Taking the Plunge: a series where we feature guest posts by dynamic entrepreneurs who left behind everything they knew to follow their true passion. Stories of hard work, failures, friendships and full on love for what they do.
Christine Langstieh is a lawyer, self-designated crazy-flower lady and one our Ministry of New's earliest members. After almost 11 years in the corporate field, she left her consulting gig at Ernst & Young to start Bloombombs, a flower company that aims to connect Indian farms to market. On the eve of Bloombombs’ completing one year in business, she shares what she has learnt about starting a business from scratch.
1. Do everything yourself (initially).
If you’re starting your own business, you need to know the operations inside out. How will you ever learn if you keep delegating work out? Back in the day, one of the first things I sought out was a web designer for Bloombombs. I spoke to countless agencies and freelancers. I could never comprehend the services they proposed – “minifying code; improving place and UI; removing iframes, etc.”- what exactly did all this mean? Probably a lot to a web developer but to a newbie like me, zilch. And if I was going to be charged a boat load of money to “…increase backlinks during process of fresh indexing on Google…”, I better be damn sure of what that meant.
To shed some light on the jargon, I started researching web design and eventually ended up building the website myself - a decent one that fulfilled what I needed (FYI, Wix is the easiest for beginners). Similarly, I’ve started taking online classes on digital marketing (specifically conversion optimization) because no digital marketer I met was able to back up their campaign ideas with data.
That’s not to say that everyone should take on all tasks themselves. Get into the habit of knowing the basics of bookkeeping and accounting, digital marketing, tax, etc. The idea is to have a general understanding of all the silos within your company so that at a bare minimum, you’re able to have more enlightened conversations with the people you’ve hired.
2. Beware the snake-oil salesmen of our times – ‘Digital Marketers’
That statement is probably going to annoy a lot of people. Of course, I don’t mean all digital marketers. There are some great digital agencies and freelancers who do amazing work but there seems to be a lot of chaff among the grain. Design school graduates, bored college students, the local socialite who is on every social platform, your bored aunty who has too much free time on her hands – they’ve all started calling themselves ‘digital marketers’.
Do your homework. Look at their past work. Which social media platform should your business focus on? Does your digital marketer have experience on that platform? (e.g. strategy for LinkedIn versus Facebook) Are they able to provide you with data and metrics at the end of each month? Do they understand your brand values? Would you trust them to ‘speak’ to your audience and use terms and turns of phase that your audience and customer base will relate to? Have they even bothered to create a Target Audience (TG) profile?
Of course, all this costs money and you really get what you pay for. If you’re a small company, take control of your company’s social media if possible. Remember – you know the company better than anyone else and there’s no better person to put the message of your company’s value across. There are tons of apps out there to help you with every aspect of digital marketing. I also highly recommend classes by Ami Hemlani of Socialize Store for solopreneurs looking to get their hands dirty.
3. Be nice to everyone.
Being nice isn’t just good karma, it’s good business. Take time to build networks. Speak with other fellow entrepreneurs and really get to know their business so that you can pass on referrals whenever you can. Ministry of New has been amazing for me for exactly this reason. You will meet so many creative, unique people who are doing inspiring, amazing work on a daily basis. I've come up with some of my best ideas here, and met people who are always willing to help.
Collaborate and work with complementing brands and artists (especially if you’re in the creative field). Build a community around shared values. It always helps to be a part of group of individuals who understand the daily rigours of fire-fighting that go with running a business.
4. Customer service trumps everything
In a world where every industry is saturated with competitors, the key differentiator is usually great customer service. About 40% of Bloombombs’ sales come from repeat customers and I attribute a lot of that to our excellent customer service. The Bloombombs SOP on customer service covers everything from response time, to how to deal with escalations, terms and words to be used in written messages, etc.
More importantly, we go out of our way to make customers feel heard. Some of my greatest learnings have been from customer complaints. Accept them with grace. Remember, customer complaints are a great way to stress-test your products and your claims. Whatever happens, do not rant. The world is small and what you do/say/post can and will be heard for hundreds of thousands of miles at the click of a button.
5. Take care of your health
Take care of your health to take care of business. The reality is that you can’t afford to be sick because a). your health insurance coverage has shrunk considerably now that the fancy ex-corporate employer isn’t paying for it (do you even have health insurance?), and b). who’s going to do all the work if you fall ill? Eat right. Meditate. Exercise. Do all the things you know you should be doing to treat your body right.
Equally important is to keep spirits up. A few weeks ago, I was bemoaning over the seemingly slow progress made. I had to prepare a sales pitch that day and while working on the presentation, I added a segment on past clients and that’s when it hit me – in less than a year, Bloombombs accumulated dream clients such as Gucci, Panerai, Piramal Realty, etc. I was so caught up with keeping my eye on future milestones that I failed to see how much Bloombombs had accomplished already.
Make sure to pause now and then and reflect back on what you’ve achieved. Nothing that is worth pursuing is ever built overnight. Be kind to yourself - you’ve gotten this far already, who knows what you’ll manage next.
Before you go...
Your favourite flower?
It's like asking me to pick my favourite child! I love all flowers, but I'm particularly drawn to peonies, proteas and garden roses (one of the very few commercially grown roses that have a scent).
The best reaction you've ever gotten to a bouquet?
A lady loved the Bloombombs bouquet her fiancé got her so much that she decided to treat herself and get two more!
Where do you get your best work done?
In any airy room full of high ceiling windows cluttered with flowers, ribbons, dried flowers, beautiful stationery, and all sorts of other crafty mess!
How do you keep yourself motivated?
By looking at the work done by other creatives in their field -graphic designers, floral artists, resin work, jewellery, etc. You draw from other people's passion to continue feeding your own.
A flower that says 'I love you' more than roses?
Typically, any flower that is red connotes feelings of love.