This post is part three of a five-part series detailing how to start a small-scale flower farm. You can find part one HERE (all about general business plan and site selection) and part two HERE (which is all about what to actually plant).
Note: There are affiliate links to books and products mentioned.
The Importance of Marketing
You might think, as so many of us in the flower farming world did when we first started out, that your end product is so beautiful that it will practically sell itself. Unique, locally-grown flowers? Who WOULDN’T want that?!
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Let me tell you the tale of two different farmer’s markets, done one year apart:
Our first year flower farming, we decided to be a vendor at the local farmer’s market, which only lasts for about a month (on Saturday mornings) at the end of summer. While I had built up a (very) small following via social media, I hadn’t been posting to it much — I’d been too busy growing, harvesting, and arranging! However, I figured that at the farmer’s market, since we were among the only people selling flowers at all (and especially the only ones selling the kinds of bouquets we were selling), that our “product” would just fly off the shelves, metaphorically speaking. After all, what we had was unique, beautiful, and priced affordably for our area.
What actually happened was that although some people did, in fact, make an impulse purchase from us that first year because the flowers were, in fact, beautiful, we found that we had a LOT of flowers left over after each market, and we seriously talked about how farmer’s markets just weren’t going to be worth the time and energy we had to spend getting ready for them and actually carrying them out.
Then our second year happened.
I was determined to build up our local following on our flower farm’s social media, so I’d made it a point to post relatively regularly (usually 2-4 times a week) throughout our growing season. I’d also posted about our farm on local Facebook groups and paid for several targeted ads, which gave me an immediate uptick in people visiting our profile and “liking” our page. By the time we committed to try out the farmer’s market one more time to decide if it could be worth it, I’d grown my local following by several hundred people, had regular customers and custom order requests almost every week, and I’d also done a speaking gig at the local college at an entrepreneurship seminar.
All of a sudden, the majority of people coming up to us at the farmer’s market knew exactly who we were, and they had even sometimes come specifically just to buy from us. We were selling out of most everything we brought, and by the last market, we had sold out of almost everything in the first half of the market, and I actually had to run back home to harvest and bring back more for the last half.
What was the difference?
Well, you could argue that my flower arranging skills were more refined by my second year. But all in all, by far the biggest difference was that people came to the market looking for us, which meant they were much more likely to buy from us.
Where + How to Find Your Customers
Before you dive into different marketing strategies, you need to first define WHO your ideal customer is, which is why it’s so important to make sure that you’ve defined your general business plan as well as what you’re growing and offering BEFORE you start marketing your farm.
If I’m offering flowers to the general masses via farmer’s markets or pop up sales, my marketing strategy will be much different than if I’m wanting to be a farmer florist and do weddings and events, or if I’m wanting to sell to wholesalers or florists.
Define who your target customer is FIRST, and THEN develop your marketing strategy.
Once you’ve got a good idea of what you’re wanting to offer and to whom, here are some of the outlets you can use to find your customers:
In general, social media can be one of your most valuable tools in building a customer base, and fast. You can create a business profile for free, you can get family and friends involved in sharing your business, and you can pay a relatively small amount for ads that will get shown specifically to people who live in your targeted area and demographic.
Since social media will often be one of the first places people will check to find you, it’s definitely worth having a business profile and posting to it regularly. For me, I try to make sure my social media for the farm is more than just pretty pictures of the flowers — I try to add value by sharing business insights or growing tips or interesting tidbits that help people to actually learn about something or to be inspired to try something themselves. (In case you’re curious, you can follow our farm on Facebook HERE and on Instagram HERE.)
While some people will like your business enough that they’ll follow just for updates about what you have available and for how much, you’re much more likely to get people invested in your business by putting more thought into your posts and making sure they are adding value to your customers’ lives.
Since Google searches often won’t immediately turn up a social media for a new business, it can definitely be worth your time to set up a website. It doesn’t have to be anything too fancy, but you want to make sure to include the most important things on there like who you are, what you offer, how much it costs, and where you’re located. You’ll want a place that shows how people can contact you, and you’ll want to include tabs such as an introduction to who you are and the mission of your farm, as well as a tab that shows different examples of what you’re selling at the different price points.
