Starting a Gift Business
Interview with Dawn Veselka, Founder of Out of the Blue Delivered, Inc.
For years Dawn Veselka worked with cancer patients and saw how families and friends struggle with selecting gifts and finding the right thing to say. She founded Out of the Blue Delivered to meet that need.
Dawn Veselka founded Out of the Blue Delivered in 2008 in Orlando, Florida.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
At Out of the Blue Delivered, we help busy people show that they care by providing gifts and care packages for the difficult (and fun) life events. We also offer hand-delivery in the Orlando area.
How did you come up with your business idea?
I spent 12 years administering radiation to cancer patients. During that time, I found that there weren't any thoughtful, useful gifts that could be delivered to a hospital room or treatment room in the Central Florida area.
Cancer patients are often super-sensitive to smells, so flowers are out. They aren't eating, so cookies and fruit bouquets are out. There were no other choices available for delivery locally.
Furthermore, I saw the gap that often occurred between patient and family or friends after a cancer diagnosis. So many times people WANT to help, but aren't sure what to do or say. So, rather than confront a difficult situation, they stayed away. This ended up causing emotional pain for the patient and guilt for the friend.
We have put a lot of research into our gifts and care packages in order to provide gifts that someone can send that they know will make a difficult time a little easier. In addition, we often help the sender in composing a note (or even a letter) to the patient because they are at a loss for words. In this way, we are helping both the sender and the recipient.
This also applies to other difficult life situations like loss of a loved one, admission to a hospital for testing or surgery, diagnosis of a serious illness (for adult or child)...these types of circumstances.
To take it even one step further, we have worked hard to find artists that make the products we carry and are proud that almost all of our gifts are handmade in the USA (or Canada). I'd say 75% of our products are made in the Central Florida area...so, in addition to helping the sender and the recipient, we are also helping to support our local artists!
Who did you hire to help you? Bookkeeper, Accountants, Lawyers ...? Would you suggest others do the same?
I hired an Accountant, Bookkeeper, Web Designer, Graphic Designer and recently a Business Coach.
I would suggest that others hire people to do the things they do not know how to do well such as graphic design or web design. Also, I would HIGHLY recommend having an accountant and bookkeeper help you set up your books and maintain them for you. It will make your life so much easier if you do. Spend the money to see a lawyer for input about how to set up your company and file the appropriate paperwork.
As an entrepreneur, you have to know your strengths and your limitations. Spend your time on your strengths and surround yourself with a team that excels in the areas of your weakness. Spend your money on what you can't or won't do yourself. It is part of your business investment and a key to succeeding.
Did you operate your business from your home? What were the challenges and benefits to this strategy?
I operate my business from my home. This presents a number of challenges because in addition to being an entrepreneur, I am also a wife and mother. The biggest challenge was keeping the business from taking over the home and keeping the home stuff from interfering with the business.
The best thing I ever did was to hire a professional organizer to come in and help me set up the office to function the way I needed it to AND to hire a business coach to keep me focused, motivated and on task with my business plan. Since doing both of these things, I have seen tremendous growth in my business.
I love working from home because of the convenience. However, one of the biggest challenges is getting others to respect my work time. They think because I work from home that I am available whenever they feel like calling or dropping by. Since I am a WAHM, they assume I'm sitting around all day and will call for help with any little crisis. With the aid of my business coach, I've been able to respect my own time and schedule thus setting boundaries and requiring others to do the same.
One of the challenges I still struggle with is switching from work to home mode and back. I tend to think I can do it all at the same time. Once again with the help of my business coach, Jennifer Lee of Creating Your Masterpiece, I have been working on "being in the moment" no matter what I am doing. My daughter knows that at a certain time I will be working, but when it's time to play with her, I will be playing with her and not answering my phone or emails. It's a very important message that we send to our kids and others around us...that when we're with them, we are TRULY with them.
Making and sticking to a schedule has also helped me to not allow work to overflow into family or personal time. Let's face it, when you're an entrepreneur, there is ALWAYS something you could or should be doing for your business! I have been able to identify what I truly want from my business, what is truly important in my life, prioritize these things and make a plan to have it all!
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
I knew I would work hard, but didn't realize that I would work harder than ever before, especially in promoting my business. I work a lot of nights while everyone is sleeping to keep up with everything that an entrepreneur has to do while building her business. It's a good thing that I love and believe in my mission, product and service!
Of course, I thought that I would beat the odds and that my business would take off overnight. It has taken me a lot more work to "get the word out" about the company. I have learned that everyone out there has a business they believe in and that they think everyone should be using.
In some cases, it has taken me a lot longer to build the business relationships that I was hoping for. However, I have learned so much and that experience has been amazing.
When I started my business, I was not very tech savvy. In fact, I was almost afraid of the details of a website such as code, layout, cart, etc. I figured I would just rely on my webmaster to handle all of it for me. Now, I have learned more than I ever wanted to know about websites and it's wonderful. The more I learn, the more I realize I can still learn. However, having the knowledge and control of my own business is priceless.
I also never dreamed that I would learn so much about social media, blogging, SEO, etc. At times it has been overwhelming but in the scheme of things, it has been an invaluable experience.
I've also learned a lot about building business relationships. The more I look for ways to help others, the more business they send my way. It really is true that people want to do business with people that they know, like and trust. I have learned to get to know others and let them get to know me a bit too instead of getting "all business" on them. I never considered myself pushy, but looking back I realize that I was over enthusiastic at times. I was in such a hurry to help them that I didn't actually stop to listen to them!
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Oh, tons (smile)!
I wish I had been a bit more patient when preparing to start my business. I was so gung-ho to start that I didn't take my time in all the prep work such as detailed business plan, detailed budget, learning more about running a successful online business and learning the ins and outs of a good website, writing and understanding a good, effective marketing plan. Instead, I learned all these things "on the job" so to speak. I don't recommend that!
I should have hired a web designer with marketing experience OR hired a marketing expert to work WITH my web designer. I was trying to do things the most cost-effective way and it ended up costing me a lot of time and money about a year into my business.
I should have had a detailed business plan, marketing plan and budget AND stuck to them! I should have gotten counsel from a marketing expert, online marketing expert and web design expert.
Unfortunately for a new small business owner, it is often difficult to know who to trust and who REALLY knows what they are talking about. If I had it to do all over again, I would NOT have asked friends, family, acquaintances for recommendations. I would have gone to successful businessmen and women to get recommendations! I was so worried about someone with an established business stealing my concept that I didn't want to talk to too many people about it.
And I should have hired a good business coach from the start. Especially for someone with the challenges of working from home, raising kids and growing a successful business all at the same time. I thought it was a luxury I couldn't afford; however, I have learned that it is a necessity!
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Pick something that you LOVE because you will be working harder than you've ever worked before and you need to be sure it's a true passion or calling. Take the time to plan and research!
That is a lot of great advice, Dawn. Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to share your story with the readers at Gaebler.com.
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