Life & Business: Erin Benzakein on Being the Face of Your Business

erin-Life&Biz-Article

“Sales” can often feel like a dirty, five-letter word that can be awkward, not just for those being sold to, but for the salesman as well. In today’s world — one filled with plenty of self-starters and plenty of self-promotion platforms — striking that balance between a casual Instagram post and paid advertising can be hard to master. How far do you reach online? Is knocking door-to-door still a thing? How do I break past tactics to make a real connection? Who cares?! These are questions that many small businesses ask themselves, including Erin Benzakein of Floret.

When Erin first launched her flower business, the sales process for her was a miserable one. She loathed pitching to people with a speech about how her blooms were umpteenth times better than the competition. In those early years, she thought that persuading people to buy her blooms was the key to success, but she quickly learned that convincing was not only a bad sales tactic, but that it led people to buy out of pressure — rather than because they loved her flowers. In the meantime, while struggling to get her business off the ground, Erin kept a blog where she shared the trials and tribulations of her seeds, her blooms, and motherhood. Before long, she had gained a loyal following and was invited to contribute to various magazine columns and speak at conferences. It wasn’t until she put two-and-two together that Erin finally realized the flaw in her sales approach. Rather than pretending that her business was a huge operation, she simply tried sharing the truth: that her kids would play in the flower fields, and some petals might have bruises from games of hide-and-seek; that everything (from her production to packaging) happened on a humble, two-acre family farm, rather than in a huge facility. Sales finally became fun, and instead of pressure-based transactions, she forged real, ongoing relationships and personal connections.

Applicable to whatever product or service you may be selling, today Erin is sharing her first post of three in a weekly series exploring the good, the bad and the difficulty of launching a business. This week, she’s chatting about what it means to be the face of your business, and what she learned about business when she finally stopped trying to be something she wasn’t. –Sabrina

Like many small businesses, the first few years for Floret were lean. During the early days, I did a lot of cold-calling and knocking on doors, trying to sell the abundance of blooms I grew on my family’s tiny, two-acre farm. I’m not going to lie — it was a terrifying, miserable experience. There’s nothing worse than approaching a stranger and trying to sell them something. I knew nothing about marketing, and had the notion in the back of my mind that in order to move my flowers I needed to convince potential customers that mine were better than the competitors and pretend that my business was bigger than it actually was. This approach made me uncomfortable and didn’t do anything to foster personal connections.

Around the same time, I started blogging about my experiences in the garden. My posts featured lots of photos of the varieties I was growing and occasional essays where I vented my frustrations about failed crops, deadly plant diseases, and my many rookie mistakes. I shared snippets of my daily life, which was a wild jumble of flowers, motherhood and business. It was a great space for me to organize my thoughts, track what I planted in my garden, and capture my reflections on following my heart and cultivating a meaningful life.

Other farmers and flower-lovers stumbled across my musings and started asking for advice. They wanted to know where I found seed for particular flower varieties, how I got such long-stemmed sweet peas, and how I found time to do it all — plus raise two wee ones. My blog steadily grew and I developed a small, but loyal following. Before I knew it, I was offered a monthly column in a farming magazine and started speaking at flower-related conferences and events.

While my garden was flourishing and I was making so many wonderful industry connections, I still struggled to sell my farm’s abundance. I spent so much energy trying to pretend that I was running a big operation, with an actual staff. In reality, the kids were growing up in the garden and my husband devoted his evenings, weekends and vacation time to helping me follow my dream. I didn’t have a company; I had a small, family-run farm. And while it wasn’t much, it was everything to me.

During an interview with a very successful businesswoman, the lightbulb finally went on. She shared how she had also struggled to sell her goods for years, and on the verge of having to close down her business she made one final attempt to change her fate. Instead of putting a product photo on the front of her catalog as she had always done, she used a picture of herself. She said that was the year everything turned around. By letting her customers finally see HER, a new and powerful connection was made. Instead of hiding behind a logo, or pushing product superiority, she changed her businesses name to her own name and became the “face of her business.” She stopped selling stuff and started selling herself.

