You love cuisine, special events, and people sharing unforgettable times together. You want to share this passion with your catering business. Get cooking – and follow these 14 marketing tips to win the business.
1. Analyze Your Marketplace
It’s great that you want to start a catering business. Pursue your dream.
It’s another thing for customers to need you.
Before you start looking for a commercial kitchen and investing in equipment, take the 30k foot view of your target area and honestly assess the need. Ask yourself:
- Who will my main target audience be? Is there a large enough segment in my service area to sustain my business?
- What competition is already in place? How will I separate my business from them?
- What are my resources? Can I find an affordable commercial kitchen? How much travel will be necessary to cater gigs?
- What’s my financial status? Can I sustain myself during my start-up period?
- What networking resources do I have in place to help me get started?
Tip: When you start a business, you take a risk. Just make sure it’s calculated.
2. Write a Business Plan
When you think of starting your catering business, you probably imagine yourself in the kitchen, preparing your culinary masterpieces.
However, the difference between successful catering businesses and those that struggle is usually not cooking skill. Most people who get into catering are excellent cooks.
Rather, the problem is business planning. No marketing strategy. Inaccurate budgeting. Disorganized resources. Poor staff planning.
You can save yourself headaches later by taking a few hours now and writing out a formal business plan. The Small Business Association has templates that help you create the document.
A formal business plan will help you with any funding requests. It will help organize your budget. It will give you a sense of where you’ll be in 6 months, 12 months, and 18 months.
Being a talented chef is not enough. You need to start thinking like a business person. In business, those who plan for success are a lot more likely to achieve it.
3. Cook-up Your Value Proposition
Answer these questions:
- What types of cuisine/services do you specialize in?
- What do you do to really make your clients feel they got their money’s worth?
- How are you better than your catering competition?
The answers to these questions will lead you towards your Unique Value Proposition: a single statement that connects the needs of your customers to specific offerings of your catering services.
For example, if you specialize in a particular type of cuisine or preparation (anything from whole roasted pig to vegetarian), you want to present that immediately so you make a strong connection with your target audience.
Maybe you customize your menu for the seasons, have a unique selection of tequila, create towering wedding cakes…communicate what makes you unique.
Learn more in this catering marketing UVP case study.
Tip: Try to avoid being the Cheesecake Factory of catering. Become known for a specific value that you’re the best at, period.
4. Get a Conversion-Centered Website Design
Today, the business website is the focal point of your marketing. It’s where leads searching for a caterer will land.
Most businesses realize the need a professional looking design that’s easy to navigate, displays their menu and services, and is mobile responsive so people can view it on a phone.
Many miss the concept of conversion-centered design, which means that the website creates experiences that focus on a single business goal.
For example, if your goal is to get people to fill out a form to schedule a catering event, everything on your website should funnel towards that goal. All the content you create entices people to take that action.
With a conversion-centered design, you avoid superfluous info that’s more about you than the needs of your clients. You also avoid fancy design elements like flash or slide shows that slow down your site and do nothing to help people convert.
You do, of course, want to feature your cuisine and services. Be sure to get professional images taken of your dishes (don’t use stock photos) and have a gallery that shows recent events.
Also, be sure to feature a clear menu which is one of the primary pieces of content people expect on catering or restaurant websites.
Your goal is to get more business. Your website is a tool to help you achieve that goal. Here’s an example:
Tip: Make sure your website is set-up to track conversions. It’s the main metric you’ll use to gauge the success of your online marketing.
5. Get a Memorable Domain Name
Your domain name is your calling card. You want to put it everywhere: on your trucks, hats, t-shirts, coasters, menus, business cards, flyers – everywhere.
Try to get a domain name people will be able to remember – even if they see it quickly, like on your passing truck.
Something short and location-based is perfect, like www.bouldercatering.com.
Or something with a specialization, like www.NYweddingcaterers.com
Tip: Test some domains on friends. Show it once, then 20 minutes later ask if they can remember it. If they can, you’re good.
6. Discover the Power of Search Marketing
Most of your new catering clients will look for you with online search, so being visible is vital to your marketing.
There are two types of search advertising:
- Pay-per-click (PPC). You bid for position and pay each time someone clicks through to your website. You have more control of the ads, their search position, and the landing page the ads go to.
- Search-engine-optimization (SEO). These listing are free and are based on how Google views the relevancy of your content as it relates to the search. Attaining page 1 rank takes more time, and it requires that you add fresh content to your website regularly.
Also, you need to set-up and rank for Google My Business. This is the maps listing and review platform Google uses for geo-targeted searches. It’s a free listing you can optimize with your descriptions and by getting customer reviews.
When you start your online marketing, you’ll want to do both PPC and SEO. Even after you get to page 1 for SEO you may want to continue with PPC so long as it pays for itself.
