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What Do You Need to Start a Cupcake Business? (Checklist)
So, you want to open a cupcake business? Sweet.
To get started, you need to know what ingredients and information to gather to set yourself up for the best possible result.
Starting a new business is no easy endeavor. Quickly, it may feel like the cookie isn’t crumbling your way. But don’t lose hope - this checklist can be your recipe for success.
How Much Money Do You Need to Start a Cupcake Business?
In theory, starting a cupcake sounds like a fun idea, but it’s no small investment and there is no single, easy answer to this question. Instead, the cost of starting a cupcake ranges depending on the location, size, and design of your shop. According to the successful cupcake business chain Crimson Cup, the range of costs can be:
$80,000 to $300,000 for a cupcake business with seating
$60,000 to $105,000 for a cupcake stand or kiosk
1. Choose a Business Format
The format you choose for selling your cupcakes will inform on how to approach the rest of your business development. This step is crucial and needs to be well-thought-out.
Are you ready to open a brick-and-mortar cupcake store? If so, will you sell cupcakes from a counter? Provide sit-down services? Pioneer a (crème) fraîche approach for customers to relax and enjoy their treats?
Maybe you prefer a more flexible choice, opting for a cupcake food truck that can travel to areas with high customer traffic like local events, festivals, and markets. Or perhaps you prefer to work entirely out of a home kitchen, focusing your business on cupcake deliveries, pop-up cupcake stands, or catering services.
Whatever business you choose, take your time to choose the best format for your needs and capabilities. It will help set your business up to take the cake.
2. Create Your Business Plan
A half-baked business plan is a sure way to prevent your vision from panning out.
While the specific details will change and evolve as your business develops, you must have a blueprint for how you’ll open and operate your company.
Every business plan will be different, but all should include:
An executive summary and overview of what your business will look like
The people who make up your team
An industry analysis, including data on your target market, location, and competition
An outline of your marketing strategy
Operations details, including company policies, systems, suppliers, and what jobs to hire for
Financial analysis, including key costs and first-year projections
3. Pick Your Location
There isn’t an ideal location for every cupcake business. Its location will largely depend on the format of your business.
If you’re operating out of a home kitchen, you might be less concerned with how much parking is available for potential customers. However, if you’re driving around in your cupcake food truck, maybe you’re not so worried about pinpointing specific customer demographics because you can travel to different parts of your city.
As you can see, what kinds of concerns you may have for your location depends on your business model. No matter the format you choose, the factors below are critical for your business location.
Style: How you style your company will influence the customers you attract, so make sure you’re thinking through who you want to appeal to and how you’ll grab their attention.
Demographics: Proximity is everything, and if there’s a specific demographic you’re hoping to attract – families looking for birthday party caterers, caregivers picking children up from school, working professionals browsing a local farmers’ market looking for a sweet treat – consider how easy it is for that group to find your business.
Accessibility: If you have a storefront, is there parking? Are you close to public transit? Are you in an accessible area for rideshares to pick up and drop off?
Zoning Restrictions: Are there restrictions on how and where you can operate your business? If you’re working out of a food truck, are there permits you must obtain to sell at events or markets?
Rent and Utility Costs: How do these factor into your finances? Are these costs sustainable?
4. Apply for Licenses and Permits
While not the most choc-full of fun, it’s crucial that you take the time to research, apply for, and acquire the full batch of licenses and permits you’ll need to open your cupcake business.
The licenses and permits you’ll need, and their costs, will vary depending on the location and format of your business, but no matter where you are, starting this step earlier than later will save you time and dough.
5. Taxes, DBA, and EIN
If you read the header of this section and thought: a lot of letters and not a lot of sense – don’t worry because you’re not alone.
DBA stands for “doing business as.” It refers to your business's trade name. This title is the name of the entity under which you’ll be conducting business.
EIN stands for Employer Identification Number or the number assigned to your business by the IRS for tax identification purposes. You can apply for one online – and yes, it’s free!
Taxes can be intimidating, especially for a new business, but securing your DBA and EIN is a great place to help your company start and stay on track.
6. Create a Marketing Plan
Marketing your cupcake business comes down to understanding and connecting with your customers.
