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Advice on growing my customer base

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 

For about two years, I have been trying to expand my cake decorating business in my small town.  My work is just as good as or better than most of the decorators in my area, but they have far more customers than I do. To be quite honest, this is largely because most of the others simply know more people than I do. How do I get past that?  Also, I am close to a mid-size metro area and I would like to get into that market; a market where there are more customers and cakes cost more.  At this point I typically get about one cake order every other month, and that's including orders from close friends.  ANY advice is welcomed!  

post #2 of 19
What are your specific competitive advantages and who is your target market? What is your current advertising strategy and monthly advertising budget?
post #3 of 19
Just jumping in on the thread so I can follow it, really interesting question can't wait for any advice . Cheers, Claire x
Speech therapist by day and cake decorator when I can fit it in! Not a business, just a love of all things cake! www.facebook.com/CakeChemistryUK
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Speech therapist by day and cake decorator when I can fit it in! Not a business, just a love of all things cake! www.facebook.com/CakeChemistryUK
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post #4 of 19
Thread Starter 

I would say my competitive advantages are that I can generally offer a quick turnaround, I can quickly come up with a truly original design, and I'm licensed and insured.  I'm not quite understanding your question about my target market.  At this point it is simply anyone within a 30 mile radius who is looking for custom cakes.  Are you asking for demographic info?  I don't specialize in wedding cakes, birthday cakes, cupcakes, or anything of the sort, if that's what's you mean.  Monthly ad budget is less than $50 at this point.  Most of my marketing efforts have been focused on getting the word out through facebook and word of mouth.  I search local facebook groups where people buy and sell their goods/services and find people looking for cakes.  When I let them know I make cakes, they are quickly bombarded by other random people referring them to people they know.  I have done some free cakes simply for exposure (fundraisers and school functions).  I even did a couple of ads in the newspaper which resulted in only one phone call from someone who was looking for a different person.  

post #5 of 19
Thread Starter 

Competitive advantages:

Quick turnaround, original designs, licensed and insured.

 

Target market:

Anyone within a thirty mile radius looking for any kind of custom cakes.  I don't specialize in birthday or wedding cakes or anything like that if that's what you mean.

 

Ad strategy:

I'm focusing on facebook and word of mouth.  My budget is less than $50 per month at this point.  I did a couple of ads in the newspaper which resulted in one phone call from someone who was looking for a different person.  I also search local facebook groups with people looking to buy and sell goods, but typically when I offer my service to someone looking for a cake, they are quickly bombarded by people referring them to others.   


Edited by uptownbaker - 11/4/13 at 4:15pm
post #6 of 19
Do free cakes for local events and wherever you go take business cards and don't forget to tell people you meet, what you do. It's worked for me
post #7 of 19

Network, network, network!  Every single person you meet should know you sell cakes and receive a card.  Go to a town meeting with cupcakes.  Drop cupcakes off at your mechanic's shop (with business cards.)  Bring cupcakes to the bank.  Drop a small cake off anywhere you might get clients.   If you attend church, bring something spectacular to a church-related event (particularly before First Communion time, when cakes are super in-demand!).  Put flyers up in places you know allow flyers.   Basically, bombard everyone everywhere with your work.  This is not expensive, just time consuming.  But you need to put in the time to get the business.

 

Also, find the most social, involved person you know, someone who seems to know everyone.  We all have friends like that.  Ask that friend to help you by taking about you and sharing your work on social media.  It worked for me.  I don't market AT ALL and I get many calls because my sister, a socially connected maven, talks about me all the time.  My wish is to stay small, though, so I turn a lot of people down. :-(  I prefer the quick money I earn at my other job.

 

Making a name for yourself takes time and it also takes ALOT of talking yourself up.  Good luck, have fun!

post #8 of 19
This is a difficult area to advise. Some strategies work better for some than others.

I personally have never once gained a single client from donating cake to any event. Yes, this includes the big fancy ones. I also don't really recommend the buy sell trade sights. The participants of those sites are typically looking for a steal/deal.