If you optimize all these channels, you can show up in three places on page one of search:
Tip: Run some call-only campaigns. Call-only are campaigns that run only on mobile phones with only a click to call to convert the lead. The ad does not go to your website landing page. These campaigns work well for leads who are in a hurry or simply want to call and talk to someone about catering immediately.
7. Manage Your Local Listings
Search engines like Google analyze your business location. Search results for catering services in your area are partially dictated by businesses Google knows are nearby.
Your business information is aggregated (address, contact info) from many online resources for consistency purposes.
Your online listings must have precisely the same info – even slight variations cause issues. Tools like Local Listing Ads™ simplify this process.
8. Create a Catering Service Video
The power of video today cannot be denied. Videos are easy to watch on any type of device, and they have a visual appeal that static content just can’t match.
Videos are particularly powerful for food services because you can video food preparation to whet people’s appetites. These simple videos don’t even need words – just your yummy food, hot and sizzling.
You can also show your staff serving at the event, venue decor, and snippets of actual events if your client allows.
Tip: Post your video on your website, and optimize for searches on YouTube. Consider having videos made for different types of events you cater and optimizing them for search on YouTube as well.
All the hype you hear about search marketing, social media, and websites can leave you thinking all you need to do is build your online presence and let the leads come rolling in.
And make no mistake about it. Online marketing is powerful. It will be a big lead generator.
But don’t sit on your laurels. Get out and network. Join the local Chamber of Commerce. Talk about your work at church, PTA meetings, neighborhood barbecues. Pass out business cards everywhere.
Connect with other businesses that work events such as florists, event halls, local musicians, funeral homes, micro-breweries, churches, limousine services, and suit rentals. Develop a reciprocal referral program and share links between websites.
Tip: Be an active lead-generator, especially as you start. Every contact you make is a potential gig.
10. Social Media Marketing
Social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram create opportunities to network online. Create a profile for each of these and start posting activity about your catering business.
Here is the caveat: social media is not a good place for self-promotion. Instead, this is a place to share your interest in cuisine and the foodie world. Share recipes, party ideas, and wine suggestions. Share useful, unique, fun information. Post photos of your most beautiful dishes and table arrangements. This content can lead back to your website, where you do promote your business.
Be sure to set-up and manage your Facebook business page. This can be a good source of leads, in particular through messenger. It’s also a good place to collect recommendations and positive reviews.
You can probably do a lot of the regular, short posts yourself. Just keep your phone handy to snap photos. When you have a larger campaign you’d like to get out on social, consider using a social media management company.
Tip: When it comes to social media for business, think awareness. Keep your business top-of-mind so when people do need a caterer, they’ll think of you.
11. Advertise For Events
You’ll never win over the most business in a competitive market just by advertising for general catering services. You need to plan around and advertise for events in their peak seasons.
For example, when spring rolls around, it’s time to start advertising aggressively for wedding events. During Christmas, target office parties. 4th of July, advertise for family reunions.
At the height of these seasons, run paid search ads so you are at the top of searches and run awareness campaigns on Facebook. Also, build up your organic landing page content so you rank for your most important services organically, especially with location search queries (wedding catering Denver).
Tip: Remember that a great deal of marketing success has to do with timing. Be visible with your best offers when the iron is hot.
12. Manage Testimonials and Reviews
Today, what other people say about you online has as much – if not more – influence on decision making than your own content. People will check reviews on Yelp, Google Plus, Top Rated Local, Urbanspoon, and other review platforms.
You can’t totally control what’s said in these reviews. But, keep in mind, they’ll get written, making every person at a catering gig a potential critic. That leaves you with two goals: (1) make sure your service is always the best it can be, and (2) encourage clients at successful events to leave positive reviews.
Likewise, you can add testimonials with more positive comments directly to your website.
Read this catering marketing review case study.
13. Join Catering Associations
Beyond just local networking, consider joining professional associations such as The International Caterers Association. Here, you can get more information on the catering profession, industry trends, marketing tips, vendor info, and you can make important connections within the industry.
You can find out about trade shows and conferences that are attended by some of the heavy-hitters in the industry. They also have educational material on how to organize and manage events.
Tip: Knowledge is power. Keep learning about your industry, food trends, and new types of events you can cater.
14. Hire a Professional Internet Marketing Company
If understanding website design, Google, and social media are a bit more than you want to take on in addition to catering, you’re not alone. Many small businesses owners’ biggest struggle is committing the time needed to successfully market online.
That’s where Marketing360® can help. We offer an all-in-one software and consultancy service that helps you develop a strong online marketing strategy. The underlying goal is lead-generation: we want to keep you busy doing what you love.
Tip: Contact us while you’re still on steps 1-3. We’re happy to offer some advice, whether you choose to work with us or not.