As any business owner or freelancer knows, the number of hats you have to wear is countless and, after a while, can weigh heavy on you. Not to mention, some of those responsibilities you have to tackle can be things for which you’re simply not wired. Almost no one is good at absolutely everything, and that’s okay.
Too often, we beat ourselves up over our weaknesses when we should be celebrating our strengths and seeking out the right partners. In the early years of business, Erin Benzakein of Floret had a tendency to get overwhelmed with her never-ending list of emails and paperwork aspects of her business. Each morning and each night, she’d beat herself up about everything she failed to do in a day — something many business owners do when trying to juggle it all. It wasn’t until she recognized her strengths and began celebrating them, rather than focusing on her weaknesses, that she came to realize that doing it all wasn’t something to be proud of — and similarly, failing to do it all wasn’t something to be ashamed of.
Although it felt like a huge leap and financial stretch at the time, enlisting the help of a friend whose strengths were all of Erin’s weaknesses led to exponentially more business, and made Erin’s job far more enjoyable; which not only made her happier, but a more productive, better worker. Business bloomed and she hasn’t looked back since. For the second post in Erin’s 3-part series, Erin’s chatting with us today about strengths-based strategies to build your business and grow a great team. –Sabrina
During the early years of Floret, I was a one-woman show. I did all the planting, weeding, harvesting, bouquet making, client meetings, marketing and a myriad of other small business tasks. While I could count on my husband and kids to help on occasion, the bulk of the business fell on my shoulders. I wore all the hats, but soon found out some of those hats didn’t fit me very well. Or, more aptly, I didn’t fit them very well. When a field full of flowers in bloom beckoned at the same time my inbox filled with wedding inquiries, I’d head outside. Every. Single. Time. I had lots of happy wholesale customers who I plied with bucket-loads of blooms, but I lost out on more weddings than I like to admit, simply because I couldn’t keep up with the emails. With a million things calling for my attention, I didn’t have the patience to answer questions about color palettes and I just didn’t have the right temperament to calm jittery couples. Let’s just say, I was better cultivating sweet pea seedlings than wedding clients.
In my mind I could do it all; I had to do it all. And I didn’t want to relinquish control of anything. Even though my inbox overflowed with unanswered emails, my office was a disaster and my work-life balance was insanely out of whack, I continued to try and do it all myself. Every morning I was sick to my stomach when confronted with a growing inbox, the stack of unpaid bills and dozens of incomplete wedding estimates. As the business grew, it got worse and I beat myself up relentlessly for dropping the ball on so many important things. This painful cycle continued for a few years until I finally started to see a pattern. I managed some aspects of my business with confidence and ease — longterm planning, strategy, powering through manual tasks, marketing and orchestrating big projects. But when I had to deal with a lot of little details, layered client communication or organizing systems, I struggled and felt like throwing in the proverbial towel.
My good friend Jill could tell that I was struggling. She brought her infant daughter to the farm so I could get a baby fix and she could drink a cup of coffee with two hands. To my relief, Jill pointed out that it wasn’t because I was incapable that work was falling through the cracks. I was capable; I had proven I could hustle with the best of them. I just wasn’t wired for some of the tasks required of the business, and that was okay. What I loathed and avoided, Jill loved and excelled at. Many of the things that I considered my wheelhouse — long-range planning, goal setting and thinking about the bigger picture — caused her anxiety and she avoided in her side business as a floral designer.
I have a propensity, some would call it an obsession, for reading business and marketing books. So that day as we sat around my dining room table, I had a stack of my current reads. Jill recognized one, Strengths Finder 2.0. She had recently received a copy from her mom, a Microsoft employee, but hadn’t taken the test linked to the book. Strengths-based assessments are common in the corporate world. I had just finished reading it and was blown away by how spot-on the concept was.
Conducted over the course of several decades, Tom Rath’s research revealed that people who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged in their work and three times more likely to say they have an excellent quality of life. The concept made perfect sense to both of us. If you are doing a job where you have the opportunity to do what you’re really good at, you’re not only more likely to be productive, you’re more likely to stay in the job and be happy.
While I always internally knew what I was best at, the assessment included in the book was eerily accurate in revealing my key strengths, which are Focus, Achiever, Futuristic and Strategic. I love thinking big and dreaming bigger. I have a vision in my mind of where I’d like to see Floret be in two years, five years and even ten years down the road. I excel at troubleshooting and problem solving: give me a crisis and I will figure out how to steer us out of troubled waters. I also love pulling all the pieces and people together who can help me accomplish this, plus take my next big project to the next level. Jill, on the other hand, was my perfect opposite, she excelled at Communication and was strong in Empathy, Arranging and as a Relator.
Not long after our coffee date, I missed out on a string of lucrative weddings because I took so long getting back to the brides. That was the week I finally conceded I needed to hire some help. Even though it was a huge financial stretch, I knew I could no longer afford to keep trying to do everything myself. I had worked too hard for too long to undermine all of the success I’d built. Moreover, I was spending too many nights trying to play catch-up on bookkeeping and emails when I should have been playing Legos or reading with my kids.
