What to Sell - Guide to Choosing the Perfect Product
Wedding cakes, macarons, cupcakes, biscuits, energy bars, granola, chocolates, fondant decorations, cake pops...The list of what a home baker can sell could truly go on forever but when you're starting out it is important not to get carried away and offer ALL OF THE BAKED GOODS! You need to focus on being first class at producing one thing which will help build a strong reputation in your field. I already know you love making edible treats and are passionate about taking it to the next level to build a profitable business. Let's get stuck in!
So now that we’ve established that you are all in and totally committed to starting a business it’s time to make the big decision. What are you going to sell? This might seem like a complete no-brainer to you as presumably there is something that you are really kick-ass at making which is what led you to making this decision in the first place. Before you dive in head first though, just consider the following points as they will help you to either make a decision on exactly what products you should focus on or, if you’re already there, allow you to refine the ideas you have developed.
There are four key aspects to take into consideration when deciding on a product to sell. These four elements really apply to any business model, not just the business of home-baking.
WHO – who is your target market and perfect customer?
WHERE – where will you be based and where will your products be sold from?·
HOW – what sales method will you use?
WHAT – what products will you be making and selling in your business?
Now, your instinct might be to focus on the ‘WHAT’ you are selling first. This isn’t wrong, and it is definitely important to keep your first thought in the back of your mind throughout this process, but by focussing on the other three questions first you will be left with a clear idea of whether or not your product has a market. You might have totally confirmed your initial thought and have discovered that the perfect market for your product is right on your doorstep. Good job! Or you might find that your initial plan to sell locally might not work because your perfect customer isn’t based near you. Not to worry though, there are many options for selling nationally, or even worldwide, depending upon what you plan to sell.
You’ll find as we work through these main four elements that there is a lot of overlapping between them and that to hit that sweet spot that is the perfect product or products they all need to work together.
For example, if you are an absolute genius at pulling light, crisp and flaky croissants from your oven at the drop of a hat, and online Etsy shop isn’t going to make sense for you. However, supplying a local café, or a stall at a farmers market could see you becoming a star of the local food scene.
Where are your customers?
Before deciding exactly what your plan to sell, you have to think about where you are based and your customers are. When I was running a baking business I had a couple of different markets that I tapped into – local and online. Cakes and cupcakes, which have to be sold and eaten fresh were only available at local markets or to customers within a reasonable driving distance. Fondant cake decorations and some macaron flavours were available to purchase through an online Etsy shop to customers throughout the United Kingdom and, for the fondant decorations, this could have been expanded worldwide.
Consider the following:
Is there a strong local food scene in your area?
How many potential customers live within driving distance to you? Are you in a city or the middle of nowhere?
Is your product shippable?
Having a local food scene can be a really important part of build up your business and getting your name out there. Not only is it great to connect with other people who are in the same position as you, making a living by selling food, but if there is already interest from people in your area for locally sourced products, handmade goods and bespoke items then it will be easy for you to just slot in and start selling, rather than having to convince people that homemade is the way to go.
Selling high quality home baking at farmers markets and craft fairs is also a great way to raise your businesses profile by exposing yourself to a wide number and range of potential customers. Having a local food scene usually means there are regular foodie markets and stalls are often quite affordable even to new businesses.
If you live in a more remote or sparsely populated area there is still potential to start a business. Think about what makes life difficult for people in your situation. Could providing a bread/baked goods delivery service be practical? Could you supply a cafes each weekend –meaning you just have to make one trip to the nearest town/customer hub to make your sales?
Online is definitely something to consider if you don’t think the number of local customers is high enough to run a successful business. Many products can be homemade but have a shelf life that is long enough, or can be packed in such a way that they can be shipped within your country. Think granola (very popular at the moment, particularly if it includes superfood ingredients), fondant cake decorations or cookie/cake mix gifts. If you are considering selling online to other countries it is important to check what their customs regulations are as some items may not be allowed.
Thinking about the above, make a note of where you will be based and the places to sell that sound like a good fit for your situation. Keep this close by we’ll be adding to it soon.
Who are you selling to?
A tried and tested technique for establishing a product to sell is to picture your perfect customer.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to who you are planning on selling to.
Take your product idea and analyse your potential market to determine whether or not they will buy your product.
Look at your potential market and figure out what product will cater to the most about of people, or enough people to make your business profitable.
Both have good points and it is good practice to pick one then use the other as a checking mechanism to ensure you haven’t missed anything.
Let’s look at an example of thinking about your product first. You want to sell high quality, great tasting protein snacks to your local area. The perfect customer for this product would be 20-40 year olds who value their health and well-being, with memberships to a premium gym club, a keen interest in current fitness and food trends and a level of disposable income. Firstly, are there a few premium member only fitness clubs in your area, as this is where your perfect customer will be? Next you need to figure out how you can access that market. This could be through the café within these gyms, online forums for the area, running groups or partnering with a local fitness instructor.
The alternative is to look at the customers in your area first. The only gym within a 30 mile radius of your kitchen is a council run with a low cost membership. The chances of these members being willing to pay premium prices for your product are much lower. This would be a time to look at selling your product online, or to rethink your offering to work more successfully with the local market.
Go back to your list from before, write a new heading and make a list of the key groups of people in your area (e.g. stay at home mums, students, the elderly). Next to each group, note a few ideas or products you already make that would appeal to this market.
What are you selling?
Enjoying what you will be producing is one of the most important factors in this decision. More than any other type of product, when it is something you are crafting by hand, you have to have a passion for it. That’s great news though, you love to spend time in your kitchen, and you love to bake.
For me, my favourite baked good changed throughout my time in business. My first love was cupcakes. Remember when they first hit the big time and were absolutely everywhere? That’s the time when my love of baking was rekindled and was the start of my journey to starting a baking blog and cake business. Honestly, I still love to make cupcakes. They seem to have fallen out of favour a bit just now, particularly at parties and celebrations, in favour of dessert tables. Whilst I think it is important to keep an eye on current food trends, I don’t think you should let that change the course of your business if your true interest lies in a different area. A quality product will always stand the test of time so whilst cupcakes are no longer the huge trend they once were bakeries like The Hummingbird Bakery and Crumbs and Doilies still have their main focus on baking beautiful and inventive cupcakes. So if you truly believe in it, and there is a market for it, then go with your heart.
Grab your sheet of paper and list your favourite and most popular creations, as well as some current food trends. In a new column, write down how you could sell each of these products - online, to cafes and restaurants, direct to the customer, markets.
It’s now time to reflect on everything you’ve written down. Do you see any obvious links between customer base, selling mechanism and that think you’re great at making? This exercise is designed to get you thinking about new possibilities, clarify the thoughts you already had or discard ideas that are just not the right fit for you.
Please get in touch using the social media links, or comment below if you have any questions or comments. Good luck!