Your mouth is dry. Your heart tightens. Butterflies race through your stomach. A new love affair?
Perhaps, for a few. . .but for most of us, this describes the fear and excitement that overtakes us when we talk about starting a new business.
You may have looked at — or even tried–many different business opportunities and have now decided that perhaps a gift related business is for you.
Each person who arrives at this step of the process does so for different reasons, each reason unique to each person. Perhaps you are tired of working for someone else. Maybe you want to stay at home with the children while still providing an income for the family. Or you may have read the many books and websites extolling the virtues of making lots of money with little investment while doing the things you enjoy most.
Owning your own business is the very thread from which the fabric of the American dream is woven.
But such dreams also come with many challenges.
The gift industry is highly competitive and expert knowledge of the industry is essential for success. Hundreds of new gift companies are started each year but only a few survive past the start-up state and fewer still are operating and flourishing after the first five years.
My company, Creative Gifts to Go LLC, is one that has made it to the 30-plus-year stage. Along the way, I’ve learned from mistakes as well as trial and error. When I started this business, there was little information available and each of us had to learn the hard way how to avoid the landmines lurking around us just waiting to sabotage each step we made.
This is no longer the case. Gift Baskets — the gift niche that I started with — are popular not only as personal gifts but also as the “safe” gift for business people to give to their customers and clients. You see them at WalMart, Costco, and all the other discount stores. Even the more upscale department stores and specialty boutiques advertise, “We do gift baskets.”
But, as in many businesses. . .there are gift baskets and then there are “GIFT BASKETS.”
And even that niche has evolved to include much more than just baskets.
The gift baskets you find in the discount and even upscale department stores are usually generic products packaged in an assembly line and shrink wrapped in a basket. What we, in the business, call “GIFT BASKETS” are much different.
Carefully selected enhancements, hand-tied bows, and artful arrangements that shout “Wow, What a GIFT!” are what has set us apart from the mass-produced store baskets.
It takes time and guidance to learn the techniques to build a “Wow, What a Basket!” And building a business based on the creation of Wow Gift Baskets requires even more skills. This is true of other gifts as well. Handmade gifts require learning the tehniques to produce products that will stand out in the sea of sameness.
And creating a business that actually makes a profit requires much more than just saying, “We’re open for business!”
As shipping prices have increased, we’ve had to adjust to new techniques and skills so that our customers are not frightened by high shipping costs.
There are books on the web and even courses you can take. Most are written by those who no longer operate an active gift basket business as they are pursuing a whole different business model with teaching and writing. I, too, have taught at national gift basket conventions, wrote for industry trade magazines and even produced a digital magazine for the gift basket industry for 13 years.
But the difference is that I still operate a very active gift basket business and national gift service today and am sharing with you from the trenches.
As in most things, there is no absolute right way to do anything. I’ll be offering you my knowledge and will lead you to other resources which will prove invaluable to you as you create your own unique niche in the gift world. I can help you with the techniques needed to create a gift basket or gift box that sells as that is my niche. If your niche is jewelry, soap, or other gifts, the techniques are different and there are experts in those fields that you can learn from.
But starting and growing a successful business is very similar for any type of business. Sure there are differences, but the basics are the same.
Today, you are a Business
Even though you may just be beginning your research for your gift business, as of today, you are a business.
I can hear you now saying: “But I don’t know anything about starting a business, yet? I’m not ready for customers? How could I be in business?”
You aren’t ready to open your doors yet. That’s true. But if you’re really serious about this, you’re on your way already. We never learn everything we need to know. I’m still learning and you will be too, even after you’ve been in business as long as I have.
Today, I want you to realize that the sad truth is that all the other gift companies are the only ones who care about how long you’ve been in business. A customer could care less.
Let me tell you how I know this to be true.
I teach small business classes in my county and at national conventions and meetings. In one of my local small business classes, we had people who were in all stages of starting and growing their business. Some had been selling their products and services for years but the businesses just weren’t working. There was one student, however, who had a unique idea — making and selling ukuleles. Now I live in the mountains of northern Arizona — not too far from the Grand Canyon. Definitely not a place you think of for ukuleles.
But this guy’s mother had married a Hawaiian who make the instruments, played them, and taught lessons. He wanted to pass the skills that he had learned down to his step-son who could continue the tradition. My student immersed himself in everything he could learn about ukuleles as well as about starting and operating a business.
He considered himself to be in the ukulele business from the very beginning.
He didn’t wait until he knew everything about the instrument or even everything about business. He didn’t just sit and wait to find customers in this unlikely area of the country. He became pro-active. He found groups in town who were interested in the Hawaiian culture or just liked music. He talked about what he was doing with everyone he knew and even those he didn’t know who would listen. He showed them how easy it would be to learn to play and was wildly enthusiastic about the ukuleles he could make for them.
