The Gift Basket Business — Misconceptions

In some ways, it seems like yesterday.  In others, it seems like an eternity.  For me, the fall of 1992 was the beginning of a new business, a new lifestyle and a whole new perception of operating a homebased business.  I thought I knew everything.  After all, as a SCORE small business counselor, I had been counseling other startups.  I was the expert.  I had started and sold other businesses.  This gift basket business couldn’t possibly be any different.

Was I ever wrong.  Looking back 26 years later, I realize that I knew much while knowing very little.  I had a lot of misconceptions way back then.  Some of them are probably familiar to you:

  • The gift basket business is like any other business.  The gift basket business is very different from any of my previous businesses and requies new and different skills to succeed.  Nothing takes the place of the learning curve that comes from actually operating a specific type of business.
  • Designing and producing gift baskets is easy. They couldn’t be too hard for a creative person to make, could they?  I’m still laughing at that one — and still constantly learning new techniques to create gift baskets that don’t look like they came from Walmart.
  • The 99 Cent Stores have great bargains in gourmet foods that are perfect for gift baskets.  Buying the wrong kinds of foods from the wrong suppliers is a mistake that many, new to the business, make.
  • I needed a lot of different products to make lots of different baskets.  Buying “cute” and “fun” products is another major mistake.  These two words don’t appeal to the corporate market who preferred elegant and gourmet.  And one of the most important techniques to learn is how to use a few products to create a lot of different designs.
  • My major market would be all the people who wanted to buy a personal gift.  It doesn’t take long to learn that corporate is where the money is.
  • People in my area won’t spend more than $40 for a gift basket. I underestimated myself and my customers with this assumption.
  • The extra bedroom is big enough to house this business.  As I look around my 2500 square foot home that is now almost a warehouse, I shake my head in wonder at how naive I could have been.
  • My life wouldn’t be any different.  A neat organized house is now a thing of the past.  Grinding wheat and making bread are memories.  A Christmas tree?  Where would I put it?
  • Since I love shopping, that would be the best part of the business.  That was the reason for a lot of excess inventory that needs to be cleared out now.  “Just looking around” is a thing of the past.  Who has time? Shopping for me now is trade shows and wholesale internet sites.

And I could go on and on and on.  Many of the things that I counseled others to do apply to this business industry as well.  But there were new things to be learned, new techniques to become accomplished in, and a whole new mindset about life and business to be realized.

Would I do it again?  You bet!  The past 26 years have been some of the most exciting in my life.  There will always be challenges.  There will always be new things to learn.  But when it’s all over, I can say, “I dreamed, I risked, I built, and I succeeded!”

Will you say the same?

A Time of Business Renewal

snow-bushThere’s a bush by my front door that always takes the initiative and covers itself with bright yellow blooms as soon as we have a few days of spring here in Flagstaff.  And it always realizes that it celebrated spring too soon when we have another late snow storm, as we did the other day.

But that doesn’t stop this energetic little bush.  The snow melts and provides water to its roots and it just keeps on blooming until the bright yellow flowers are replaced by green leaves.

Why am I relating this story to you?  You probably have a bush similar to it in your yard.

But this is my special bush.

Each year, it reminds me that there will always be challenges to overcome.  On the morning, when I first discover its brilliant yellow flowers bursting forth, there’s a new skip in my step and a smile on my face.  I know that, even though, there may be a few more snowfalls, spring is on its way.

I know that it is time to dig out my business plan and review it to see how challenges of the past year have affected my business.  Since it’s always around tax return time, when this bush proclaims new life, I’ve already been forced to review the accounting figures for the past year.

This is something that all of us need to do at least once a year.  Most people think of January 1st as the time to review and renew.  But, in our industry, after the closing of fourth quarter, with its hectic holiday business season, we’re usually too tired and don’t have enough final figures to do this properly.

Then comes spring with flowers popping up, green leaves opening on the trees, and sunshine.

Most of you probably don’t think of weather in relation to business.  But I do.  For me, winter is a time for taking advantage of all the seeds I’ve planted during the summer and fall.  This is when the work load is heaviest and the profits are greatest.  By spring, I’m tired.  I’m ready for the sunshine.  I’m ready for a chance to review the past year and make whatever changes need to be made.  I’m ready for renewal.

