Small Biz Advice: How to Be the Only Cupcake that Matters


holly-photoHolly Howard runs Ask Holly How, a small business consulting company based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn that works with a wide variety of businesses from restaurants to retail to art studios and pretty much everything in between. Her clients report increased income and profit, decreased expenses and a significantly better quality of life. Holly heads up the Small Business Book Club at McNally Jackson Books.

Want valuable insight into how to grow your business?  Holly hosts FREE 30 minute strategy sessions at The Yard in Williamsburg.  Email her to set up a time or to ask a question for the next Ask Holly How.

Dear Holly,

I’m a small food producer, and I sell at the weekend Smorgasburg here in Brooklyn. This is my first year, and I’m already overwhelmed by the number of other food producers in the city. Sometimes, I’m overcome by fear thinking about how much competition there is. How am I going to stand out and be successful where there are so many other small food producers out there? At times, it feels hopeless.

Any advice?

Lost in a sea of artisan kimchi

Dear Lost,

I’m sure you’re not the only one who feels overwhelmed by the number of food producers that have come onto the scene over the past few years. It seems to be one of the most popular entrepreneurial paths to choose. I think we all fear our competition in the early stages of building our businesses. But don’t panic, there are a few things to consider before throwing in the towel.

First, know that quality and consistency in your product are a must before you even consider how to stand out in your market place. Even if you start out with a great product, customers won’t return if they have an inconsistent experience with what you’re offering. So be vigilant with your production and know that consistency is vital.

Second, it can actually benefit you to be part of a larger thriving market. We often think that if we aren’t the first one to have the idea then we’ve missed the opportunity, but this isn’t true. To a certain point, it is to your benefit that the food producer market is so large. You can now ride the collective wave of recognition around small food producers. This movement gets a lot of exposure merely because of all of the momentum that has been created by so many people pursuing this path.

Third, don’t think of everyone else as your competition. Think of them as your peers. To me, competition has a very negative connotation that causes us to feel fearful from the get-go. If you think of all of these other producers as your peers, you’ll be more open to learning from them, and that’s valuable! Take advantage of their presence and study what they do that works and what doesn’t work. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel when we start a business, and we can learn an enormous amount from what our peers do well and where they fall flat. Take advantage of the fact that you have so many peers to learn from.

Finally, you must know what is unique about you and what makes you stand out in a crowded marketplace. This is really the key to your success. You may produce cupcakes and fifty other people may produce cupcakes, but there must be something unique about your story, your business model, your products, your packaging that will make you stand out in the market. The better you know your peer group, the easier time you’ll have understanding what makes you unique—and this is the reason people will buy from you.

The quickest way to ease your fear is to take action. Start to study your peers and spend some time understanding that unique thing you bring to this very crowded market place. Once you do this, I’m sure you’ll have much more confidence in what you’re doing and why people will want it. Good luck!


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