small business

Marketing a Piece of Cake

I have always had a bit of a sweet tooth. In fact, I’m pretty sure all of my adult teeth are actually “sweet.” Unfortunately it’s not possible for me to physically be at all the bakeries I’d like to (and there are so many to choose from around here), so that’s why I follow them all on social media.

The benefit is that I get to see delicious cupcakes and other goodies on a daily basis, even if I can’t physically make it into the store. Another benefit, which we’ll get into more in a bit, is that I’ll sometimes make a special trip to a bakery if I know in advance that they’re going to have a certain goodie there.

Based on some of the bakeries I’ve seen online, I’ve noticed a few things that bakeries do in their marketing to get people in the door.



Online Order or Inquiry Forms. One simple thing bakeries can do is set up a form on their website to take orders. For instance, if you get a lot of pie orders around Thanksgiving, you can create a simple form to let people know what your flavor options are. You can also use it as a way to filter out what you do and don’t offer (i.e. you only do chocolate, vanilla, and carrot cakes and nothing else) as a way to cut down on inquiries. Obviously, for those that do custom ordering, it’s difficult to implement a form to cover the infinite options, so instead you could do a general, initial contact form so that you know the person is looking for a marble cake for their cat’s 5th birthday. Sweet Sensations Bakery/3 Dogs Café  has a good system on their Specialty Cakes Page.

Galleries/Albums. I remember going to Hannaford and flipping through their birthday cake album that they had on the stand by the bakery and planning pretend birthday parties (…for myself). While it’s a little trickier if you do a lot of custom work, you can offer galleries of your past work to showcase what you’re capable of doing so potential customers can get an idea. For instance, Cakes Downeast showcases cakes after they’re made on her Facebook page.

Price Points & Offerings. Another idea for offering people as much information as possible before they contact you is to create a page of price points and offerings on your website. 3 Dogs Café is a great example of this on their website. For instance, on their bakery page they have a table of cake flavors, sizes, and the prices (with information about how many each size typically feeds).

Marketing Scarcity… “Limited supply” is one way to make people flock through the door FAST, especially when it comes to cookies. One thing that I’ve seen bakeries do (that totally works on me) is announcing when they’ve made something that they don’t usually make, AND letting people know that there is a limited supply (i.e. one batch/one cake etc). It also works as a way to test a new product. For instance, after seeing this cake, I considered driving to Bangor to grab a slice (tragically my schedule didn’t allow it).

…And Regularity. Most places have at least a few staple products that are always available, like coffee, bagels, etc. While getting people in the door for goodies you make occasionally is a good tactic, it also helps to let people know what they can expect on a daily basis. Of course it can be hard to keep up with posting social media while you’re also trying to run a business. A Slice of Eden in Bar Harbor has an interesting solution-by posting their soup and bagel of the week, and anything else to expect.

Speaking of regularity, making sure business hours are up to date on social media is key. Many bakeries are early to open/close, and people are more likely to stop in on their way to work if they know you’ll be open during their commute.

And whatever you do, remember to have fun, like our friends at Mount Dessert Bakery!

Whether you run a bakery (or just stalk them online like I do), here’s hoping this post gave you some ideas… and maybe an excuse to get your favorite carb at your favorite local bakery.

Note: If you are on or near us, Gift MDI has a very useful blog post about the best $5 carbohydrate you can get at every local bakery.



Networking for Small Businesses

Our theme for July is “Independence Doesn’t Have to Mean Alone,” and in our last post, we shared a few ways business owners can delegate their work rather than spread themselves too thin. This post is about making connections as a small business owner, or, as some like to call it, networking.

For introverts like myself, networking can be a bit of a challenge. But I know the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Networking has a few different purposes. First, it’s a tool for expanding your business and gaining potential customers. Second, it’s a way to meet and share experiences with other entrepreneurs. When networking, I find it helpful to think, “I’m about to meet some people who are in a similar boat as me. I bet some of them have cool stories and I could come away from this with interesting, new connections.”



Here are four helpful guidelines for successful networking:

Set a Goal. Plan to attend a certain number of events per month and talk to X number of people at each event. Or, reach out to a specific number of new people every week via email. These goals can make the whole networking experience a bit more fun, too. Remember to follow up with your connections — that’s just as important as meeting them in the first place.

Remember to follow up with your connections — that’s just as important as meeting them in the first place.

Have Something Ready. One of my greatest weaknesses in networking — and meeting people in general — is that I can become easily flustered. Something as simple as “So what do you do?” will result in me doing a lot of mumbling and rambling — “ramumbling,” if you will.

Know that at any networking event, at least one person is going to ask you what you do. Be prepared with an answer. This may also be a good reason to work on your elevator speech. You don’t need to sound like a robot, but you should sound prepared.