While there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all marketing approach, there are core facets to any marketing plan that you should include for success:
Branding – including name, logo, colors, fonts, and anything else in your brand kit
Social media presence – including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, LinkedIn, and more
Production – building visual (photo and video) and written content to engage customers via social media, email lists, or other marketing channels
Advertising – in addition to social media, advertising includes radio, print advertising, digital advertising, email marketing, and other relevant campaigns
Search engine optimization – strategic accessibility of your website on relevant search engines
7. Understand Your Finances and Operating Expenses
From getting your business off the ground to managing operating costs, it’s important to take the time to calculate, understand, and plan for all of your company expenses.
Start by determining the cost of opening up your cupcake business. Once you have your number, you can then consider your financing options. These may include loans, cash advances, lines of credit, crowdfunding, friends and family fundraising, and more. Explore your options and decide which type of financing works best for your individual business needs.
Once your business is up and running, tracking several key performance metrics will help maintain profitability. These include your break-even point, cost of goods sold (COGS), overhead rate, prime cost, food cost percentage, gross profit, and employee turnover rate. While it may feel intimidating to find all these answers, calculating these metrics will help you better understand how your business is doing and where you can take it from there!
8. Design Your Menu
So, you’ve crunched the numbers. Now you’re ready for the fun part!
There is infinite creative potential when it comes to designing a cupcake menu. The cakes, the frosting, the flavors, the sizes, the shapes, the colors, the design, the toppings – the options are limitless! It’s up to you to come up with the best combinations to meet customer demand and maximize revenue.
As you shape your menu, here are some questions to consider:
What flavor combinations and sensational designs attract the most business?
How often will you switch up your menu? Do you offer a seasonal selection or classic flavors that are always available?
What sizes will you offer customers? Will you sell mini cupcakes or cupcake packs?
How will you gauge item popularity and incorporate customer feedback into menu planning, if at all?
How will you adjust for items with varying levels of profitability and popularity?
9. Establish Key Operating Infrastructure
Now that you have your menu, you’ll need to figure out how to get the ingredients to whip up a delicious success. It’s time to pick your food supplier – but how do you know what kind to choose?
The first thing to determine is if you’re looking for a local or large supplier. From there, confirm if the supplier can provide every ingredient your menu requires and whether ingredient quality, cost, and convenience feel up to par. Also, consider the customer impact – how will the supplier you source from influence customer behavior?
Beyond food, key suppliers to consider include laundry, repair, menu, equipment, and technology (more on these below.)
Once you have your inventory, it’s helpful to have systems in place to manage all these details. These systems can ensure you’re keeping your food supply organized and staying on top of costs.
10. Select Your Equipment and Point of Sale (POS) System
Ingredients are just ingredients without the right equipment to whisk them into your delicious, best-selling cupcakes. That said, choosing the right items for your kitchen is an essential next step. A brick-and-mortar store will likely feature different equipment than a food truck or home kitchen. Be sure to take your time to figure out what tools, products, and appliances you need for your cupcakes that will inspire love at first bite.
Just bake sure you don’t forget your restaurant point of sale. This technology keeps your kitchen and business functioning smoothly. It allows businesses to keep track of data and streamline operations, helping to manage orders, sales, and payments.
11. Map Out Your Floor Plan
The design of your space is more than just the icing on the cake – it’s integral to how your customers will experience your business. Of course, the design of your space will be unique to the format of your cupcake enterprise.
If you have a storefront, think in-depth about your floor plan. How is your space set up? Is it welcoming and easy to walk through? Are there places to sit? Are there accessible restrooms?
Also, think beyond the interior of your cupcake shop. Does your business blend into its surroundings or stand out? Which would drive more business?
No matter your cupcake business, you do need to consider your aesthetic. What design elements have you integrated to decorate your space or food truck? Is there natural lighting? Artwork?
Finally, think about the legal side of your space. Ask yourself - how easily can you adjust to meet health and safety needs, such as social distancing or outdoor seating?
The answers to these questions will help inform how you best leverage your layout and design to attract and retain customers and maximize your potential market.
12. Build Your Team
Last but certainly not least, attracting and retaining the right team is fundamental to ensuring the success of your business.
You’ve got everything in place – but your team will bring your vision to life with homemade hospitality. To ensure this happens successfully, you need to have a plan for hiring, supporting, and retaining your staff.
Here’s a guide for navigating the employment process and building the right team for you.
Sprinkle Your Way to Success
When your fears get in the way of your cupcake dreams, remember to look at this list to keep you on the right track to success. It has everything you need to jumpstart the cupcake business of your dreams – can’t wait to see what you cook up!