I get a lot of questions about my background and how I got into baking. The truth is, it’s a long story.
I thought I’d make my life easier by sharing the whole story in one place for anyone who’s curious.
My Real Career Aspirations
I’m still kind of shocked that I bake and blog for a living. There was never a master plan to end up doing this, or even a dream about it. A lot of people think I had some grand scheme to get where I am today, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I really was just an accountant who fell in love with baking and followed that passion as far as it took me.
I liked my corporate job and had dreamt of being a CPA since I was in high school.
Now I know what you’re thinking – that’s an odd aspiration to have as a teenager. But accounting runs in my blood and I saw it as a respectable and steady profession. I took an accounting class in high school and it just clicked.
I was admitted to the University of Washington’s business school as a freshman which perfectly fit my plan. I got my degree in accounting and passed the CPA exam, then moved to New York City to work in public accounting.
As I began my first year as an auditor on a large banking client, the long hours of staring at excel spreadsheets started to wear me down. I felt unfulfilled and like my life was missing something. That’s when I made my first batch of cookies from scratch.
It was this magical moment. I felt so…happy. It sparked this joy inside me that I couldn’t get enough of. It’s hard to explain, but I think anyone out there who loves baking knows what I mean.
That’s where my baking journey began.
Teaching Myself to Bake
People assume I grew up baking with my mom or grandma, or that I’ve been baking forever. But the truth is I didn’t bake at all when I was all growing up. Aside from an occasional box cupcake mix for a friend’s birthday, I didn’t spend time in the kitchen.
So, having made my first batch of cookies from scratch as a 22-year-old, I had a lot to learn. I had no clue you could overmix batter or that your ingredients should be at room temperature.
I also had no tools or equipment. I moved to New York with two suitcases, and lived in a 1-bedroom apartment with two roommates. Our kitchen was a tiny little nook at the end of a hallway with a tiny oven.
It was so narrow that only one person could really stand in it at a time. We all were working long hours, so luckily we never needed to use the kitchen at the same time.
I slowly accumulated measuring cups and pans and would stay up late trying all kinds of recipes from Pinterest. I felt like I learned something new every time I tried a recipe. It was so exciting!
My First Layer Cake
Eventually I built up the courage to make my first layer cake. It was my coworker’s birthday and I offered to make her a cake. I’d been wanting to make one for a while, but needed a little push to actually do it.
It looked horrifying! The layers were uneven and the frosting could not have been less smooth.
But the cake tasted amazing and my coworkers loved it. In hindsight I wonder if they actually loved it or if they just knew how much I loved baking. Either way, they were an amazing support system throughout my baking journey.
They encouraged me to make a cake for our next office birthday and before I knew it I was making everyone’s birthday cake.
Don’t worry, my team made sure I was reimbursed for the ingredients I used. I loved it because it gave me an excuse to practice my decorating skills and to try new cake flavors. It also helped subsidize my rather expensive hobby.
It doesn’t seem like flour and sugar would cost that much, but it adds up quickly when you’re buying your ingredients in tiny bags from Manhattan grocery stores.
Turning My Hobby into a Business
In addition to making cakes for my coworkers, I started making cakes for my friends. The more parties I brought cakes to, the more frequently I was approached about selling my cakes.
Initially I was super opposed to the idea. In hindsight, I think it was because I was scared and had no idea how to even sell a cake.
What price do you charge? How do you handle the delivery or pick up? And how would I coordinate that around work?
Thanks to some gentle pushes from my friends, I bit the bullet and finally sold my first cake. It was scary but awesome to feel like I was making money doing something I loved.
Every time I made a little money on a cake, I would use that money to buy a new pan or even a spinning cake stand. It helped me build up my arsenal of baking tools and equipment that I needed to keep growing as a baker.
I’m not saying you need tons of equipment to learn how to bake, but there are fundamental pieces of equipment that make baking a lot easier and more fun.
It also helped me get better at decorating cakes. Some of my customers would ask for special techniques or decorations and it forced me to learn new skills.
I can’t tell you how many YouTube videos I watched to learn different cake techniques. The more cakes I made, the more my baking improved.
Making My First Cake Video
Before I knew it, my cake business was bustling. I had more orders than I could take and I was booked months in advance. I spent pretty much every free second of my time outside of work making custom cakes.
I was sharing pictures of all the fun cakes I was making on Instagram and my account really started to grow. This led to more cake orders, which lead to more cake photos, and it was a fantastic positive feedback loop.
I started making custom cakes and sharing them in the spring of 2014, and by the summer of 2016 I had 40k followers on Instagram. Around that time, I started seeing people share home videos of cakes being decorated.
