Karlee Prior is the kitchen whiz behind Karlee’s Kupcakes: a one-girl band creating bespoke cakes and sweet treats for the lucky folk of Brisbane, Australia, and surrounds.
Karlee’s small business relies almost solely on Instagram to help get the word out about her gourmet goodies, both by posting on her own account, being featured on huge accounts in the baking trade, and her (often famous) clientele’s personal IG feeds.
I asked her what it’s like starting a business where her only source of promotion is social media, and how those of you with small or online businesses can replicate her success using nothing but your phone.
When did you get started with Karlees Kupcakes and how long have you been using Instagram to promote it?
My business started as my main career in December 2014 when I quit my full-time job as a fraud analyst, but I had been building my business for at least two years beforehand to gain enough clientele to make it a full-time role! As for the social media side of things, I have been on Instagram since its inception, but didn’t really start using it to advertise my business until I went full time. Facebook was much the same with creating a business page to reach those not on Instagram.
What made you choose Instagram out of all the social media available to promote your business?
I think it just happened naturally for me and Instagram is definitely a huge part of my life, whether it be looking at other businesses or keeping up with friends and family all over the country and the world. I love the connectivity you get with Instagram and I guess how ‘raw’ it is in terms of being able to comment to people directly and, most importantly, instantly.
Do you use any traditional types of promotion for Karlee’s Kupcakes or is it solely online?
I’ve been really lucky in the sense that I haven’t had to spend a lot of money on marketing. I’ve had some really cool clients in terms of their social status and followings online so I haven’t found the need to use physical/traditional marketing techniques. I think in this day and age it is a lot more common to tag someone in a post be it on Facebook or Instagram, rather than hand out fliers or do a mail drop.
I do still love having business cards though and I think they are really effective, especially for networking with other businesses, and a few of my suppliers actually have them on their front counters which is really nice!
Do you use any other type of online platform to get the word out?
I am on Facebook with a business page and I do have a website with plenty of information about my cakes, ordering and heaps of photos. I have never joined Twitter because I just didn’t think it was necessary considering my business is essentially all visually-based.
Keeping your audience interested
What do you find your followers respond to or enjoy the most on your feed?
At the moment videos seem to a big hit, especially when accounts with a bigger following repost what I have shared. I have been doing time-lapse videos just on my phone and people love seeing the process of how a cake is put together – I find it quite hypnotizing!
What doesn’t really work on your Instagram account?
My face, ha!
I definitely use my account now for business 99% of the time, but if I am posting something of a personal nature it usually involves cake anyway, so I try and combine the two! I’ve started doing ‘cake selfies’ where I take a shot of me with my cake in the background that I have just assembled. It was initially for my own sad entertainment but others seem to find it funny!
How often do you post?
I try and post at least once a day. Since my number of followers has grown I’m not as pedantic about when I post but generally speaking in the morning when people are travelling to work or later at night when people are just getting home or when it might be dessert time!
I have noticed I have a lot of international followers now too, so posting mid-morning means I’m posting sort of early evening in the US, which works well too. My biggest days for cake are Friday and Saturday so I might have as many as five or six posts a day on those days it just depends on the work load.
How do you manage to post and engage with your followers when you’re busy in the kitchen? do you have a strategy or certain times of day you spend on social media?
This is something I have struggled with since the beginning. I have slowly learnt how to manage my time and how long I should be spending doing each thing.
For instance, I only bake on certain days of the week, I have set days for emailing as well as planning my classes and attending consults with clients as well as doing deliveries! On my busier cake days (Friday/Saturday) I usually don’t post until after I am finished as that allows me to respond to people or see who reposts my work, as I have missed a lot of those lately!
I am totally guilty of throwing all of the above out the window though, and just doing what works at the time – otherwise I’d lose my mind!
What has been the most helpful thing for you getting your business in front of potential clients?
Honestly, 100% word of mouth. I’m not just saying this, but I actually have the best clients and wholesalers who all genuinely care about my business and me and are all amazing advocates for Karlee’s Kupcakes. Nine times out of 10 a new client will come to me and say they saw one of my cakes at a friend’s or relative’s event and just had to have one for themselves.
Also people tagging friends and family online on my pictures so they can see for themselves the style I offer has been really helpful.
How important is Instagram to your business and how do you think you would have found it getting the word out without it?
I absolutely would not have the business I do without Instagram.
While there are always going to be negatives with being online and ‘exposed’ as they say, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. As I mentioned, word of mouth has been the main driver for my success and this is usually done by friends tagging friends rather than actually physically speaking about it in person like the good old days, ha!
What lessons have you learned from running a business online?
The main one is probably being able to mentally switch off from it. I would always try and justify what I was doing on my phone be it emails, Instagram, Facebook etc. In the beginning I felt like I had to reply to people straight away where as now I tend to stick more to business hours and set myself some boundaries so I get some down time too. In saying that, I do love the ability to be able to run my business from my phone/laptop and I am definitely more of an email lover than talking on the phone!
Do you have trolls? How do you deal with them?
I’ve been pretty lucky with this and I pity anyone who wants to troll cake decorators, mainly because, well, who hates cake?!
I have had the odd comment since gaining more followers, someone said on a recent post “Too much fat, it even looks unhealthy!” to which I replied “don’t look at it then!”. I told myself I would never stoop to troll level but I will have a bit of fun with people if I’m feeling a little sassy!
What’s your favourite thing about Instagram?
Probably the amount of love and support I receive on a daily basis from people I don’t even know, who just love seeing my work.
I have never really been a creative person so to find this outlet and be able to make a successful business out of it is something I can’t put into words. I have worked so hard to get to where I am and Instagram has allowed me to document and share this journey with now just over 13k people.
Freshly-Baked Take Home Tips
What would be your top three pieces of advice for small business owners who use social media to get the word out about their products/services?
- Stay genuine – there’s only so long you can keep up an online persona, and especially if you are trying to start a business, people want to work with people they trust. Carry yourself online as you would if you had someone in front of you buying your product.
- Do collaborations! I think this is a great idea when you are first starting out. I offered a lot of free cake to businesses in trade for some sort of promotion – be it a giveaway or competition of some sort. I’m so big on supporting other small businesses like mine and I think collaborating on some level works for everyone involved if its done right. I also do a lot of charity donations as well in my local community this is something really important to me, and I am a big believer in karma!
- Hashtags are your friends! I used to haaaaaate when people used hashtags and thought it was so douche-y but now I love them and they really do work! Think about a bride looking for wedding ideas, how easy it is for her to go #weddingcakes and see literally thousands of ideas, including yours. Find what hashtags are most relevant to your product or service and go ham!
Do you have a small business or use Instagram to promote your wares online? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments!