When Ryan approached me to write for the Know Direction blog, I was honored. He suggested I write about something I’m passionate about. Well, that’s easy, the thing I’m most passionate about is my own gaming-themed business! The following is a look at the process of how I created a gaming-themed online cookie company: Critical Hit Cookies.
- Planning and Research
It may not be the fun or sexy part of creation, but the initial step for anyone serious about their own business is planning and research. Research early on will prevent heart-break later. In my case, I had to determine legalities above everything else. What were the local and state requirements to become a licensed food-related business? There are other things you should also think about: forming an LLC, insurance, trademarks, a business bank account, and sales tax requirements. These things take time to plan, but protect you in the long run.
Then you need to figure out how you’re going to sell your product. I knew I wanted an online business and to mail my products, and so started researching online providers. Shopify provided the best services for what I wanted; I purchased a domain for a surprising and very reasonable $14/year. Next, brand your business by finding an artist to design your logo. I provided rough ideas and my artist, @justinegabs, worked with me to determine exactly what I wanted. Think hard about color choices as well, because these decisions could be with you for a long time. I love dragons, particularly blue ones. It’s even my Paizo avatar, so having a dragon holding a cookie seemed a natural fit! After you have your logo, work on packaging and labeling; in particular, figure out what you want your brand to do and say. For example, I wanted to be sure my packaging could be sent as gifts in addition to being purchased. The black box has now become a sign for customers to know they have cookies!
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for advice. I talked to anyone whom I thought could help, because not only is this process just plain hard, but other people have useful experience and almost always mention something you didn’t think about.
- Social Media
Social media is the lifeline of businesses today. I had only limited experience, but I went all out and created: @HitCookies for Twitter, @criticalhitcoookies on Instagram, a business account for Facebook (criticalhitcookies), as well as personal accounts to practice. Starting to get your name out there before the business is even launched can build early interest in your product.
Figure out what you are selling. I knew I was making cookies and started with around twenty unique kinds. After I polled my first customers to find their favorite flavors, I formalized recipes and developed new kinds. I did plenty of taste tests, and while some of my experiments were home runs, others were definitely duds. It turns out wandering through a grocery store saying, “I could make a cookie out of that,” is not always the best way to get new concepts. Not everything you do will be a success, and some ideas will take a number of tries to get right. Don’t ask me about mango cookies, it’s a touchy subject! But don’t get discouraged, this process is totally natural. Another way to build a product line is to get inspired by the people around you: I love the Band of Bravos podcast and made cookies for the whole cast. I’m starting a new project with Order of the Amber Die, and I’m making cookies for those characters as well. When it comes to your product, don’t be afraid to follow the mantra: if you love something, chances are others will too.
- Building Your Theme
Okay, so I have a cookie business, but what does that have to do with gaming? Well, I began by sending cookies to gamers! I already had quite a few coffee-flavored cookies, and started sending them out to help keep people energized during long sessions. I cater to gamers, and focus on that in all of my advertising. I’ll show cookies with dice, cookies on maps, cookies as treasure, even cookies as PCs! Embrace your theme; I’ve never been afraid to stretch the imagination and gamers appreciate my craziness.
- Listen to Your Customers
As a growing business, you are trying to build your customer base. To do this, you need to find out what people want. Start with a spread of product if you can; for example, on Twitter I announced a number of cookies as homage to a community of Golarion deities. Zon-Kuthon, Nethys and Daikitsu all received cookies. The Zon-Kuthon cookie was embraced whole-heartedly, becoming referred to as the official cookie of the Kuthite church–something no other cookie company can claim! In addition, I listened to feedback at conventions. Norse Foundry was an early supporter who freely shared my cookies at PAX Unplugged, and I came up with sugar-free cookies at their request. I also get plenty of flavor ideas from people through social media. If someone asks you for something, try to make it happen–there is a good chance you’ll have a new customer by the time you’re done.
We’ve covered key points, but is this everything you need to know to start your own gaming-themed business? Absolutely not! There is a ton of trial and error that goes into this, and every business will be different. You will be stretched in ways you can’t even begin to imagine, and it will be a journey with ups and downs. However, if you are passionate about something and want to share that with the world, this could be the path for you–it’s super rewarding to make someone happy with your creations! If you have individual questions, I’m happy to talk to people in more depth. I can be reached at @KareeVogrin or www.criticalhitcookies.com.