What to do When People ask you to Share Your Sources, Secrets and Suppliers

Creative Entrepreneurship, Lifestyle + Creativity at Home | 19 comments

What to do When People ask you to Share Your Sources, Secrets and Suppliers | the merriweather council blog

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.

The Grapevine

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.

No Obligation

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.

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Oh, hi! Welcome to The Merriweather Council. I’m Danielle and I am a maker in business and mentor to other makers in business. I teach you how to turn your crafty tendencies into profits!

Oh, I’m also really into crafts, boy bands + iced coffee. Email me anytime to say hello or send cute Backstreet Boy videos or dog pictures .. or whatever! danielle (at) merriweathercouncil.com Thanks for stopping by.

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  1. Great Post! Thank you for sharing this information. I now feel better and confident about not responding when people ask me where I get my supplies from, or how I make things!

  2. Amen, sister! I had to figure this out the hard way. There are plenty of companies or individuals who are looking for a leg up on your back rather than on their own sweat and hard work. We recently encountered a business we had hoped to be community partner with in a marketing sense only to find that they had been attempting to get close to us to find out our suppliers and recipes. It was super disheartening. We wanted a creative, mutually beneficial, community connection and they were in compete and conquer mode. Ultimately, we didn’t give any of that info away. I felt awful and torn through the entire process. It’s great to hear words of encouragement. It’s okay to protect your work.

  3. This was a great read. I stopped a few times and wondered if I’ve ever asked someone where they buy a supply. I totally get your point of view and really never even thought about it before! If I ever have asked, no is definitely a valid response!

  4. So perfect, Danielle! I got one of those requests today for something that would be really easy for her to find on her own (just a fabric, out of curiosity I image searched a description of the fabric and it popped right up) and my first inclination was just not to respond. Especially since it was a total cold call with no explanation for what she wanted it for. Now I’m definitely just ignoring! Thank you for your wisdom!

  5. Thank you so much for this post! I have always been asked for patterns and what not and I am always happy to say that they are all my own patterns, drafted by hand, from my own measurements and eye ball. I’ve been hounded about selling my patterns but that’s just not the kind of business I wanted to be in. Ive had people be so rude me, which really had me double guessing myself. Whether I was the one being rude for not “sharing” my patterns and my Grandma’s patterns drawn out on an old brown sac! Thank you for reassuring me that I’m not being selfish but protective! Blessings!

  6. One of my “I’m replying nicely but not giving it away” is to say
    – it’s been trial and error
    – I’m buying wholesale, with large minimums
    – and most of my suppliers were found at gem/trade shows
    – for small/starter quantities, I often recommend an on-etsy supplier

    All true, without saying “oh and here’s their URL”

    • I’ve done some of those myself too. It’s a good work around for sure!

  7. Verdade o que você diz sobre proteger os componentes de seus produtos. Eu não bordo como profissional e pesquiso por achar lindo tudo que se refere a arte de fazer bordados. Eu não tenho acesso a todos itens que gostaria de ter por causa do preço do dólar e euro que são muito caros. Mas eu garimpo na Internet endereços de lojas de aviamentos e ligo quando encontro o número de telefone. Logo pergunto se a vendedora tem watsapp, assim converso, peço fotos, preços e escolho se estiver dentro do que posso comprar. Depois que faço o pagamento envio a foto pelo watsapp assim o envio bem rápido sem esperar nada. Eu tenho linhas que comprei barato por ter apenas uma cor. Outras porque eram poucas e últimas meadas. Assim estou montando dos kits de linhas que quero, se Deus quiser, deixar para minhas filhas, talvez um dia elas amém como eu amo os bordados. Então estou em busca de material para esses kits para minhas gêmeas. Para mim a dificuldade maior é o preço. Quem tem bebê caro. Mas eu acho que vale o preço. Então se eu tenho algo a compartilhar é que busquem na Internet endereços, liguem, mandem email, watsapp. O que comprei de linhas mais difíceis já não existem mais, por isso a idéia do kit para minhas filhas. Tecidos tem em todo lugar, para quem tem bolso forte basta colocar o que quer em inglês que vai chover fornecedores. Eu descobri um na Indonésia, um na Tailândia, mas o dólar não me permite essas ousadias. França, Inglaterra e Portugal são berços do bordado então para quem pode pagar em euros, pagar os impostos e taxas de envio, é uma maravilha. Mas tem coisas que eu vejo no seu ig que eu gostaria de saber, tem também umas moças de Istambul, Quatar que fazem tipo broches, botões bordados e queria saber como prendem o bordado na base, mas não tenho coragem de perguntar e vou pesquisar como faz essa técnica. Já descobri que existe uma pequena máquina, de fazer o botão forrado, é um aparelho tão pequeno e já tem na net. Enfim, eu compartilharia mais se tivesse mais a dizer, na verdade estou só comprando, estou sofrendo de uma depressão que está me matando, infelizmente. Olhar, pesquisar as vezes me ajuda a melhorar pouco, mas melhor que estar no fundo do poço. Querida amiga, seu ig é maravilhoso. Amo você. Que Deus te abençoe sempre.