By the end of the interview I finally realized where I was going wrong. On my blog and through my writing I was sharing my family’s story, and myself, and it was connecting with so many people. But when it came to the business, I was trying to be who I thought my customers wanted me to be: big, experienced and like everyone else.

Inspired to try a new approach, I scraped together just enough money to hire a professional photographer. It was a big stretch at the time; I had to raid my family’s grocery money for the week to have enough to pay for the session.

I remember vividly how incredibly nervous and uncomfortable I felt on the day of the shoot. I started second-guessing my decision to invest in the photos of my family and me. Being an introvert, it felt very unnatural to stand in front of the camera. Self-doubt, fear and worry swirled through my head the entire time and I felt sick to my stomach. But like anything worth doing, it stretched me to grow. The vulnerability and realness that it took to make the leap was exactly what was missing from my business.

When I finally got the images back from the photographer, I sat and wept. I couldn’t believe how beautiful they were and how well the photos told the story of my little family and our unconventional path. The thing I had been trying so hard to hide for so long was actually my saving grace.

I overhauled all of Floret’s marketing materials and reworked the website. Not long after, I replaced the dark, poor-quality flower photos with beautiful, professional, family-centered images, and everything changed. Overnight people started coming up to me in public and introducing themselves. They had seen our website, forwarded from a friend, and it struck a cord. They were so inspired by our story and wanted to do whatever they could to support our family’s little flower business.

I no longer had to cold call. People started seeking me out instead, and within a few months I was selling out every week and had a rapidly growing waiting list of new customers wanting to buy our blooms. The press picked up on our story. Then our business literally bloomed… and we haven’t been able to keep up with demand since. From that season on, we have sold every salable bloom on our farm and have a waiting list a mile long of grocers and designers around the country eager to get our seasonal, organically grown flowers.

While we’ve had so much encouragement to increase the amount of acreage on our farm to accommodate the demand, we decided to grow our business in another way: by teaching what we’ve learned and offering the tools, seeds and supplies for others to follow in our footsteps. Over the past three years, we’ve welcomed hundreds of flower-lovers from around the world to [our] farm workshops. While we provide technical training on growing and designing with seasonal flowers, we also focus a lot of time and energy on building a solid business and marketing backbone. Using our story as an example, I highly encourage workshop attendees to embrace the opportunity to be the face of their business. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that making a few key changes to my approach would result in such an amazing flood of abundance and success.

While I work primarily with entrepreneurs in the floral industry, these key principles can be applied to many other small businesses:

INVEST IN GOOD PHOTOGRAPHY

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This may seem obvious to most creative-types, but I’ve found that I really have to convince farmers and artisans that the initial investment is worth it. There’s a reason that the most popular Pinterest pins and the sample Squarespace templates look amazing: they all feature gorgeous photography.

Whatever your medium, have a professional capture images of you and your work for your website and major marketing pieces. Even a small collection of portrait, product and action shots will do wonders for your ability to connect with customers and visually share your story. My first business photo shoot was a mini 1.5-hour family session because it was all I could afford. But I came prepared, with lots of completed bouquets and buckets of flowers. It was a whirlwind sprint to capture it all in the allotted time, but we managed, and as a result we were able to fill a beautiful little website with beautiful, professional images.

If you have the time and interest, consider learning the basics of photography — or at least how to shoot beyond basic cell phone shots or the automatic setting on your DSLR camera. You obviously don’t need professional photos for all your social media and blog posts, but having the ability to use some of your own decent-quality shots shows your work in the best light and helps maintain your aesthetic. I can’t emphasize enough how important quality photos are to the success of your marketing efforts.

DON’T BE A SHRINKING VIOLET

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While this flowery metaphor is particularly fitting for my field, the advice applies to other sectors as well. I see so many super talented creatives, especially women, literally hiding behind their flowers, when they should be sharing themselves and their story with the world. Your bio picture should not be a flower (or fill in the blank with whatever you make/do). Customers want to see YOU and get to know YOU. Photos of inanimate objects don’t connect the way quality, profile photos will.

