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Don’t Underestimate the Power of Communication

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Communication

Communication planning can make or break your business.

Birds sing and mock; bees dance and jitter; plants bloom and release pheromones – from cave paintings to moving images and the Internet you’re reading this through, humans, along with all other living species, have evolved wonderful means of communication. In fact, humans have become so adept at expressing themselves, it’s easy for us to overlook its importance.

In business, as with most of our relations, poor communication is at the root of all too many problems. Ironically, the ease and diversity of communications in today’s world has turned its modern benefits back on themselves. Your customers are bombarded with messages – from billboards and SPAM, to text messages and talk-radio blabber-mouths. It’s become more and more difficult to attract and hold people’s attention, yet it’s never been more of an absolute must in any successful business strategy.

Communication planning demystified

So what is a communication plan anyway? It’s not as complicated as it might seem. Communication planning, in a nutshell, includes considering the whos, whats, whys, and hows of your communication needs. With so many tools at your disposal – emails, social media, blogs, direct mail, and more – you’ll need to determine which ones make for the best way to connect with your audience.

The following tips will help you and your team zero in on a plan that’s best for your goals.

Research, research, research. Analyze your customers’ behaviors – who are they? What motivates them to patronize your industry? How do they use your products? What prevents them from enlisting your services? Which methods of contact have worked well in the past? Effective communication depends on your ability to speak to the hearts of your audience, the more you understand them, the better you’ll be able to develop an effective strategy.

Outline your plan. The question of ‘who?’ will inform the ‘hows’ and ‘whens.’ For example, if you discover most of your target audience is active on social media, a Facebook campaign might be the best way to make contact. If you’re instituting a loyalty program, you may want to set up a recurring reward distribution process. At We Take The Cake, we encourge our clients to take advantage of our Cake of the Month Club so that sending rewards and acknowledgement is automatic. Again, the point of the plan is to identify the ‘hows’ and ‘whens’ based on your ‘whos.’

Establish an ‘open door’ policy. This doesn’t necessarily mean offering your customers an open line to your CEO – the point is to make it super easy for them to connect with you. Whether it means making the “contact us” button clear and visible, live chats, or social media links – if you want a relationship with your customers, don’t make them hunt down your contact information, or wait an unprofessional amount of time for a response.

Never stop evolving. Just because you have a plan in place doesn’t mean your research is over. Monitoring both customer behavior, and the effectiveness of your communication strategy is an ongoing and rewarding process that should continue to shape your plan as your company and customers grow.

The goal is customer loyalty

Solid communication is the basis of most, if not all, lasting relationships. The more you customers feel as if you know them, the stronger your communication with them will be, and that (along with a stellar product) is the recipe for a life-long customer base.

At We Take The Cake, our business is communication – through sites, smells, and joyful deliciousness. Our goal is to help you communicate through our universal love of cake. We understand cakes are more than just a culinary indulgence, they let people know you care. Whether it’s to say thanks, to acknowledge a special day or milestone, to introduce your business to a new audience, or reward your employees, a gift of cake breaks through the clutter of information and makes a real impact.

We take the time to make sure we understand every order to the precise specifications of our clients, because we know our cakes are speaking for you. If you’d like to find out more about how we can help your business, contact us today.

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Cake is For Vegans Too!

Cake is for vegans too

An inside look at vegan cake.

Adhering to a vegan diet is a strict discipline – but it doesn’t mean you can’t eat cake! However, after one bad experience, such as learning a restaurant lied about their vegan dishes, skepticism is understandable. So, before you write-off vegan cake as an impossibility, let’s take a tour through the impossibly deliciousness of vegan baking.

Is it really vegan?

To be sure, vegan means absolutely zero animal products – no honey, eggs, milk, gelatin, or insect derived color dyes (cochineal). Vegan cake is entirely plant-based – bakers make clever use of fruits, nuts, and a variety of spices, including cocoa, to excite the tastebuds.