How about you?

Beware – You Can Create A Whole New Person on the Internet

As more people lose jobs or income, more and more scams–or less than honest opportunities– are appearing on the internet.  As a professional writer, who personally knows a lot of other writers, let me say that you should NEVER believe everything you read.  As someone once said, “Don’t believe most of what you read, and only half of what you see!”

Talented writers, professional motivational speakers, and website entrepreneurs can be very creative.  They can even create a whole new person and make you believe that they exist.  Unfortunately, anyone can say anything on the internet as long as it doesn’t lible someone else.

What does this have to do with gift business owners who are Creative Gift Entrepreneurs?  A lot!

How many times have you received emails telling you how wonderful a particular product or service is and how great the person behind it is?  We all have at one time or another.  Most of us regularly receive emails offering to put us on page one of the search engines if we only hire them to optimize our website.  Or how about the minister wanting to buy large quantities of a particular gift if you’ll only let him know how to pay you?  There are many scams– and the internet is a gold mine for scammers and those who are less than honest.

Innocence or Deceit — Which is it?

A person, who wants to impress potential customers,  can even create a whole different personality and resume for themselves in order to lure you into their web of deceit.  Sometimes it’s very innocent as in the example of the gift basket entrepreneur who has created a “twin” to handle the marketing aspect of his business or the business owner who has created an “assistant” to handle the customer service and email responses.  There’s nothing wrong with either of these creations.

But other times, it’s not so innocent, particularly if the person is trying to take your money for a product or service that doesn’t exist.  The statement “Buyer Beware” is very true of any internet website or email wanting to sell you something.

How to Protect Yourself?

How can you protect yourself?  It can be difficult as folks, who do this, are truly creative entrepreneurs.  Their background and experience and even testimonials can sound so convincing that any of us can be easily fooled.  But, unless you are personally familiar with a particular person, product, or service, ask someone that may be more familiar with what you are considering.  Does their resume include speaking and writing experience?  If so, ask for references and check them out.  Do they include testimonials?  If so, ask for names and phone numbers and check them to see if they actually exist.  Even then, a reference may be a “friend in on the kill.”

If it is a website, check the domain name and see when it was first registered.  You can do that easily at whois.com or any other website where you can buy domain names.  If it is brand new, I would be a little suspicious.  It could be legitimate or it could be someone out to make a fast buck before disappearing.

If it is an opportunity or product related to your own industry, it’s easy enough to ask others who are familiar with the industry what they know about a particular person, product, or service.

But, as I said, anyone can say anything or even create a whole new persona on the web.  I could tell you that I’ve published ten books about the gift basket industry and they’ve each sold over a million copies.  That would be a lie but you would have to do some research to discover that it is untrue.  I could tell you that I’ve been a speaker at The Basket Connection Convention in Orlando and again in Atlanta and that I was a regular staff writer for our trade magazine, Rave Reviews, since it began.  That would all be true and could be checked out with anyone who is familiar with our industry.

So, if you are considering spending money for a product or service that you are unfamiliar with, check it out.  It could be the best thing since sliced bread or it could be someone anxious to take your money in exchange for little or nothing.

Creating niches with your gift website

One of the best things that you can do with your website is to develop your content around keywords and phrases that are generic gifts such as “Flagstaff Gift Baskets.

“But my competition is doing the very same thing,” you may say.

That’s true, but that shouldn’t stop you.  Just take it a step further and expand on those generic niches.

There are many niches you can create that people will actually be searching the web for.  “But I don’t have any niches,” you say.  “I sell gift baskets.”

Yes, you do have niches.  And, each of these is a niche that can provide opportunities to create very focused content, with key phrases your competition isn’t targeting.  How about:

  • Flagstaff gourmet gift baskets
  • Flagstaff apartment gifts
  • Northern Arizona University care packages
  • Flagstaff Medical Center Get Well Gift Baskets

If you look at traffic statistics for a gift website that receives high traffic, you’ll be surprised at the search phrases that brings in that traffic.  These phrases are called “the long tail” of seach.