MAKE IT ABOUT YOUR ‘ABOUT’ PAGE

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This little preposition is arguably one of the most important words on your website. It’s one of the first places new customers visit, and it’s the perfect place to tell your story and connect with your audience. In a world filled with distraction, consumers are hungry for authenticity. They want a person-to-person connection, and this is where they can get to know you in a more meaningful way.

Writing about yourself is tough. I confess I had a really, really hard time writing the About section of our new website. I wrote it and then rewrote it and then started all over again. I eventually sought help from a writer friend who took what I started and was able to rework it into a beautiful bio for me, and also weave the pieces of my family’s story together from an angle I hadn’t really seen before. I was simply “too close” to be able to see the whole story. It took someone looking in from the outside to help me do this effectively. Don’t be afraid to seek out a second set of eyes.

A revealing and personal About page can be an incredible sales tool. People won’t remember what college you attended, what degrees you hold or how long you’ve been in business. What will ultimately speak to them is what you’re passionate about — your passion resonates. They want to know how ecstatic you get over the first sweet pea blooms in the spring, how lovingly you tend your garden, or that you care deeply about the earth and approach doing business in the most environmentally responsible way you can. The more real and transparent you are, the deeper the connection you’ll forge with your customers.

SHARE YOUR STORY

View More: http://wildflowersphotos.pass.us/floret

Your business is about more than just the things you create, do or make. It all stems from you, and putting yourself out there is key. A personal touch helps you connect with your ideal clients, build brand loyalty and ultimately grow your business. A great way to do this is by sharing “behind-the-scenes” or “action” shots periodically. While a polished, finished product is great, people really love getting to peek behind the curtain and see just how you make the magic you do. I’ve found that personal posts — both photo essays and personal essays — really resonate with followers. They get more comments, likes and shares than virtually anything else I post.

You are creating, growing, making or crafting something very special. It is not being done by a laborer in a faraway land, a huge corporation, or a soulless robot — it is made from your hands and with a lot of thought, love and effort. Share that process with your fans. Share yourself. And don’t be afraid of being the face of your business.

  1. Thanks for this wonderful post! I loved hearing how you were able to make your personal story the foundation of your business, even though you are an introvert. Thanks for the inspiration to be brave!

    1. Fabulous! What a lovely read. With myself as a florist and husband as a photographer it really was a wonderful read and you’ve given me a much needed confidence boost to simply be! Thank you X

  2. Kim Fisher says:

    Loved seeing Erin on D*S – I think she really put a face on the slow flower movement – I wish she was nearer to me!

  3. Kate Nolan says:

    What an incredible, inspiring story! I’m saving this to come back to for more wisdom as I begin my own journey (as well as stalking Erin’s site.) Thank you!

  4. Priya says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I just started an online marketplace that grew out of my blog and I struggle to put my face on my business because I am an introvert by nature. I find it easy to write things but not so much to share a picture of myself or to make it about me/ my story. I am learning slowly :) but hearing others talk about their experience really helps.

  5. RaManda says:

    This was exactly what I needed to read today!! Thank you for the inspiration. It’s great knowing that others face challenges in their businesses and reading about overcoming the challenges are ever so motivating for me. I’ll be brave and become the face of my business too!!

  6. Korin A. says:

    Thank you for this lovely post. I always like the posts in this category but this one is especially beautiful, wise and touching.
    ~k

  7. I'm a maker, not a marketer says:

    Wow, I just had a mini-breakdown that I can’t be a salesperson and a marketer and a maker. I made a coffee, stepped away from tweaking my blog and decided to see what Design Sponge had to offer me.
    Thank you Design*Sponge, thank you Erin, thank you serendipity. I’m going too have a rethink.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing! So much great advice in this post. Looking forward to the rest of your posts!