  8. I see both sides. I loathe a copycat, but if it’s a person that is truly trying to make their way. I’ll tell them how to avoid mistakes and time wasters. I remember how it felt to be on the wrong track. Nothing we make is impossible to recreate, and no one can put the same touch on it. Besides, I might need a hand again in the future so paying it forward is always in my mind. I’m a url giver, but I work in a brick and mortar store and I see the big picture. People will buy what and however they want. I had an odd experience early on with a maker who went on and on about her wares, but couldn’t answer my questions because I could find it myself. What I needed was kindness, and not her pricing formula. A nudge in the right direction. So she changed my view forever. Doesn’t mean I will do the search work for someone, but let’s be honest so many “makers” are sourcing ready-made items on Alibaba. That should be a secret. Alibaba is a good for so many things. Oops, I’ve said too much. That being said, don’t give a list of where you sell and at what cost. #don’tgetcrazy I love this blog.

    • Eura Lee!!!
      (with google tradutor) +(my bad english) = I hope you understand.

      I fully agree with you.

      Perhaps the translator may have with the use of colloquial words, seemed different from what you mean.

      I know almost nothing to 62 years old, I am retired and love arts in general, plants, read a lot, well, what everyone usually do, including embroidery, do crochet, paint etc.
      I am a learner. I’m not a professional arts, but it bothers me a lot the copier, including literally.

      I had the opportunity to take a course on Intellectual Property, of those we are curious to do and the opportunity came and I did, it was studied, intellectual capital, trademarks and all that concerns the subject.

      I Master in Management and Strategy in Business (M.Sc), and of course everyone knows that the secret is the soul of business.

      I also believe that life is an avenue of two-way, so if you want some information that I may have, probably not, can send in box in Fig.

      As a lover of the arts, I prefer the original. only items manufactured computer can do the same things;

      Points, the style of a embroidery are registered marks of the author, like your fingerprints.

      As a university professor, more than half of my life, I can define as open-minded, unbiased and pluralistic without any demagoguery. As I like what is unique, thus relating only to an embroidered, I think others are the opposite.

      I see in ig, girls giving courses (the students do the same job), other selling product that have outsourced production to friends, used to do, because there is no hand that can withstand embroider two hundred, three hundred products with the same reason and the same color! !!!!

      If I do embroidery, I never do another one like. I get tired, sick, lose my temper.

      I have an under beautiful dish set, are in cross stitch, small garlands of roses, at every turn, has about 20 years I have been embroidering the same game as the design is the same, changing only the colors, then still fail me to embroider furthermore has two and one half for embroidery (I will take a picture and put in ig).
      It is a game of just under 6 dish set , In the meantime I have done a lot already and presented him people, charity bazaar etc.

      Ladies, the sun exists and it shines for everyone and wish them to be happy in their business.

      I’m little projects many, many unfinished embroidery, a tapestry to be finalized, manta large crochet squares to end … . Not to think not I finish, I must say that March forth read more than 30 books … 200, 300 pages go by so fast that soon end; but I’m thinking a little project though, and not ready idea , no one came to my eyes, as much as I scribble on paper.

