My Thoughts And 4 Tips On Best Ways To Approach Another Business Owner
Let me start this off by saying that I am ALL FOR community over competition. I feel the need to stress this right out of the gate because the direction this post may go in could come off as the opposite, but I assure you that I understand and appreciate the value and importance in community.
I also have some thoughts on competition that I need to share, namely what I feel are good ways to approach another business owner in the same industry as you. This is something that’s very personal for me, so I am by no means suggesting that everyone should have these same views. This is based on my own experience as a business owner, and I am hoping it might be helpful for some of you that may also be looking to start your own business as well.
When I started Bon Vivant two years ago, I was completely clueless and had zero direction. I knew there was a need in Austin for a gift service, but I had no experience in retail and did not have a mentor. I did my research and of course I was inspired by other existing gift box companies, but mostly I just got really comfortable with trial and error. It was never an option for me to reach out to another gift box company owner, not because I was worried that they’d say no, but it was because I knew from the beginning that this was MINE, and I wanted to do everything I could on my own. This may sound stubborn to some, but my reasoning was that I knew that I wouldn’t be making the actual products themselves, so this meant that I had to use my own creativity and vision to be able to start something that I can be proud of that also represents the brands we carry well. To clarify, I am all for having a business mentor if you can find someone that you trust and have the means to pay them for their advice (this is different from reaching out to another biz owner in the same industry and asking for free advice.) However, in my case I preferred it not be someone in the same exact industry as me because I wanted to do the work myself. I needed to learn on my own in order to figure out what Bon Vivant was and how I wanted to present it to the world.
All that being said, I’ve been approached many times by other existing and aspiring gift box company owners looking for advice and direct sources for products and packaging. This is always very flattering to me as my initial thought/response is “I am no expert and I’m still figuring it all out.” I love that this is a growing industry and I sincerely believe that there is room for everyone. I am not always 100% confident in giving out advice because what I do and the decisions that I make are what I feel is best for MY business, and I’d never want to steer someone else in the wrong direction. So, there is a struggle for me in that respect, and also in just generally giving out free advice with no boundaries. My time is very precious since I am the sole proprietor and run as lean as possible, typically with just one other person helping me. As much as I want to be helpful and cheer another boss babe on, I have to protect my time and boundaries. Then I run in to this issue of feeling guilty that I’m not being helpful enough or choosing community over competition. I am sure that I am not the only one that has had these feelings, so I wanted to share mine and give some thoughts on what I feel are good ways to approach another business owner. This is more specific to the gift box industry, but I think most of it can be applied across all industries.
1. BE AS SPECIFIC AS POSSIBLE
If you are going to take the time to reach out to another business owner to ask for something, being as specific about what you want is extremely helpful. When I receive emails or messages asking if I have some time to chat or meet with no specific context, I am immediately hesitant. Since I’m not a consultant that charges hourly fees to give advice to other business owners, I’m giving away free advice and my time. I don’t like to be caught off guard with questions I’m not prepared for and also an open-ended amount of time that I’ll be spending. Sending an email that gets straight to the point with 1-3 specific questions that you have will give the other person an idea of how much time they need to spend and give them the control to set boundaries. It also shows that you have respect and consideration for their time.
2. GIVE CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE
If you do reach out and that business owner gives you their time and insight, give credit to that person any chance you can — particularly if they did it for free. This could be in the form of a shout out, a thank you note, tagging or mentioning them if you use their photos or ideas (this is a big one!) We recently came across another gift box company account on Instagram that had used one of our photos without giving us any kind of credit. Once we found it, we asked them to credit us and they eventually did, but at that point it was too late. It’s extremely disappointing and I know that the majority of smart and savvy business owners out there would never do this, but it’s worth mentioning. If you truly believe in community over competition, then you should always give credit where it’s due.
3. FIND YOUR OWN STYLE
Listen, I know that we all want to carry the best brands and I most definitely know how hard it is to find the perfect boxes. It has taken me nearly two years to find the perfect boxes and I did it all on my own. Every time I get asked where we get our boxes from from another gift box company owner, I cringe. I know they’re “just boxes,” but your boxes should be your own. There are only so many ways that you can stand out in this industry, and in my opinion it’s carrying unique brands, choosing your own branding, your gift boxes, and styling. Try to make those things your own because that’s what will make your business unique and special. Did I want to ask another gift box company exactly where they got their boxes from? Of course! But did I? Absolutely not, because I wanted to do my best to find boxes that suit us and weren’t a direct copy from someone else. I took inspiration from others that I found, and then did the research and diligence to find our own. I do the same with the brands that we carry because I want to offer curations that are unique and distinguishable.
4. LIMIT OUTSIDE INFLUENCE
This has been the most important piece of advice for me personally. When I started Bon Vivant, I found other gift box companies on Instagram that I was inspired by and/or wanted to follow to show support. I soon realized that I couldn’t help but be influenced by some of them and it was interfering with my creativity. I found myself playing the comparison game as well, and we all know that’s counterproductive. In order for me to feel really good about what we’re offering, I need to know that it’s coming from our own creative ideas and keeping our customers in mind, not our competition. I still follow a few other gift box accounts that I love, because we have figured out our own style and I don’t worry as much about being influenced in the way that I was when we were starting out. Find your niche — what makes you/your business special? How do you want to stand out? What is your mission? Vision? Figure those things out and create your own style, and then I think you’ll feel so much more confident in what you’re doing. Until then, my advice is to try to limit influence from other gift box companies.
I hope that this has been helpful and not discouraging. Starting a business is such an amazing, fun, roller coaster of an experience and having others to lean on and learn from is so important. My intention here was to share some of my own experiences and thoughts on what I feel are best practices with respect to the gift box industry. I do believe that we rise by lifting others and I hope that if anyone reading this ever has any questions, you won’t hesitate to reach out. I love hearing from other business owners and will always do my best to be helpful and supportive.
And on that note, if you are looking to start your own business or are already in the trenches of it, I want to send all the good vibes! I’ve been floored at all of the support and encouragement that I’ve received and I want to pass that along because it’s absolutely what’s kept me going in those undeniable times of doubt, challenge and anxiety. You’ve got this, babes!