I was doing a lot of thinking as I was driving around in The Marshmallow a few days ago. Around this time last year, I had signed on with Stacey at Morgantown Market, and started filling my antique booth with my first round of furniture. Can you believe it’s been a year already? I definitely can’t…
I laugh when I look at this picture, because there are so many things I would change if I could dive back in time! But you have to start somewhere, right?
If you haven’t been to the Morgantown or Elverson area of Pennsylvania, it’s small town USA in Amish country. There are buggies, fields of corn, cow pastures and adorable farm houses scattered all over. Agriculture is a major way of life there, and as I passed field after field of corn, it got me thinking about plants in general.
I started realizing that growing a business is a lot like growing plants.
Most things start out tiny when they first come into being. Humans start out as a tiny embryo. Plants start as a tiny seed and then get taller and more complex as time goes by. Businesses are the same way. They start out with an idea – something small – and they grow over time. No one comes right out of the gate with a fully formed and mature business. It just doesn’t happen.
This is one of the first (if not THE first piece) pieces of furniture that I ever painted for profit. It was the table in our living room growing up, and my Mom gifted it to me to paint and resell.
As you can see, there’s no workshop in this photo. It’s my patio in my first 800 square foot apartment. All I had was a drop cloth, a brush, and a can of paint. Even before I had an antique booth, this is where I started.
Plants don’t have all of their components right away, like petals, leaves, roots, and stems. They start with the essentials that they need to get started. Then, they develop from there. If you’re looking to start your own business, begin with the essentials. Focus on the items that you absolutely need to have to get going, and add fancier things like a website, business cards and a logo later. (Super awesome trucks like Marshmallow also come MUUUUCH later.)
Early plant growth happens under the soil, where the naked eye can’t see it. Even though our eyes can’t penetrate beneath the surface, roots are emerging and a stem is developing until it’s strong enough to break through to the light of day. Your business may not show any measurable growth to outsiders for a little bit. It may seem like nothing is happening, but there may be things working in the background to help boost you to the next stage.
When I first met Miss Mustard Seed and Kriste at Lucketts a few years ago, I had NO IDEA I would wind up working for the Mustard Seed brand. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would even get a chance to meet her, let alone work for her!
As a plant is able to support itself and provide nutrients, it grows other more complex components, like leaves and petals, that allow it to become more self-sufficient. It can provide its own food and attract other beautiful creatures to itself with its unique blend of colors and patterns. As time goes by, and your business gets stronger, it will be able to support itself, but it needs a strong foundation first. As it matures and develops, folks who love your style will become attracted to your work.
Growth rates are different for each species of plant. Redwoods are notoriously slow growers, but they become enormous and strong if they’re given adequate time. Beans sprout quickly and are able to be seen soon after planting. While they shoot up relatively quickly, it does take a bit of time for them to start to develop fruit that can be useful. As a business owner, you have to grow at a rate that is suitable to you, your capabilities and your environment.
There will ALWAYS be opportunities to expand. You have to choose which are suitable for your business. It’s so easy to over-stretch yourself in the beginning. People will want you to sell in their stores. Customers will want you to paint their furniture. Markets will be suggested. You’ll hear, “you should do this or that” more often. You will quickly learn that you can’t do it all, and you will need to think about what opportunities you will dedicate your time to, and which simply don’t fit your business model.
I take on commissioned work on an extremely limited basis. I turn down more than I take on. It’s mostly due to the fact that there’s always a hole I need to fill in one of my retail spaces, so my time needs to be spent finishing pieces to fill the gaps. Sometimes, the products that people want me to paint don’t inspire me. I won’t lie to you…I really don’t want to paint a dining room set with 8 chairs and 4 leaves. Just the thought of it turns me off. Before you call me picky and snobbish, think about it…I have every right to make that decision because I’m the business owner and I get to determine what I will and won’t do. That’s the beauty of being your own boss! If a commissioned project comes along that inspires me, then I jump on board but most times, I simply say, “no thank you” and point folks towards other businesses that do commissioned painting.
I also know for a fact that I’m not ready to take on a market yet. I know they’re amazing for networking and getting your name out there, but I simply can’t wrap my head around the logistics of it yet. My Type “A” personality goes into overdrive and I get stressed out just thinking my way through payment, bags, tissue paper, set up, break down, and getting my furniture from my home to the market site.
There just aren’t enough cups of coffee to help with that mammoth project yet! For now, I’m happy to be a spectator and be inspired. This is from Lucketts 2016.
