When you start your own cottage food business, it’s not always easy to know when you’re going to make that dough — and we don’t mean bread dough, for once.
Some people chalk this up to being part of the experience of creating a new business, where it tends to be hard to predict who will buy your products and how much profit you’ll take in this month. The unknown can sometimes be unnerving as a business owner, but there are ways to make your food business’ income more predictable.
By incorporating products like subscription boxes, pre-orders for upcoming events and holidays, and custom order request calendars into your business toolbox, you’ll be on your way to predictable, repeating orders that can help you plan ahead.
Everyone’s starting to offer subscriptions — and it’s for a good reason! Have you seen Panera’s coffee subscription? For $10.99 a month, they allow subscribers a free drink every two hours, plus refills. While you may not be able to compete with the pricing of a national-scale chain, you can take inspiration from their strategy.
Offering a subscription allows customers to get products in a more convenient, personalized, and possibly even affordable way. It gives you a predictable revenue stream, as you take payment upfront, making it easier to budget and financially plan. Subscriptions also give you an idea of how many orders that you’ll need to fulfill, allowing you to plan and manage your time to ensure your products are ready when pickup or delivery day arrives.
This is perfect when it comes to food items that are being replenished routinely, such as loaves of bread or pre-made meals that could be renewed on a weekly basis. Be mindful of which products would be good options as a subscription item and how often you are offering the subscription product. We’ve seen artisans on Castiron have great success with sourdough and challah bread subscriptions, where they allow customers to purchase a month’s subscription at a time with weekly deliveries. Payment is taken upfront, allowing artisans to ensure steady revenue.
Looking for a way to make your subscription even more enticing for customers? Try creating a subscription-exclusive product! If you’re selling monthly pastry boxes, for instance, consider including a pastry that isn’t available for sale individually in the box. Or, if you have a challah subscription, consider offering a specialty flavor option that’s only available to subscribers! This could follow a “Flavor of the Day/Week/Month” pattern like many ice cream shops, cafes, and cookie shops do. It is an appealing way to get customers to want to subscribe to whichever product you’re creating a subscription for, while also allowing you the flexibility to experiment with seasonal flavors, fresh local ingredients, and manage inventory.
Upcoming Celebrations and Holidays
When you think ahead to upcoming holidays or the occasions your customers could be celebrating all year, you can remove the work from the holidays. Help them remember — your advance planning serves as a reminder to your customers! By adding your holiday or special event products to your shop ahead of time (and by promoting them to your customers) you can make sales and help your customers be the hero of their gathering or special event. Life gets hectic and usually holidays and special occasions can tend to sneak up on anyone. A gift like homemade food, which can be enjoyed by everyone, is a great option for anyone. Celebrations and cottage food are equally customizable to what customers want, and personalized items are bound to make anyone feel special. There are many product ideas that are appropriate for celebrations, especially ones that are celebrated year-round, like birthdays and anniversaries. It’s easy enough to spruce up products that fit the bill for special occasions.
Need some upcoming holiday inspiration? Create products for these holidays:
- May 3 - National Teacher Appreciation Day
- May 6 - National Nurses Day
- May 8 - Mother’s Day
- May/June - Graduation
- June 1 - Pride Month
Custom Order Requests Calendar
Making your calendar public might sound scary, but it’s a helpful marketing tool when it comes to getting people to place orders or reserve space on your calendar.
A calendar can help your customers plan ahead and book an order well in advance if they know they have a future event. By allowing customers to reserve a fulfillment date, you can maximize your time as well.
Your personal order calendar can help keep things organized — and help you ensure that you’ll keep a steady revenue stream over the next few months. Notice that you have a weekend open or some extra time during a certain month? Either advertise your availability more heavily, or block that extra time off for a pop-up sale or special holiday items.
As an added bonus, making your availability public can keep scheduling communication more concise, eliminating unnecessary back and forth if you’re already booked for a certain date. If you need to take time off to attend your own personal events, that time can be easily blocked out on the calendar, so that your customers are kept in the know.
A calendar like this can easily be created with a user-friendly graphic design platform like Canva, where edits can also be made in minutes. Be sure to post on your Facebook or Instagram account, or save them to your social media profiles in the form of an Instagram Story highlight or something similar.
Owning a cottage food business means that your focus is on a lot of different things, but one of the most important things you can think about is your revenue. Your income may seem unpredictable as you get started with your business, but as you build out systems (like subscriptions and calendars), you have the power to make your business income more predictable. A proactive approach to how you are selling your products will lead to more predictable revenue.