Scroll through Keiyana Roberts’ Instagram feed — a mesmerizing display of rose-gold glitter cakes, mermaid-inspired cupcakes and more — and you’ll see that she’s more than your run-of-the-mill baker.
Roberts was working in human resources when she launched her cupcake business, Krème de la Cupcake, on the side in 2010. Over the next six years, the self-taught baker’s gig grew through word-of-mouth referrals and social media.
Then, two years ago, her daughter was born premature. Roberts moved in with family for help after her daughter’s birth, but she wasn’t able to juggle her 9-to-5 job along with her baby’s medical needs, so she took an extended break from full-time work. When Roberts started interviewing again to work in an office, it dawned on her that she really wanted to be an entrepreneur.
After deciding to turn her side gig into a sustainable business, the 33-year-old from Lancaster, Texas, said it was like “a gear shift into overdrive.” Roberts has been baking more — cupcakes and cakes, too — and selling more, with over $15,000 worth of treats delivered to clients last year. And she’s on track to do even better this year.
Find out what she’s learned since starting Krème de la Cupcake, how a stint on Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” shaped her clientele, where she finds inspiration, and what she thinks people should know about starting a baking business.
How she got started
“At the time, I was living a crazy lifestyle and was married, but I found hope in baking,” Roberts says. “The first few months were weird. I had no clue how to run a business, so I jumped into a ton of research about entrepreneurship.”
When Roberts was still working as an HR manager, she devoted weeknights and weekends to learning more about baking and building her business from scratch. Roberts watched YouTube videos and solicited advice from other bakers.
As word of mouth spread and orders started pouring in, she spent her off-work hours calling customers, buying supplies and ingredients, making cupcake toppers, and baking from Thursday evening through the weekend. It wasn’t uncommon for her to pull all-nighters.
“I lost so many hours of sleep, but my body got used to it,” she says. “One time I had to deliver 500 cupcakes to a company picnic, so I spent the whole night doing that.”
In the first two years, she averaged 13 orders a month — a combination of custom orders and standard cupcakes (like red velvet). Learning how to manage costs and set rates was one challenge she learned to navigate.
“At first I was like, ‘Who is going to buy this?’ I was thinking of charging 50 cents a cupcake,” she says. “I was terrified to charge more. But after seeing what it takes to make them, I found a rate that works for me — no more Walmart prices.”
Today, she charges an average of $125 for a custom cake or batch of cupcakes that can serve 20 to 25 guests.
The ‘Cupcake Wars’ effect
Two years in, a stint on “Cupcake Wars” — Food Network’s popular cupcake-baking competition show — shaped the future of Krème de la Cupcake.
In 2012, Roberts applied to the show on a whim after starting a new job. “My new co-workers thought my cupcakes were amazing, and one of them told me to apply for ‘Cupcake Wars,’ so we filled out my application at work,” she says.
After months of silence, she received a call announcing that she was selected to be a contestant. The network flew her out to Los Angeles to film the episode. Her appearance on the show gave her exposure, helping her gain credibility for her business and more respect among current clients. She attracted new clients, too.
She expanded into cakes last summer, a move that has increased her volume and profit margins. Roberts has earned about $5,600 in the first two months of this year, nearly twice as much as she made in the same time frame last year.
She spends about $200 a week on ingredients and supplies, and expensive items for custom orders, such as flowers and figurines, are added to what she charges. She mostly bakes from home and she estimates that the utility bill increased by about $50 a month. (She occasionally rents a bigger kitchen for larger orders.)
In the future, Roberts says she would like to open stores in Austin and Houston and eventually franchise her business. She also hopes to make tutorials for beginning bakers.
“I’ll never put a cap on my business,” she says. “My goal is to make as much money as I can while creating cakes that look aesthetically pleasing and taste even better.”
Tips for starting a baking business
If you’re contemplating starting your own baking business, here’s Roberts’ advice:
Learn every day. Even if you’re not the best baker, there are endless resources — videos, online tutorials, etc. — to help you improve your craft. “I didn’t start baking until I was 25,” she says. “I learn new skills all the time. I never feel like I’m an expert. If you’re open to learning, you’ll have great success.”
Streamline your process and commit to it. Roberts quickly learned that talking to customers on the phone wasn’t a good use of her time and made it difficult to keep track of custom orders. She now mostly communicates via email. “I’m all about streamlining and making things less complicated,” she says. “When you decide on your process, that’s your culture. Do not deviate from it.”
Take time on purchases. As tempting as that cake airbrush kit may be, don’t buy every single kitchen gadget and appliance you think you might need right away. It took Roberts five years to stock up on equipment. “It’s expensive when you start out. Buy as you go; don’t buy it all at once. You will waste your money. Collect what you need over time,” she says.
Don’t be afraid to network. Roberts attributes much of her success to the connections she’s made with bakers around the world. For example, she says she learned how to perfect her cakes by reaching out to an Australian baker on Instagram. “Open your mouth. Meet people in your industry. You will grow,” she says. “As soon as I started talking to cake artists that were booming, I started booming, too,” she says. She still reaches out to people she admires on Instagram and asks them questions.