So don’t spread yourself too thin at first. Get yourself settled and confident. Let your roots grow deep and get anchored first, and then go exploring opportunities when you’re ready.
Not every plant suits every personality. Some folks find orchids way too high maintenance while others love the challenge of finding the right soil and conditions to nurture these beauties. There’s no way a cactus would suit a Mom of tiny toddlers, but a no-fuss air plant out of reach from little hands might be just the trick! It’s the same with your business and your products. They may not be palatable to everyone’s taste. That doesn’t mean that your wares have less worth!
This also means that you really can’t compare yourself to another business. A cactus and an orchid don’t have much in common other than the fact they’re both plants. They hit different audiences and thrive in different environments. If you wind up in an antique mall or a co-op of some sort, try not to compare yourself to other vendors. You do you, boo-boo! If someone’s business is growing at a different rate than yours, try not to think less of yourself. Handle what you can handle. Everyone has different thresholds and capabilities. Everyone is in a different stage of life. I can crank out furniture faster than others because I don’t have children. My only obligations are to my husband and our cat. That gives me waaaay more free time than a Mom of three. It’s best to do a few things well than a lot of things poorly, right? Do what you do well and grow from there.
If you think about gardens, they look the most beautiful when there’s a variety of plants, all suited to the soil and conditions. Who wants to see rows and rows of the same kind of plant, unless you’re at a nursery? That’s like big box stores. Rows and rows of the same thing, aisle after aisle. That’s boring. Gardens are exciting because there’s a little bit of this and that sprinkled all over. Variety is beautiful! If you find yourself in a place that has a few furniture painters, embrace the variety you all provide! Your pieces will never look like theirs, and vice-versa. That’s a GOOD THING! It gives your customers choices and variety.
It’s a no-brainer that fertilizers stimulate and encourage growth. Feeding plants extra nutrients and supplements allow them to grow taller, bigger, and more vibrant. The best are completely natural and not synthetic. You can inject your business with natural fertilizer too! Attending workshops, conferences, taking online classes, networking, sitting down with a cup of coffee with a fellow business owner, and even flipping through magazines all offer inspiration and stimulate your creative juices.
I just signed on with Kim’s Upholstery and subscribed to a year’s worth of her super-helpful upholstery videos. The money was worth it to me to spend if it meant I would learn how to upholster properly. That’s fertilizer, baby!
You are “allowed” to strengthen the areas of your business where you are weak. Have you ever seen plants that have a cage around them to help them grow straight, like a tomato plant? Or how about a baby tree that is gently snuggled up next to a stake to give the trunk extra support for a bit? As children, don’t we ride with training wheels before graduating to two wheels? Why not do the same with your business? If you find you’re weak with finances, then hook yourself up with an amazing accountant who will help supplement what you don’t know. I interrogate Stacey and Brenda all the time regarding business topics. What are the general time frames for retail changing of the seasons? What’s the max price point for this area on big furniture? What colors sell best in this area? When are the busiest shopping days during the week?
I’ve done that with my website and my business cards. I don’t know the first thing about graphic design, so I tapped my friends Laura and Anna, on the shoulders and asked them to help me develop my logo and to structure my website.
I’ve learned a little bit more about this kind of “stuff” as time has gone by. Now I can take and edit my own photos using Lightroom, and I can fix some minor things on my website. (Others still frustrate the dickens out of me, but I’m getting there.)
Plants grow best when they have enough room to grow. As a plant matures and grows roots, it may need to be repotted a few times to make room for new growth. You may wind up outgrowing the space that you’re currently operating out of, which is what happened to me recently. I have been working out of my 800 sq. ft. apartment for the last five years. It hasn’t been easy, but I made it work.
The opportunity for me to take over my Grandfather’s basement workshop presented itself recently, and I jumped on the opportunity. Now, I have room to spread out and I can work on several pieces at a time without worrying about spilling paint on the carpet!
Oh happy day.
After thinking about all of the positive aspects of business growth, I started considering all of the things that can stunt its growth. The only thing I could come up with was if a plant is starved for sunlight and resources. They can often be overshadowed by taller, more mature plants and die out in their shadow. In the business world, I don’t want to overshadow, choke out, or otherwise hinder the well-being of another creative. There’s always going to be competition for space, but there’s plenty of space and room to go around for all of us. I really like The Rising Tide Society’s motto, “A rising tide lifts all boats”. If the ocean is the market, and the boats are businesses, then a rising tide will lift all the boats. It’s community over competition!
we’re all growing together!