With COVID-19 threatening to overstay its welcome like that uncle that just doesn't get the hint you want him to leave, businesses around the globe continue to adapt to "the new normal".
And while this period has been undeniably difficult, for many business owners and entrepreneurs the shift to online solutions has been a blessing in disguise. Thanks to a low barrier to entry and cheap startup costs, truly anyone can start an online store.
But starting an online bakery? Don't you have to be the winner of The Great British Bake Off to do something like that? Nope. As long as you've got passion, a plan and a knack in the kitchen, you've got all the ingredients you need.
Whether you're a professional hoping to move a brick-and-mortar store online or a home baker looking for a side income, in this article we'll give you the recipe to plan, start and grow a successful online bakery.
Kerbside Creamery first launched during Sydney's first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Unable to leave the house, and figuring their local community could use some treats to brighten their spirits, siblings and co-founders Jonathan and Gabrielle decided to start selling delicious baked treats to their neighbours.
To say the response was overwhelming would be an understatement. Within a year, the pair were able to buy an adorable pink food truck and launch a fully-functional online bakery delivering their uniquely decadent cheesecakes across the entire city. Now with hundreds of orders a week, they've come a long way from handing out cakes from their Cecil Hills home.
Having started their bakery business from home and grown it to something of a city-wide phenomenon, Kerbside Creamery's success is an example of what can be done with a great idea, a well thought out web presence and a whole lot of hard work.
Starting your own online bakery business is much more difficult than, say, selling digital products or reselling stuff on eBay. Why? Because you need to know your way around the kitchen. Being able to bake something delicious is a prerequisite before you can even consider trying to make a business out of it.
But the good news is once your ready to get started you can do so on a small budget. Sure, as Jonathan and Gabrielle found, there will be plenty of "super early mornings and super late nights" but you can get through it if you're dedicated.
For every new business, the very first step is to narrow down your niche. Think about your favourite restaurant and why it stands out. Who are their customers? What kind of food do they sell? What are they known for?
Ask yourself how your business will answer the same questions. Jonathan believes it isn't important to seek out a specific niche as it will most likely be obvious based on your existing expertise.
"I had the idea for cheesecake on a stick a long, long time ago, but didn't decide to do anything with it until I found myself unemployed in Sydney's first lockdown. It was a natural progression when we thought about starting our business, and I think that's where the best ideas come from.
— Jonathan Israfil
Your business can be based around one specific baked good like Kerbside Creamery (cheesecake) or cover a range of baked treats, from cookies to creme brûlée. Just try to leverage demand in your area before diving in (e.g. if there's another cookie shop in your area, ask yourself what you can bring they don't.)
Kerbside Creamery did a great job of defining their niche, being Sydney's first ever cheesecake on a stick store. While they were able to iterate with all sorts of flavours and variations, they're now known as the place to go for cheesecake.
Already got a bakery? Think about how your business can adapt its product line for the online world. For example, part of Kerbside Creamery's growth can be attributed to how their items look. Their bright colours and sweet toppings invite people to post shots on social media. Make sure your treats look as good as they taste.
Another key consideration is how your baked goods are getting to your customers. Do you have the right baking equipment? How long does the baking process take? What will your work hours be?
If you’re starting in your home kitchen, it might be hard to fulfil more than a couple orders every day and still maintain quality freshness. Baking can be precarious, and the shelf life of foods is not to be ignored. Don't try to overplay your hand.
"Know your product. How does it travel? How should it be consumed? When you're organising deliveries you need to make sure it reaches your customer in the same condition it would if they purchased it instore."
Start planning which days to shop for which ingredients, and see if you can buy products in bulk as demand increases. Since you are producing perishable goods, you’ll need to work out where to store your finished items and adapt your schedule to the rises and falls in sales levels.
"We went from preparing orders for customers over a five hour window, four days a week to all of a sudden needing orders to completed instantly seven days a week. It's tricky to get systems in place so quickly, so try to do it as you go."
It’s important to mention that some supplies won’t be readily available due to low stock levels across many supermarkets. Keep a list of these low-supply ingredients and which of your goods will be affected. You might consider using frozen rather than fresh fruits and vegetables.
If you’re just starting out, some of the equipment you may need includes mixers, convections ovens, lots of storage units and a large workspace. You may want to invest in more commercial equipment for large-scale production, though often it's best to start conservative and only make additions as necessary.
Once you've done the planning it's time to build your online presence. Start with a website or order form. Jonathan believes your website shouldn't be too fancy—all it needs is enticing pictures of your items and a simple way for customers to order.
"Simplify the online experience for your customer as much as possible. When it comes to setting up a site, less is more. I really can't reiterate that enough. Keep things simple and approachable. Buying should be effortless. "
— Jonathan Israfil
Customers need three things from your website: to be able to browse your menu, see your prices and make orders. For business owners, you need to make sure your web platform accepts payments and allows you to quickly manage orders and inventory.