Also, keep your business cards at the ready for anyone who may ask for one.



Participate in Groups. Online groups can be found via social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or even Twitter. Participation can occur in a few different ways. You can create your own post within a group in which you share a cool resource, ask a question about something you need help with, or seek opinions on a challenge you face. Also, read posts made by others and respond with comments that are helpful and/or pertinent.

Stepping away from the internet, you can join the local chamber of commerce, Rotary, or any other business-oriented or volunteer organization. It’s a great way to meet local people who do business within your community.

A warning: Don’t approach these groups with a sales pitch. Growing your business is a good goal, but networking is more about fostering relationships.

Stay in Touch. Congrats, you’ve met a ton of new people through your networking! But, how are you staying in touch with them?

Nicole has a favorite app for staying in touch, which lets her know when it’s been a while since she has reached out to someone. Or, you may create a system (spreadsheet, flowchart, sticky notes) just to reach out to people, follow up about something from your conversation, maybe invite them to grab a coffee.

As a shy introvert, I find that following up with others can be just as difficult as making the first contact. But I try to keep in mind that comfort zones equal stagnation. It’s like the advice on water sources found in the wilderness: Drinking running water is usually okay, but standing/stagnant water … you gotta watch out for that stuff. (Sorry for the digression — I’m ramumbling again.)

For those who need help with networking (like me), check out this video I made last fall about networking for the shy introvert:



5 Things Every New Business Should Know

Starting a new business? There are probably some things that you find uncertain, and others you just don’t have the hang of yet. While there’s no cookie-cutter approach we can offer budding entrepreneurs, there are some general tips to keep in mind. Here are five:

Failure/Rejection (on small scales) are probably in your near future, and that’s a good thing. There are more lessons to be learned in rough waters than when it’s smooth sailing. Remember Newton’s First Law: An object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. A little adversity here and there will not break your business — depending on how it’s handled, it can actually help your business grow. There’s something to be said for a healthy amount of risk-taking, too.

The first 2 years are usually the hardest. This is a good stat to keep in mind as you develop your business plan, especially budget-wise. Remember — if things don’t go the way you planned, don’t worry. It’s fairly common for businesses to struggle in their early, formative years.



Don’t be afraid to ask for help. As a small business owner, you’re probably used to doing things on your own. However, that doesn’t mean you need to isolate yourself. There are lots of resources for small business owners. Remember to ask people in your network for advice.

Take a look at our post on Automating, Delegating, and Outsourcing to develop ways to include others in your day-to-day work life.

Show, Don’t Tell. To build both your business’ trust and reputation, showing is better than telling. Marketing and advertising are important to spread the word about your business, but performance and delivering quality products and services are more important. No amount of advertising makes up for a poor product, and there’s no substitute for trust.

Learn to be efficient with your time. It can be easy to become a martyr for your business. But isn’t it better to work smarter, not harder? Part of this involves delegating and outsourcing as mentioned earlier. Take charge of your schedule in a way that’s productive but keeps your sanity intact. Develop systems, stay organized, and jettison anything that doesn’t serve a purpose.

Here are some posts we’ve written regarding efficiency, including systems and getting organized.



Automating, Outsourcing, & Delegating

Being independent means you are in charge of doing it all, right? Sure…if you want to go crazy and lose sleep/hair over it.

The truth is, you may think of yourself as a “one man show” but this kind of attitude can a) get pretty lonely when things get tough, and b) can actually hurt your business rather than help it. Here are three ways you can let other people/businesses/services help you, so you can keep doing what you love and help your business thrive:

Automating

Automating is for the truly mindless things that no one needs to do in a real way. There is a love/hate relationship with automation in the content marketing world, but I think there’s room for compromise. You can’t automate everything, but you should automate some things.

Some non-marketing things you can automate for your business include:

  • recurring bill payments (i.e. utilities)
  • frequent orders (if you’re running a restaurant and go through a certain amount of napkins, salt, avocados, etc every month)
  • scheduling/booking
  • accepting payments
  • tracking purchases

Online, you can automate your social media content. We use social media scheduling software to get content ready for posting ahead of time. However, it’s really important to update/refresh content and log in to these accounts to stay up to date on activity. What if someone comments on one of your scheduled posts and no one has answered them? Every now and then you might want to update people with something time relevant like specials, recent orders, seasonal things-whatever you can think of. For more tips on automating social media, take a look at one of our old blog posts When Automated Marketing Goes Wrong. There are also tools like Zapier and IFTTT which can help you connect things up (ex: when someone fills out your contact form and opts in for email updates, they automatically are added to your email marketing list).



