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4 Small-Business Lessons Learned in Reality TV Limelight

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By Caroline McMillan

After causing an on-air fire — customers still bring her fire extinguishers — and baking much-lauded sweet tea cupcakes with lemon sweet tea frosting, McDonnell and Cupcrazed won. One year later, she appeared on a special “Cupcake Wars Champions” episode, where she competed against other past winners. She was recently recognized as Martha Stewart’s “Entrepreneur of the Week.”

Now, the bakery has more than 13,000 followers on Facebook — 9,000 more than before the show — and every day McDonnell uploads photos of their coolest offerings, including the occasional TV-show-themed one. Take, for example, the “Breaking Bad”-themed “blue crystal meth” cupcake with blue rock candy, McDonnell said.

And if foot traffic is slow one day, a few new pictures posted to Facebook and Instagram can spike sales considerably, she said — sometimes within the hour.

“You better be good at social media if you’re going to do something in retail,” McDonnell said.

4. Solicit (and consider) expert advice. After raising nearly $43,000 via a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign, Charlotte, N.C., resident Gary Gagnon, 44, and his line of sneakers made of recyclable materials, Remyxx, were featured on the Season 3 finale of ABC’s prime-time TV show “Shark Tank” in spring 2012.

On the show, aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their businesses ideas to a panel of self-made millionaires and billionaires (and potential investors), including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and FUBU fashion line founder Daymond John.

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