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A couple of years into my floristry business I started to implement a work smarter, not harder business mentality. I had discovered that doing everything I possibly can to make money wasn’t actually working. I was doing everything…trying to get as many clients as possible…feeling burnt out. But to the eyes of everyone else I was doing amazing. Not because they knew what was happening in my business, but just because I was “busy”. Somewhere in the history of humanity’s existence, humans have determined that busy means success and busy means business is going well. I’d have people ask me “how was your week” and if I said “really busy” they would respond “oh that’s awesome Emma. You’re doing so well”.
Since when did busy equals you’re doing well? And when did busy ever become the metric for success? Business owners wear busy like a badge of honour. Busy = successful.
But I left teaching to be less busy. I didn’t want to be busy. I didn’t want my floristry business to just be ‘busy’. I wanted it to give me the freedom to have TIME for things that mattered. So I began to build a smart business. A business model based on slow & less is more – a strategic business built around a lifestyle I wanted to achieve. At this time, I honestly worried what people would think if I built my business to be profitable but not busy. I thought they would think I was a failure. At first, I was embarrassed to tell people I only worked 3 days during the week. Or I didn’t have any weddings that weekend. I was embarrassed to tell people because I would see compassion come across their faces. They were concerned for me. These people meant well, but they didn’t get my business and they didn’t get what I was trying to achieve. At times I’d just give generic answers and say I was busy just to avoid the looks of concern. Secretly I was working really hard to shake the busy equals success mentality, but deep down I cared about what people thought. I was trapped between appearing “busy” for the accolades of others or staying “smart” for my own reward. I chose the slow and less praised option – a “smart” business, not a “busy” business. No regrets! That was an instagram post I wrote and I want to dive into it more in this episode.
So what is a smart business? I know that you’re also a ‘busy’ rebel. You don’t want your business to just be busy, you want it to be profitable and purposeful. You’ve heard my story before, but when I went into my floristry business it was because I was so stressed out as a teacher and I wanted to do something different, something that would give me back my time & sanity! I wanted to do something that would enable me to only work a few days a week, but still provide me with a substantial income. So I dove in head first (as we all do when we are first starting our business). I really had no idea what I was doing, so I tried everything – bath salts, markets, weddings, flower deliveries, pop up stalls, mother’s day deliveries, valentines day. The whole lot. I was hustling hard – and getting nowhere. I was trying to make money by doing lots of different things – and wasn’t really making money at all. I was taking on as many clients as I could – but not making a substantial amount of profit. I just became busy. The funny thing is that people started to see how busy I was and they would applaud me for it. Because to them, me being busy meant that business must have been going pretty well. These are all amazing and well meaning people but they made me feel like I had to be “busy” to succeed. This caused so much tension in my mind, because I left my teaching career so I wasn’t so busy & stressed, and I became nearly as stressed starting my own small business.
When I realised that I had only made $8,000 throughout an entire year of ‘busyness’ – I had, had enough. This was stupid. Why was I working so hard and making no money at all? (and let me just say as a side note here, when you are first starting your business, I think it’s very normal to feel like this. Looking back I’m actually grateful for experiencing this in my business. It taught me alot and I think there was growth happening in my business during this time that wasn’t numerical. But I knew something had to change in order to start making a profit). This is when I invested a lot of money and time into learning how to run a business. I went RIGHT BACK to the basics! What a business plan was. Market research. Profit & Loss statements and what they meant and what they could tell me about my business. How I could track cash flow. What an ICA was (ideal customer avatar). How to price. I purchased other florists courses, picked peoples brains, and read a few books. There was a concept that kept coming up through this research and nutting things out that I was drawn to. It was the concept of working less & working smarter. This sounded pretty good to me, if I could learn how to work less and smarter – that would be a game changer for me. If I could figure out how to do that, I could stop glorifying busy & start celebrating smart. From then, every business decision I made was with the idea to be “smarter”. Prior to this most business decisions were made based on the emotions I was feeling at the time. If I felt I need to be making more money, I’d take on more clients at lesser prices. If an opportunity presented itself in my inbox on a bad day, it looked like a great opportunity – so I’d take it. There was no strategy behind what I took on and what I didn’t take on – it was all based on my emotions. My pricing was based on my emotions. If I had a new idea – I’d just run for it – and neglect the other ideas I was working on. I was scattered.