Go for a clean, simple layout (it’s hard to go wrong with basic white!) and get the best photos you can, whether that’s through studying some basic photography techniques yourself or paying a professional to take some pictures for you.
Another valuable thing about a website is that it makes it easy to start up an email list, which means that you can send out important business and selling info to interested customers without having to rely on the (often frustrating) algorithms that social media sites employ.
We started our farm only on social media for the first couple growing seasons, but as our business has grown and more and more people have started asking for a website, we’ve decided to invest more time into one ourselves.
While it’s ideal to have people know who you are before you ever step foot into a farmer’s market, the market itself is still a great way to get exposure to a wide variety of people, many of whom might be your ideal customer since people who like to shop at farmer’s markets tend to appreciate things like local, sustainably grown flowers 🙂
Ideally, you’ll want to invest in having a large sign done with your farm’s name and logo and work on having a great display, but don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough for now — sometimes it’s best just to go for it, even if your set-up isn’t the very best it could be. Our first two years we didn’t have a sign or the fancy display, and we still had customers and business every market.
I will say that one thing you’ll definitely want to try and have is a business card to give people at the market. We didn’t print out business cards our first year, which ended up being one of our biggest mistakes. People will very rarely remember your farm’s name after the fact, and while some people will pull out their phones and follow you on social media right then, few actually do. A business card gives people the info they need on how to contact you later, hopefully when they’re actually looking specifically for what you’re selling.
If you’re looking to sell to a very specific target customer like a florist or a wholesaler, your best bet is often just to cold call florists in your area and ask if they’d be interested in you sending over your pricing and availability sheet.
A few major points here:
I wouldn’t recommend calling florists and sending them the information until you actually have stems available, or at the very least, until you’ve had at least one growing season under your belt. I was so eager my first year to build up my business that I sent out price lists to every florist in the area, only to not actually have the kind of volume they needed when they needed it or the specific types of flowers by the dates that I’d thought. I didn’t sell a single stem to florists my first year as a result.
A better way to approach the situation as a new grower might be to cold call just to ask if the florist would be interested in buying from a local flower farm, and, if so, what kinds of flowers they’d be most interested in purchasing locally. Then, when you actually have some flowers to offer in bulk, you can call those interested florists back with specific amounts you have available as well as what price you’re asking.
Samples are a fabulous way to show people the quality and beauty of your product and to get more people to dip their toe into buying local flowers than otherwise would on their own. There are many ways you could approach this, and, like everything else, the method you choose should be determined by who you want as your ideal customer and by what exactly you’re selling.
If you’re wanting to sell subscriptions, a great place to start giving some samples would be to local businesses who might appreciate flower displays in their business on a regular basis, such as restaurants, title and mortgage companies, university administrative offices, senior care centers (especially with a stack of business cards so the person in charge can suggest it as an option that family members could purchase for a loved one in the facility), local boutiques, etc.
If you’re wanting to attract people who might purchase your flowers through a pop up sale online, you can set up a little stand on a busy street advertising free flowers and give away single stems or small bunches with your business card attached, or you could do something like that at a farmer’s market (hopefully along with some larger flower arrangements that you’re actually trying to sell!). If you want people to actually stop by your farm so that they know where it is, you can advertise on your social media, on local classifieds, or by putting up flyers around town (just like you might for a garage sale) that you’ll have free flowers available there. Just make sure you clearly define what time you’ll be out and available.
Once you start looking around, chances are pretty good that you’ll discover that other people are flower farming around your area already. Start doing some research to see if there are any established flower farm co-ops around you, and find out the rules to apply and join. Basically, a co-op is where a group of flower farmers gets together (usually once a week, sometimes twice) and everyone brings all the stems they have to sell bundled up, usually in lots of 5 or 10. Then the venue is opened to florists or to the public so that people can come in and purchase the flowers they want in the quantities they need.
