7 Tips on How to Promote Your Home-Based Food Business Online (2023)
Updated: Jan 21, 2023
Published: Jan 21, 2023
You’re great at cooking delicious food, but how are you going to make sure that people will hear about your food or catering business and buy from you? As a home-based food business without a brick and mortar storefront, you won’t have the benefit of passersby stumbling across your kitchen, so you won’t be able to use traditional restaurant marketing and advertising strategies. If you’re wondering how to go beyond selling your food to your supportive family and friends and create a larger and loyal customer base, read this comprehensive guide with ideas on marketing your food and catering business — from how to offer effective promotions to how to work with social media influencers.
1. Define your target customer
Yes, we know that every food business owner’s dream is to be able to share their food with everyone. But realistically, you’ll need to figure out who your target customers are who will most likely buy your food, so you’re not trying to boil the ocean and keep your head above water at the same time. Knowing who your target customer is will help you design a menu and branding most aligned to their tastes, pricing that will fit their budget, and promotions that are most likely to reach them.
Find clues from your existing supporters
First, look at your immediate and existing support circle and notice who orders from you the most and why. Are they referring their friends and family to order from you too? And if so, what are the demographic characteristics of those referrals who do order? Note down if there’s any consistency in their location, age, gender, income, dietary preferences, ethnicity. You can even ask them what type of people would be most likely to order from you (apart from them of course!). Although your immediate circle is of course biased, they can at minimum give you clues on attributes of your ideal customer that you can work off of.
Build an Ideal Customer Profile
Next, build an ideal customer profile. It sounds like a lot of marketing speak, but it’s essentially an exercise to help you figure out who is most likely going to buy food from you and how you might reach them.
For example, if you’re an ethnic food business, are you targeting customers who are within the ethnic community who already understand what your food is and how to buy it? Or are you introducing your ethnic food to a wider and more general audience that may require you to position your menu and product in a way that will introduce them to the delight of your culture’s food?
Perhaps you are catering to a health-conscious audience who’s always on the go. Then you might want to offer more low-calorie, vegan, and gluten-free options, and offer delivery for your food business.
Here are some questions to help you get started on building your ideal customer profile:
- What is their age, gender, ethnicity, religion, marital status, and income?
- Where do they live?
- What does their household look like?
- What is their occupation? Where do they work?
- Where do they currently eat and shop?
- How do they hear about new food establishments or events?
- Do they have dietary limitations or unique preferences?
- What are their current food habits?
- What is their made mode of transportation?
- What special occasions do they celebrate?
You can also create a survey and ask existing or potential customers to get a better understanding of the market. Knowing the preferences and needs of your ideal customer can help you create a menu that appeals to them, and in turn, increase your chances of success. In addition, targeting specific customer segments allows you to develop specific marketing strategies, pricing, branding and packaging that cater to the needs of those customers — which will hopefully entice them to continue to buy from you!
Survey your customers
Your target customers may change over time as more people find out about you organically through word-of-mouth. Make sure you keep track of who your customers are by conducting regular surveys and simply by keeping track of sales and feedback from your customers. For example, after every order you complete, you might want to send a customer feedback email for customers to tell you more about what they thought about your food and who they are. By consistently monitoring your target customers and re-adjusting your business to meet their changing needs and preferences, you can ensure that your business stays relevant and competitive in the ever-changing food industry.
2. Research your competition
Not only should you know who your ideal customer is, you should also have a good understanding of your competition. Your competition could be food businesses that offer a similar menu or target a similar market. Knowing what other businesses are selling online can help you carve out your niche in the market, and also provide you with valuable insights on what types of promotional strategies work.
Visit competitors’ websites and social media accounts
Go to their online stores and take note of their menu, pricing, and promotions. Observe their branding, copywriting, and customer reviews.
For social media, look at what social media platforms they engage in and which they’ve opted out from to promote their business. Look at what content they post, how frequently, whether they engage with their followers, and their overall online reputation. Do they offer BTS (Behind the Scenes) content of how they prepare the food? Who else is posting or reposting their content? Are food influencers part of their promotional strategy and what’s the engagement on those posts? This should give you some ideas on how you can reach a similar customer base.
Review your competitors’ online reviews
Online reviews are a great way to get an independent opinion of what customers think of your competition. Some review platforms to look at include Yelp, Google Business Reviews, Zomato or even just Facebook and Instagram. Food bloggers and professional media reviews from food critics could be helpful in providing more nuanced and long-form evaluations of your competitors.
By analyzing customer and professional reviews, you will get a good sense of what customers like and dislike about your competition, and where you can potentially differentiate your offerings. For example, if your competitor lacks a food or service like delivery, you can capitalize on the gap by offering the food or additional service to your customers. On the other hand, if you notice that your competitors are underpromoting in certain areas, you can position your business to be better promoted in that aspect to leapfrog your competition.