So how did I move from scattered and emotional – to smart & strategic? I want to share with you a few things that I did to make sure I was running a smart business, not just a busy business. Hopefully this will give you some ideas of what you could do:
Sounds easy, but we don’t often stop to do this. I wrote down all of the sales I had in my business over the last 6 months. Next to each sale I wrote down how much time it took me for each project (approximately because I wasn’t really tracking my time). I started to see where my time was best spent and where my time was being wasted. When you invest time into something, you want to see that you’re getting a return on that investment. I had invested a lot of time and money into bath salts – but it just wasn’t going anywhere. I had invested more time in this, than wedding flowers. But on paper, I noticed that wedding flowers were a lot more lucrative for my time. I also realised that flower deliveries were a terrible idea for me. I was only getting a random order every now and then. When I’d get the order for $30 or $50 – I would run to get flowers and have to buy multiple bunches to make the arrangement look nice and by then I’d already spent over my asking price without even including my time and cost of travel. During this process I realised I hated pop up stalls and I didn’t want to do anymore Valentines day flowers and mothers day flowers. I was always guessing how many flowers I needed and overspending. I found it stressful and didn’t love it. Now there is a big red flag – when you aren’t making money & you find it stressful. You know those things definitely have to go.
This activity of assessing what’s working and what isn’t working shouldn’t be just a one off event. This needs to become a regular occurence in your business, especially when you’re adding in new ideas or products.
. Increasing my prices didn’t just happen randomly though, I was done with emotional pricing! Increasing my prices, required me to actually understand my cost. So I began to track my time & the expenses on the job. Or even just making an estimation of cost is helpful. Often when we look at cost, we look at physical costs, but we also need to think of our time as a cost & put a dollar figure to that. I really began to nut out my price & my worth. At the time, this was really scary. When I calculated all my costs, including my time, my price was SO MUCH higher than it had originally been. But I got the courage to put my price out there and see what happened. When people started booking me at these prices, I was actually shocked. But so relieved. It was such a strange thing. I thought I would lose clients, but I end up just getting better clients. It was magic. So don’t be scared to increase your prices, because, in doing so, you might actually increase the quality of your clients at the same time. Once I realised people were willing to pay (and don’t get me wrong, there were people who weren’t willing to pay and I happily had to let them go & resist the temptation to emotional price myself down just to secure them), I began to limit the amount of clients I wanted to take on. I realised that If I got a couple of $3,500 – 5,000 clients every month, that’s all I would need. I didn’t need anymore. Sure, I could take more on if I wanted to, but I didn’t want to be busy. I wanted to be smart. I only took on 25 – 30 weddings every year. So that’s my second idea of getting smarter with your business – increase your prices and then set yourself a limit. Instead of just trying to get “as many clients as possible” – just recognise your limits, be ok with it, and see what happens.
I was spending a lot on marketing. When I first started my business, I was also getting a lot of calls from magazines and online blogs wanting me to list my services with them and pay a monthly fee or a large one off fee. I was really flattered by this when I first started my business and I got swept away in the idea of being in magazines and in blogs. I ended up spending money on these things that brought me NO clients at all. So what I did was give myself a marketing budget for the year. I then distributed this marketing budget to places that I knew were giving me a return on investment. The best way to know this, is by looking at where your clients are coming from. I realised most of my clients were coming from a couple of venues that I loved working at and also a local wedding directory that I was a part of. I stopped doing any form of magazine or directory marketing. I invested my time and attention into venues and building relationships with them and also other wedding suppliers in the area and I kept my monthly subscription open to the local directory that was working for me. I also limited myself to two styled shoots every year. This was another money suck for me as a florist and I ended up doing ones that I didn’t love or didn’t represent me well. The best thing to do to become marketing smart is to figure out where your clients or customers are coming from. If you don’t already have a “where did you hear about me?” section of your contact form – do it! It will automatically track this data for you and become very valuable information.
There are definitely ways to work smarter and not harder when it comes to your time. Setting up great systems and workflows in your business can make a world of difference to your busyness. So I began to try and reduce the overwhelm in areas that were stressing me out and emails was one of them – I developed a system in my email that meant I was at inbox xero at the end of every day. Anything that was overwhelming me in my business or things that I didn’t like to do I would either automate, systemise or outsource. I started to outsource flower prep before a wedding, because I hated doing it. I would have some girls come and strip all the roses and get all the flowers in water for me. I created email templates. I got a cleaner! I set work hour boundaries, I started to get smart about my time and about the way I did things in my business. I started batching my work and time blocking. If you don’t know what that is, google it. There are so many resources out there. Or wait for an episode coming up with Hannah Murphy. I interviewed her about some batching strategies. There is an endless amount of ideas out there about how you can be smarter with your time.
So there you go, these are several ways to make your business smart and not busy. It seems odd and counterintuitive at first. You start to slow down and take on less and it’s weird and scary and wonderful! The world continues to rush around you while you’re slowing down. It’s strange, it’s scary, but liberating. I was spending less money on marketing, less time & money on styled shoots. I was doing less work and less weddings. And the best thing was, I was making more money. My clients were paying me for what I was worth. And I was spending less money on things in my business that just weren’t moving the needle forward for me.
