Biz Ladies Profile: Sarah Ryhanen of Saipua

Sarah Ryhanen of SaipuaToday’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 . . .

Sarah Ryhanen of SaipuaWhy did you decide to start your own business?

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.

Sarah Ryhanen of SaipuaCan you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?

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.

The Farm at Worlds End, Sarah Ryhanen of SaipuaThe Farm at Worlds End

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.

  1. Donna Aragi says:

    Sarah is such an inspiration to creative humans!!! I love her blog for its raw honesty and beauty, for the incredible delicacy of her flower arrangements and for her absolute honesty portraying the wonders and struggles of the everyday in her journey. Doing what you love, she certainly is, and proves that the world would be a better place if we all did the same. Thanks D.s

  2. So inspiring! Love her yearly lessons~~those are biggies! ;-)

  3. janika R says:

    great interview. great lessons.

  4. Yvonne Cornell says:

    i love sarah’s straight forward lack of pretension. do what you like, don’t do the stuff you don’t like and by golly, just do it. don’t be such a scaredy cat. you only get one shot. if you fail, oh well — try something different or a new approach. thank you for the much needed life (and biz) reminders, Sarah :)

  5. Sarah York says:

    So inspiring. Sarah is so talented and her advice at the end about just going for it is so true. You’ll either succeed or fail, but either way is an adventure. Words I needed to hear. Thank you!

  6. Charmain Chen says:

    i love her advice…she’s amazing! Thanks for sharing this!

  7. Heidi Joynt says:

    Sarah is a real inspiration to me, after jumping into the flower farming and design world myself head first, unsure of what the next step will be sometimes. Her honesty is so refreshing. Thanks for highlighting this amazing individual!

  8. clara says:

    I’ve been following Sarah’s business for a bit now- she is essentially living my dream life, especially now with the farm too. I hope that one day I can be doing all that I love, just like her. Right now, I am working towards it every day and also beating down some pesky student loans. Sarah, you are an inspiration to me. I hope I can meet you one day. -clara

  9. ally says:

    i love her blog. it’s always so witty and full of charm. and her photos are just mystical. gah, what an inspiration

  10. Sherry says:

    Very inspiring!!! My partner and I just started an online store and it’s overwhelming at times. My partner still has a full time job while I am a full time grad student. It’s interviews like this that let us see how others have overcome it and keep us pumped to continue through our journey.

  11. Nina says:

    I’m following Saipua for some time now, because it caught my attention on Pinterest – the name is very easy to spot for me, I’m Finnish ;)
    I’m absolutely in love with their flower arrangements, and now, after reading the interview, with the soul of the business too.
    Thank you so much!

  12. Amanda says:

    That was such a lovely interview. Very inspiring. Sarah sounds so down to earth and grounded.I’m trying to develop my own online business and it’s nice to read about peoples success stories and show that these things are possible. A great attitude.

  13. Becca says:

    I love this post! I think it’s so true that sometimes you have to stop thinking about it so much and just go for it…otherwise you will never do it.

  14. Chrisiec says:

    LIKE

  15. Laura says:

    Thank you for that wonderful advice! I really needed it today!

  16. Amberly says:

    Love this interview so much! What a great story. Such honest answers too. Really inspired!

  17. Sarah’s flowers are so darn inspiring and I just adore that she said, about learning about flowers: “I wanted it so badly, I was willing to be embarrassed in order to learn.”

    I’m tucking that bit of advice into my daily life!

  18. Those last few sentences of the interview almost made me cry..I don’t know why. Very real and inspiring.

  19. Lindsey Myra says:

    Sarah is one of the reasons, I do what I do. Imagine if there was a way to count the many hundreds of people that she has inspired, not just with her work but with her open and honest attitude.
    I believe that if you do what you love and you are a good person; you will succeed. It may or may not be the kind of success that you were envisaging, but it will happen. When doubters question me about what I do (florist and organic flower grower), “well is there any money in that?”, “farming is hard work, with little reward, why do you do it?” I think of Sarah … and Erin from Floret Flower Farm and Melanie from Cecilia Fox.
    That you make a positive contribution to the world and stay true to yourself while doing it, that is success. That is the life well lived …
    Thank you for being you Sarah Ryhanen :-)

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