Wondering how to start an online cake business from home? From choosing your product to getting the right packaging, making a great first impression, e-commerce platforms, getting a payment system, reliable couriers and doing a full practice run of your process, Phil and Christine Jensen are here to share their invaluable advice based on years of experience. So, get comfy and soak it all up!
7 top tips on starting an online cake business from home
1. Decide on a ‘postable’ product!
The first thing to consider is what product will ship well. There’s no point in selling a four-tier sugar flower covered cake by post – your customers will just get a box of crumbs and sugar shards at the other end! There’s also no win in choosing items that require strict temperature control – that means fresh cream products are an absolute no-go.
Whatever you send needs to…
- Be able to survive ambient temperatures for prolonged times
- Survive being handled roughly and repeatedly by different drivers and sorting machines
- Fit well into your boxes without too much room to roam around in
Top tip! If there’s room to move in the box then there’s room for it to get crushed and bashed.
The journey is not a kind one, and your products will not be shown the same love and care you show them in-house.
“We need to be happy that every item can survive being shaken… a lot, occasionally dropped, and often turned upside down. This is where throwing cake at a wall (for research purposes) is a good thing!”
Caption: Phil and Christine Jensen with cake boxes
2. Get the right packaging
Packaging is going to do two things:
It’ll protect the deliciousness inside from everything the postal system can throw at it.
The packaging isn’t just the outer layer of the goody bag the bakes come in – it’s the box or container, the wrapping itself, flavour and ingredient labels, message cards, information, any packing filler needed… There’s a surprising number of bits and pieces required.
For the products to be protected by the packaging they need to be in harmony when it comes to size. That means, either the products are designed to fit a standard box, or ordering custom boxes to fit your product.
The pros and cons of custom boxes
Custom boxes are more expensive, but if bought in bulk they can be less so. Custom packaging has some big advantages. Each box can be designed to exactly fit the product, and therefore protect it securely. It can be printed with your logo and ordered in your colours, which is a great opportunity to get your branding front and centre.
And the second thing the packaging can do?
It’s your chance to make a great first impression.
“Each year, as a result of The Cake Professionals Baking Award category, we get sent boxes of cake from cake makers across the UK. Some of the boxes that come through to us make an incredible impression – we can’t wait to open them up. Others… well… let’s just say they leave us less excited about what’s inside.”
The packaging tells a story – it sets the scene, long before a bite has been taken, which means you can each take full advantage of packaging to set the scene, to enhance the experience of the items being enjoyed.
Top tip! Think about the messages, information, labels, the wrappings, the box, every detail of what each customer will experience.
3. Get an e-commerce website or sell through Instagram or Facebook
Say what now? e-commerce? e-what? It’s OK. It simply means electronic commerce.
If you already have a website your provider might have an e-commerce option that simply needs to be switched on. Alternatively, companies like wix.com and squarespace.com have readymade template websites that do all the hard work for you. All you need are some great images of your products and some good copy and you can quickly get a site up and running.
Facebook or Instagram shops
To start selling solely through Facebook or Instagram, follow their step-by-step instructions to set up a Facebook or Instagram shop. They’ll take a percentage of any money made on their platforms, but Facebook and Instagram can also be effective ways to reach different types of markets.
4. Get a payment solution
Great product, great packaging, great online shop, now the important part… you need to get paid!
It might sound daunting but it’s SO easy now to take payments online.
- Check which payment options each website platform is already set up to work with. The most common are Stripe, Paypal and Apple Pay but there are others. Check how much they charge. Typically, it’s between 1.5% and 3.5% of each transaction.
- Create a business account with the payment provider which links to your business bank account. These companies make it super easy, and they have lots of “How to” information to keep us on the right track.
- Simply give your business website those details.
Magically, when people buy delicious treats on your online page, money will appear in your bank account. It’s the best kind of magic.
5. Find a RELIABLE courier
Now all you need to do is to get your delicious boxes of treats from A to B.
The answer is couriers.
They’ll come to the door and scan in each item and take it away to the depot for posting on. There are lots of couriers out there.
So how do you know which is the right company to use?
“We spoke with five different companies and negotiated a rate based on our frequency of use. It’s all part of the process of working out the best path forward.”
Well, it’s true, you get what we pay for. The cheapest option will likely cause more headaches than you want. The most expensive will probably make your products too expensive for most customers. So, it’s finding that courier who sits somewhere in the middle.
Top tip! Make sure you have a named contact person for your account so that when things go wrong (because, dib-dib), there’s someone who knows the business, to answer the call.
Caption: Find a good courier!
6. Optional – find a shipping system to manage addresses
Most websites won’t let orders automatically whizz through to be set up with the courier. So, to make the website to talk directly to a courier you need something in the middle to help make that happen.
This is called a shipping system.
“We use a website called Shipstation but there are plenty of others out there.”
It’s not compulsory, though! If you have a few sales a week you can easily enter their addresses into your courier’s systems. As soon as you get to 20 or so orders a week an automatic solution saves time, energy and spelling errors from happening.
Again, the important thing to check is what systems your website has already set up links with. If they’re already set up, it can literally just be a couple of clicks to get them talking.
7. Do a practice run
Recruit some friends and family to place orders on your website. Trial the whole process – from the ordering, making and packaging, all the way to the sending and eating.
“We guarantee you’ll discover all kinds of things you had not thought of along the route. This is a great way to learn without the pressure of having to be perfect first time. Your family and friends get to enjoy your ingenuity, your creativity, your fabulous flavours, and they’ll be able to encourage you too.”