How’s it work without eggs and butter?

Eggs give cake its fluffy structure, and butter works in concert with its confectionary colleagues to create a rich, velvety texture. Fortunately, you don’t have to journey to a specialty store to find excellent substitutions.

Oil for butter. Vegetable oils such as coconut oil are perfect stand-ins for their dairy-based counterpart. Coconut oil comes in unrefined and refined – as you might have guessed, unrefined still carries a hint of coconut flavor, while refined is essentially flavorless.

Applesauce for eggs. Some vegan cake recipes call for applesauce in place of eggs. Other options include fleg (an artificial egg substitute made from flax meal), chia seeds, silken tofu, and a baking soda-vinegar mixture.

Hey, that’s not vegan! (What to watch out for)

The strictest of vegans trace their food back to its production – that’s where animal products can sneak their way into what we might falsely assume to be vegan. Here’s a few places those little tricksters can be found and how to replace them.

Bleached sugar. White sugar is sometimes bleached via a process that uses animal bones. Stick with unbleached cane sugar and you’ll be in the clear.

Milk and cream. While not so sneaky, these are tricky to replace all the same. Soy milk products are typically recommended. Soy yogurt can be used in place of cream, or dried soy milk can be rehydrated sparingly for a creamier texture.

Honey. Most grocery stores provide ample options to use instead of honey. Agave nectar and maple syrup are healthy and popular options.

What about the frosting?

In some circles, such as 6-year-old’s birthday parties, a cake without icing is grounds for an eruption of tears and disappointment. Fortunately, such catastrophes can be avoided with a little vegan-baking savvy. In fact, if you’ve been paying attention, you already know the solution. The key replacement ingredient in icing is butter, which – as you know – can be swapped out with coconut oil for a frosting that’s actually pretty darn healthy, assuming you limit the sugar.

Indulging your vegan sweet tooth

While many of these substitutes are super delicious, they can affect the baking process. One thing we’ve learned over the year is that vegan baking, if using non-vegan recipes, can require a little trial and error, but we’re proud to offer vegan and gluten-free cakes to our customers because we know everyone still loves sweets!

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Half Baked: Knowing When Not to Grow as a Business

When Not to Grow

Every new business owner dreams of wild growth: overnight fame, fortune, and popularity dropped on your proverbial doorstep.

And it’s only natural that they do; those things are indicators of success and potential longevity, but the very thing you aspire to could also eventually be your undoing.

After all, as the old saying goes: “Be careful what you wish for.”

Our Key Lime Bundt Cake was featured on “Oprah’s Favorite Things” – the perfect example of an entrepreneur’s dream come true – and We Take The Cake was launched into the public spotlight, becoming the overnight success we had always desired. It’s the sort of story that entrepreneurs think would end with “And we lived happily ever after,” without considering the battles lost, dragons slayed, and villains fought to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion.

There’s a reason the term “growing pains” is one that people know well. Growth isn’t easy; change is uncomfortable and the future can be hard to predict. Explosive expansion can be overwhelming in a good or bad way, and sometimes it’s best for your business if you pace yourself.

If you lack the following three ingredients, you may need to work on perfecting your recipe for success before falling into the flames:

Expertise

Our expertise was hard-earned; I was not a baker to begin with, just someone who wanted to buy a business. So we found an already established company for sale and thought, “How hard can it be?”

Spoiler alert: it can be really hard.

Before scheming up ways to go viral or to end up as a household name, take the time to know your entire industry inside and out. Don’t just know how to run your business (although you’ll need that too) – have a solid understanding of all of the moving pieces, how they work together to produce your product, and how your product fits in with the competition, your market, and the world. Do research, network with related businesses, go to trade shows, read industry publications, and have a genuine curiosity about what you do and how you can improve.

