I get questions from time to time, some more frequent than others.  If you have a question that isn't posted here, please feel free to email me and ask!  You can contact me at billacakes(at)gmail(dot)com.

Happy Baking!

Q.  Where did you get the name Billa Cakes?
A.  Billa Cakes is named for my daughter.  We had decided on the name Sybilla Kathleen as our girl name, and we came up with the nickname Billie Kate as one of her nicknames.  My best friend's daughter was almost three and couldn't quite say it right; she kept saying "Billa Cake."  It became a joke and we lovingly teased our daughter, calling her our little Billa Cake (and lemme tell ya, she was good enough to eat!).

Q.  Where did you learn how to do all of this stuff?
A.  I don't have any formal training, if that's what you're wondering.  After dropping quite a lot of money on my Bachelor's at St. Edward's University and getting my massage therapy license (that's a whole 'nother story), I told myself I was not going to take out more loans and further increase my debt on schooling.  Not until I paid everything else off, anyway.  So the majority of what I do I have learned thanks to my schooling at Hard Knocks U, where Trial and Error are my teachers.  I have extensive experience in art, theatre, costume design, and crafting, all of which contribute to my mad baking skills.  I've taken one or two classes at my local bake shop, but I rely mostly on my experience, ingenuity, and creativity to do what I do.

Q.  Will you ever go to culinary school?
A.  Maybe.  I have to be in a more stable place financially and in this economy, it will be a little while :o)  There is a part of me though, that doesn't want to, just to prove that I can make it on my own WITHOUT going to school.  But at the same time, I love learning and I love school.  We'll just see where life takes me!

Q.  Where do you get all of your ideas?
A.  Lots of places!  To get inspired for an idea, I usually do a Google search for images and/or cakes related to the theme.  I regularly save pictures of cakes I see online that feature elements that I love or designs that really excite me.  I clip pictures from magazines and catalogs, I doodle a lot, and sometimes music will inspire me as well.  I try to keep the creative process as organic as possible, meaning that I allow myself to be open to whatever inspires me.  So I might set out with a certain design in mind, but end up with something completely different!   

Q.  Can I hire you to do a cake for me?
A.  The short answer is no, unless you're someone I know or someone that knows someone I know.  The long answer is that while I would love to, right now I only bake for friends and family and their close associates.  I'm not at a point in my life to handle a full blown business, what with a two year old and a full time job.  With that said, it is my goal to someday be able to take orders and do stuff for people outside my circle, but that's a couple years, a lot of money, and a better economy away.

Q.  Well, if I can't hire you, who can I hire?

A.  If you're in the Austin area, there are plenty of bakeries around that can handle what you dish at them.  We're a very creative town!  If you're dead set on a design I've done, be my guest to show the baker my blog and what you want done.  Please make sure they don't take my pictures or my recipes without giving credit where credit is due.  I try to credit my sources of inspiration or recipes I use, so please return the favor.

Q.  Can I hire you to work in my bakery?

A.  My current job offers me some great benefits and flexibility.  If you're willing to do the same, I'm open to all possibilities.  You can email me and we can talk :o)

Q.  Where do you get most of your supplies? 
A.  I get all my supplies from one of four places: my local bake shop, my local restaurant supply store, my local craft store, and Amazon.  I am fortunate enough to live in a fairly large town with a fairly large following for food appreciation.  All in One Bake Shop is our biggest purveyor of baking specific items and I go there about once a month to stock up.  AceMart is one of the local restaurant supply places that you can purchase commercial kitchen items that are made to take beatings.  You don't need to own a Tax ID to shop there, which is also nice.  If I need something quick though, I visit Hobby Lobby or Michael's Crafts Store. And Amazon is great to get customer reviews and if you can qualify for free shipping, you actually get a better price on stuff.

Q.  Man, baking supplies are expensive...how do you keep your costs down?
A.  Tell me about it!  I actually wrote a post on this, that you can check out here.  But in short, here is the method to my madness:
  • Know before you go.  
  • Sale stalk like crazy.   
  • Be willing to shop more than one location and be patient.  
  • Purchase multi-taskers to get more bang for your buck.  
  • Use everyday items. 
  • Time is money.
To get the best price, you need to be willing to invest some time and effort, but the rewards are worth it in the end!

Q.  Who takes all of your food photos? And do you have any advice on taking food photos?
A.  I take the majority of the photos.  My best friend's husband is a very talented photographer and he also takes pictures of my cakes and cookies.  If you're interested in learning more about photography and post production, or are in the Austin area and would like to hire a photographer, please visit his photo blog, Austin Area Photo.  If I use any other photos, I try to credit the photographer/baker if known.  If you see one of your pictures and I haven't credited you, please let me know who you are and I am more than happy to correct that oversight.

I'm not the best photographer, but these are my tips after a couple of years:
  • Have plenty of good lighting.  Natural daylight is best, but try to avoid direct light on the subject as it can cause some issues with your exposure.
  • Use a steady base or tripod.  I use a GorillaPod tripod on my point and shoot camera and it's greatly changed the way my photos come out.  I have fewer "action" shots and more still shots.
  • Take more than one shot, at more than one angle.  Experiment with how you position the camera and always take more than one shot.  You can always delete the extras later.
  • Have a good photo editing program.  I use PhotoShop Elements 6 for the Mac.  I used to use iPhoto, which was ok, but it was really hard to edit very small details.  Plus, I can create cool stuff for my blog with PSE6.  If you can't afford the price tag (I got it as a gift), try using Google's Picasa, Photobucket, GIMP, or Paint.Net all of which are available online and free!  I've used these or heard good stuff about them.
  • Practice makes perfect.  My photos seem to have improved along with my decorating skills the more I practice them.  If you see a certain style of photo that you like, try to recreate it and get a feel for that style, then just take pictures like crazy!  There's only so much you can do in post production with a photo, so get a good shot to start with.
Q.  I'd really like to start my own baking business.  What advice do you have?
A.  First of all, check out your state for their laws regarding that kind of thing.  Some states allow home bakers, others do not.  Currently, Texas does NOT (grrr), but we're working to resolve that!  Please visit the Texas Cottage Food Law website for more info.

As for advice, I have been involved in a couple of start up food related businesses so I've had the opportunity to see where things can go wrong and that starting a business takes time, effort, money, elbow grease, time, hard work, money, determination, time, and money.  Did I mention time and money?  I hate to be so materialistic sounding, but there are a lot of costs involved in getting a business off the ground.  And the time it takes can be disheartening.  Statistics aren't pretty: nine out of ten businesses fail within the first year.  Does that mean you should give up?  Hell no!  It just means you need to think creatively and be prepared for the worst.  Something will inevitably go wrong; the question is, will you be prepared when that happens?

Do your homework.  Get the necessary permits, licenses and registrations.  This is FOOD you're making.  And if anything, get a lawyer and have them help you create a contract for people to use.  Unfortunately there are people out there who will try and take advantage of you; I've seen it happen to good folks and while I like to believe the best in people, better safe than sorry.  A contract will help you keep your good name, and protect you.  If you employ contracts, make sure you always provide your client with a copy as well as some sort of receipt.  The policy is CYA: Cover Your A$$.

Other than that, go for it!  Learn from everyone you can, don't be afraid to ask for help, and keep at it.  If you're really determined and it's meant to be, it will happen.
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