When I finally decided to bring someone on board, I could have easily hired help to weed the rows and harvest flowers. Undoubtedly, it would have been the easier and less expensive option, as it largely involved unskilled labor. But at that time it was the fieldwork that beckoned me, not the bookwork. I decided to focus my talents on the stuff I was really good at — and that I actually enjoyed — and hire someone who could tackle other key tasks, like answering emails, bookkeeping, sending contracts and making sure I had supplies for the next wedding. I needed someone who could pick up the ball that I dropped, someone that could handle detail work while I focused on the big picture and hustle. Someone who actually loved what I loathed. Someone like… Jill!
I had met Jill my very first year in business. She was the first florist who bought flowers from me and we became fast friends. At the time, Jill was working as an event coordinator for the university and she did small weddings on the side of her full-time job. On the weekends we would team up to bust out both of our events with the music blaring from my garage. She tackled the little details, boutonnieres, flower crowns and ribboning up the bouquets while I arranged the statement pieces and personal flowers. It was a match made in heaven.
I didn’t tell Jill at the time, but I borrowed from our grocery money to hire her a few hours a week to help get my life and business in control. She was on maternity leave and she welcomed the opportunity to use another part of her brain. So in just three to four hours a week, Jill organized my chaotic inbox and filing system while her baby napped. She read me emails over the phone while I cut and bunched snapdragons in the field.
Within days of handing over the password to the inbox she booked a huge wedding and then went on to fill the entire event calendar for the year. Wholesale flower sales increased and we hosted our first on-farm workshop. After a while, I started to wake up in the mornings breathing a little easier. Jill didn’t return to her day job when her maternity leave ended; she started working part-time for Floret instead.
Later that year, I brought on our second official employee and Floret experienced another big surge, this time in the field. All of my dreams and plans were finally getting executed with precision and our flower farm had never been healthier or more productive. The following year, I brought on more key help, and the year after, my husband was finally able to leave his 9-5 job. We’ve since sold out 22 on-farm workshops, done hundreds of weddings, and we deliver flowers weekly to over 20 grocery stores throughout the Northwest. We also won the Martha Stewart American Made award, I wrote my first book, and we just added a seed and garden line into the fold. None of which would have been possible if I had tried to do everything myself.
Here are a few takeaways from my experience:
Accept that you can’t do it all. It is too easy to beat yourself up and believe the myth that you can and must do it all to be successful. Just stop. Rare is the person who is both creative and organized. Or a big picture dreamer and detail-oriented. A people-person and a numbers person, and…and…and the list goes on. Define the parts of your business that you’re really good at and what brings you the most joy, and then hire someone to do all those things that are falling through the cracks and/or you aren’t good at.
Hire sooner, rather than later. Your business can only grow to a certain point if you don’t have sufficient support. A lot of small business owners tell me, “I can’t afford to hire anyone,” to which I often reply, “You can’t afford NOT to.” I waited too long to hire help and I lost business because of it. Even if you start out by hiring someone to help you a few hours a week, do it before you hit crisis mode, not after. Then focus your time and talent on the next big goal, project, etc.
Build your team based on strengths. I want to hire someone who can do the things I need them to do, but who will also love doing it. Rather than hire someone based solely on their competency to do something, I look for people who are also eager and excited to do the work. This strengths-based recruitment approach is one that a lot of high-tech companies (think Facebook, Google) employ with great success. I look for people that aren’t just capable, but also engaged and motivated enough to live up to (and hopefully exceed) expectations.
Communicate openly and with transparency. Hiring help is a big step and an even bigger investment — especially for small businesses — so you want to make sure it works. I try to regularly check in with my little team and periodically ask them: What are the parts of your job that you love the most and look forward to doing? What tasks do you feel you are best at doing and make you the happiest? This approach is opposite to the old school performance reviews that focus on “fixing” weaknesses. The Strengths Finder research, and my own experience, shows that focusing on the strengths of my team is far more effective than trying to fix things that aren’t natural talents. As much as possible, I try to build work plans around what is working, what people are good at and enjoy doing.
Take the test. Even if you aren’t a business book junkie or don’t 100% buy into the whole Strengths Finder philosophy, you’re bound to find a few nuggets of good information in the book and your personalized report. For some people, the results are predictable; for others the results are surprising. Either way, it can help you better understand your unique talents and apply this knowledge to be more effective as a leader and add value to your business and team.
Each time I’ve expanded the team, I have potential employees take the Strengths Finder test. I look for people with strengths that complement mine and those of the other team members. A lot of the work that goes on behind the scenes is done by women who work part-time from home and who balance their work with Floret with their other jobs, including caring for their wee ones or their own small businesses. All of our team members have Empathy as a top strength — an important trait to support our workshop attendees, brides and expanding customer base. These amazing ladies take care of the details and our customers so I can focus on the future and setting our course.
In the years since adopting this approach, my business and life have completely transformed. I no longer spend my days struggling to keep up and instead invest my energy and talents where they’ll be the most effective. Hiring capable help in the areas where I’m weak is the greatest gift I’ve given myself. It’s a thrill to witness what we can accomplish as a team and I’m excited to see how Floret evolves as a company. But hands down, the greatest byproduct of using a strengths-based approach is that work doesn’t really feel like work anymore.