Experience

You can achieve expert status in an intellectual way without having true experience. We Take The Cake got to a point where we believed we knew what we were doing. We had the public name, we had the big numbers… but we had absolutely no idea what our actual sweet spot was, which led to some failed attempts at franchising and pop-up retail locations.

The good news is that missteps along the way become the experience you need to rise through the ranks. The bad news is that perceived failure hurts pride, and possibly your budget, in the short term. Be humble and honest with yourself so that you can recognize your strengths and weaknesses and act accordingly to grow appropriately.

Assets

A lot of people consider assets to be financially based, but an asset is actually anything that brings value to your business, from staff to equipment to work space. Our biggest complications from our brush with overnight fame were mostly related to the fact that we weren’t prepared for such an onslaught of orders – and that was after our attempt to prepare. Our website went down, our hosting company quit, we couldn’t handle the call volume, and it became readily apparent that our space was insufficient for our new and improved business size.

Consider the “worst” best case scenario and plan for that. It would have been far better to have found ourselves temporarily overstaffed than to realize we had three lines of voicemail filling up every forty minutes.  And, remember, if you mess up on this step, you’ve gained valuable experience, so it all works out in the end anyway.

The truth is that a comfortable pace allows your company to grow into itself as well as its potential. There will always be time for learning through trial and error – and there’s tremendous value in doing so – but getting that education in bite-sized chunks is more palatable, and practical, than plunging face-first into that which you (think you) desire.

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Ingredients of Achievement: How We Ended up on “Oprah’s Favorite Things”

Ingredients of Achievement: How We Ended up on “Oprah’s Favorite Things”

Our first taste of success was the result of an accidental encounter and a mutual gesture of goodwill on an airplane.  

After meeting an employee at Harpo Studios on a flight, a customer of ours was given tickets to a filming of Oprah’s show, and she repaid that kindness by sending her newfound friend one of our key lime Bundt cakes.

The employee then placed her own order and raved about our product when we followed up with a phone call, so we did what any quick-thinking, Oprah-watching, inexperienced new business person would do – we asked about being on the annual “Oprah’s Favorite Things” episode.

It took a while and several rounds of elimination to hear back, and we weren’t particularly surprised when we received a call with a quiet, “The Bundt cake is a no,” on the other end of the line.

However, we were very surprised to realize we had misheard, and the Bundt cake was actually a go.

Mixing it up

We tried to prepare, but that’s difficult when you’re not entirely sure what you’re preparing for – would we be able to keep up with the number of orders? Call volume? Web traffic? We took precautions such as getting another oven and checking with our IT consultant, and felt relatively confident about what would come next.

However, the immediate flood of calls and online orders was overwhelming and astounding – our three phone lines rang non-stop, our voicemail box filled up every 45 seconds, and our website crashed after 800 orders in 4 hours.

We found ourselves dealing with unexpected logistical problems like being kicked off of our server due to the unending traffic, realizing our cooking space was insufficient, and discovering there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

And we learned a lot. Trial and error was our greatest teacher at this time, and there were a lot of trials and a lot of errors as we found our sweet spot as a business and brand.

Rise to the top

Our newfound success enabled us to buy more equipment and space, and to take chances with placement and products that would have been too big of a risk before. Our appearance on Oprah led to partnerships with companies like Whole Foods, Neiman Marcus, Williams-Sonoma, Dean and Deluca, and FoodyDirect.

We appeared on a CNBC primetime special called “The Oprah Effect” which ran for over a year, and ironically, was also shown where it all started – in-flight on airplanes. We’ve also been on Good Morning America’s Steals and Deals multiple times, several Food Network shows, Oprah Magazine’s “O List” more than once, and InStyle magazine twice.

And aside from that initial serendipitous encounter, it all began by just asking: by taking a chance and putting the idea out there – and hanging on for the ride of whatever came next, while learning from the bumps, breakdowns, and detours along the way. So take it from us: if you’re a business owner with a great idea and a big leap ahead of you, make the jump. It’s so worth it!