I want to just tell you a quick story before I close, just so you can understand how the process of transitioning from busy to smart was really weird. I had gotten used to telling people I was busy and getting the response “that’s great, Emma!” My value started to get wrapped up in my busyness. So I was kind of sensitive about my new way of doing business because I was worried about what people might think. I remember the first mother’s day that rolled around after I had implemented some drastic changes in my business. I did absolutely nothing that mother’s day and I was really excited about it. I was out with friends for breakfast on mother’s day and we were having a great time. I was feeling great, but a little guilty, about not doing Mother’s day flowers that day and turning down a potential earnings. During our breakfast it dawned on one of my friends that I was a florist and I wasn’t busy doing Mother’s day flowers. And they asked me “shouldn’t you be doing flowers today”. I didn’t know how to respond, and I can’t remember exactly what I said but I remember getting defensive. I said something like “no actually, I decided not to do mother’s day flowers this year”. The conversation continued with “but isn’t that the busiest time for florists?” again I was defensive and said, “yes, but, I don’t need to be doing mothers day flowers. They stress me out”. I could have said more. I could have explained my whole business strategy right then and there, but I knew that would take time and I didn’t know whether they would understand. I left it and the conversation changed, but my defensiveness didn’t. I was on edge for the rest of the breakfast. I remember being annoyed at myself for taking offence to this or even caring what people think. But I did. I felt a weird guilt about not being busy that day. For a short moment, I bought back into the lie that I had to be busy and do things the normal way like everyone else to be successful. After breakfast my husband Blair asked me if I was ok. He knew that that conversation had eaten me up. Unfortunately, I’m a wear my heart on my sleeve kinda person and I don’t fake things very well. We debriefed about what happened and Blair asked me why I cared so much about what people thought of me and that I should be proud that I didn’t have to work mothers day. But I was still in a transition at this point. I had started to work smarter in my business, but I still was shaking off the mentality of busy equals success. The lie that I needed to be working, working, working, hustling, hustling, hustling hadn’t completely left me. But Blair was right, I needed to be proud of my business and proud that I didn’t have to work mothers day. Instead of being defensive, I should have been bragging and letting them know how amazing it was that I didn’t have to work mothers day because my business was doing so well.
I finish with this story because I know you can relate. You have this tension too. You see that the world wants you to be busy. You see that people think that being busy equals success and you really care about what people think. You want people to think you’re doing well in your business and you think to do well in your business is to just get really busy doing all the things. To the world, to your friends and on the surface, you might look successful, but deep down and underneath the facade, you’re drowning in work. People will probably congratulate you on how busy you are, “Business must be doing well if you’re busy, that’s great Emma. You’re doing so well”. I’ve heard that so many times. But the truth is, busyness is just a mask. The real story is you’re doing terribly. You’re drowning in work and making no money. If this is you, I don’t want you to feel bad. I was there. I feel you. Starting my new online business, I feel like I might even be back there as I try to figure this thing out at times. But, I want you to know that you can be liberated from this tension. You don’t have to be busy. You don’t have to do all of the things and take on as many clients as possible to make a living. If you think that, you have bought into a lie. Busy does not mean success. And, I know you know this, but you might still care about what people think. I want you to become confident in what you do and your business. I want you to get smart about things and celebrate your business when you find ways to do things your way that give you freedom to live the life that you want to live.
I could talk about this for awhile, but I just want to remind you once more that you can run a successful business and not be “busy” all the time. I would even like to say that a really successful business IS running a business that not only makes you money, but gives you time for the things that matter. That is real success. So hopefully this episode encourages you to set out to make a smart business. Not a busy business. If you want some more tips on getting smart with your business, you can go to the show notes or to emmalemke.com/11 and download a freebie I’ve put together called “My Top 10 Business Tools for Creatives”. Inside there are some really great tools to help you become smarter with your business. They are tools that I use nearly everyday in my business and I can’t recommend them enough. I encourage you to go and download this PDF and have a look at what I have there.
Also, in May I am launching a course for creative entrepreneurs where I will step you through an entire process to become smarter with your business. The content for the course is still in it’s development stages, but there are 5 modules. It really strips everything back to the basics but I think it’s so applicable to all small business owners. In the course I look at your business structure and how you can create a business model that works in with the lifestyle you’re wanting to achieve. It goes through some really great administration tips and how to develop workflows inside your business so you can use your time wisely and more effectively (and, of course, have time for the more important things in life). It also looks at business finances – how to price for profit, how to plan your finances, track your sales, and strategically spend money to grow your business. It’s going to be a really great and comprehensive course that I think you will find really beneficial. It basically goes through everything I’ve mentioned today but in more detail, showing you step by step how to implement these strategies into your own business. So keep your eye out for that.
Next week on the podcast, I’m interviewing Elise Hodge and how to write a killer about me page. Elise is a copywriting queen and you’re going to absolutely love this episode. So make sure you join me there next week. To end this episode, let me love and leave you with one last thought & quote about busy from Tess Guinery in her book The Apricot Memoirs,
“In a beautiful world that has come to hooray the hustle, I find my sweet-loving soul rebelliously dancing to the contrary. For this season, busy has no place — busy cannot lasso my time. It is down by the river, sunbathing on silk rocks”.