We might be biased, but you can easily do this with Paperform. In minutes you can upload images of your baked goods, set prices and build a beautiful order form for your bakery—it's simpler, cheaper and much faster than building a website. It's also easier to maintain and keep updated with your latest products.
Before you launch your business you need to officially register your baking business. This isn't the most exciting part of the process, but think of it as an official stamp on your new venture. It's a way for you to make things official.
The specifics about how this works depend on your country and local government. In Australia, for example, you'll just have to register your ABN, whereas in the US there are additional costs and processes to go through to certify your ability to produce and distribute baked goods.
Broadly, this is about making sure you cover your legal bases. Is your business name registered? Are you allowed to operate a business from your home? Are you certified for the safe production of food? Depending where you live there can be more hoops to jump through than you may have initially considered.
Now it's time to focus on getting the word out about your bakery. If a cake's baked and there's no one around to eat it was it really baked at all? Word-of-mouth is the most important marketing channel to build a loyal customer base.
Word-of-mouth has been crucial for the team at Kerbside Creamery. Their business began from in front of their house, and grew organically through two main avenues:
From early on Kerbside Creamery knew their brand. They bake bright, decadent and crazy cheesecakes for people to share with family and friends. They're all about sweet flavour combinations and wacky toppings, from Oreos to Krispy Kreme donuts and their bestselling Biscoff vanilla cheesecake.
"Every business begins with a value proposition. What is the core value that you bring to your customers? In other words, what are you promising that customers will come specifically to you for?"
Don't pretend to be something you're not. At Kerbside Creamery you won't find any delicate patisserie or refined sourdough loafs. You, too, can build your brand in this way. Find what makes you special and stand out from other online bakeries.
It could be that your products are highly customisable, offering a fun, personalised experience. Or it could be that you bring nostalgia onto a plate through your family recipes that are reminiscent of home and childhood. Leverage the experiences that you bring to your customers and your sales will naturally follow.
Think about how your bakery satisfies an underlying need. Nike doesn’t make shoes, it gives athletes the ability to perform. Your bakery might sell home-baked cookies, or it could give families something to snack on and a reason to spend time together.
You’ve made it this far. Customers know who you are, what you sell and why they should buy from you. It’s time to expand your online presence to drive greater web traffic, engagement and ultimately, more customers.
"Don't be afraid to advertise. The online world is much bigger than the physical one, and you'll be able to draw customers you just wouldn't find otherwise. Advertising doesn't have to be complicated, just think of it as helping customers find you."
— Jonathan Israfil
Digital marketing is crucial for small businesses. You can get caught up figuring out what channels to focus on—from SEO to Google ads, but the right marketing strategy is a bit like the right exercise programme: the best one is the one you can stick to for the long run.
With that in mind, social media marketing can be one of the most effective channels for online bakeries. It gives you an avenue to directly interact with customers, while showcasing all your delicious products to a massive audience.
This is a strategy Kerbside Creamery has perfected. Their Instagram page is a lead magnet. They grow their customer base by sharing simple, eye-catching pictures of their moutherwatering treats, running giveaways and highlighting customer orders.
With more than 40,000 followers on Instagram, Kerbside Creamery have used the platform as a tool to help build a community around their products. When it comes to making your baked treats Instaworthy, Jonathan takes a less-is-more approach.
"Don't overly filter or edit your photos. Our products are naturally bright and vibrant, and we use colours that contrast one another and make things pop. Try to draw inspiration from things you like to look at yourself, then replicate it with your own unique spin."
Remember, being a fantastic baker doesn't guarantee success. Every small business owner also has to be a marketer. Whether it's buying social ads, co-marketing with other local businesses or handing out business cards in the community, you should always be looking for ways to get your name out there.
Existing businesses will face, different challenges than newly established bakeries. First, you'll have to get the word out about your new online platform. Get out the contact book (or email list) to inform your existing customers of your new store.
Many brick-and-mortar businesses transitioning online find success by offering products in a set, rather than individually (e.g. a pack of 12 cakes, rather than an option to buy individually). This also makes for great gifts for family and friends.
Consider setting up a newsletter too. A newsletter sent fortnightly is a fantastic way to update subscribers on your latest news and menu changes. Ask customers to opt in to your newsletter during the purchase process, and entice them into signing up by offering exclusive discount codes and coupons.
One last tip—remember that when moving your bakery online the priority is setting up a store that customers can purchase from. A complicated website can wait. Just concentrate on building an ecommerce page that displays products, take payments and helps manage your inventory without an investment of too much money or time.
Ready to put this recipe to the test? While the journey to baking stardom is different for everyone, you'll put your business in good stead by planning carefully, connecting with your customers and understanding what need your baked treats meet.
Sign up to Paperform's 14-free trial and start your online bakery today.
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