  9. Casey says:

    This is fascinating to read! It’s something I think a lot about being “the face” of my small Inn. In all honesty, sometimes it’s tiring to put myself out there so much– in real life at the Front Desk and here online– but my experience has been similar to Erin’s in that I find that customers connect quickly to the personal story behind my business. (Why I moved from the city to the country, if I always wanted to open an Inn, what my daily life is like out here etc.) It should be unsurprising since I find myself buying from/rooting for businesses that have given me a glimpse of the human(s) behind it. Like this blog even! I’ve always appreciated the risk you all have taken in being personal at times. It’s part of what keeps me coming back. So anyway, thanks Erin for sharing too!

  10. wanda fox says:

    Thank You Erin!!!!!!

  11. jenna says:

    Love this article and love Erin! I’ve followed her blog for a while now and she is such an awesome genuine person. This is such great advice!

  12. Diane Miller says:

    OMG. Exactly what I needed to read. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Charlotte says:

    I have LOVED following you and your success. This post is spot on and will give lots of us the encouragement we need. Also- I love the Floret calendar. It is stunning. Hope that 2016 brings you even more happiness!

  14. Melinda Holt says:

    Thank you for such a perfectly written, inspiring article. I needed to read this today. Magical timing for me to happen upon this lovely work.

  15. Elaine says:

    Thank you for a great post Erin, makes a lot of sense to me, and will put it into practise this year!

  16. Wow, this really resonated with me. I’ve been hiding behind my product not showing the face or the stories behind it as I feel too embarrased of how little business I am actually doing. But this opened my eyes about connecting with people and telling people who you are. I dabble in photograpahy and floral design trying to make a business of it. Now I know what I need to do this year. Thank you so much for sharing!

  17. THANK YOU for this piece. I am starting my second year in business as a flower farmer and am running into the same frustrations and troubles you had. It is so encouraging and helpful to not only hear words of support but tools to improve. I’ve been following both Floret and Design Sponge for a long time and it wonderful to see this collaboration that speaks so much to me.

    Thank you-
    Pisgah Flowers

  18. Carla says:

    What an amazing post! Everything you say makes so much sense and I love how approachable and “doable” your advice is. Thanks for inspiring me to be a little braver and wanting to take the leap to be more visible. Thank you for your thoughtful words and I can’t wait to read your other posts in this series.

  19. Valorie says:

    How extraordinary! How brave! Thank you for giving such concrete advice, opening your heart and going behind the curtain. It was lovely.

  20. Kinga says:

    Thank you for sharing and inspiring a new way of thinking!
    k.

  21. Cathy says:

    If you like this post consider attending one of Floret’s workshops. I did just that in 2015 and can’t say enough great things about the experience. Thanks for a wonderful reminder of my few day at Floret Farm.

  22. Emily Forsberg says:

    As a novice in the flower farm industry, I found this to be incredible inspiring. Thank you so very much for sharing!

  23. I LOVE this! Thank you SO much for sharing! This is so apropos for me and my business. Although I am older than you, it is still so hard to get in front of the camera! Thank you!!

  24. Jill Simpson says:

    Terrific post! Kudos to you for sticking with it and trying something new.

  25. Julie pattison says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. It’s just what I needed. I just started my business from home in October whilst running around after my 3 children, 2 of which are special needs and I’ve been tackling decisions in my head how to promote myself. You’ve given me the inspiration to go for it. Thank you x

  26. Anna Tovar says:

    This was such a GREAT post. Thank you for sharing your insight and wisdom.

  27. Macey says:

    Such a helpful story! Thank you Erin for sharing. This is exactly what my little floral business needed as we are trying to grow in 2016! Thank you from a fellow introverted entrepreneur!!

  28. Marti Closter says:

    thank you for a charming post……You have given me such wonderful information….especially about the photography!!! Also about the “about” section. Now makes perfect sense. What a gift you have shared. thank you so much……marti

  29. emily says:

    love this post, thanks so much for sharing. i struggle with all of these things and its good to hear from someone so relatable and admirable!

  30. tania says:

    Hi,
    a very interesting article full of good tips to floww. Thanks for sharing

  31. thanks for this post! It makes total sense but as someone else said as an introvert it’s hard to put yourself out there. Will definitely try in 2016 to put myself out there more.