Researching your competition is a crucial step in determining how you want to promote your food business online. By keeping an eye on the competition, you can stay ahead of trends, identify opportunities and make informed decisions to improve your business.
3. Create an online presence with an online store and social media
Getting an online presence is essential for a home-based food business since you don’t have a physical storefront that people can visit and buy from you. Apart from your food and packaging, your online presence is an extension of your brand and experience. In addition, a website can also serve as an online order management system, so that you can automate your order processes.
Ecommerce website-builders for small businesses
You’re an expert in making food, but building a website could be a lot scarier for you. Maybe you’ve even tried using Google Forms or some add-ons, but figured out it’s hard to manage and doesn’t take payments. Luckily, there are plenty of ecommerce website-building platforms to help you get online so you can focus on creating food and growing your sales.
Features you might want to consider when selecting an ecommerce website-builder include:
- Ease of set-up and maintenance
- Customization for your brand
- Ability for customers to order and pay online
- Fulfillment methods supported, such as pickup and delivery
- Payment methods, such as credit card, cash, etc.
- Ability to collect customer contact information to build your mailing list
- Order management system
- Ability for your to link your store to social media like on your Facebook and Instagram profiles
- Pricing and fees that fit your budget
Some website-building platforms for food businesses include: Shopify, Square, and FormPay. If you want to get an order form up and running quickly with no risk so you can sell online and focus on your production, consider FormPay, which was designed with small food businesses like yours in mind.
Social media for food businesses
Social media is going to be one of the first places where people are going to interact with your brand. You don’t have to be on every platform as that’s a lot to manage, but you want to be on the platforms where your target customers are.
Instagram is a staple for food businesses, because it’s a visual-first platform that allows you to highlight your food. There are also many food influencers and food businesses that you can collaborate with for special promotions.
If there’s a niche Facebook community where your ideal customer hangs out all the time, such as a halal food community, then you should definitely open a Facebook account to promote your products in those communities. For example, FormPay merchants Uncle Tim’s is a Filipino Canadian sweets business that consistently promotes their sweets in a dedicated closed Filipino food Facebook community called Kain Tayo! with tens of thousands of members craving Filipino food.
If you’re targeting a younger demographic or tourists, TikTok could be a good bet. Video content takes a bit more investment, but you can also reuse your TikTok content for your Instagram Reels and Facebook videos to get the biggest bang for your buck. Having a Yelp presence also increases your visibility as a local food business in your neighborhood.
Always make sure that you link your social media back to your own website and order forms so that you can funnel your customers to your menu and collect their contact information for future promotions.
Use high-quality images to show off your food
Once you’ve selected your website builder and determined which social media channels you want to invest your time into, the most important next step is to take high-quality images to show off your delicious food.
High-quality images are one of your most powerful tools you have as a home-based food business owner to give your customers a sense of what your food looks and tastes like to wet their appetite from afar.
Using high-res images will highlight the colors and details of your food, such as a juicy burger or intricate cake designs, to make it more appetizing. You can also use different sets, props, and backdrops — picnics, dinner parties — to set the mood to give your customers some ideas on how and when they can enjoy your culinary creations. Give your photos an even higher professional quality by editing them with software like PhotoRoom.
4. Offer promotions to incentivize customers
Everyone loves a good deal, so why not offer your customers a promo when you launch to recognize their support for your new business. Choose an ecommerce solution like FormPay that can help you run flexible promos that’s best suited for your customers.
There are many types of promos you can offer. Here are some ideas:
- Launch promo: First 50 customers in the first week gets $10 off their order
- Dollar-off or percentage-off discounts: Get $5 discount code for your next order
- Free delivery promo: Get free delivery if you buy $60 or more
- Refer-a-friend promo: Offer a promo code for referrals
- Free gift promo: Get a free appetizer if you buy over $50 worth of food
- Buy X for the price of Y: Buy a dozen for the price of 10.
- Tax-free promo: No taxes for a week in recognition of tax week
Be sure to check that your website-builder can give you the flexibility to offer these discounts. And don’t forget to tell your customers about these promotions on your social channels and every time they order.
5. Encourage customer reviews
Beyond nice photos that capture the deliciousness of your food, your customers are going to double check to see what other people think of your food and solidify their buying decision. Customer reviews are a critical tool in your promotional tool kit, because nothing is more powerful than a previous customer vouching for the yumminess of your food.
The top places for customers reviews are:
- Google Business Reviews
- Your social media accounts on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, etc.
When a customer orders your food, include a call-to-action in your packaging to incentivize them to leave you a review on those platforms. For example, you can offer a $5 discount coupon once you’ve verified that they’ve left a review on Google or posted an Instagram story testimonial tagging your account.
