Today is going to be different. I usually write about cake or what it's like to be coeliac. But not this time. This time I'm going to share what you don't see - the things I do to get noticed as a small business owner.
You might think owning a cake business is simple. After all, who doesn't want cake?
But that doesn't make you memorable.
Think how many other cake business owners there are. Think of all the people who can make a great cake. And then think of the money it takes to run a business - things people often don't realise you have to pay for (like public liability insurance, maintaining kitchen equipment and website payments). So between the competition, the home bakers and your business costs, there's a lot to contend with.
That's why it's important to get creative. To be bold. To be fearless no matter what your shaking hand and beating heart might tell you. And these are my top 5 tips to get noticed.
Put your hand up first
Nobody wants to go first, especially when it's a massive room full of people and you've got to speak into a microphone. But that's exactly your best time to put your hand up. This has happened to me on so many occasions. The first time was when I'd gone to a national Barclays convention and there were over a thousand people in the room. It was a live broadcast around the UK linking all the big cities to London where Adam Balon, one of the founders of Innocent Drinks, was sharing his expertise. When the moment came for questions, I shoved my hand up. Suddenly my face loomed on a big screen in front of me with a cameraman mouthing, "3, 2, 1". They only had time for 2 questions so I was really grateful mine was one of them. Afterwards, everyone came to talk to me, and I left the event with so many numbers and useful business tips. If you're in the same position, force your hand up, even if you haven't got a question ready. By the time the mike's come round, you'll have thought of something, even if it's simply, "What's your best advice for small business owners to succeed?"
Put your message on a cake
On one occasion I'd been trying unsuccessfully to get in touch with someone. So I sent him 6 iced cupcakes with CALL ALI NOW ON 0117 9089193. The next day his secretary phoned. "You've hooked him!" she laughed, and we set up a meeting.
Buy yourself some time
Sales calls can be the worst. There'll be someone from a magazine asking if you'd like 5cm of ad space for £500+VAT on a monthly basis. And they're so lovely and gushing about your business it's tempting to say yes on the spot because, well, it's just not cricket to turn them down. Clearly, it's not a good idea to throw wadges of cash at anything without some proper thought and consideration. So I tell them I haven't seen the magazine lately and ask them to pop me a copy in the post. This buys me a few days' grace and I ask myself: is this a genuine opportunity or is it a reckless expenditure I can ill-afford? If it's the latter, I politely decline.
Force yourself to do the things you're afraid of
The Spanish say a life lived in fear is a life half-lived. Those words came to mind a couple of years ago when, at a large business event, there was the opportunity to win a stand at the next event. All you had to do was give the best 60 second pitch about your business to a Natwest marketing team. And Joseph Valente, the winner of The Apprentice. And a room full of people. I gulped when I thought about it. I couldn't imagine doing it. I felt a bit dizzy. And then I thought, nope, I've got to do it, otherwise I'll be half-living. So I sat down at lunch and googled '60 second business pitch' so I could put something together. Of course, when it came to them asking who wanted to go first, I shot my hand up. And whaddya know? I won the pitch and I got my stand (worth hundreds of pounds).
Become the expert in your field
Just because you're not in the place you want to be doesn't mean you aren't already on your way there. When I first started out, I was told I needed to be the expert in my field. So I e-mailed the editor of Gluten-Free Heaven magazine and asked if I could write the bio for their next issue. When I didn't hear back, I assumed they weren't interested. What I didn't realise is that editors have a ridiculously long to-do list and they often park ideas until they need them. Sure enough, after a few months, I got a lovely e-mail saying yes to the bio. And then a request for a Q&A, and then an article (for which I got paid). I believe I've now been in Gluten-Free Heaven magazine every month for the last 3 years, for which I am utterly grateful and also incredibly proud.
My advice to anyone starting out? Keep going because persistence pays off - sometimes it's just a waiting game. Know where you want to go and make it happen by forcing yourself out of your comfort zone because, trust me, the rewards of meeting one of your business heroes or winning a prize are well worth the effort, and all the while you'll be gaining new business.
I'd love to know if any of these tips have inspired you - please share your experiences below!