I’ve talked about a lot of ways to make money on this site, but we’ve rarely ever touched on the ages-old bake sale. If you’ve ever participated in one, you might not be surprised to hear that you can actually make money selling cookies.
It won’t be as sweet and easy as the gig that Girl Scout cookies have set up, I’m afraid, but if you have a passion for baking and you’re willing to put in some effort, there is money to be made selling cookies!
Now before we get into it, I should point out that you’re not technically supposed to sell anything if you don’t have an official license to do so. Food, especially, has all kinds of red tape surrounding the actual production and sale of your merchandise. So you should consider this a “grassroots” operation, at least in the beginning– the licensing and such can come later.
What You Need to Start
To get started, all you’ll need is ingredients and a kitchen to make them in.
If you’ve got those things, the next thing you should consider is your angle (you could also call this “niche targeting.”)
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Cookies are good, yes, but customers are attracted to a “hook,” some aspect of your brand that sets you apart from the competition. Why should they pay the extra for your homemade goods, for example?
Catering to different diet needs is a great way to brand your products.
It might be gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, vegan, anything you like. This is the little aspect of your cookies that sticks out in the customer’s mind.
You could also go for a theme, perhaps something that appeals to your region. Pesche dolci, or Italian peach cookies, could be a logical option if you live in Georgia.
The general idea is just to get the customer to connect with your goods, somehow.
Where & How to Sell
You’ve got the meanest cookies on the block, and now you’re wondering how to get the word out.
This is where you start with some good old fashioned networking. That means using your connections to establish customers and some buzz.
Your first wave of customers will inevitably be friends and family. You will need these people to generate the initial buzz.
Get the word out with social media, at the PTA meeting, at the block party. Any place where people meet and mingle in a casual, friendly environment is a great place to start out pitching your goods. (If you read my recent article about garage sales, this can be a great way to combine the two.)
Uncomfortable about mixing business and friends?
Honesty can often be your best option here. Try telling your friends, “I’d like to get into a cookie business. Here are some to try, tell your friends!”
It is a no-muss, straightforward way to approach a grassroots operation, and I’d personally recommend the approach. People get very uncomfortable when they’re singled out for sales, even if you’ve been best friends for years.
In the beginning, it’s far more important to get people liking your cookies than paying for them.
Don’t be afraid to give some away to your “seed customers.”
Trying to get a couple dozen dollars from your friends would be short-sighted; the exposure is what it’s all about right now. You want these in people’s houses, you want their guests eating them, and that will snowball into getting more customers with time.
How to Expand
OK, so now you’re the talk of the town and everybody wants some of your cookies.
Now that you’ve produced some cookies (and hopefully made a little bit of profit) it’s time to put some money back in and make yourself legitimate.
I spoke up above about how there is a lot of red tape in food production. This is the time to address all that and get yourself covered, because you can only expand so much if you’re doing things off-the-books.
Local ordinance may vary, but at a glance, you’re going to need a license to distribute food, any necessary business registration, and access to a commercial kitchen (commercial kitchens are the only place it is technically legal to make food for sale.)
Renting space in a commercial kitchen will cost money, but not a crazy amount. A single station rental where I live is $25/hour.
In terms of commercial expansion, there are a few things to do after you get yourself set-up.
For one, you’ll want to experiment with packaging. Selling fresh-from-the-pan cookies will work at the amateur level, but a professional needs to know how to preserve products and prepare them in mass. Try tinfoil, saran wrap, vacuum sealing, etc. See what works best for your cookies.
If you have friends in other climates, ship them cookies and see how they survive the journey. Getting your cookies to resist the elements is a definite part of the process.
Once you have that worked out, it’s all business. Approach local markets and offer to work out a merchandising deal. If you get local businesses to carry your product, that’s a major foot in the door.
Advertise on your town’s Facebook page, make business cards, and get your brand name out in a place where people can see it.
A website is a must.
E-commerce also presents a huge opportunity for you.
Remember when I mentioned different climates earlier?
This is where it becomes relevant. If you’re all licensed to sell food, you can start shipping nationally. If your cookies are capable of surviving the journey, getting interest generated in other areas is a dream come true.
Look up more articles on e-commerce if you get to this stage, because it is more complicated than we have time for here!
Thoughts in Closing?
Well, now I’ve shared everything I know with you about running a cookie business!
While I don’t run one personally, I did do plenty of research, so you can consider this informed advice.
As with any business, you’ll want to be careful about expenditures and profits. Keep good “books,” if you can, and never let your finances spiral out of control.
If you are in the red multiple months in a row, you’ll want to consider closing up shop.
A business is only as good as the money it makes, after all. If you want a more business-first look at selling cookies, you can check out this article.