Recently, I had a conversation with a woman business owner who claims her business in Chicago is drying up. She bakes cupcakes from scratch in every imaginable flavor and size from her small bakery, Think Sprinkles, eleven miles south of downtown Chicago. As a one-woman shop, how can she increase sales and profitability so her business doesn’t shrivel up? It starts with going back to the basics of good old-fashioned marketing.
1. Exploit what makes her offering—in this case, cupcakes—sensational.
Without costing anything but her time, she can exploit the uniqueness of her cupcakes with all her fans through popular online platforms such as a blog, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. She can list the types of cupcakes she makes, share real-life stories about the reaction people have when they devour the delicious treats, and take frequent photos showing customers celebrating important life moments with a kind of Cupcakepalooza.
2. Make the location an adventure.
Located eleven miles south of Water Tower Place, the little bakery is only getting local neighborhood customers. Maybe that’s the reason business is drying up. You can only eat so many cupcakes a day, a week or a month without spending extra dollars to get your clothes altered. But what if, for a modest fee, she offered tours of her bakery and set aside an area where customers could buy unadorned cupcakes and decorate them? A tour bus would pick up and drop off visitors near Water Tower Place the same time every day, taking them to her bakery for a couple of hours. At the end of the tour, customers would receive a coupon for 20 percent off one-dozen mini cupcakes—valid until they return.
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3. Tap the international marketplace for customers.
Say you live in Sweden or Qatar and plan to visit Chicago. How will you find out about the best little Chicago cupcake bakery? Take a guess. It starts with No. 1 and then evolves into the bakery owner working with U.S. embassies located all over the world, travel organizations, event management companies and dealmakers (think Groupon for coupons and Google for targeted online keyword ads). The business owner can contact these organizations to let them know about her bakery and offer specials and incentives to entice their "visitors" to pay her a visit (remember, once a person has arrived in downtown Chicago, they can jump on a tour bus to visit the bakery). She can also run a cupcake festival every month that ties into whatever the season offers—post New Year’s Cupcake Party, Valentine’s Day Love Cupcake Fest, St. Patty’s Wearin' Green Cupcake Day, etc.
You can sit around and hope that business picks up on its own, or you can develop a strategy that takes your business to a whole new level—and global to boot—without spending an arm and a leg. The world is your market. Take baby steps to capture it, even if it’s one exotic cupcake at a time.