Biz Ladies: Isabelle Palmer of The Balcony Gardener

Biz Ladies Profile Isabelle Palmer

A gardner from the beginning, Isabelle knew she wanted to share her passion for planting and growing with others. In the past, she had created her own green oasis on her small balcony and decided that she would help others create the same by offering ready-made container gardens, and most recently, by releasing her first book, The House Gardener. The Balcony Garden now offers all the resources you need for starting and maintaing your own terrace or balcony garden, and today Isabelle is sharing a bit about how she went from idea to business. –Stephanie

Read the full interview after the jump…

Biz Ladies Profile Isabelle Palmer

Why did you decide to start your own business?

The idea for The Balcony Gardener came about simply due to my own experiences; I have two balconies and live in the heart of London. I wanted to make the most of my outdoor space and have always seen it as an extension of my own home. I wanted my own little green oasis that was modern and contemporary. I searched for somewhere or someone to help, trying to find an interesting shop or a supplier but it proved difficult – I just couldn’t find anything, so I thought other people would think the same and thus created “The Balcony Gardener.”

When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?

I had a clear sense of what I wanted in terms of my own taste and requirements for an online shop that could provide me with gardening products specifically for small spaces. The products and website needed to be aesthetically pleasing – an extension of my own style which is quite contemporary – and more in keeping with an urban environment. In terms of choosing online rather than brick and mortar, I did a lot of research and decided that accessibility for people all over the UK and abroad was important and something a physical shop would not allow. 

Biz Ladies Profile Isabelle Palmer

What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

Get a good accountant and always get everything in writing – my mother gave me this advice when I first started out. She’s been a great inspiration. Having a strong family background in being self-employed was a real help in terms of motivation and advice. And it gave me the confidence to strike out on my own.

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

The time leading up to launch date, I spent about a year researching and getting everything in place, and had such a sense of anticipation and anxiety. I just remember waiting for that first order to come through – it took an entire day – which seemed like a lifetime. I thought that when I pressed that “live button” all that year’s hard work would take off immediately but it took a day to get our first order. But once you get over that very first day, it’s really exciting because there are loads of other objectives to plan for.

Biz Ladies Profile Isabelle Palmer

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?

Having a clear vision of what you want to achieve, and how, is really important. Slow and painstaking as it is, it’s so important to establish a firm foundation. Also don’t let other people destabilize you, hold onto your belief and don’t lose sight of your end goal. You need a really strong belief in what you are doing, what your USP is, so you are always clear and come back to that if you are questioning something.

Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?

Actually, I don’t see anything as a failure. Certainly I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way. So I try and look at mistakes mostly as a positive that has stopped me from falling into a bigger hole down the line. 

Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?

Every day I wake up and I get to do a job that I absolutely adore. I’ve had a lot of successes which I’ve been lucky enough to experience. We get so many customers saying they love our products which obviously makes me happy. When we launched, we had so much positive press coverage and a lot of great feedback from my favourite magazines that I’d been reading for years. That was a great sense of achievement. We spent a lot of time building our profile via PR which led to collaborating with a number of amazing design partners such as West Elm in the US and Anthropologie in the UK. I was also offered my first book deal a year after we launched, which was incredibly exciting. 

What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?

Firstly, research your market thoroughly, find out what your competitors are doing well and do it better. 

Sophie Cornish and Holly Tucker’s book Build Your Business from Your Kitchen Table offers a lot of great tips. 

I also spend a lot of time reading style blogs such as Design*Sponge and Remodelista. They are such great sources of inspiration, especially to catch up on international style and trends. 

Biz Ladies Profile Isabelle Palmer

In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?

1. Have a clear vision of your visual presence. Spending time on designing a logo and company branding that reflects your personality and vision is really important. Once you’re out there, it’s very difficult and expensive to change it, so make sure your business name, logo and creative output is really slick and tight.

2. Make sure that you thoroughly research your market and that you have a niche product that people really want to buy, not that they will just think “is nice.” Use friends and family for market research before you launch and ask them to be honest. And don’t go into a saturated market.

3. You’ll come up against lots of hurdles and opposition but as long as you stick to your original goal, you can override them. 

Heather Hawkins

One of my favorite Biz Ladies profiles so far! Love the niche Isabelle carved out for her business. I’ve struggled with the whole niche concept — how narrow is too narrow? (There’s a fear of missing out on clients/customers.) Thanks for the inspiration!

Lise Richards

This makes me want to have a balcony with beautiful flowers. With a smaller space it makes your choices that much more special. Thank you for sharing your story.

Jennifer Lovena

I love this article, wow taught me so much more then just finding a niche. My focus now is on really tapping into unsaturated markets where my product and services can flourish. Thank you for all of the tidbits Isabelle!

Kirsta

I absolutely love this column. I’m in the nascent stages of planning my own business in Melbourne, and it’s so inspiring to see this pop up every week and know that other badass (but possibly otherwise pretty normal-like me!) ladies are doing it too. Well done Isabelle and others. More please!

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