Today we meet Catherine Weis, Owner/Lead Concierge at Bestowe Gifting. Bestowe Gifting is an elevated gifting service that customizes presents and packages with unique products, which Catherine founded with the mission to support small and mid-tier artisans, businesses, and communities. She has grown her business organically, facing all kinds of challenges along the way, and has an inspiring story of clear and steady progress! What kind of advice does she have to offer for budding sole-prenuers like herself? Let’s find out!
I am the founder of Bestowe Gifting, an elevated gifting service that customizes presents and packages with unique products. I started Bestowe with the mission to support small and mid-tier artisans, businesses, and communities with the products we sell and curate together with ethical and sustainable practices.
I started my career in graphic design: packaging, branding, and marketing. I remember a project at an agency that I was working on, I was designing a launching deck for a very high-profile client in PowerPoint. It took months. Yes, PowerPoint. It was absolutely as boring and as tedious as it sounds. As a designer at heart, it felt like a part of my artistry was dying with the limitations of the projects. I always loved the people that I worked with, loved the creativity and collaboration, but I was slowly losing my passion.
I always had ideas for a business of my own, but just never took the leap. I was scared I would fail. I didn’t have a partner to help guide me. I didn’t have the money. I didn’t have time. I was the breadwinner and just frankly couldn’t risk quitting my job to do something else. These were all the excuses that plagued my failures. I would start something or was waiting for someone else to work alongside me, not believing that I alone could manage and run a business.
Flash forward many years later: I was attending an event in Oakland, hosted by Bright Side Collective. Over 100 inspiring women attended. It was as I mingled around the room that I started to realize, every one of these women had full-time jobs and side hustles. We were all desiring the same thing, to have something that spoke to our passions and desires, not just for our souls but for our livelihood. And that realization fueled my passion.
The way Bestowe started was with my idea. I knew how to make things look good and already had a connection with my artisans, but I needed money to make a good website and to get some inventory. I just love to curate gifts and people love our curated approach to provide them with unique gifting options for hundreds of people on their team or in their organizations or at their events. The business was founded in 2017. I started with a business coach, who helped me walk through how I could pitch this idea to my dad for some financial backing. She helped me organize my brand message, do a competitive analysis, create extensive action item lists, and helped me set up a financial forecast.
Growing an ecommerce business is hard. It requires a lot of brand awareness, a lot of money, and a lot of hard work.
My dad really loved the idea. He had a lot of questions that helped me grow once I dug in to answer them and resolving challenges. He even helped shift my original idea from all localized gifting from around the US to a mash-up from all over the US saving me lots of time and energy and refocusing my efforts on my main mission: to support all artisans.
Once I received the funding of $20,000, I hunkered down researching categories of products all over the US. I came up with 20 gift collections to sell. I knew that I needed an online presence of these gifts to show from my packaging days I was able to design and source quality gift boxes and collateral for my business.
The website was underway, after extensive research on the best ecommerce platform. Now I was ready to execute. I worked around the clock to launch. I contacted a local blogger who was kick-starting their Mother conference and I offered up free gifting for all of the speakers. I was ready to start Bestowe off with a bang.
In retrospect, $20,000 is not a lot of money. I would have asked for way more in order to hire a PR firm and run ads, but I am very frugal. I think this worked to my advantage though. Since I didn’t spend a lot of money, I was able to grow with the challenges and learn from missed moments. I was able to network and keep my business about connecting with people and artisans. My full-time job helped finance some of the ongoing costs that came after the $20,000 ran out.
Currently, I have freelancers helping maintain the baseline of my business, and a team that helps me fulfill and execute large orders. For the most part, the curation, concierge approach to working with clients, and the design work is all me.
Each year, Bestowe continues to grow: ever-changing and learning. Last year was the first year I can say that I paid myself. It was a wonderful feeling. Growing an ecommerce business is hard. It requires a lot of brand awareness, a lot of money, and a lot of hard work. I knew that going in, but I also knew that I wanted to use my experience in customer service to expand into my custom work which would ultimately bring me closer to people, creating longer relationships, and hopefully more profit. My online business is like a rabbit hole of questions: it keeps me guessing. Where is my customer journey, how did my customer get here, where will they go when they leave? Why didn’t they buy? Why did they buy? How can I keep them engaged?
I would say about a third of my sales are through my online store. Two-thirds are through my custom work. And that margin is separating quickly. My long-term goals are to put more money and energy into the custom work and improve customers’ experience. Each year, I had a plan to triple my customer relationships and sales. Knock on wood, that is my goal. I will conquer for this next year as well. I spend little money on ads and instead put my money in sales and public relations.
This year will be the first year that I bring on a content management agency to help nurture the foundation that I have started. Our goal is to expand via organic media. Social Media has always been challenging. I know I need it as a business, but I rarely do all of it consistently. I have over 5000 followers on Instagram and little on Facebook. But, Instagram is where I place my resources. I love places like Instagram and Pinterest. They are visual and quick and that is perfect for my brand awareness. I am a visual person and I believe my followers are too.
I have around 10,000 email subscribers right now, but only around 20% of them are active. For an ecommerce site, I am told that is good. Our goal this year is to change their perception of my company as a retailer and bring out the Business expertise by sharing lifestyle-type content and relevant information that they can that they are interested in hearing about.
In 2020 I was the jack of all trades. I handled shipping and fulfillment (along with my husband and a few friends), inventory management (although poorly sometimes), janitorial work, blog and content writing, community building and vendor engagement, email marketing, SEO, ads, financial, and more. You name it, I have my hand in it.
