I started taking cake decorating classes as a way to get out of the house after becoming a mom. I am now am a stay at home mom and I have a small cake business (i do a couple cakes a month). My business is only 8 months old and I know it takes time to grow but I would like to do bigger orders and/or more cakes. I have a facebook page with 185 fans but only about 20 of those have actually ordered a cake from me. So far facebook has been my main source of advertising. I am also part of a moms group and I get referrals through that group but there are a few cake decorators in the group so it is limited.
Does anyone have any tips on how to expand your customer base without spending a lot of money? Should I do sales/discounts? Donate to locale charities? Approach play centers / indoor playgrounds? Blog? Flyers? What works?
First and foremost, figure out where your main focus will be, based on what you've said I am asuming childrens cakes. I wouldn't bother with donations, unless it is a charity you really want to give to; its been my experience that making donations with the hope of getting business is a waste. There are several online listing sites, many offer free listings: online yellow pages, party pop, wedplan, weddingwire, mypartydirectory.com. Condsider approaching childrens party places that do not serve food (jump zones, tumblebees, park districts) about partnering to include cakes in thier packages, or at least to leave business cards at thier location. Also, in my area there is a free publication for parents (one of those in the free magazine rack at the grocery store) if you are willing to spend a few bucks on an ad something like this would target straight to your primary audience (once again- assuming kids cakes are your focus)
My focus is wedding cakes and I am listed on every free site possible, have a website, facebook, twitter & blog, as well a brochures in a few targeted wedding locations- theese are my "free" advertising venues. I also pay for targeted advertising in a local wedding planning book and do 1-2 bridal shows a year.
The key, if you are spending money is to spend it where you know you will reach your targeted audience.
What worked for me was taking my practice cakes to banks, schools, and many of my previous contacts from my job of repairing copiers. I also took samples to florists, photographers, bridal shops, and venues that did not do wedding cakes.
Anyway, free samples worked very well for me and I had a very busy business with birthdays and weddings within the first year. After practice cakes, I changed to making single layer 6" decorated cakes to new prospective clients. I did a lot of different techniques doing this to practice things I had not yet done for a paying customer.
This was a long time ago before Facebook or any other social network. I wish those were available at the time. When I started, the internet was less than helpful. I would look up "sugar flowers" and get some kind of porn.
Facebook is not enough online exposure. I am in my late 20's, and shockingly, do not have a facebook acount
I can count on 1 hand how many people in my family and my in-laws family that have a facebook account. It just isn't our thing. So any company that only has a facebook account gets no business from us.
Google account is free and I get about 40% of my business from there. Wedding Wire is great for finding brides (don't bother paying the fee to be a "premium member") and for a paying site I use The Knot. Now, my focus is weddings because that is where the $ is. For you, maybe party and themed websites is a good place to advertise. A lot of these websites will let you do a free listing - it is basic, but helps.
The best way to build your business quickly is spending money on ad buys based on where you can reach your target market. Free listings probably won't help you unless you want to compete on price. Google AdWords is very flexible and allows you to target ads based on location and search keywords.
Before you advertise you should also check the laws in your area to make sure you can legally run a home bakery, some states require a licensed and inspected commercial kitchen if you are selling food.
Thank you so much for the advice. I agree that facebook is not enough. Most of my cakes have been sold to former contacts and to moms in my moms group and I have more contacts that are not on facebook that I am neglecting. I am working on getting a website and it is almost finished. But if the website is going to work I need to find ways to send people to it.
Maybe samples are the way to go. I guess I mostly do children's cakes right now. That isn't ideal as that is not where the money is but it is where my connections are and since I have a little one it is also a bit more manageable workload. I have done some wedding cupcakes and I have a wedding cake order for the summer but mostly it is kids cakes. I will look for local publications I can advertise in (online and print).
As for cooking from home I am ok. I am in Canada so it is different but I am ok
Has anyone sold at bazaars?