Paris Cutler bought Planet Cake seven years ago and has ridden the same wild roller coaster as numerous other small business owners and entrepreneurs.
Culter’s business was almost broke within three years of her buying it and she says the stress of that is largely to blame for the break-up of her marriage, though her ex-husband remains her business partner.
Despite these set backs and increasing competition from copycat businesses, Cutler picked herself up and forged ahead with her business plan; a two-pronged approach that sees her sell expensive custom cakes and run cake decorating schools in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth – which draw fans from all over the world and are booked up three months in advance.
Now Cutler is enjoying another wave of success, with Planet Cake being signed as the star of a reality show of the same name. Not bad for a business that’s nearly folded three times, don’t you think?
In this honest interview, Cutler shares her feelings about personal branding, the lessons she’s learned and how she survived the GFC.
Q. Where did the idea for Planet Cake come from?
Before buying Planet Cake I was a corporate drifter. I tried stockbroking, law and recruitment. It wasn’t engaging for me. I really wanted to own my own business but what could I invent? What was going to be my big idea?
When I was in stockbroking, the bicycle couriers used to be known as the rats of the city, then someone came along and corporatised them, gave them uniforms, and made big money. It was a brilliant idea. When I went through the process of ordering my own wedding cake it cost a fortune and the whole experience was horrendous. That’s when I thought, ‘This is it’. I knew I could design cakes, so I went into the industry as a partner and when the opportunity came up I bought Planet Cake.
Q. How do you keep the business going, and growing?
I’ve had to look at the business and work out what I have to sell, and that’s IP. I’ve had to package that into different things to sell. A big part of that has been creating a website, blogs and social media that are a sticky enough environment for people to keep coming back and creating a customer loyalty.
I have events where people come and have morning tea with me, and I personally update the blog every day. You’ve got to do all that stuff, you can’t muck around.
Q. What did you do to survive the GFC?
It was catastrophic. It hit us before it hit anyone else. In wedding season I’d usually be doing 25 to 30 big cakes a week and we were down to just six. I had $10,000 in the bank, a five year-old daughter and barely enough to pay the wages. I had to retrench all my staff. We’re never going to go through that again because I’ve buffered myself now.
I call myself a greasy monkey. Wherever there was an opportunity to sell or make an alliance, I was there. It’s amazing what desperation can make you do, and I was desperate.
Q. What important business lessons have you learned during your journey?
The thing in business that shocked me the most, and that I’ve learned, is not to share your roller coaster ride with your friends and family because they can’t handle it.
On the plus side, there is nothing like the joy of creating something that starts as an idea and becomes a real living, breathing thing. It’s intoxicating. I still find it hard to believe that all these people will pay $375 to come on my decorating courses! It’s shocking!
Q. Do you think it’s important for an entrepreneur to project their personal brand on their business?
I find it exhausting and exposing. I feel like a wanker signing copies of my book. It’s embarrassing.
I was brought up in a family where praise was never given. But I’ve realised my personal brand is important. After the break-up of my marriage, I took a back seat from my business for about eight months and it fell into a pit!
Q. Any advice for all the female business owners out there?
I can sit there and play dumb and pretend I don’t understand what’s going on. Business is business! I hate those women who have grown balls. They dripping in Tiffany and wearing Armani suits and they don’t have a heart. They’re terrifying and it’s unhealthy!
Q. Any final words?
People think cake decorating is all pretty and frilly. It’s a blood sport, it’s brutal. It’s a small, secretive market and everyone’s fighting over it.
Planet Cake airs Wednesday nights at 7.30pm on Lifestyle Food.