I do have freelancers working for me and my plan is to make my business run more efficiently by, again, building a strong foundation and hiring people that are better than I am at making things happen for my content, strategy, and emails. The other employee I realize I need is someone to handle fulfillment as I move into heavy seasons.
We find that Organic SEO works for us, so I’m investing in improving our site speed our organic content, and nurturing our relationships this year. In the latter half of the year, I would like to start putting money into SEM and paid advertising.
Motivation for working for yourself and having the confidence to make the “right” decisions is a big challenge. I’ve learned to trust my gut more and more. It might take me months of convincing myself I am right. Being an entrepreneur is about wearing lots of hats, some of those hats fit well and some not so much.
Luckily I’ve had the advantage to make some mistakes. I call all of my mistakes opportunities to learn. I know that sounds cheesy, but honestly, sometimes I fall headfirst into thinking I will test something out just to see if it fails, or rather meets my expectations of failing.
Facebook ads are one of those early things that I spent tons of money on with little to no ROI. I know it works for other people, but for my business, it wasn’t the right avenue. But, I wanted to try it out. Because what if it had worked?
However, I will say, that I made mistakes by not fully understanding my brand upfront. Although It’s hard to fully know a growing brand. I know my business now only because I made mistakes or fumbled around. It’s made my business stronger.
Last year I had some good advice, find a strategic person to help you on your way. To develop a 5-year plan for your business. More than anything I use that person as my advisor and relish the open and transparent conversations I can have about not knowing what to do next, or working through tough decisions with someone there to share the burden.
One mistake that was hard to predict, was that I bought an ad in an airline magazine, and then one month later, Covid started and flights were grounded. I had to postpone the post, but it most certainly was not the best moment. I did purchase another ad for a large amount of money and have seen a lot of ROI because of it.
As a sole-prenuer I struggled with knowing what I needed. I still do. You are bombarded with everyone telling you what you need. SEO management, Facebook ads, marketing, web development, new apps, marketing courses, the list goes on and on. I couldn’t figure it all out on my own. I listened to so many podcasts about entrepreneurs. A lot of them were marketing podcasts. One thing I will say is that by not understanding what I wanted or needed to I got myself into some situations that I didn’t like.
Organic SEO continues to be very influential. Slow, but the quality of leads I get is much more targeted. I find I have a lot of great connections over Instagram and am really looking at exploring more in Pinterest and LinkedIn this year.
Word of mouth is also extremely important for my business. Customer relations is tantamount to making my business excel. I work hard to make sure that I am constantly staying on top of outreach and lead generation in a manageable way.
I use Shopify for my store. I have some great apps that I use within the platform. I have an app called Multi Ship that helps people ship to multiple places, Yopto: which gives reviews on my site from customers, and a tool for heat mapping called Lucky Orange.
All of these are helpful. Some, like Yopto, are incredible for increasing loyalty and brand legitimacy. Lucky Orange is great for understanding your customer’s journey (although I have to pay someone to figure out how to analyze it properly), but it is really easy to use. I use a very great email platform called Flodesk. They are very new, but get the job done.
My biggest pet peeve as a designer was that all the email platforms required that I had to pay someone to make my email actually look good. Flodesk is so easy to use and the emails look stunning every time. And I got in when the price was fixed and low because they just started. On the other hand, they are new, and their metrics don’t provide as much detail as I’d like at the moment. I’m hoping they do soon.
For social media, I use Later to help organize and post on both Instagram and Facebook. For organization and project management I use a tool called Click Up (where I can sync up my team, freelancers and organize my email and strategy with a content calendar). I use Upwork to hire freelancers.
Facebook groups that I joined around female entrepreneurship and women-owned businesses have helped expand my outreach when I need to ask for help or offer my own.
Surround yourself with people who are smarter, wiser, and can be friends and mentors.
Surround yourself with people who support you and want to see you succeed. These same people will hold you accountable and encourage you along the way. When I started my business I decided to form a women’s small business group. We met once a month and talked through starting businesses, questions we had, financial advice, etc. It dawned on me that I needed to talk to people who were challenged with similar issues. They were like having peer mentors. It was so encouraging to know I wasn’t alone or could lean on someone else for advice.
Follow your heart.
Align yourself with people who believe in your mission.
Create a Network of people who believe in you and can support you
Be humble in knowing when and where you need help and let down your ego to hire others or enlist others to help you do what you can’t do as well. I used to think that if I could not handle something I was failing. At some point along the way in life, I realized that I am not the best woman for every job. As much as I think I can handle it all on my own I know I can’t do it all. So, I’ve come to learn that I should do what I know how to do the best I can and let others help me by doing what they know.
That’s why I hired someone who understood Instagram algorithms better than me and had time to engage with people. I hired a strategist who understood how to come up with a plan for a business and how to execute it. I hired someone who could write blog posts every once in a while with good SEO and keywords.
Learn to Adapt (Maybe go through a pandemic or something to really shake things up).
Build Your Self-Discipline.
Research your competition, where they are, and how you can reach out and connect.
The Fizzle Show: I was into this podcast when I first started. It’s more of a marketing podcast for marketers and not necessarily commerce though. I found it insightful and I love the idea of connecting mentors with others.
I’ve actually joined a few Facebook groups here and there that support Female Entrepreneurs and Women-Owned Businesses. The one that I really love is my membership with Female Founders Collective started by Rebecca Minkoff. The women there are really at my level. They are not trying to sell their own products but connect with others and mentor other women.
I also found people in my industry who I could work with and sought out groups where they were. For instance, there are organizations for event planners and the event industry that I found really helpful to be a part of. Local groups are a great way to meet those in your field or affiliated with it, and they can recommend you to others.
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