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Social media marketing: Sweet Bakes’ top Instagram tips

When her cakes caused a flurry of demand on Instagram, Sweet Bakes founder Alisha Henderson cooked up the perfect recipe for translating Instagram fame into business triumph.

“Cake is very important to me!” laughs Alisha Henderson, founder of Sweet Bakes. “I’m driven by fun, and what’s more fun than cake? It embodies celebration and connection, and is a wonderful creative outlet.”

Instagram suits someone with a penchant for playfulness and a talent for cake baking – and when she first started her Sweet Bakes Instagram page eight years ago, it was just with the intention of sharing the fun with family and friends.

“Cake is extremely visual so Instagram was a way for me to display a gallery of what I was working on,” says Alisha. “I had no idea that it could be something I could turn into a business. I wasn’t thinking about it as a career option at all.”

But very quickly, when she’d gained just a few hundred followers, the interest was apparent.

“I had total strangers asking how they could order cakes from me,” Alisha says. “I decided to run with the opportunity and make it into a business pretty quickly, so I registered my parents’ kitchen as a commercial kitchen. I was studying journalism at the time and any extra pocket money for a cash-strapped student was always going to be welcome!”

Alisha predicted a barrier to her success – her age. She was only 19 and wanted to build credibility.

“Who would want a teenager to make their wedding cake?” she asks, explaining that Instagram became the ticket to credibility. “It was about showing what I did had value and demonstrating that social proof.”

After six months, Alisha ran the numbers to see whether she could make a go of it full time.

“I figured out how much I’d have to bake to make it financially viable. The demand was crazy and I thought I’d leave uni and give it a red hot go for a year, and then I could always go back if it didn’t work.”

And her first ever order? A wedding cake.

Within 12 months, the Sweet Bakes instagram page had 100k followers – today, eight years later, it has 223k and counting. Alisha, you might have guessed, is still baking.

Here she shares her tips for turning Instagram prowess into business success.

1. Connect authentically

 

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A post shared by Alisha Henderson (@sweetbakes_)

“Everyone knows that brand identity on social media is important but I think what’s often missing is the person behind the brand. Followers want to connect with a person. They want to see behind the scenes. Don’t be afraid to share your mistakes and show the hard work involved – that builds respect. My followers see that I’m sometimes baking ’til all hours and they appreciate that. So build your persona – it can be a bit scary at first but it’s critical.”

2. Content before sales

 

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A post shared by Alisha Henderson (@sweetbakes_)

“Serving my community of customers and followers is my number one priority. Offering content that is educational or entertaining comes first. On Instagram part of the deal you make with your followers and customers is that you’ll deliver great content and they pay attention and respect that. Then come the sales.”

3. Figure out what success looks like for you

 

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A post shared by Alisha Henderson (@sweetbakes_)

“I never wanted a business with a hundred staff. For me, success is about using Sweet Bakes to build other creative opportunities like my baking courses or writing a children’s book or creating content as an influencer. I cherish freedom and flexibility and choosing how many days I work and what projects I’m part of. Not feeling stressed out is a big measure of success for me!”

4. Mistakes are a necessary ingredient

 

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A post shared by Alisha Henderson (@sweetbakes_)

“I welcome mistakes – it’s the only way to learn. And when you’re learning everything as you go they are inevitable. For example, I decided to streamline the wedding cake tasting process by sending out samples. It was a much more efficient and cost-effective way to do it. But what did I learn? Don’t send cake samples in summer! It only took one melted sample for me to learn that lesson and then factor it into my Cake Mail Club product. In winter, Cake Mail can be sent by Express Post all over the country. In summer, we deliver by hand just within Melbourne.”

5. Collaborate with care

 

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A post shared by Alisha Henderson (@sweetbakes_)

“The offers to partner and collaborate came hard and fast very early on. I was intuitively very cautious about who I partnered with and saw the damage that could be done when brands said yes to everything just for the quick cash grab. It pays to be very selective and consistent about who you collaborate with. For me, it has to be about what best serves my customers and what aligns with my brand and my values.”

6. Listen up

 

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A post shared by Alisha Henderson (@sweetbakes_)

“With Instagram you get such instant feedback. It’s a fantastic way to test out new ideas and to take the risk out of over committing. For example, I pre-sell all orders for my Cake Mail Club deliveries before I order any stock. And I often use Instagram stories to put out an idea to my followers and see how they respond. You can immediately gauge interest in a new product or project.”

7. Wear all the hats at first – then offload a few

 

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A post shared by Alisha Henderson (@sweetbakes_)

“Learning the ropes across all facets of the business is super important. But learning to outsource things that don’t play to your natural strengths is valuable too. For me, I’m enthusiastic about the creative side, marketing and showing up online for my community. The accounting side of things is where I struggle so that’s where I get amazing help from experts to guide me through things like my BAS and business tax.”

8. Have some back up

 

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A post shared by Alisha Henderson (@sweetbakes_)

“I can attribute nearly all my success to Instagram. And sometimes it’s terrifying to imagine what would happen if that platform suddenly ceased to exist. So make sure you build up your email database! And experiment with diversifying your offerings. For me that meant offering Sweet School baking courses or branching out into writing children’s books.”

9. Make it fun and relevant

 

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A post shared by Alisha Henderson (@sweetbakes_)

“Instagram lends itself to humour and fun pop culture references and I really lean into that with my cake baking, whether that was with covid puns to cheer people up during lockdown or a Free Britney theme for Cake Mail Club. Find things that people can relate to and that will make them smile!”

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