If people are posting testimonials on Instagram Stories, you can create a highlights collection of those testimonial stories and pin it on your profile for new customers to see right away. FormPay online bakery, G Sweets’ Instagram page showcases one of these testimonial highlight collections.
Whether you get positive or negative reviews, you should make it a habit to respond to all of them. This shows potential and current customers that there’s a real human behind the business, and that you care to provide the best food and customer service possible.
6. Try paid advertising
Paying to get in front of new customers is one way to turbocharge your marketing out the gate if you have a marketing budget to work with. With paid advertising, it’s easy to spend a lot of money with little return if you don’t strategically approach it. This is why it’s important to nail down your ideal customer profile, so that you can maximize your marketing dollars if you choose to go the paid advertising route.
Digital advertising for food businesses
Once you know who your target market is, such as their age, location, and ethnicity, you can use digital marketing to directly promote to your target audience. For example, Facebook and Instagram allows you to target your promotional posts based on demographic attributes, making sure that you’re only spending money on the people who are most likely going to buy from you.
Here are popular digital advertising platforms:
- Boosted post on Facebook and Instagram
- Facebook and Instagram Business Manager ad campaigns
- Google Ads
- Yelp Ads
Even though the platforms provide strong targeting, other factors like creative, images, copy and promotions could influence the performance of the ad. You may have to try different creatives and posts to see what works best for your business.
Influencer marketing for food businesses
Food and lifestyle influencers are also another paid digital channel you should consider as part of your marketing mix. Find influencers who have promoted brands and food businesses that are similar to your business. Further, you don’t have to be limited by working with food influencers-only. You can work with influencers that create content that showcase a lifestyle that your target customer aspires to have. For example, if you offer healthy vegan desserts, you can work with dessert influencers, healthy lifestyle influencers, vegan influencers, fitness influencers, and others.
The biggest question everyone asks is — how do I work with an influencer? Here’s how:
- Create a list of influencers you want to target. Take note of their content, follower count, and engagement even though you should be aware that audience size and engagement doesn’t necessarily mean conversions to sales.
- Reach out to the influencers from your account. Ask them what are some collaboration opportunities available and what they would like in exchange. For example, some influencers may offer a post for free food and a cross post. Others may require a flat fee per post, a fee per thousand impressions or a referral fee.
- Ask the influencer about any case studies or data from campaigns they’ve done in the past and the outcomes of the campaigns. This is going to help you set expectations on sales from the promotions and determine whether you think the promotion is ultimately worth pursuing.
- Determine the terms of engagement. e.g. the frequency and timing of posts, post images, tags, hashtag, and captions, cross-posts, etc.
- During the promotion, be sure to cross post and comment on the original post to help generate some activity.
- Review your analytics and sales once you finish the promotion. Evaluate the effectiveness of the campaign and whether you want to repeat it in the future.
Just like digital ads, influencer campaigns can be hit or miss depending on your creative and influence you work with. You may want to try working with a few different influencers on various campaigns to find the sweet spot for your business.
7. Use traditional media to spread your story and expertise
In the age of digital and social media, business owners often forget that engaging traditional media is still a viable way to reach potential customers. Taking an ad out on traditional media like TV or newspapers can be costly for a home-based food business that’s just starting out. However, you can find a way to organically appear on TV, radio, and newspapers to promote your business.
Here are some angles you can use to position your business in the best light.
- Find a news hook. Traditional media are looking for news to highlight and experts to comment on news stories based on what’s the most relevant for their audience right now. If you’re offering homemade gingerbread houses, you might want to send a pitch for Christmas about your unique pastry offering. If you’re offering healthy foods for busy professionals, you might want to pitch a story or position yourself as an expert in this area to professional business publications.
- Announce your launch. A new business could be news! This is especially true for local or food-based publications. Everyone loves to hear about a new business offering delicious cuisine (and if they don’t, they’re probably lying!). A FormPay merchant, G Sweets, announced the launch of their business on TasteToronto.
- Highlight your personal story. Even if you’ve launched for some time, don’t discount the opportunity to highlight your small business entrepreneurship journey. Find local papers or trade publications that have a section dedicated to highlighting small businesses or feel-good stories and pitch yourself and your business as a story worth highlighting.
Summary of how to promote your home-based food business online
As you can tell, there’s so many opportunities to market your food business online — whether it’s offering promotions, working with influencers or even reaching out to traditional media. Ultimately, what will work for your business depends on who your target market is and what they will respond to, so it’s important to do the homework upfront to understand your customers and competition. In summary, here are the seven ideas you can use to market your home-based food business online.
- Define your target customer
- Research your competition
- Create an online presence with a website and social media
- Offer promotions to incentivize customers
- Encourage customer reviews
- Try paid advertising like digital ads and influencer marketing
- Engaged traditional media to spread your story and expertise