Delegating

Delegating is for something you’d like to keep ‘in the family’ but don’t want to do yourself. If you have employees or even part time/freelancers that you work with, delegating can be a great way to move some work off your plate so that you can focus on other things to grow your business. Going back to the social media updates, you could delegate the logging in and responding to inquiries to another person entirely.

Some things you can delegate include:

  • tasks you are inefficient at (ex: scheduling meetings)
  • tasks you need regularly
  • tasks that have little to do with your business (ex: cleaning the office bathroom)

Some business owners tend to feel a bit guilty and/or bottle-neck when it comes to certain tasks of the business. The tough love answer for bottlenecking is, unless you’re okay with limiting growth of the business, it’s not going to serve you well. For new hires and relationships with freelancers, you should definitely have a trial/training period, and set up some sort of annual (or other frequency) review process. When it comes to the everyday tasks, though, it’s better to hand over the ropes and be available as a resource without limiting the flow of work that gets done.

And if you feel “guilty” about delegating, think back to the early days of your business when it was you performing the gruntwork AND trying to grow a business. You’ve been “in the trenches” before, and I’m going to assume you’d be willing to jump back in if you needed to. The thing is, in order for you to take your business to the next level and keep growing, at some point you have to hand those things off to someone else (and be okay with it).



Outsourcing

Outsourcing is for things you either can’t efficiently or shouldn’t logically do in house. There are some things that are generally a pain, and that you’ve probably had to handle on your own in the early days of business. But at some point, there are certain tasks you can straight up outsource so that you don’t have to be in charge of them anymore. Some things you may want to outsource include payroll, logo design, bookkeeping, etc.

Think of the things you can do but maybe don’t enjoy doing or maybe just don’t love doing. Is it possible to hire someone else to take care of it for you? Again, don’t let guilt or the feeling of “well, I’m the business owner so I should care/be doing this myself…” stop you from outsourcing. It’s one of those things that will free up your time, which can go into other areas of your business. Outsourcing, just like delegating, prevents you from spreading yourself too thin and stunting the growth of your business as a result.

Stay tuned for our other posts about Independence and Business this month!



Etsy Featured Seller: Amanda Zehner (Living Threads Co)

This month on the blog we are all about Etsy, the online marketplace for “unique goods.” We have a lot of local people who use Etsy as an ecommerce tool, and they’re the best people to talk to about the platform!

We love businesses who love to help others, and that’s exactly what Living Threads Co. is all about. Founded by Amanda Zehner in 2014, Living Threads Co. features handmade textiles from around the world, in an effort to join these communities with the American market. Here’s what she has to say about Etsy as a way to increase online exposure/awareness to products (BEC questions in bold).

What made you decide to use Etsy as a marketplace for your business?   

Access to an already established customer base through a marketplace that attracts a similar demographic as Living Threads Co. is targeting. Access to resources and a network of other similar businesses.



Do you sell your products anywhere else online or in real life?

 Yes, a majority of our business is done outside of Etsy. We primarily use Etsy as a supplemental platform and another way to get our name out, help new customers and businesses find us and then direct them to our e-commerce website. We also sell in seasonal pop-ups and through wholesale B2B relationships to expand our impact on small scale artisans.

LTCo. Nicaragua Family Impact 2015.08.11 from Living Threads Company on Vimeo.

What has contributed to your success on Etsy?  

We view success on Etsy as relationship building and brand exposure but do not have a great deal of success in sales.  Creation of a shop on Etsy does not mean sales and business. You have to prioritize marketing and driving people to your Etsy shop.  That is not our priority as we choose to focus on driving customers to your own commerce site. However, the cost of maintaining inventory on  Etsy is so minimal that it is worth it to us to maintain it.

How do you stand out in this marketplace?  

We are a higher price point product then a majority of products on Etsy and as mentioned above, we strategically focus our energy on driving traffic to our own e-commerce site. However, I do think that our higher end quality product on Etsy helps us to stand out.

From the Living Threads Co. website. One way Living Threads Co. stands out (in our opinion) is their unique story and the fact that their products are not only high quality but have a direct impact on the lives of others.

What’s your advice for anyone considering selling their products on Etsy? 

Make sure that you have a strategy for driving traffic to your shop and standing out, high quality product images and a marketing plan with a focused effort to drive people to your site and convert that to sales.  Whether that is a blog, Instagram, Pinterest, or all of the above.

Tell us about your most interesting Etsy transaction (i.e. weird customer questions/requests, or a purchasing experience).

Have had great experiences purchasing from other vendors and greatly appreciate the ‘small business’  feel. Also being able to interact directly with the owner, have custom work done and have questions answered very quickly.  We have had people reach out about larger orders but have been on completely different pages cost-wise (there seems to be a lack of understanding of the value of hand made artisan products, which is why on our own site we try to tell that story really clearly).