The real art to advertising is to figure out exactly who your client is &.then finding a way to.get their attention.

My strategy is based on targeting wedding cake clients. I will tell you the right word of mouth can be Very valuable. My first year, I did 8 wedding cakes from the word of one happy MOB.

If I were interested in targeting children's birthdays, I would hand out cards to mothers at morning out groups or little gyms, etc.

It's also a good idea to introduce yourself t the other bakers. Offer t trade referrals. Some days I'm booked. I'd certainly send a client to someone who put forth the effort rather than someone I don't know.

www.VeryDeliciousDesserts.com

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Delicious-Desserts/207874222593145

 

It's never "just cake!"

 

You may get a cake for $way to little but you won't get this cake!

Animal
(4 photos)
 
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www.VeryDeliciousDesserts.com

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Delicious-Desserts/207874222593145

 

It's never "just cake!"

 

You may get a cake for $way to little but you won't get this cake!

Animal
(4 photos)
 
Reply
post #9 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by DeliciousDesserts View Post
I personally have never once gained a single client from donating cake to any event. Yes, this includes the big fancy ones. I also don't really recommend the buy sell trade sights. The participants of those sites are typically looking for a steal/deal.

 

I'm on the same boat as DeliciousDesserts... I've donated to a few charities and I have never really gotten any calls from anyone who had attended them.

 

I'm a small business (I don't mind this - I'm currently in school as well) and have found that business cards make a huge difference. A lot of times customers call or email me saying that they wish they had gotten more cards.

 

Personally, I think social media websites can help (I don't care to spend too much money on advertising..I mainly only spend on getting cards). The majority of my orders come from people who have found me from Yelp. Certain methods work for certain people but this is what has worked for me...I do think that word of mouth is probably one of the best advertising you can get.

post #10 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by uptownbaker View Post

Competitive advantages:
Quick turnaround, original designs, licensed and insured.

Hopefully the quick turnaround advantage will fade over time...once you are successful and are regularly booked you will no longer be able to do this. I'm also not sure being licensed and insured is really a competitive advantage in the minds of most consumers, unless you are selling wholesale or directly through venues. This leaves your original designs, which should be a main focus of your marketing materials and your web site. If you are comfortable sharing your web site I'm sure you will get some good feedback.
Quote:
Target market:
Anyone within a thirty mile radius looking for any kind of custom cakes. I don't specialize in birthday or wedding cakes or anything like that if that's what you mean.

I recommend trying to narrow this down. Based on your competitive advantage it sounds like your ideal customer would be someone looking for an original design as opposed to telling you to recreate something they found on Pinterest. Targeting areas where median income is above a certain threshold would also help.
Quote:
Ad strategy:
I'm focusing on facebook and word of mouth.  My budget is less than $50 per month at this point.  I did a couple of ads in the newspaper which resulted in one phone call from someone who was looking for a different person.  I also search local facebook groups with people looking to buy and sell goods, but typically when I offer my service to someone looking for a cake, they are quickly bombarded by people referring them to others.

Generally a more broad-based ad platform like Google AdWords often works better than FB if you do not have a retail presence. FB buy/sell groups in particular are usually a race to the bottom in terms of price so you probably won't find customers there who will appreciate your competitive advantage.

Building a profile of your ideal customer can help. Try to get into the mind of this ideal customer and think about where they would look if they wanted an original custom cake for their event. If you know anyone who recently ordered such a cake, interviewing them can provide some valuable insights.
post #11 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by DeliciousDesserts View Post

This is a difficult area to advise. Some strategies work better for some than others.

I personally have never once gained a single client from donating cake to any event. Yes, this includes the big fancy ones. I also don't really recommend the buy sell trade sights. The participants of those sites are typically looking for a steal/deal.

The real art to advertising is to figure out exactly who your client is &.then finding a way to.get their attention.

My strategy is based on targeting wedding cake clients. I will tell you the right word of mouth can be Very valuable. My first year, I did 8 wedding cakes from the word of one happy MOB.