Back then the quality of videos on Instagram was elementary at best. Despite the poor quality, these videos were getting thousands of views. I was making cakes almost every day…why wasn’t I making videos of them?
The real answer is that it takes a lot more effort, editing skills, and energy than just snapping a photo of a finished cake. But naïve me didn’t worry about those things. I dove in head first, and ordered some soft box lights (which I still use in my videos) and a tripod.
My first video was pretty terrible. I was almost too embarrassed to share the link, but it’s humbling to remember where I started.
The cake wasn’t even in focus and the angle was terrible. I also had no idea how to edit the video but did my best. The first software I used to edit videos was filmora, and it got the job done. And that’s what counts, right??
Learning By Doing
With each cake video I made, I learned something new and I didn’t let my shortcomings deter me. I knew my videos were going to be bad at first but I also knew if I worked hard they would get better.
It was the exact same uphill battle I faced when I first taught myself to bake and I embraced the process.
First it was properly focusing my camera. Then it was making sure my cakes were centered and fully in frame for the dimensions of Instagram.
Next, I had to teach myself how to properly edit a video rather than just use a time-lapse or rough stop motion.
Eventually I focused on decorating my cakes in a satisfying and entertaining way for the viewer (you!). I also tried to share videos that taught different techniques and showed how to make different cake decorations.
As the quality of my videos improved, I saw more and more of my videos go viral. Back then Instagram was really prioritizing video in the algorithm, and there weren’t a ton of videos being shared.
My videos would get crazy reach and I saw my account growth skyrocket. I reached 100k followers 4 months later (Fall 2016) and around that time Food Network reached out to me.
Before you ask, I still don’t know how they found me. I assume someone on one of their social team stumbled across one of my Instagram videos, but I’ll never know.
One day a bunch of my friends sent me the link to the story below. Food Network ran the story on Snapchat and I was just as surprised as everyone else to see it!
Later they sent me an email inviting me to their studio to make a few cakes for their social channels.
I had never done anything like that. It was by far the most exciting thing that had ever happened in my baking career.
I still remember taking a cab home after that shoot and thinking life couldn’t get any better. I felt sad because I was convinced that had to be the peak of my baking career.
It’s funny to so vividly remember moments like that. If only I had known what the next couple years had in store for me.
Taking the Full Leap into Content Creation
When I signed my contract for that shoot, I realized you could make some serious money creating content.
Selling custom cakes made money too, but the margin on a cake is pretty low once you factor in the hours of time you spend making it.
This shoot helped me open up my mind to a different business model for baking. I wasn’t quite ready to stop selling cakes, but I kept working on my videos and continued to grow my social channels.
I also started my YouTube channel in 2016, which began making money after a few months.
Just before the end of 2016, Food Network asked me to do a livestream for them. Back then Facebook was really encouraged live streams and that created a unique opportunity for people like me. No one had experience doing live streams, so I was just as qualified as anyone else to do it.
It was absolutely terrifying thinking about decorating a cake live to Food Network’s audience of 29 million followers, but I knew it was an incredible opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.
I somehow survived and the Food Network asked me to start doing weekly live streams for them.
After doing the math, I realized I’d be making way more money each month doing live streams once a week than I did baking almost every day to sell cakes.
I used that contract as a springboard to change the direction of my business, and I stopped selling cakes to focus solely on content creation.
My quality of life drastically improved (I could finally get some sleep instead of baking until all hours of the night), and I felt like I was learning a totally different skill set.
Quitting My Job
I continued to work full-time in corporate finance while creating cake content for the next two years. Throughout 2017 I was editing videos for Instagram, YouTube and Facebook, and was sharing recipes on my blog. I was seeing growth on all my channels by consistently posting fun and engaging content.
Then I started getting emails from companies about paid partnerships at the end of 2017. I didn’t realize how valuable my social media following and ability to create content could be.
In 2018 my side hustle went from a nice bit of side income to being double my corporate salary.
I realized I was in a position to start doing Chelsweets full-time and I made the leap. I quit my corporate job in January 2019. It was a big decision but in my gut I knew it was the right thing to do.
Since then I’ve been living and breathing all things Chelsweets and focusing on growing and diversifying my revenue streams. It’s been a wild journey but I survived my first year and feel like I’m really finding my groove in my 2nd year.
So there you have it. Told you it was a long story!! The painstaking, 6-year evolution of a CPA turned baker and content creator. It wasn’t easy but it always felt like I was following the right path.
I highly doubt you’ll have any additional questions after reading this, but if there’s anything I didn’t cover or that you’re curious about, please ask in the comments section below 🙂