Today’s Biz Ladies Profile features Sarah Ryhanen, a former Design*Sponge editor and owner of the flower and soap shop Saipua. Growing out of the family soap-making craft, Sarah eventually expanded her brand to include absolutely stunning floral arranging and, most recently, a flower farm called The Farm at Worlds End. Today Sarah shares a bit about her impromptu jump into the business-owning world and what she has learned throughout her journey. Thanks, Sarah, for this wonderful glimpse into your success. — Stephanie
Read the full interview after the jump . . .
We wanted to help my mother sell her soap.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
We didn’t have any definitions. We didn’t sit down and write a plan, we just sort of jumped in and started playing shop. It evolved as we worked on it. And we lost so much money the first year! The wholesale of the soap really helped us float the retail side . . .
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting?
I didn’t get a lot of advice. I didn’t think about “business” a lot, to be honest. We just were hustling out there on our own — Eric, my mother, Susan, and myself. Even in the beginning, we had a lot of irons in the fire: I was learning flowers on my own, Eric was wrapping all the soap for wholesale and retail and Susan was making the soap. We were figuring it out as we went, how to sell wholesale, how to deal with demanding stores, how to handle purchase orders, how to answer requests for free samples, etc. Here is something we learned: People who demand free samples almost never order. They tend to be too cautious.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
Naming it. That was hard, but I think that’s true for everyone. Saipua is derived from the Finnish word for “soap” (saippua). Dad is Finnish. We took out a “p” to make a unique word. Easily Googleable. The hard part for me was learning about flowers, although it was exhilarating. I knew nothing and would just cruise the wholesale market asking questions. “What’s this called, what’s that called?” But I wanted it so badly, I was willing to be embarrassed in order to learn.
Ha! These are tough questions. I’d say lately I feel the big lesson for me is — brace yourself because this is so damn cheesy — being true to yourself and only doing what you love. That’s my lesson this year. Last year it was learning to say “no.” The year before that it was cutting out all things negative. But really what I mean to say is that you should only do what you love. It’s your business, and you’re going to work harder than anyone can imagine for it. So why work hard at any aspect that you don’t really enjoy? If you hate numbers and are terrible with accounting, for God’s sake, hire an accountant, regardless of the cost. You’ll have more time to focus on the things you love to do that will make your business better and ultimately earn you more money to pay that accountant. The being true to yourself part is — for me — about being the designer I actually am as opposed to trying to live up to some people’s ideas of what a floral designer should be. I’m not interested in designing entire events, really; I just want to touch flowers. So my staff does the weddings stuff, and I can just get my hands dirty with the flowers. I’d rather process flowers and wash buckets than be at a two-hour prop rental meeting. So that’s what I’m doing.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
I did a real botch job firing my first assistant, and I felt guilty about it for too long. We were both better off though — now she’s a wonderfully successful florist!
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
It’s all a series of small successes — emails from people saying we inspire them to go outside and cut flowers always feel incredible. Sometimes my mom and I think back and say, “Remember when we used to . . .” and that feels good. To remember our beginnings and think about how far we’ve come on our own. We bought a farm to start growing flowers, and that feels very momentous.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business?
I don’t read business or self-help books, but I do think Sean Low has done epic things for creative business people in my industry. Other resources? A good soundtrack helps us though long hours. Lots of really bad pop music. I can’t tell you how many time Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love” has helped me through the last arrangements before a wedding.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
If I may say so — sometimes I think people think too much about starting their own business rather than just doing it. If you think about it too much, you allow yourself to entertain the what-ifs, and then you’ll end up in a downward spiral of doubt. You only get one go around in this game. I wish I had more specific constructive advice, but really I feel that sometimes people just need a push off the edge. You’ll either succeed, or you’ll call it quits, but either way it will be an adventure, and it’s not going to kill you. You’ll have gone for it, and that’s what matters.