One of our personal favorite items from Living Threads Co is this finger puppets set! There are also sets for other famous children’s books, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Goodnight, Moon.

(Just for fun) If you had $100 to spend anywhere on Etsy, what would you buy?

We would buy more custom handmade cotton tags for out handwoven blankets. I love being a part of the design process of each part of our final product and creating a final product that is hand made from fiber to tagging and supporting small businesses, entrepreneurs, artists and creatives from Guatemala to Maine or Colorado.  So much fun!

Thanks again to Amanda for answering our Etsy questions, and make sure you check out her website! 

Etsy Featured Artist: Dory Smith Graham (Worthy Goods)

 

This month on the blog we are all about Etsy, the online marketplace for “unique goods.” We have a lot of local people who use Etsy as an ecommerce tool, and they’re the best people to talk to about the platform!

Dory Smith Graham, owner of Worthy Goods, has been using Etsy since 2008 to sell her products. She creates bowties, wool felt jewelry, scarves, and much more from organic, sustainable sources. Here’s what she has to say about Etsy (BEC questions in bold).

What made you decide to use Etsy as a marketplace for your business?

Etsy was fairly new back in 2008 when I started out, a handmade selling platform that was just beginning to take off. It had a very low barrier-to-entry, and that was perfect for me. I had a wicked slim product line at that point, four reversible baby slings and very little extra time with a 6 month old, a sewing hobby and working part time as a goldsmith. I was able to get the shop up and online in just a day.



One of Dory’s products, a gum ball felt and velvet choker

Do you sell your products anywhere else online or in real life?

You bet! At SevenArts in Ellsworth, year round, you can find much of worthygoods full lineup of hats, bow ties, linen smock aprons, and more. Other shops that carry worthygoods are Island Artisans in Bar Harbor and Northeast Harbor; Salon Naturelles, Bar Harbor; Quench, Belfast; Archipelago, Rockland and Center for Maine Craft at the Gardiner exit. Online there are three venues: my main website, worthy-goods.com with a full product line and I have two Etsy shops as well, worthygoods, and the other is worthygoodstextile where I sell organic cotton fabrics and vintage wooden spools & bobbins from shuttered textile mills. I vend at a handful of vibrant summer and holiday fairs locally on and around MDI as well as in southern Maine. My very favorite events to show at are the IAA Labor Day Fair on the Village Green in Bar Harbor and PICNIC Holiday in Portland.

What has contributed to your success on Etsy?

For the first couple years I received a lot of support as a member of the Etsy Maine Team. Then as a more senior member, I offered support to new members. Etsy also offers webinars and email/pdf type ‘schools’ that help with solid advice in parcels that are usually easy to work through to improve targeted areas like developing voice, branding, Etsy SEO as well as planning for the holiday season.

How do you stand out in this marketplace?

Since worthygoods is dedicated to gear steeped in Maine style, I stand out with my product line and my branding. Both highlight and reflect my love of Maine from The County to the coast. My branding uses a vintage Maine lobster license plate, something that still resonates with me and my customers, especially. I find that the more I accentuate the things that ring true to me as reflecting Maine heritage, the more my customers see worthygoods as authentic Maine gear.

What’s your advice for anyone considering selling their products on Etsy?

If you are just starting out on Etsy, I would suggest you take a long, hard look at your pricing structure. Since Etsy has become a publicly traded company, they have really increased their transactional fees, added a fee-based payment processing platform, incorporated two paid layers of search-based advertising, in addition to the shipping platform. It’s easy to under-price yourself and hard to bump it up later on once you’ve established yourself a bit.

Tell us about your most interesting Etsy transaction (i.e. weird customer questions/requests, or a purchasing experience).

My favorite sale on Etsy for worthygoods was relatively uneventful, but Farrah Fawcett had an employee of hers custom-order and purchase a hat for a relative. I was on cloud 9 thinking that one of my Little Trapper hats was having a brush with fame in California. An interior design service, Homepolish reached out to me via worthygoods textile on Etsy for a variety of vintage wooden spools and bobbins. They purchased a bunch and used them for a pop-up men’s shop, J Hilburn in NYC. Esquire did a feature article on it and there was a decent bit of local press and write-ups on it, too. I still use their styling as inspiration for my own shop photos and decor.

If you had $100 to spend anywhere on Etsy, what would you buy?

Ooh, fun! I would buy myself a bag (or put it towards one, at least!) from roughandtumblebags.Etsy.com. I was in Portland recently and was thrilled to find a second-hand one at a cool consignment shop there. They are hand-made in Portland Maine and have a great lived-in look and casual feel about them.
Thanks again to Dory for answering our Etsy questions, and make sure you check out her website
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