“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
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
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
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
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.