The Things Small Business Owners Wish You Knew (But are Too Nice to Tell you!)

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One of the reasons I started DoSayGive was to bring attention to ways we can be more thoughtful of others in various situations. Today I am sharing things that your small business owner and entrepreneurial friends probably want you to know (but don’t know how to say it in a polite way!). I’m thinking about the photographers, stationers, bakers, your friend that sells Rodan & Fields, calligraphers, and just about anyone that is an entrepreneur, mompreneur, or owns a home-based or small business.

Y’all, I will be the first to admit that I have committed some of the faux pas below. It wasn’t until I started turning my blog into a little business that I realized – cringe! – I may have crossed a line or two when dealing with my small business owner friends in the past. I think most of us want to be thoughtful and considerate of others, but sometimes don’t even realize when we aren’t.

So after hearing from many readers and friends with small businesses, I’ve put together these tips to help all of us be better customers and friends;).

Payment Etiquette 

Always pay on time and the right amount. Avoid the “I’m short two dollars, I’ll bring it tomorrow” line. Or “I forgot my checkbook.” Never accept a product or service without paying. It’s just plain impolite. An entrepreneur might act like it’s no big deal, but it is. Promise.

Discounts Do’s and Don’ts

Try to refrain from asking for discounts. If small business owners gave a discount to every friend or family member that asked, it might significantly cut their earnings. Many of my mom friends are running small businesses to help out their families financially so it can really affect their bank account to do this often. Now if a friend offers to give you a discount, that’s a different story, but certainly don’t expect it every time.

Oh and if  you think, “I’m ordering  five of these t-shirts, she should give me a discount.” Well, not really. A bulk discount is understandable, but to many business owners, bulk means 50, 100, 1000. Not five.

Customer Service Expectations

Yes, customer service is usually better when dealing with small businesses, but let’s not be completely unreasonable in our expectations. For example, you provide incorrect spelling when ordering monogram bibs for a baby gift. Well, it isn’t the monogrammers fault that gave the wrong information, so don’t ask her to replace it for free.

My entrepreneurial friends that have fast turnaround times often get bit in the behind when they have a vacation or a sick child and their super fast shipping times becomes normal shipping times. You would never order something on PotteryBarn.com on a Thursday expecting it to be delivered on a Saturday (without being charged overnight shipping charges), so don’t expect that from a small business owner either. Like the saying goes, “poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on their part.”

One more thing on this issue, before emailing a small business owner to check on shipping and policies, check their website first. Most likely your question can be answered there and save everyone some time. And, as always, have a little grace!

Proposing a Barter

Bartering is a tough issue. It’s definitely okay to ask for a service or product for free if and only if you are offering to exchange a service or product of equal or more value. In other words, don’t shortchange a fellow small business owner! Again, it’s okay to ask. But don’t push if you don’t get a response or the response is a no.

Soliciting Donations

My small business owner friends get asked ALL THE TIME for donations for various charity and school auctions. And often hear, “Oh this will be such good publicity for your business.” The truth is that rarely does a donation or company logo in a program lead to a plethora of new customers. Small business owners donate because they want to and like to be involved in the community, not usually for the publicity. No need to feel bad for asking, but if a small business owner says her company has already met their quota for donations for the year, it’s probably true. (So if you are ever an Auction Chair, remember to ask early in the year!).

Asking for Expertise, Advice, and Time

You wouldn’t ask an attorney you know for free legal advice so think twice before asking an interior decorator for her go-to paint colors and fabrics sources or a personal trainer for her workout secrets. Unless you want to pay for the knowledge and expertise of these people (or they offer to help on their own accord) don’t expect them to dish out all their knowledge for free.

As for asking for advice, I think most business owners want to pay it forward and are usually happy to give advice to friends and aquaintances who are looking to start a business. But the thing we don’t have is a lot of time. (Who does these days??) The “I’d love to pick your brain over coffee” email is so difficult – at least for this mompreneur – because I don’t have a lot of child-free time to work as it is.  So to take an hour or two out of my limited “work” time just stresses me out and usually means I will have to work later into the night.

So if you are seeking advice, consider asking for a 20-minute phone call or email a few specific questions. And if someone does take an hour or two out of her day to meet with you, definitely show your appreciation with a thoughtful thank you gift. If nothing else, write a thank you note! Most of all, remember to pay it forward down the road when someone comes asking your advice;).


Small business owners, tell me: what things do you wish your customers and friends knew?

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8 thoughts on “The Things Small Business Owners Wish You Knew (But are Too Nice to Tell you!)

  1. For me, as a career travel planner, I feel insulted when someone wants me to put my stamp of approval on a trip or tour they have bought on line. I’m stunned every time someone does this…and with the gazillions of options out there, on the inter web,it happens a lot. I am always polite but I must admit to wanting to say,”you’re kidding me, right? You didn’t buy it from me but you value my expertise in rubber stamping something you bought from someone else? What do you think I do for a living! Maybe because travel seems like a fun purchase, but it’s my livelihood, my passion and my career. Thanks for letting me emote. Your tips for small business owners is spot on!!!

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