If I were interested in targeting children's birthdays, I would hand out cards to mothers at morning out groups or little gyms, etc.

It's also a good idea to introduce yourself t the other bakers. Offer t trade referrals. Some days I'm booked. I'd certainly send a client to someone who put forth the effort rather than someone I don't know.

Great advice from a successful cake artist. ;-D

Let's eat grandma. Let's eat, grandma. Punctuation saves lives.
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Let's eat grandma. Let's eat, grandma. Punctuation saves lives.
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post #12 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by DeliciousDesserts View Post

This is a difficult area to advise. Some strategies work better for some than others.

I personally have never once gained a single client from donating cake to any event. Yes, this includes the big fancy ones. I also don't really recommend the buy sell trade sights. The participants of those sites are typically looking for a steal/deal.

The real art to advertising is to figure out exactly who your client is &.then finding a way to.get their attention.

My strategy is based on targeting wedding cake clients. I will tell you the right word of mouth can be Very valuable. My first year, I did 8 wedding cakes from the word of one happy MOB.

If I were interested in targeting children's birthdays, I would hand out cards to mothers at morning out groups or little gyms, etc.

It's also a good idea to introduce yourself t the other bakers. Offer t trade referrals. Some days I'm booked. I'd certainly send a client to someone who put forth the effort rather than someone I don't know.

 

I second the motion! Trust the advice of someone who is actually in the business. 

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VISIT US at BAKINGFIX

 

             Bookshelf    Consulting    Classes    Blog    Facebook  

    

 

 

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post #13 of 19
Agreed, DD gave excellent advice. Donating cake to an event may help spread awareness of your company in a small way, but that awareness is not likely to be focused on your target customer, and the ultimate decision of selecting a vendor has much more to do with third party reviews, product assortment, and price than whether or not the vendor has donated to an event.

Figuring out who you are targeting is also key, aiming at a broader market means more money spent on advertising and less focus for your message and branding.
post #14 of 19
I want to say that everyone who said they didnt get any business from free donations is correct, because when we ask people how they heard of us people dont say "from the cupcake drop off or charity event". But we did get a couple of customers(and one was a repeat customer of her office once a month) who called due to $ vouchers we gave to a charity event loot bag. We did a few hundred and a few events but only got the two.

But the thing that I dont understand is lets say you make a cake for an event and the host pays for it and everyone at the event sees it and usually you get a referral from that. Now lets say the its the exact same event and same people and all but you donated the cake. For some reason that doesnt lead to anything. I dont get it.
post #15 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bakers Crush View Post

I want to say that everyone who said they didnt get any business from free donations is correct, because when we ask people how they heard of us people dont say "from the cupcake drop off or charity event". But we did get a couple of customers(and one was a repeat customer of her office once a month) who called due to $ vouchers we gave to a charity event loot bag. We did a few hundred and a few events but only got the two.

But the thing that I dont understand is lets say you make a cake for an event and the host pays for it and everyone at the event sees it and usually you get a referral from that. Now lets say the its the exact same event and same people and all but you donated the cake. For some reason that doesnt lead to anything. I dont get it.

It's because when people pay for something they value it more, and they're more invested in telling people where it came from. Which is what I was going to say, which is that wrod of mouth is the number one, tops them all, nothing better, way to get business.

You said in the first post that other bakers have more business than you do because they know more people. There's your answer right there. Getting your name out means that you have to make an effort to meet people, whether it's passing your card out to people or joining networking groups. If you're not doing wedding cakes you could try to join a couple of local business groups, or at least go to their meetings. If people know about your business they might refer you more. And if they know you personally they'll definitely be more likely to refer you (unless you're a jerk, so don't be a jerk and you're good.)

My bridal association does a bride panel where we ask recently married brides questions about the planning process, and they ALWAYS say that word of mouth trumps every other way to find busineses to hire. They also add that if they like someone from an ad or an appointment, but then a friend tells tham not to hire them for whatever reason, they're likely to NOT hire them. Word of mouth is powerful, and it just falls upon you to get your name out there.
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