When Seattle-based event and floral designer Rachel Bowes was laid off from her non-profit event planner job, she decided to be her own boss. She started Finch and Thistle with the goal of having greater flexibility at work -- a goal she definitely achieved when she slowed down her business following the birth of her first child.
That was three years ago. Today, Rachel is gearing back up big time, growing her business to include a new kind of design package -- and there’s even a from-scratch event venue in the works. We spoke with Rachel about leveraging social media to build her brand and coming up with creative and new ideas to serve her clients.
Rachel, why did you get into the floral/event planning business?
When I was working in the non-profit world as an event planner, I learned I liked the more creative parts of my job the most -- the art direction, the floral design. I enjoyed art and art classes all throughout school, but I didn’t get to pursue that love in any job I’d had before. Designing events and flowers is a special way I get to express myself. I’ve always been a gardener, and working with flowers seemed really natural for me.
What made you go to work for yourself?
Circumstances! I was laid off, and I had to do something else. At that time, everyone was laying off event people because they were considered “non-essential” employees, which is crazy because we were raising money for the non-profits. I’m a self-motivated person, and I always wanted the freedom to follow my own path. With events you have busy and slow times, just like with all project management. When I worked for someone else, I would be frustrated just sitting around in an office when nothing was happening.
A bridal bouquet including blooms Rachel grew herself. (@finchandthistle)
How did you start Finch and Thistle?
I hired someone to design a website and do some basic branding. Then I started networking and putting the word out that I was looking for events. People started getting referred to me. I’d worked for the Seattle Symphony before, and they hired me on a contract basis to do all the event flowers. I built up my portfolio doing weddings for friends of friends. I look back on those days, and I can’t believe how little I charged! But I had to start somewhere.
When would you say your business really “took off” and why?
I received a lot of publicity in various magazines and on blogs about three years in. Having my business out there in the media gave me a lot more credibility with potential clients. People were coming to me saying, “I saw your wedding in this or that magazine.” I got a lot of new calls. I track my website traffic, so I saw I was getting a big bump after articles were published.
A business like yours is pretty location-specific. How you are diversifying Thistle and Finch to grow in new directions?
A lot of my clients don’t live in Seattle. They might be coming here to get married or will marry somewhere else, so we end up working remotely through emails and calls. As my business has evolved I’ve been doing more high-end design, and I’ve had to turn away some smaller clients.
I saw a niche there, appealing to clients who couldn’t afford a full event-design package but still wanted the look of a professionally edited event. Because of this, I’m introducing an “e-design” package. I send out a detailed questionnaire, and, based on the client’s responses, I build the event design specifically for the location and the budget. I charge $1500 for this service. I send them a complete design, including a visual design board with colors, ideas for table top design, outfits for the bridal party, floral design, stationery ideas and anything else they ask for. It’s an overall branding and art direction blueprint for the event that the client or their event planner can implement.
A design board, part of the e-design package. (@finchandthistle)How do you use social media to promote your brand?
I’m very active on Instagram, and I also hired a social media consultant. Even though I’m in my mid-thirties, I didn’t really grow up with social media. As a business owner, though, I need to make a real effort in that area, and it’s not something I naturally think about. I brought someone on board to give me some direction with the launch of the e-design business. It was my consultant’s dea to create a beautiful, Instagram-worthy design board to send to my e-design clients. Not only will they be able to take it to meetings with their event vendors, they can also share it on social media, which promotes my business.
Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I have to ask: how do you show love to your customers and who shows love to you and your business?
With my customers, I always feel like I under-promise and over-deliver. I think that’s a good strategy for anyone in the service industry. I always follow up after the event to make sure they were happy and to hear their feedback.
As for who shows me love, the vendors I’ve been working with for a long time send me business. Of course, my husband is hugely supportive of my work -- he often helps pack up the truck or tears an event down or even builds a wedding arch I envision in my head but have no idea how to make.
Tell us one more thing we haven’t yet asked about!
I am actually in the process of creating an event center on a small island near Seattle. My husband and I bought vacant land there, and we’re planning to build a modern and simple space with a Pacific Northwest aesthetic. The idea is that it’ll be a blank page so clients can rent it and turn it into whatever they want. It’ll have a sit-down reception capacity of 200 and capacity of 400 for a cocktail event.
This is by far my biggest career adventure yet -- and not for the faint of heart! I am so excited to see it come together and be able to offer my Pacific Northwest clients a unique place to hold their weddings and corporate events.
QB Community members, how do you use social media to promote your brand? Have you taken your business in a new direction to keep up with our fast-changing times?
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I've worked in print, broadcast and digital media for 20 years and managed to start a couple small businesses along the way. I love collaborating with and supporting creative folks who have great ideas. As Content Creator for the QB Community team, I’m excited to help other small-business owners be the best they can be!