Shawn Brown was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2019, just one month after moving her 8-year-old bakery, CheeseCaked, into a new storefront.
She immediately took time off from running the company to seek treatment, closing down the bakery. Two years later, when she completed chemotherapy, she relaunched the brand. Since then, she’s scaled the bakery, opened two storefront locations, and surpassed 39,000 Instagram followers.
“Sometimes, businesses will start in your mind one way,” Brown said. “Then when they reach the public, they’ll go down their own road, and you have to adjust to what the people want.”
One of the most difficult parts of running a business is securing financing so it can grow, she said. While she’s taken out some small loans, the majority of business costs come from her own pocket.
Storefronts and social-media marketing were two of the most worthwhile investments, even if rent and advertising alone cost more than $4,000 of her monthly budget, she said. Especially with fears of an upcoming recession and inflation affecting many aspects of her business, staying visible is crucial as Brown continues to build back her brand.
Brown breaks down her budget for April and explains how to invest in visibility and prepare for uncertain times.
Here’s the budget breakdown
Invest in visibility: digital and brick-and-mortar
When Brown relaunched CheeseCaked in November, she opened a storefront in downtown Atlanta’s Underground district. In March, she unveiled a location in Norcross, Georgia.
Brown did not originally plan on opening two brick-and-mortar stores but said it helped with brand awareness for customers who didn’t know CheeseCaked before she stepped away from the business. Today, customers visit the stores to purchase desserts, celebrate special occasions, and even host events, like weddings, birthday parties, and promposals, said Brown, adding that creating “an experience” has become part of her brand.
Brown spends more than $4,000 a month on rent and store expenses, like WiFi and other utilities. After the physical storefront, Brown said social media was another necessary expense to relaunch her brand.
She hired her first social-media manager in 2016 — when she felt stagnant in her brand growth — and grew her social-media following by tens of thousands through organic content. Today, many of CheeseCaked’s 39,000 Instagram followers turn into paying customers, Brown said.
“When I first started, some food bloggers reached out, and one asked me if she could run my page,” Brown said, adding that this social-media expert charged $100 a week.
Convinced by her mother that it would be a worthwhile investment, Brown paid the $100; within two weeks, there was a line out the door, she said.
“Now she’s part of payroll, and social-media management is one of my top things,” she added.
Plus, when reopening the store after her cancer treatments, she used social media to gauge whether the brand was missed and would have returning customers.
Budget strategically for market conditions
To stay on top of finances, Brown invests $625 a month in accounting services and constantly reevaluates which bakery items are most and least cost-effective, she said.
With the changing economy and skyrocketing inflation — where cream cheese and eggs have been especially affected — she’s had to make decisions like taking items off the menu or changing her prices.
“I’ve had to increase prices, but I didn’t do it across the board,” Brown said, adding that she’d raised prices on about 40% of her items.
It’s important to stay strategic with pricing in trying times, she added.
“If I’m hurting financially, my customers are as well,” she said. “And I don’t want to price myself out of the market to the point they can’t even come in and buy anything.”