There are a great many more search terms that you can use to create a niche.  Then create content that is focused on these niche  words and phrases and optimize the page for both visitors and search engines.  There will be far less competition, and you’ll do much better in the search engines.  You don’t need to write a novel on these topics.  Five hundred words or so is usually adequate.  The text, combined with photos of what you can create for these niches, can make a very effective search engine magnet.

Your site can develop several niches, each as a major page with sub-pages for each title and phrase.  Why compete for the major words when you’re able to get first page search positions for the lesser-used key phrases?

If you have more information than you feel comfortable putting on one page, link to sub-pages that expand on even more focused niches.

By spending time on this one part of your website, you can go a long ways towards beating your competition.

 

The Face in the Mirror or What Did You Learn Today?

Look at yourself if you want success

three-bearsRemember that girl called Goldilocks?
And how she broke into the house of the Three Bears?
And how she ate their porridge, sat in their chairs, and slept on their beds?
All while the three bears felt that their little home in the forest was safe and secure while they went into the woods for a picnic that day.

Well, that’s what has happened to many business owners.
Something has eaten your porridge, rocked in your  chairs, and rustled those
sheets while it slept in your bed — all while you felt you were secure enough that you could relax and go into the woods for a picnic while your business took care of itself.

And suddenly you arrived home to find the doors unlocked, the bed unmade, and the porridge all gone.  “Woe is me!” you moan, as you wring your hands.  “What is a hard working business person to do?”

I’ve read posts on the gift basket bulletin boards both from people starting a business and from those who have been in business for years.  They ask, “What can we do to rescue our businesses in this economy?  What techniques are working for the rest of you. ”

“Tell me, Tell me quick so that I can do it do,” they seem to say.

Businesses are closing daily while others are in dire need of  resuscitation.  But you’re looking for the wrong Goldilocks.

  • It’s not the economy.  People are still spending money on “feel good” gifts.
  • It’s not the lack of customers.  They’re still there, waiting to buy.
  • It’s not the industry.  As a whole, it is as strong as ever and will remain whole even if your business doesn’t.

The answer is easy.  Take a few moments, step into your bathroom, and look into the mirror.  You’ll see the answer staring you in the face.  Ask that person that you see looking back at you, “Are you taking advantage of every resource out there to keep your business growing and thriving in today’s world?”

Then step back, think a few moments, and listen to the answer swirling around in your head.

I believe that the strength and the backbone of any industry, including the gift and gift basket industry, rests with the educational offerings, resources, and information shared with each other.  The world is changing.  The gift industry is changing.  That’s not news.  It has been changing from the time it first began.  There are always new ways to attract customers, new technology to embrace, new ways to keep our customers coming back, and new ways to motivate employees.  There are always new products, new techniques, and new resources.

So let me ask you the question:  What did you learn today?  What resource did you take advantage of? What new technique did you try?  What idea did you put into practice?

And don’t say, “How can I do that?  There aren’t any resources!  I’m all alone.”

It’s not a question of a lack of resources.  There are numerous Facebook groups available for your use — all frequented by many experienced in this industry that can help guide you through the maze. Most, like our GiftBasketNetwork group  are free.   The others either require a subscription to our national trade magazine or a membership in a gift basket directory, or a membership fee to use the board.  The advantage that the private boards have over the free open-to-the-public boards is that those with knowledge to share are more willing to share if they show what they are sharing isn’t going to show up in the search engines.

Are you taking advantage of the other resources?  GiftBusinessInsider, a monthly digital publication for the gift basket  industry, isn’t free.  GiftBasketNetwork is the leading directory, for the least cost and the most benefits, for driving traffic to your website.

You can operate your business on a shoestring but you can’t grow it without spending some money on important resources.

Are you learning everything you can about changes in the industry and in technology?

Some of you are while others are stretched out on the grass sleeping away the afternoon while Goldilocks trashes your house.

So look in that mirror and place the responsibility, for making sure that your business continues to grow and thrive, where it belongs.

Today, and at the end of each day, ask the face that is staring back at you, “What did you learn today?”