Many of the shopkeepers in the Savvy Shopkeeper community have had aspiring store owners—usually complete strangers!—DM them on Instagram and ask to learn from them.
I’ve even heard of DM requests for personal financial information because the aspiring owner wants to gauge what to expect in terms of annual revenue. Others have had aspiring biz owners come into their stores to ask for help or to be mentored.
Here’s my take: many newbies’ requests for help are harmless. I know, you might think this type of request is unacceptable or rude. Maybe you’ve been burned in the past by an employee who worked for you, learned “all the things,” and then went off to start a competing business.
Not everyone will have the same level of integrity as you do. I get it. I am not naive, but I do want to play devil’s advocate for a moment.
Reframing Requests for Help
There are plenty of these situations where these requests are not malicious.
Some requesters don’t realize what they are asking for. Everyone starts somewhere! Members of our own community have admitted that they approached or messaged other store owners at the beginning of their journeys, not realizing how much they were actually asking for.
Some requesters genuinely respect you, your business, your growth. They admire what you’ve built! This is a compliment.
Some requesters simply feel overwhelmed with the idea or process of starting a retail business. They think of you because you’re evidence of doing what they want to do.
Last but not least, they may not know where else to turn. They may not realize that a resource like Savvy Shopkeeper exists.
So, what can you do when these sorts of requests come up?
If You’re the Retail Store Owner, Empower Yourself and Them
You can choose to be annoyed or not annoyed if or when they ask you. And you can determine what YOUR boundary is when this happens!
Personally, I don’t want to be or feel annoyed. And I don’t want to wonder what to do in this situation.
Here are some of your boundary options:
1. You can politely decline. Yes, you can just say NO!
2. You can offer 30-60 minutes of your time. Putting a specific amount of time on your help allows you to answer their questions without having an endless back and forth conversation.
3. You can mentor them. Maybe this person built a trusting relationship with you before asking for your help. If so, do you WANT to mentor them?
If you’d prefer to mentor them for a fee, this is acceptable, too. Just remember to consider the time and effort to do this, especially if you already feel you struggle with juggling it all.
4. You can point them to some free and helpful resources so they can DO THE WORK! Tell me if this is how you react when someone asks this of you. “What!?! Do you realize how much work and research I put into this business? Hell no, I am NOT sharing that with you!”
I get it, we put in the time and the research. We spend a ton of time listening, reading, and researching. We invest in ourselves. We build a business from LEARNING, either in education or from making mistakes and then making changes because we learned from those mistakes.
Well, there are lots of newbies like us who are willing to DO THE WORK. They just need someone to point them to helpful resources. The Savvy Shopkeeper Retail Podcast and blog are both free and a great place to start if you want to point them somewhere.
5. You can recommend a professional coach/consultant. Does this new biz owner see the value in hiring and paying someone for their expertise?
You can explain the value of speeding up the process of starting and growing a retail business faster.
For example, instead of spending hundreds of hours on Google, they can hire a business coach and/or they can invest in themselves by joining a Savvy Shopkeeper group membership. There is value in being guided by an expert and surrounded by like-minded and/or experienced shopkeepers.
My point is this: you have options in these situations. And most likely, it won’t be the same response or “boundary” each time. That’s okay! Really.
Personally, I’ve done all of the above. I’m currently mentoring/coaching someone for free because she is like a sister to me, I have time, and she has built a trusting relationship with me.
I’ve also pointed many people to my podcast and blog. AND I’ve offered my paid services, too.
You don’t have to be annoyed, and you certainly don’t have to feel stuck with how you can respond to this type of request.
If You’re the Aspiring Shopkeeper, Here’s How to Ask
On the flip side, you may be the aspiring retail store owner in this situation. So how can you ask politely and respectfully?
1. Invest in learning! Many retail business owners have invested countless hours in their business, and you should prepare yourself to do the same thing. Whether you choose to use your time to learn or pay for your education to speed up the process, be prepared to educate YOURSELF.
2. Build relationships and trust BEFORE you ask. This is so simple yet so important. Take the time to build a relationship with any potential mentor shopkeepers before you ask for an investment of their time.
3. Don’t act entitled to anyone’s time, resources, or financial information. Don’t approach a fellow retail business or an expert in the field and ask them to educate you or give you everything for free!
4. Don’t be rude. It can come across as very rude when you walk into someone’s business—their pride and joy—and vocally talk about what you would or wouldn’t do in your own business.
Don’t walk around talking about the lines you plan on carrying and don’t ask the store owner for a list of their lines! Yes, this happens.
5. Don’t be a copycat. Copying someone is an indication of your own lack of confidence.
So what you can you do to build your confidence? Educate yourself so you can define your OWN business, your own ideal customer, your own services, and your own uniqueness so that you can be original. It’s okay to be inspired, but it’s not okay to copy.
Last Thing: Point Aspiring Shopkeepers to This Post!
Unfortunately, some people won’t be direct. They won’t go to you directly to ask to learn from you. There are people out there who are deceitful. It’s frustrating and sad, but true. However, I genuinely hope this helps you when someone does approach you for help in starting their business.
Remember, not everyone is intentionally harmful (sometimes ignorance is bliss!). They just might need to be given some options, and those options may or may not include YOU helping them.
And if you’re not sure how you want to help, remember that you can always direct them to this post or the corresponding podcast episode.
- [03:14] Reframing requests for help
- [05:45] If you’re the retail store owner, empower yourself and them
- [11:19] If you’re the aspiring shopkeeper, here’s how to ask
- [14:49] Last thing: point aspiring shopkeepers to this episode!