This is probably one of the MOST controversial topics in the crafting community. To share or not to share? That is indeed the question. And how to deal with these inquiries… because, awkward!
You might not agree with me on this, and that’s totally okay. I just want you to have these points to consider so you can determine if your approach still makes the most sense for you!
There are three distinct camps here: absolutely no, never share. Absolutely yes, share away, there is room for everyone. And the third: there are some things I don’t mind sharing, but those are the things that are easy to find so, why are these people asking me anyway?
Keeping the information you use to create your signature products guarded is smart business.
The same doesn’t apply to all forms of sharing or helping. Sharing helpful articles, information on taking great photos, marketing advice, social media best practices – those types of things are not specific to any one product (your product) and it’s good to share things that will elevate the community in that way. When everyone in the community is acting, looking and feeling sharp, we can all prosper a little bit more.
There are ways to pay it forward, be a good community member and support other makers without giving away your secrets. I REPEAT: giving away your secrets is not the only way to be a supportive community member.
Personally I fall in the “never share” group when it comes to secrets, suppliers and sources (I don’t consider Uline a secret.)
There is no right or wrong answer or approach here – you might be okay with sharing certain tidbits and that is your decision to make – but you might want to keep reading anyway, because there might be things you haven’t considered that could happen after you share this information.
Even now that I am not primarily focusing on my embroidered product line, I wouldn’t share secrets, suppliers or sources for the materials and elements I use to make those products uniquely mine.
So what to do? How to deal? These are the things I think you should consider when someone asks you to share your secrets, suppliers or sources with them!
Time + Effort + Propriety
You spent a lot of time finding just the right thing, at the right price. This is part of your business, your livelihood. You’ve built a competitive edge with your product, pricing, uniqueness… it simply doesn’t make sense to tell other makers how to make, or where to get the supplies to make the things you do for a living. Be they friends, family or other, it’s awkward as hell but it’s in your best interest to protect the sources you use to create your signature products in a signature way.
No matter what people tell you as far as reason for wanting to know your sources, if you tell them, now they know. And they can use that information however they’d like. And they have no real reason to keep it a secret the way you do – they have nothing riding on this information. Now that you told one person, all their friends and contacts could know now too. And they could publish a blog post about it, or share it with their entire network. And those people might have different needs or wants attached to knowing this information. All of a sudden now ten more people are making and selling items similar in style or purpose to yours. You just made it 6x easier for people to compete with you. If you value your own work and the effort you put into finding and sourcing and testing your materials, I suggest you do not freely share this information with everyone. It’s not about competition, you don’t eliminate competition, you just don’t assist them in doing so. You just protect your own work. That’s all.
This is Business
Look, Coca Cola doesn’t publish the recipe on their website, and I’m pretty sure there are like, three people in the world who know the exact recipe for KFC Chicken and they are never flying on the same plane… see what I’m saying? Every business has trade secrets – that’s how it is! Just because you are a solo business owner doesn’t mean your trade secrets aren’t valuable.
Again, this is a business
I found all of my sources myself. To be honest, it wasn’t entirely difficult. So, I know it’s very possible for anyone else to find them. I also know that if people don’t take the initiative to find their own sources, they probably aren’t cut out to be in business in the first place. You need to work for this. It’s not magic. You need to be okay with putting in a lot of time and effort to find what you need no matter what it is because this is the basis of your business.
You Don’t Have to Respond
I used to respond nicely back to inquiries and let them know that for proprietary response, I do not disclose my sources. 8/10 times I would get a nasty rude response back. So, yeah. Done and done. I didn’t sign up to get crapped on every time I open my email. Of course you might be more intrepid in this way than I am, and you should determine what sort of response – if any – you’ll want to provide to these types of questions.
You are under no obligation to tell others how to do the things you do. You aren’t here to be everyone’s BFF, you are here to be in business and sometimes that means doing things outside your comfort zone, like standing up for yourself and protecting yourself.
There are some people who say “there is room for everyone” – and those people are right. There is room for everyone who wants to put in the time and energy required to build and grow a business – that includes research and experimentation with supply, technique and developing a signature product.