A Vision Board is Not a Business Plan

By: Natalie Gill, Owner of Native Poppy

In my line of work, vision boards are everything.

One quick search for “floral design” on Pinterest returns millions of inspiration boards, for everything from magical weddings to gorgeous editorial shoots to stunning interior design.

So, it’s probably unsurprising to learn that as a mid-20s, floral-obsessed creative, I too had a Pinterest vision board. I called it my “mood board,” as in, “I’m really in the mood to leave my current soul-sucking HR desk job and be a boss lady already.”

Months of (secretive, compiled while at aforementioned mind-numbing job) Pinterest inspiration led me to create a solid idea of what my floral design business was going to look like: flowers and kick-ass boss ladies and freedom and, yes – also dinosaurs. Because everything Jurassic FTW.

When I finally took the entrepreneurial plunge in 2013 I relied on my vision board religiously for direction. I thought that the key to running a successful floral business meant taking beautiful pictures and sharing them with the Interwebs to get clients.

And that’s what I did. My first couple years, I operated as a solopreneur florist. I went to the flower market, processed all the flowers myself and poured my heart into arranging them to the highest standards of art I could imagine. I answered every email and personally made every delivery.

But I was also riddled with anxiety and living on rice and beans.

Natalie Gill, Native Poppy

It finally hit me. That vision board I had clung to as my business premise for so long? That was just a visual representation of my brand.

It was not a business plan.

It was not going to tell me how to pay for things, how to create a strategic plan or how to grow. And without all that, it became obvious that I’d forever be stuck in the cycle of struggling to get by.

I thought about what I really wanted out of my business. Ultimately, I found that the answer wasn’t only to be able to eat things other than rice and beans (I mean, a fancy taco once in a while might be nice, though), but also to be an inspirational, positive force in my community.

Clearly, that wasn’t going to happen unless I made a change. So, reluctantly, I accepted that you simply cannot survive running a business if you’re just an artist.

Yes, your business should absolutely be impassioned and soulful and you. But to be successful, there is an undeniable science to the hard numbers and strategic process behind it. Learning things like market testing, deciding to scale back or to invest and letting go of what’s not working are hard but necessary lessons.

That’s why deciding to grow Native Poppy by launching a brick-and-mortar storefront was both exciting and scary as shit. I took out a loan. I hired employees. I struggled to grasp the ideas of profit margin and overhead rate and efficiency.

It became apparent I needed some kind of education in business, which was even more work. As a business owner, you sometimes have to do daunting and grueling crap that’s way out of your comfort zone like take classes, go to conferences and meet and network with other business owners. I totally underestimated how much there was to learn. And it was a little embarrassing to realize I didn’t know much of anything – just a lot about flowers.

Everyday I’d vacillate – and sometimes still do – between wanting to sob in a fetal position (while eating a fancy taco) and putting a smile on my face and being a kick-ass CEO. In the end, what pushed me to continually pursue the latter was that little by little, I started to see my goal materialize – Native Poppy began to turn into that inspirational, positive force I’d always craved.

Opening the storefront took on a greater purpose. I found that it was actually fun to give people jobs and build a work family. And I learned I could also have the freedom to take on rad creative projects like workshops, starting new brands and doing more weddings. Ironically, all the business-y stuff I was terrified would interfere with my dreams actually helped bring them to life.

But owning and operating my company also raised the stakes in terms of pleasing customers, employees and making a difference in my community. Native Poppy is not just a flower shop; it’s a mission to make the world a happier place.

For me, flowers serve as a living reminder that even though business and life will always be, to some degree, wearying and complicated and petrifying, they’re also beautiful and valuable and rewarding. I love providing a space in which people – myself included – can pause to reflect on that and be at peace, if only for a moment.

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