ready in time. I had had nightmares about this happening and at times lost sleep about messing up an order like this. I apologized profusely. And that customer comes in every single Saturday with her two granddaughters.
Customer calls in, asks me to set aside some product for her. I say absolutely, hang up the phone, and proceed to do what I was doing, and forget. We were really busy that day. She comes in an hour later, and WE DON'T HAVE ANY MORE. Are you kidding me? *Facepalm*. That customer also has continued to come in week after week.
Person comes in just to get sticky buns - the only purpose of driving to Mifflinburg. And we don't have any. Not a single one. Instead of giving us a hard time for not having something we probably should have at 8am, they proceed to buy other product and compliment our shop.
These kinds of things mean so much to us. It shows that people aren't just invested in eating great stuff - they care about us. Maybe it's because we're in a small town, and maybe we've just been lucky so far. But I couldn't be more blessed and surprised by the outpouring of kindness, understanding, and overall goodness I've witnessed over the last 2 months from this valley.
Yes, I know there will be times when people are not so gracious and genuinely upset. We've had that a bit, too. But I'm choosing to not let that define "customers" on the whole. The truth to this myth: Customers are out to support you.
3. Small business and small town economy don't mix.
I went into this venture being sure that I wouldn't be able to make enough money on a storefront in Mifflinburg (population 4,000 on a good day) to sustain a bakery. I would have to create product I could ship, have a killer website, and get a lot of wedding business. The storefront would just be fun, ya know?
I faced a bit of skepticism from those outside of Mifflinburg on if it could fly here. Shouldn't you look at Selinsgrove? Lewisburg? Anywhere else?
I was wrong and they were wrong. And I'm actually convinced that starting a business in your hometown (no matter how small it is) is the best business strategy ever.
The power of the social capital of everyone either knowing me, my parents, my husband, his parents, aunt, grandparents, or cousin has catapulted us forward. It's pretty stellar when word of mouth consists of "Have you tried the Honey Whole Wheat bread at the bakery? You can really taste the honey! And oh, it's Bill's grandson and his wife that own it."
Now, we do have quite a few who come in who know nothing about us personally and come because the product is great. But again, I attribute this to small-town talk. When you're the only bakery in town, you become a talking point. Sometimes I try to imagine opening a bakery in a place like New York City and the thought is terrifying. Yeah, a lot more potential customers - but a lot more noise on the market.
It works in our favor with social media as well, which is really just an extension of that word-of-mouth - amplifying the things I really want people to be talking about.
I think there are a lot of factors contributing to our success thus far, with one of the bigger ones being this: Small business and small town connections do mix.
4. Being your own boss is the best.
It's an empowering thought. No one tells you what to do, you can make your own schedule, you get to make all the decisions.
Oh wait, you HAVE to make all the decisions.
Managing my time is hard. There are days when I JUST want to stay in bed. And I can. No one will hold me accountable to meeting a quota or clocking my hours. My will power faces so much resistance in the face of being my own boss.
There are some days when I just want someone to make the decisions for me. And other days when if you tell me what to do, I'll give you some major sass. There are some days when not having to consult anyone is really nice - and others when I feel super lonely. There are days when I feel so strong and able and happy, and others when my stress swallows me alive and makes me bosszilla.
Being your own boss isn't the best.
Being a great boss is the best.
The days when I interact with the people I lead with grace, joy, and excitement are the best days. And it's not everyday - I mess this up regularly in the stress of calling all the shots. As with most things, the nature of the relationships around a situation have more power than the situation itself. Whether you are the boss, a manager, or a worker - developing and maintaining the relationships in your workplace is always going to trump your position in the workplace.
So the truth to this myth: Being a loving human is the best.
Just call me the Bake-Buster. Mythical Baker. Okay, Nikki works too.