Small Business Tips and Tools

How to Get Past the Growing Pains and Bloom into a Successful Startup

July 12, 2018
3 min read

Every entrepreneurial journey has it’s thorns — don’t let them stop you from flourishing

Sarah Bernhardi is a self-proclaimed optimist, mom, wife, and founder of Secret Blooms — home to the most exquisite artificial flowers in Australia. The products range from standalone flowers to full classic bouquets all designed and inspired by local floral designers.

How did you decide to start your own company?

I decided that I wanted to pursue a portfolio career, which meant having a small collection of interests. So, I set a goal of buying one or two existing small businesses that I could lend my expertise to and either scale or pivot.

The first candidate was a small silk flower boutique based in Sydney. At its core, the product was strong — the manufacturing process of artificial flowers has come a long way since the obviously fake, dull-colored dust traps of yesteryear. Blooms are now incredibly lifelike as a result of new materials and color application techniques. I could see that a re-brand and a more contemporary design style for the product range could open a whole new market.

But, just days before we were due to sign on the dotted line, the vendor pulled out citing ‘second thoughts.’

Having immersed myself in the opportunity, I not only had nothing to show for over two months of effort, but I knew a lot more about silk flowers, and perhaps, in a moment of pride and frustration, I resolved that I would start a silk flower design business from scratch.

It’s been a steep learning curve since then. Two years later we have a thriving small business to show for it and I’m incredibly proud of the portfolio of events and commissions we’ve delivered on. I’ve had to put my dreams of a portfolio career on hold for now, as starting a business from zero has been nothing short of all consuming.

Wow — what an inspiring story. Talk me through one of your biggest roadblocks since launching Secret Blooms.

Building an online presence was key to our growth strategy. While our first website was on brand, it lacked the critical SEO framework. And knowing nothing about website design or Search Engine Optimization (SEO), I outsourced help. But, we were too quick to outsource the remedial action and therefore we’re flying blind in the promises that marketing and SEO specialists were throwing at us.

Having spent quite a few thousand dollars and feeling none the wiser, I took some much needed advice, slowed down and went back to basics. I enrolled in an SEO course and undertook self study in website design. I could feel my confidence growing and finally understood what needed to be done. It was an investment that I have never regretted.

We now manage our website design in-house and outsource the search optimization management. And because of my knowledge on the subject, my SEO partner is more likely to pitch new ideas to me, given that I understand both the context and the opportunity.

I love that — it’s never too late to learn a new skill. If you could change one thing from your professional past to do over, what would it be?

If I could, I’d go back to my 20-year-old self and coach her on the power of networks and how to nurture them.

Networking is so much more than just showing up and exchanging contact information — a good network can accelerate your success and personal development as well as give you valuable opportunities to mentor and be mentored.

That’s very true. When your mind wanders, where does it go?

Lakes and mountains. I find peace in the mountains. Our family has a Swiss heritage and having lived around the world to the extent that I have, I often feel quite removed from the culture and traditions. A visit to the mountains makes me feel connected to my roots.

What’s next for you and your company?

Growth. The Australian market has been a perfect base to refine our product and service proposition, but now it’s time to scale. Scaling a product business is a challenge logistically and presents a whole new set of complexities we need to understand. We’re diving in and preparing ourselves for deep immersion and learning!