Co-ops are great because they give you a built-in customer base that you don’t usually have to seek out yourself, and it also means that fewer of your stems will be left unsold. This can also be a great option if actually arranging the flowers yourself doesn’t hold much appeal to you, or if you’re growing a high volume of a certain kind of flower that’s highly sought after (like garden roses or peonies or ranunculus).
Keep in mind though that there is usually a process you have to go through in order to prove that your flowers are high enough quality to be acceptable and that you can follow through on delivering higher quantities of stems regularly. Because of this, some collectives may not accept first-year growers.
As most any business owner will tell you, your business will not last long if there’s not trust between you and your customer. Sure, someone might be willing to take a chance on you once, but if there’s not a relationship of trust built through selling a good quality product and by cultivating a respectful relationship, then you will not get future sales from that customer. Make sure to keep the following in mind while building up your flower farm business:
Only Give the Best
Decide from the get go what your standards for selling flowers are–are you only going to sell florist-quality stems and cull the rest? Are you going to accept minor bug or storm damage as long as the flower is still in relatively good shape? Are you going to try and only include things in your bouquets that are expected to last a certain number of days in the vase?
For me personally, I try to make my flowers as close to florist quality as possible, though I’m okay with putting a few stems with minor bug or rain damage into an arrangement as long as it’s not super noticeable or doesn’t detract from the arrangement. I also try and make sure that nearly every flower in the bouquet will last at least a week, with a few notable exceptions (such as dahlias and roses, which are just short-lived flowers, period). That means that I cull stems that I harvest past the ideal time, even if they still look good that particular day, and it also means that if there is some damage, I try to remove what I can, such as by stripping all those leaves. I also try hard to only include things that I’ve done vase tests on personally, so that I know about how long they’re supposed to last. There were a few times I included really cool looking stems into some arrangements without doing vase life testing first, only to discover that many of those stems flopped after only two or three days.
The quality of locally grown, fresh cut flowers is truly one of your best assets as a flower farmer, so make sure you’re only selling flowers that you’d be comfortable giving to a client who was testing you out for, say, a massive custom wedding order in the future. Because the fact is, you never know which customers might buy more from you later on (sometimes MUCH more), so make sure that every bouquet leaving your farm is your top quality.
Put Your Face Out There
This is one I’m still working on, but I can at least now see the importance of it. I can’t remember where I first heard the story, but I once heard that the point that Floret Farm started taking off was when Erin Benzakein started putting her face on everything to do with her company. The fact is, people love to be able to associate your small business with an actual human, especially a human they can eventually come to know and trust. When I think about my favorite flower farming YouTube channels, I think of how much more likely I am to support them and their business simply because I feel like I “know” the farmers behind the farms and therefore want them to succeed.
This is one I definitely still struggle with because I’m usually the one behind the camera–not in front of it–but it is one I’m trying to work on.
By far, one of the most successful things we have ever done as a small business is our pay-it-forward program, which actually kind of started as an accident. Our first year flower farming, we decided to just go for it and offer CSA bouquet subscriptions. A relative of my husband’s wanted to show her support of our new farm, but she didn’t live close enough for us to actually deliver any bouquets to her, so she just bought a subscription anyway and told us to give the bouquets to people who lived in our area who could use them.
Since we were new to the area ourselves and didn’t know too many people, I posted from the farm’s account to a community Facebook page, asking for people to DM me and send me names of people they knew who could use some free flowers to cheer them up. We got many more nominations than had been paid for, but it ended up being a perfect win-win all around since we often had flowers that first year that didn’t sell and that I didn’t want to just throw away, but that I also didn’t want to have to put a ton of thought into who to give them to every time.
Fast forward to now, and the pay-it-forward program is a huge part of our growing year. It’s also had the somewhat unexpected side effect of being very, very good for the business since 1) people generally like to support businesses that are generous and give back to the community in some way; 2) once people saw that we followed through on our commitment to give out bouquets to the family and friends they’d nominated, they often gave us more business as a result; and 3) giving out the bouquets meant that more people were exposed to our business, more people got to experience firsthand the quality and beauty of our flowers, and more people started becoming our customers as a result.