He entered a competition for a grant for new start-up businesses and won.
Within six months, he had a new business that was on its way and many of the other business owners in town, who focused on how long they had been in business in their marketing, were lining up to buy a ukulele and learn how to play it.
He was in business before he ever opened his doors. Before he quit his day job.
He looked in the mirror and saw himself not as a man planning a business but the man in the mirror was in business.
He discovered that it is not how long you are in business.
It is what your business can do for others.
So, as of today, look in the mirror and see yourself as a person who is a business.
Now, let’s look at some of the ins and outs of running a business. These are the things that will determine whether you want to go further and develop that business or forget about it for now.
Running a Business
Many years ago, I took a writing class from author Ted Schwarz. One of the things he said was, “Today you are a professional writer. Think of yourself as one. Act like you are one. When you send out a query letter, say that you are one. And you will be one.”
And, that is what I am going to say to you today. Think of yourself as a business owner. Act like you are one. Believe that you are one. And you will be one.
Now that you are a business owner, there are a few things that you should realize before you proceed in developing that business that is still in your head.
Think about them and decide if growing a business is something that you really want to proceed with or if you want to put that dream back on the shelf and take off your business owner hat.
- A lot of gift basket businesses fail
Unfortunately the stats don’t lie. Most gift businesses don’t last past the first year and even fewer make it to the five-year mark. Making it to twenty years is even rarer.
- You may be slow seeing Profits
This is not a business where “if you build it, they will come.” Profits come with hard work and lots of marketing. I saw a profit the first year that I was in business, but remember I had created and sold other successful businesses in the past.
- There’s no safety net
Unless you have savings or a spouse that earns a good income or you continue working while growing your business, there aren’t a lot of safety nets should your business fail. This is why so many start their business part-time and from home rather than dive deep into it from the beginning. Consider what the results would be for your own personal life should you not be able to make this business work.
- It costs money
There has been a lot written about starting a gift business with no money. It’s true that if you operate it as a home based business, already have the knowledge to know how to start and run a successful business, and don’t make any spending mistakes, you can start a gift business with less money than many many other businesses.But let’s face it. It does cost money to make money.I started my own business with a loan to myself for $5,000 but I already had a computer and printer, and had started and sold other successful businesses. You can start a business with even less than what I did, and I will be giving you some tips about running your business on a shoestring. But you will have to be more creative, more resourceful, and much more careful with every dollar that you invest in your business.
- Running a business can be stressful
Being your own boss has advantages but it also can be stressful. You will have to make decisions that can affect your bottom line and there will be months when it will be hard to show a profit. If you are someone who is simply not made for that kind of pressure, a regular job may be a better bet for you.
It’s not all negative. There are many positive things about owning your own gift business. Your hours spent being creative and all your hard work will be going directly into an asset that you own. And the profits will be going into your bank account instead of someone else’s pocket. There are other benefits as well:
- You can set your own hours
You will no longer have to punch a time clock. As long as you meet the needs of your customers and your business, you can work at whatever time works best for you. Some parents of small children like this because they can work around their children’s schedule. You can work late at night if that suits you better than early mornings.
- You’re much more flexible
Just like setting your own hours, you’ll have more freedom to pick up the kids from school, go to the gym or run some errands. You need to still work the hours, but it often doesn’t matter when you work as long as you are meeting the needs of customers. Cell phones make it easier for you to respond to customers no matter where you are. When I started my business, it was before the age of even car phones and pagers. If I wasn’t in, my customers could only reach an answering machine.
- You don’t have to deal with office politics
There is lots of stress dealing with the drama of a job working for someone else. This is your office and the only politics are those that you wish to create for yourself.
- There is a potential for earning a lot of money
The potential is there but it is not a guarantee. There are those who have grown their business into a high-earning one while there are others who prefer to grow it slowly without dealing with employees and the stress of operating a large business. And then, of course, there are those who never make it.
As with anything in life, there are pros and cons. The important thing is to look at both and decide if this is for you instead of going into it blindly.
Are you ready to take that step and say, “I am a gift business.” If so, keep reading but also start doing.
Begin by making lists:
Lists of what you need to learn; what you are going to have to buy; who is your competition; and anything else you can think of. These lists will come in handy as you create your basic business plan.
I’ll be sharing answers to these questions with you as well as much more.
Your very next step is to sign up for our Gift Business Owners Community Forum here.
Join in the conversations. Ask Questions. I’ll be sending emails to members of the Forum Community with updates of new posts and new articles that are posted on the site. You have nothing to lose and much to learn. And, best of all, it is FREE.