      It is a theme with boat, sea, sun, a micro cloud, a micro seagull …. anyway … heheheehe already told. But can use the idea, I not bother. Someone is enabled to send a drawing to me without royalties?

  9. I totally agree, and as an artist I get so annoyed when people ask me what paints I use, or what material a painting is painted on, or, how did you get this texture? I usually never respond because it really doesn’t matter what brand of paint I use, and the materials and techniques took years of trial & error to figure out, and it’s so personal! Whatever I use might not work for you, maybe you’re more heavy handed than I am, that will lead you to different tools. I’m all about there being enough space for everyone, but…you learn more by working your ass off for your own space.

  10. I fall in the “in-between” camp. I’ll give away sources like Uline, and I’ll say what the medium is, since I disclose that to buyers in a listing. But explaining techniques is where I draw the line.

    It is hard as a former art teacher to hold back on this. I love what I do and am tempted to share. But advanced poured acrylic techniques (where you have more control and it’s not totally random) are newer. The supplies I use have only been available since the ’90s. It took over a year of experience and experiments to discover certain techniques.

    When starting to create videos this coming year, I need to balance sharing the delight of what this beautiful poured painting process looks like, and deliberately not filming parts that would give my discovered techniques away. Eventually, I will probably teach some of them. But only after developing even further advanced techniques that would keep my work set apart from my students in the online marketplace.

  11. So, here’s a different aspect of this problem. You post your wares / items on Instagram or somewhere and folks say, “I want to make this!” or “I’m going to make this”…. It’s disheartening when you know you are the original designer and toiled to develop this thing, and then someone just comes in cheerfully and says,”I’m going to make this!”

    I so much want to say, “yes, but this is my design/product and I make my living selling my products. Do you realize how insensitive your comment is, or posting my item to your DIY board on Pinterest is?” If you are planning on making my thing, maybe keep it to yourself instead of broadcasting it. Or am I just being way too sensitive?

    • I don’t think that is being too sensitive at all. I think it’s intrusive as well when people ask “how” and for trade secret info like that too. A lone comment maybe can be addressed, but if it gets to be a lotto people – or multiple people tagging each other, i would just go ahead and delete the comments if it makes you uncomfortable.

  12. I agree wholeheartedly. “I did the research and development” translates for me as “I made a commitment to my business.”

    Now person asking for free, it’s your turn.

    Thanks for a thoughtful post. This is bookmark worthy!

  13. I will definitely pass along info about supplies. I’ll even send links to people if they ask. But while I’ve never had anyone ask directly how I make one of my designs specifically, when asked about quilling techniques, I try to give advice that revolves around practicing. I strongly feel that with enough time and practice, beginner-crafters will grow their confidence and develop their own style, then they won’t even need me anymore!

  14. Thanks for this article, Danielle! I haven’t run into this problem (yet) myself, but now I feel prepared for the day it happens.

  15. THANK YOU for this!! I have seriously been struggling with this for a while. I want to help fellow artists out because I wouldn’t know most of what I do if everyone kept everything to themselves, but I also don’t want to give away all my secrets that make my items unique. I have put in SO much time with research and trial and error, and lots of expense in materials to create my technique that I feel a little territorial and don’t want to give that information to everyone who asks. I may give very general instructions, but I don’t go into super detailed techniques that I worked to develop.
    I generally don’t mind telling people what brands I use, because you still have to know how to use the materials, so I don’t feel like that’s proprietary information. There are some materials I use that if people ask, I’ll be very vague and give answers like “I find them online, at flea markets, garage sales, etc” because it’s the truth, but I’m not going to serve it up on a silver platter and give them the exact website or location. I have recently secured a source that I don’t feel bad about keeping secret because I put in the legwork to find it and don’t want the whole world to know about it.
    Thank you for reinforcing that I don’t need to feel bad for keeping some of my secrets to myself :)

  16. This ia a lifesaver. Was just asked this question today, but didn’t respond.

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