We didn’t start the program to grow our business–rather, we had always wanted giving to be a big part of our flower farm–but it still had that effect, anyway.
And along with following through, also try and adopt the mindset to “Under-promise and over-deliver.”
I’ve made a lot of mistakes while growing our business, but one I’ve tried super hard to always stick to is to follow through as close to 100% of the time as I can, and if for some reason I can’t, I always ‘fess up as to why and offer some kind of alternative. That means that with my CSA bouquet subscriptions, I always let people know my plan at the beginning of the season, as well as provide regular updates if necessary throughout the season if certain factors will affect the usual timing of the bouquets. If I was planning on a crop that never came through, I make sure to post about it on our social media so people know not to expect it. If someone was hoping for something specific that I’d said we’d have but then we don’t end up having it, I make sure to personally text or message them to let them know why, as well as point to some other places they could look instead.
Customers need to be able to trust that you’ll deliver what you say you’ll deliver, and if you can’t for some reason uphold your end of the bargain, you need to let them know.
A Few More Resources
- Backyard Business: Branding and Marketing by Shifting Roots
- Shifting Roots has a lot of really good videos on building a small flower farming business, but this is one that’s very particular about how to market and grow your business when you’re just starting out. A great place to start.
- Can You Grow it, Can You Sell it? The Business of Farming by You Can’t Eat the Grass
- Although the couple behind this channel originally started out in the business of mostly farming and selling food (with flowers on the side), they’ve since totally flipped their farm into doing almost exclusively flowers, and they’ve found a ton of success through just two main sales outlets: their local farmer’s market and then having a roadside stand at their actual farm. Although this older video of theirs focuses more on marketing and selling vegetables, the same principles usually still apply to marketing and selling flowers. This is a good place to go if you’re looking into doing farmer’s markets for sure.
- Flower Farming Business series by The Gardener’s Workshop
- This four-part video series is pretty low-tech and not the greatest visual quality, but the information is excellent. The woman behind The Gardener’s Workshop has been flower farming for decades, and this series is definitely worth listening to, especially as you’re just starting out.
- Lynsey Taulbee
- I follow hundreds of flower farmers on Instagram for inspiration, but Lynsey with Muddy Acres Flower Farm is a staple. Not only is her farm super profitable, but she has totally turned traditional wisdom on its head in her pursuit of trying to be the most effective cut flower farmer she can be and then shares all the triumphs and failures along the way. Her IG account is packed with bite-sized bits of information about everything to do with flower farming and building a flower farming business, and even though I don’t personally want to totally emulate her business model or style, I’ve learned a lot from her account nonetheless.
- Micro Flower Farm
- The flower farmer behind this account grows everything on just 6,000 square feet, and she is able to produce (and sell) a ton. I love her tips not just on how to make the most of limited space, but also how to grow your business and find your market.
- The Flower Farmer’s Year by Georgie Newbery
- Sometimes it’s hard to find flower farms that have actually been doing it for several years, so when I find someone who has done flower farming and obviously been successful enough with it that they’ve made it their livelihood, I make a point of paying attention. Georgie Newbery has been a farmer florist for a decade in the UK, and I like that her book speaks both from experience over several years AND that it is current enough that she knows how to market and build a business in today’s economy. She has a whole section devoted just to marketing and social media strategy, as well as other chapters written specifically about the business side of flower farming. Even if you don’t live in the UK (as I don’t), this is still definitely worth owning.
- Small Farm, Big Dreams by Jennifer O’Neal
- This is a new release by the duo behind Pepper Harrow Farm, who I first discovered on YouTube. I love how they show that flower farming can become much more than just growing and selling flowers in market bouquets — they delve into lots of other strategies for making an income with your farm, such as teaching workshops, offering u-picks, or allowing photographers to come in and take photos at your farm for a fee.
I’d love to know any insights or questions you have when it comes to marketing a small business and finding your ideal customer — drop a comment below and share your thoughts!