Recently, I've had an influx of random individuals contacting me with questions about my business. The questions range from very general to rather specific. They want to know how I make cards, where I get my card stock, how I print my cards, what printer I use, what tools I use, where I source my envelopes. And I don't oblige.
In most cases, I don't respond to these types of individuals because I honestly don't feel comfortable providing this sort of information about my business. However, in some cases, the person in question is persistent, reaching out to me several times before giving up, and so in order to at least appease their questioning, I give them a friendly "no" with my reasoning.
Inevitably, in return, I am met with a nasty or rude response because the person didn't ultimately get what they wanted-- free information without having to do the hard work. Often times, I must remind myself that this is not a reflection of myself, but rather the person who is asking the questions. This situation occurred once more for me this past week. And a couple days ago, this same scenario happened yet again to another card seller that I often talk shop with. Much as the story usually ends, she too was met with a rude response after sticking up for her own hard work and her business. Chatting with her about this really made me question why it is that so many individuals feel they are entitled to information that is not theirs to have.
While many of you may wonder what the problem is with sharing this information, I'm providing a bigger picture for readers as to why artist entrepreneurs have absolutely no obligation to provide information about how they make their products or run their business.
1 // I have spent hours upon hours researching and testing materials. It took me almost three years to find card stock that I was 100% happy with for my cards. In that time, I tested and researched various types of card stock from all sorts of paper mills. The same goes for envelopes, the printer that I use, and the packaging materials that I use. Time is money. If I spend four hours of my day doing research for one small aspect of my business, why should anyone but myself feel entitled to that information? The same goes for outsourcing. As I move toward soon doing less of the digital printing myself, I have gone through endless amounts of paper samples, have visited several local printing facilities, prepared proofs for printing samples, and spent hours corresponding with print shops. That's time I've invested, and I shouldn't have to give that away for free.
2 // I have invested and lost money while trying to figure out what works best. Similarly to number one, while researching various aspects of how I run my business, I have invested thousands of dollars in products, materials, and equipment in order to test these things. Many of them I didn't even end up using. If I put the money down for this sort of thing, why should I feel obligated in any way to give the same information away for free?
3 // I have been burned in the past. Several years ago, I was more free in terms of giving up this information. I remember one particular instance when a woman contacted me posing as a customer. She wanted to know what kind of card stock and printer I used. She told me that she wanted to know this information because she was interested in purchasing a large volume of my cards and she wanted to be sure that she liked the end product. I obliged, and she never purchased a single card. A week later, I noticed that she had opened her own greeting card shop on Etsy. In her shop, there were cards that had used some of my design concepts and my wording from my own cards. I could also tell from her listings that she was using the same card stock as me. She had lied to me in order to get the information she needed, and then she also used my work for her own profit. Even to this day, she continues to do so. While I know that not everyone that asks me these questions plans on stealing my own designs, this experience has left me very wary of giving out any information about my business.
4 // I know my products are top notch quality and that is part of what makes my business stand out. It's a competition thing. Providing information about an aspect of my business that makes it better than other products devalues that aspect of my business. Maybe this makes me sound arrogant, and I certainly don't mean for it to, but I know that my card stock is much better than the average card seller on Etsy. I've done the research. I hear it in the feedback I get from my customers-- they love the great quality of my cards. If everyone uses the same quality of materials, that aspect of my business will no longer set me apart from the others.
5 // I don't know you. I have no problem sharing information with other stationers with whom I've built relationships. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I do talk shop with several other card makers both in person here in Baltimore and online. The thing is that after you've been in business for a while, you find a group of people that understand what you're doing on a daily basis. You're able to connect and share based on that aspect. We've all been through the ringer of figuring out what works best for our businesses, and at some point there is a level of trust that develops much like any other relationship or friendship. If you ask about the nitty gritty details of my business and I don't even know you or have never talked to you before, I equate that to a stranger asking me personal questions about my life. It's just uncomfortable and really weird.
Ultimately, the points I've made could certainly apply to all entrepreneurs, both small and large scale. Think of it this way-- if you were to contact Coca-Cola and ask them what recipe they use for their beverages, they wouldn't tell you. Much is the same for any small business. As entrepreneurs, we have a right to decline without getting a rude response in return.
As a small business owner, have you encountered the same experiences as I have in regards to business details? Have you ever asked another business owner about proprietary information? What was their response? I'm curious to know what experiences others have dealt with on this topic.