Preface: I want to begin this week's Shop Talk with a reminder. This series began and continues from the point of view of a full time business owner. This is a business blog, aimed at those who are running a cake business. While much of what we say crosses the boundary between pro and novice, today is definitely aimed at the former.
Those who closely follow us on Facebook, Tumblr, etc. may notice we don't post a ton of cake photos. In fact, rarely is a better term! The reason is selfish; our designs are our designs and we don't always want the world to see them. It's not about pride in our work, or sharing, we love to answer questions and help people out, but when it comes to our "intellectual property," we're guarded.
See, we've been in the cake game long enough to remember when everyone held their decorating techniques close to their chest. It's not that we were waging some cold war of secrets, a talented cake decorator should be capable of figuring out how to make any cake, but there was definitely more of a desire to keep to ourselves. We'd appreciate each other's work, but much like Coke, we weren't giving up the family recipe anytime soon.
Now we live in the world of "sharing." Images of cakes are being posted by the second. From Facebook walls to Flickr to Cake Central and blogs, cakes are everywhere. We're cake nerds, we love seeing the beautiful designs, love it, but is this transparency better? Yes and no. Like the title of this post says, there is sharing and then there is (over) sharing.
And let me clarify, for the purpose of this blog, "sharing" refers to photos. I'm not talking about someone lending some advice or dropping a tip to a frustrated caker tackling fondant for the first time, rather the sharing of our completed work (designs) on a daily basis. This is something new, a sign of the times as we move towards cloud computing and a standard of social media that has us sharing every moment of our lives, both professional and personal. Hey, one of Facebooks primary buttons is "share," look at the impact Pinterest has made, so it makes sense that in this system, there is the potential for a global audience to see our cakes. There is also the potential for that audience to take our hard work and creativity and pass it off as their own. This is the double edged spatula of cake decorating!
When Do I Share?
You can't share everything, it's just not wise. If you want a competitive advantage of any kind, some times you need to hold back. Even if you are teaching a class on say, buttercream roses, you shouldn't show them everything. It might be great for a hobbyist community, but as a career cake decorator, you need to have your own bag of tricks that is solely for your business.
If you have a basic line with limited options that you offer, then there's no need to hold back on sharing. Simple designs, Wilton techniques, things that are already widely produced don't trip the alarm. If you're incorporating pre-made decorations, it's probably safe. A Barbie cake, seen all over, is safe. Licensed character cakes are safe.... er, wait.... they're not, but you have to go back to the copyright post for that one;) You get the point. A topsy turvey cake is no longer new. Cheetah print has been done. Those types of cakes are shareable. Quality work is quality work regardless of design, so go for it.
How much should you share? There's no right answer. This post is more reflection than hardened business theory. I think the key to that question is the question itself. Take the time to ask yourself for every cake you make, "should I share this?" Are you risking something that makes you you? A certain color palette, a fantasy flower, a unique stacking design. Ultimately, your style is what will sell cakes, what will make you money. Don't be afraid to pump the breaks now and then. There is no monetary reward for being first!!
What About Watermarking?
Hopefully we can all agree on the importance of watermarking the images you opt to share online. First off, know that a watermark will never protect against someone using your ideas and designs in their own work. It's very presence online qualifies it as "inspiration." If you are protective of a design, don't put it online for all to see. You must decide how to temper pride in your work with protecting your creative voice.
Secondly, applying a watermark to an image is not as simple as putting a line of text on the bottom of the image or a small logo in the corner. Raise your hand if you've seen photos from a red carpet or charity event with those big walls of logos behind the celebrities? Like this:
Awww, the darling Zooey Deschanel...... and Starz and Yahoo! and the Hollywood Film Festival!! You can't escape it can you? There's a reason they repeat those logos so much, so you cannot possibly avoid them. Watermarks should be the same, unavoidable.
You might say, "I put my name across the middle of the cake! And even a copyright symbol!" Great, does it cover the awesome handcrafted marzipan topper you spent a week making? No? Then someone can and unfortunately as we've all learned, most likely will take the image and crop out that section for their own purposes. Overall, we're a great community, but there are some rotten apples out there.
Here's an example. Kati's Cakes recently posted an awesome Hunger Games inspired cake on our wall. I always notice her images because she makes sure to slap her name across the cake (not underneath!) and has a logo in the corner for good measure. This is a good operating procedure, but it's not perfect. Here's the cake as posted:
And here's 30 seconds on an online photo editor (Lunapic):
Is it a perfect crop? Not at all, it doesn't show the awesome tree work on the side or the whole mockingjay design but it is enough for someone to say "I can do Hunger Games cakes!" Or to add to a brochure or a website or even *gasp* use as their avatar! Kati's name is in the best location for a single line of watermarking. She's made it difficult for the scoundrels of the cake world, but if it were repeated two or three times, then we're talking fool proof.
"Won't that clutter up my photo?" you ask. You betcha, but the only cure for the cake stealing blues is to make the image unusable. Reva says it all the time, if you want to claim you can make a cake, go for it. You still have to execute!
If you care about being credited for your work at all times and keeping someone else from taking that credit, it is a necessity. These aren't the images you will use in advertising, or your shop books etc. These are the ones you share on social media. Watermarks are visible, but your friends on Facebook will still be able to see how awesome you are;)
We love ICES. We love the Cake Camp and the CCC. We love showing beginners how to get their feet wet. But none of that is about being a professional business owner. If you want to take it to that level, or maintain that level, you need to be able to skillfully navigate the hobby side and the professional side of the cake community.
It is too easy to snap a pic on your iPhone and have it up on Facebook in less time than it takes for you to formulate the question, "should I share this?" If the answer is yes, my advice is to take a breath and wait till you can apply the proper watermarks and control how your image is seen.
For us, it comes down to a mixture of being a little old school, being a little protective, and our policies on client confidentiality. I'm not saying we need to all stop posting photos, but maybe you hold one or two back every once in awhile. Maybe you only leave them up for a month, cycle out your photos on a regular basis?
This is just our opinion and I hope it generates some good back and forth. Ironically, I hope our call to caution on sharing leads to some serious sharing!! The fact is, people have entered contests using other people's cake photos, so we need to give it some thought. Maybe nothing changes for you, maybe everything, but let's get the conversation started. The best part about running your own business is being your own boss, which means you get to be in control. Let's be in control of our business!
Till next time cakers!!