  32. chrissy says:

    Thank you , thank you, thank you – this was exactly what I needed today after sitting in the barn feeling very despondent about the month ahead – it echoes my struggles so far in so many ways – right new day tomorrow and my to do list has grown :)

    1. belinda says:

      SAME! wishing you the best in the month ahead :)

  33. Helen says:

    Thanks so much for this, and for keeping on sharing yourself.

  34. Zinnia says:

    Thank you. This is so lovely and so helpful. It inspired me to revise our marketing plans for 2016. Once again *DS is on top of helpful biz information…I look forward to the rest of the series!

  35. Julie says:

    Thank you so much, Erin, for such a wonderful article! This was exactly what I needed to hear at this point in my business. I’m looking forward to your next post :)

  36. Thank you for this inspiring , reassuring and warming blog.
    Now in my fifth year of growing flowers, my husband and I have merged his business with my relatively new one and we’re so excited to be working together … Erin’s love of flowers, her knowledge and her experiences in business and balancing family life by incorporating them altogether is inspirational and confirms our vision for our business is real and achievable.
    Lucy Seppings – Broome Beck Flower Farm

  37. Catherine says:

    Thank you so much Erin for sharing your experience and giving me more confidence that becoming the face of your business really works. I am just starting my second year of my small flower farming venture from my garden. Earlier this week I thought I needed to change my profile picture on my Business Facebook page from a Christmas wreath. I put up one of myself in the flower patch. Already a friend has come and told me that that picture should be the face of my business and then I read your inspirational blog. Now I hope I have the confidence this year to share more of myself, family life and the story behind my flowers with my customers.

  38. Kathy says:

    Exquisite in every way.

  39. Holly says:

    Lovely interview. So great to hear someone else’s struggle from the early days of a business. I really connected with your words.

  40. Sara says:

    Great interview, Erin you are such an inspiration!

  41. Dorothee says:

    Love Erin, she has been an inspiration locally for a long time.
    It is great she is reminding people of the power and importance of good photography :) Photographers love hearing that and always want to help out small businesses in telling their story..

  42. This strikes a chord on so many levels — thanks so much for sharing! Wishing you the best for continued joy and prosperity with your business!

  43. Gabby Llewelyn Salter says:

    Thank you so much Erin. I am about to build a website to sell my photos (mainly of flowers ❤️) and this is invaluable advice. Very very grateful to you and a Design Sponge.

    1. Gabby Llewelyn Salter says:

      A little extra “a” snuck in there. “A Design Sponge” sounds funny though. x

  44. Monica says:

    This is great to read as I start my own business! Trying to navigate how you fit into your business’s brand is tough, but this really helped me realize that the personal touches of a small business owner really go a long way. Thanks for an inspiring piece!

  45. Alice says:

    Such great reminders (and encouragement) for an attention-shy person like me! Thank you!

  46. belinda says:

    Wow I needed this! Your article had excellent timing for me personally (thanks Grace/Design Sponge team!) and I am going to dive into my ‘about me’ page tonight. I think my story of corporate event planner turned recruiter turned mom turned small business owner is one that a lot of new mothers can relate to and aspire to because behind the heart of my business is the desire to not only create but to create a life for my family that puts “us” back at the center, instead of just work. I love that your kids grew up in your fields just like my sister and I are raising our little ones on her farm and as a part of our businesses! So seriously, thank you. For continuing to put yourself out there, and inspire others.
    -Belinda, Happy Camper Cocktail Company, and Simple Goodness blogger.

  47. anita says:

    what a beautiful story

  48. Lisa says:

    I loved this article so much I forwarded to my fiance and bio farm biz partner. We adore Floret Farms and you are an incredible inspiration to us on a personal lifestyle and business level. We’d love to attend one of your workshops – he’s more the flower growing person and I’m more the designer (we’d be growing organic veggies, herbs and artisanal cheeses by the way). Anyway, congrats with all your continued success. :)

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