Want an example of the power of social media as a sales and marketing tool?
Look no further than Dayna Richardson, who posted a photo on Facebook last November of a mini-cupcake she had baked while getting into the holiday spirit.
It was a decision made millions of time a day on Facebook by people sharing photos with friends and family. But for Ms. Richardson, a single photo turned a lifelong hobby into a business overnight.
After posting the photo, Ms. Richardson started to get messages from friends asking where she had bought the mini-cupcake. When she told them it was homemade, people asked if they could place an order. Over the holidays, Ms. Richardson sold $5,000 worth of her bite-sized cupcakes, which led to the creation of Bite Me Bakery.
While the appeal of mini-cupcakes, which come in a wide variety of flavours, is a huge part of Ms. Richardson's success, there is an interesting back story.
Before getting into cupcakes, she spent two years as an events co-ordinator for fitness pageants that took place across Canada. She then started competing herself and, in the process, attracted more than 4,000 fans on Facebook.
So when her mini-cupcake appeared on the scene, there was already a large audience of potential buyers.
Even so, lots of people post photos on Facebook but very few ever see a business burst onto the scene because of them.
In explaining her success, Ms. Richardson, 24, believes there are a couple of major factors.
One, her cupcakes are aesthetically pleasing and play into the current trend that smaller and cuter is better.
Second, she says, people can really enjoy the guilty pleasure of eating a mini-cupcake with fewer calories than a regular-size cupcake.
Aside from Facebook, another key marketing tactic Ms. Richardson uses is hosting cupcake tastings. Last weekend, for example, she did a tasting that featured all-you-can-eat cupcakes for $5. Displaying some savvy marketing acumen, Ms. Richardson invites people from major organizations to give them a taste of the product.
Ms. Richardson says her biggest challenge for further growth is insufficient time and support.
"There is so much room for expansion but right now the biggest struggle is [that]it is just me," she says. "It is really hard to do all of that. I can't definitely do demos when I have all these orders to place."
Ms. Richardson's ability to grow the business may be poised to change, however, after recently attracting investors - not surprisingly, through Facebook.
Originally, she dismissed their e-mail approach several months ago because she thought they wanted to her to become a client of an advertising agency. But after watching her success, the investors reconnected a month ago. The deal has yet to close, but already Ms. Richardson says there are plans are in the works to open a retail store and bakery in suburban Toronto in September or October, and there is also talk about expanding nationally next year.
"I have always had a passion for confection arts. Since high school, I have been known as the domestic diva," Ms. Richardson says.
"I started this business small and, the next thing you know, I'm running with the sharks. Now, I'm blowing competitors out of the water, and it is a matter of taking it to the next level and to grow and grow. "
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups - Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.
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Editor's note: An earlier online version of this story had an incorrect reference to calorie content. This online version has been corrected.
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