A close-up of Beth Hammerberg, owner and co-founder or Down by the River Lavender, holding a large bouquet of lavender. Behind her, rows of lavender plants stretch into the distance.
Beth Hammerberg is the co-founder, owner, and farmer of Down by the River Lavender. One lesson from her business journey is to be judicious when choosing business partners. — Down by the River Lavender

Down by the River Lavender, a farm in Washington state that grows (not surprisingly) lavender, has been both a business venture and an adventure, said Beth Hammerberg, its owner, operator, and farmer. “I really enjoy the challenge of building my business slowly and intentionally,” she added.

Hammerberg started her company in 2016 and markets lavender soaps, essential oils, and other products through several channels. She sells wholesale to other small businesses and also uses e-commerce to offer products on a retail basis. Hammerberg acquires direct sales through craft shows and other events, and she sells in bulk to other businesses that use her products for their own operations. For example, a restaurant might use soap from Down by the River Lavender in its bathrooms and kitchens.

Over the past seven years, Hammerberg has learned much about running and growing a business. These are among the most critical lessons.

Treat your business as a business

This may sound like common sense, but it’s not unusual for some new business owners to choose lavender farming—or another venture—for the lifestyle it can offer, rather than as a money-earning operation. Yet few people can afford to give away their time, energy, and money forever. “That’s not sustainable,” Hammerberg said. Even if your goal isn’t to build an empire, you still need to develop a business plan that identifies your financial goals and outlines how you’ll get there, she added.

Determine how quickly you want to grow

Hammerberg and her husband, a co-owner, decided to operate Down by the River Lavender on a cash-only basis and without taking out loans. She noted this was an option, in part, because she also has a day job.

While committing to a cash-only operation means it takes longer to scale, it’s also kept Hammerberg from financially overextending herself while she was gaining business and farming experience. “If I grew too fast, my mistakes would have been more expensive,” she added.

To be sure, Hammerberg has made a few errors, but they’ve been manageable. For instance, she paid about $1,200 for an ad in a magazine that turned out not to offer the exposure that would have helped grow her business. “At that point, it was a big chunk of change,” she said. However, the expense didn’t upend her company.

I really enjoy the challenge of building my business slowly and intentionally.

Beth Hammerberg, owner, operator, and farmer of Down by the River Lavender

Choose business partners wisely

Along with the products she offers, Hammerberg curates a few items from other small business owners. Before partnering with a company, she’ll check that it meets her criteria. To start, the owner needs to be nice. “Part of the joy of building a business is that I don’t have to work with people I don’t want to,” she said. She also confirms that she can talk to the person actually doing the work.

Identify the services others can do better

Even a small business can benefit by outsourcing some functions. “There are things I’ve done that have taken fifty hours and that a professional can do in one,” she said. For instance, Hammerberg has hired experts in taxes and in social media.

The key is to find experts who are trustworthy, she said. Again, Hammerberg partners mostly with other small business owners whom she can contact directly.

Price what you’re worth

Through her work with other small businesses, Hammerberg encounters many who underprice their products. She’ll sometimes point this out, and some adjust their prices. “It’s because a person gave them the confidence to do so,” she said.

Seek support

Building a business need not be a solo venture, Hammerberg said. Many resources, like the Chamber of Commerce, can provide ideas and support. “You don’t have to do this alone,” she said.

Take time for family and friends

Even when building a business, you want to remember the people in your life. “It’s important to take time to enjoy the people who love you,” Hammerberg said.

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