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4 Small-Business Lessons Learned in Reality TV Limelight

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By Caroline McMillan

The pair lost in the finals, but not before getting rave reviews from the judges for their creative confections, including “Cheddar Habanero Crisp” (the habanero pepper was an ingredient with a “twist,” just like every soap opera has), “Strawberry Chocolate Seduction” (which was topped with two figures in a bed made from fondant), and a tombstone-topped “Gluten-Free Escaping Death” cupcake (because someone’s always cheating death on soap operas, Friedman said).

The judges “raved,” Baucom said. “We thought we were good, but when we saw they thought we were good, it showed we’re doing it right. We should trust our instincts.”

3. A strong social media presence pays off. Social media helped Heather McDonnell get her Fort Mill, S.C., bakery, Cupcrazed, on “Cupcake Wars” just three months after it opened, and it’s been key to her strategy since.

A former school teacher-turned-stay-at-home mom, she’d already built a Twitter following based on her blog, Stepford Life, a satirical take on her neighborhood, and had plans to open a bakery.

So when McDonnell was at home, watching the first season of the show — a competition that starts with four contestants who are eliminated, one by one, in three rounds, all competing for a $10,000 prize — she tweeted at @FNCupCakeWars to ask about casting. They told her to email them.

Within 10 minutes, a producer called to say they wanted to wait until her store was open but that she’d made “the short list,” McDonnell said. And three seasons later, just months after McDonnell opened her shop and submitted a formal audition video, she made the cut.

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