How did you all really get your business off the ground? I have been doing cakes for family/friends for the past few months but really want to move to the next level. Aside from word of mouth, what have you found to be the best ways to gain new business and keep it coming?
I would always volunteer to bring the cake for whatever event was happening--birthday at daycare, event at church, etc...Word of mouth is the best advertising and soon you'll be so busy you won't know what to do with yourself! I don't have an official shop, just bake from home, but often make as many $ making cakes as I do at my real job!
Anytime there was a pitch in at work, I'd bring the cake. When people were whining about "I don't know what to bring", I'd tell them, "Why don't you go in with me on the cake?" So eventually, I'd have 2 or 3 poeple "going in with" me on the cake .... they'd each give me $2-$3 (this was in the early 80's) and I'd make the cake ... costing me nothing out of pocket and getting great exposure. Working in a bldg of 400 women, I soon had a booming cake business.
Take a cake to a local business where you think you might can make contacts. Nursing homes, banks, apartment offices. Just take them a cake to enjoy, and maybe a business card or two.
Donate, donate, donate!! When I was first starting out, I would donate to anything I could just for exposure and it worked really well. Within a few months, I had more business than I knew what to do with!!
If you're looking to do wedding cakes, make some small sample cakes and bring to local florists, venues, etc. I've also seen folks posting in the services section of craigslist. You might want to consider a website. It's difficult to go too much bigger without being legal, however. (Not sure if you are or not, just sayin)
Also, dealing with true customers (strangers) as opposed to friends and family is a different ballgame, you definitely need to think about having contracts and certain policies so you're protected from the people who will take advantage.
You all will laugh at this strategy but it may be a good one - the other day I took out a cake decorating book from the library and tucked into the jacket was another decorators' business card. It was a wedding cake book, I suppose she thought a potential bride customer might check the book out for ideas and contact her, genius!
I started taking sample cakes to work and sending some with DH whenever I tried anything new. I now have a lot of loyal customers through my co-workers and DH co-workers. When I go to gatherings and don't bring cake, I always have my cell phone full of pictures. Someone will always mention that I bake cakes and I have my phone loaded to show them. You can also have cards printed to pass out after they taste your cake and see your pictures.
I donate a lot to charity functions/fundraisers. Schools, fire departments. I take them to the doctor's offices, hospital er's, and nursing homes. The nurses always love to order them as they are always so busy.