I launched my start up, Anita’s Garden, about six months ago. It’s a good time to look back and reflect on how my business has evolved in that time and discuss my vision for its future. In this series of articles, I will draw on real-life experiences and examples and share a bit more about my journey as a business owner. I’m a very transparent person. In my business dealings, I like everything to be put on the table. I’m also very open to sharing my ideas on how I am running my business, as well as how I think a business ought to be run. As always, there’s a lot of ground I’d like to cover. In this blog post, I would like to share five major reflections on Anita’s Garden.
1. Excellent customer service is the key to a successful business
As the saying goes, the customer is king. Great customer service is what makes people happy. If customers leave satisfied, they are more likely to return and recommend your business to others. While I do my best to make customers happy, I occasionally make mistakes. After all, I’m only human and sometimes glitches do occur. Orders can get mixed up and this happened to me last week. A customer had sent me a text asking if he could order four Dok eggplants. I replied saying yes and did put them aside for him, but I got distracted during the day and didn’t get around to putting his name on the order. I sold them to another customer by accident. When he arrived to pick up his plants, he was not happy to discover this. I followed up by sending him some texts admitting to my mistake, explaining that the mistake was genuine rather than intentional, and offered to give him a box of complimentary plants (which included some seedlings from our personal stock for the home garden as I had started running low on certain varieties in the nursery) as a way of apologising for the error. What happened next completely amazed me. The customer’s wife rang me and couldn’t stop praising me. She said that she had a background in customer service and was really impressed with the way I had handled the situation. They both graciously accepted my apology and offer to put things right, and the customer came over the next day to pick up the complimentary plants that I had offered them.
You learn from your mistakes. The encounter highlighted the need for me to develop a better system for recording orders. I now note orders in a separate book (rather than on pieces of paper!) with the customer’s name, a description of the plants they require, the quantity and a mobile number so I can text them when the order is ready to be collected. On a broader level, the mistake also highlighted the need for me to be more organised and I now have separate notebooks for recording workshop attendees, plant sales, business development ideas, tasks for woofers, things to do and appointments. It’s a bit late to purchase a day per page diary for this year, but I obtained one from Whitcoulls for next year as it will make recording my daily appointments with customers much easier. I’m constantly finding better ways to organise myself and run my business. I definitely don’t want this sort of situation arising again if I can help it.
2. There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing as you can’t do everything yourself!
I have a boutique business. Anita’s Garden is located on a suburban sized section in Manukau City. I don’t employ staff and run the business by myself, so there’s only so much I can get done in a day, even with assistance from the wwoofers who stay with us and help out around the garden. I also don’t have access to high tech horticultural equipment that you would find in a commercial nursery. I have started receiving very large orders requesting a high quantity of particular varieties. Some seedlings, such as snake beans, are in such high demand and I am struggling to fulfil orders in a timely fashion, especially large ones. I have been looking into ways to outsource some of the seed raising work to nurseries that have access to more space, better propagation technology than home gardeners such as myself and more staff on hand to assist.
I will keep everyone informed if and when this happens, but for now just know that even if I don’t propagate every plant I sell in my nursery here at Anita’s Garden, at some point in their life all plants have been cared for by me. I would never sell anyone a plant which is in bad condition at the time it is in my plant nursery and I only work with brands that I fully endorse and businesses I have been a customer of long before I set up my own business. I am currently a brand ambassador for some of New Zealand’s leading gardening businesses so it is obvious for me to look to them for assistance in this area in the first instance. Click here to read more about me becoming a brand ambassador.
3. For business development, listen to your customers!
Feedback from customers should be taken into account when considering how to develop your business. If you really engage with your customers when they come to your business, as I do, they should provide you with valuable feedback about your products and services. Listen to what your customers want and try to accommodate them! In the short time that my plant nursery has been open, I have received many requests for eftops. This is something which I am seriously considering in future, especially as I am aware that it is now possible to pay by eftpos via your smartphone. Another example is mail orders. Initially, I didn’t envisage that the scope of my business extended to posting plants. Then I received my first mail order request. I realised that it was in fact a simple process, the plants arrived in a timely manner on the overnight courier service and were in perfect condition. I am now in the middle of processing my second mail order. I also received a request for a seed order. Again, I wasn’t intending to sell seeds as part of my business but really wanted to try and help the customer obtain an unusual ethnic veggie so she could grow it in her garden this summer. I sourced seeds for her, packaged them up and posted them to her. This also went really well, so I am happy to take orders for seeds in future.
4. Marking up stock and making a profit is essential to the continuation of a business (and doesn’t make you a bad person!)
I still struggle with this. I’ve always felt (and still feel) that I’m just not cut out to be in business. While I know that most shops import stock cheaply (usually from overseas), mark it up and then on-sell it for a profit, I’ve never felt entirely comfortable about doing this myself. It’s not that it’s morally wrong. After all, making a profit is essential to the survival of a business. It just seemed a little soulless to me. However, I’ve had to rethink things and have had a complete shift in mindset. When the business generates income, it is used to cover expenses such as overheads (the day-to-day costs of running a business) and also capital expenditure, known as the purchase of assets. In this way, profits enable you to re-invest in your venture so that you can continue to provide a service or supply a product. If you sell at cost or below it, there is no windfall so how will you purchase further inventory to replace outgoing stock? This is really the key to the continuation of my business. For example, part of the revenue generated from plant sales is used to purchase further inventory (stock), so I can continue to meet demand and supply customers with plants in my nursery. I am also looking into purchasing more heat pads so I can raise more seedlings simultaneously to meet customer orders in a more timely manner. In order to provide a better service and broader range of products to customers in future, I do need to generate income over and above meeting overheads.
The bottom line for me is that running a business is about more than merely making a profit. It is about exchanging something of value with customers. When customers come in to purchase plants, they leave not just with things for their garden, but also advice, ideas and inspiration, which is the slogan of Anita’s Garden. I’m not ripping people off. This is simply how a healthy business should function and it’s something that I’ve had to come to terms with as a new business owner.
5. There’s nothing wrong with paying yourself a salary as a business owner
Originally, I envisaged Anita’s Garden as a not-for-profit entity, as I have a heart for the community. As mentioned in a previous blog post, I have always had trouble accepting money from other people. This situation was avoided in my former career as a lawyer, because I was simply paid a salary by the law firm. However, I have come to realise that I do need to pay myself a salary so I can look after myself, especially my health. I was recently hit with a number of different expenses at the same time – new frames and lenses for my glasses, extensive dental work and the cost of seeing a specialist for a medical issue. An old injury to my neck has also resurfaced, so I have to pay for treatment at the physio and need to see a chiropractor. In order to be able to help other people, I need to be in a good state of health. This means that I do need to be able to cover bills of this nature. Now that I have dedicated myself to Anita’s Garden full time, I have no other revenue streams. In short, I can’t do everything for free. While I will continue to take on work on a pro bono (without payment) basis, a mix of both paid and unpaid work is essential to not only the survival of my business but also my personal well-being. As an adult, I need to be responsible and able to support myself financially. This all became much clearer to me as I began reading a book called God, Money and Me by Paul de Jong, the head pastor of Life. Over a five week period, we are discussing each chapter at church services and our small group meetings. I am only part way through this book but it has already helped me to adopt a more healthy approach towards money and running my business.