With 12 years of experience as a farmer and horticulturalist, Jillian Shea decided to launch PlantHer in August 2019. The woman-focused business uses plants, food, and gardens to support and uplift those who want to grow.
MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke to Jill about her experience starting her businesses in Connecticut.
NAN PRICE: Have you always been entrepreneurial?
JILLIAN SHEA: Yes. My dad is a serial entrepreneur. I’ve watched him take risks and fail forward. He’s always steadfast in his approach. So, I’ve always had that entrepreneurial mentality in the back of my mind. I was engaging in entrepreneurial activities from a young age and I’ve always had a “side hustle.”
NAN: Did learning from your dad’s experiences encourage you to start your own business?
JILLIAN: Actually, I think it was part of the reason why I avoided it for so long! I saw what a big risk it was for him every time he started something new. Also, my mom is the complete opposite; she’s been a schoolteacher my whole life. So, I’ve always had this balance of who am I more like and which path do I pursue, the stability or the risk?
NAN: You launched less than a year ago, how has your company evolved since?
JILLIAN: Plant Nights have been the most successful aspect of the business, which was totally unexpected, since I was originally focused on doing consulting and plant education, which I still do. I’m hoping doing more Plant Nights can lead to larger projects and create a bigger impact for more people to have feelings of goodness around plants.
NAN: Who is your ideal client and how are clients finding you?
JILLIAN: I believe there’s a therapeutic element in working with plants and my ideal clients are often those who feel the same. It’s people who want to be around plants, are enamored and inspired by plants, and those who may want to use them as a form of their own self-care practice. But, it’s also people who are intimidated by plants and how to care for them.
I think a lot of people are finding me by coming to a Plant Night and realizing that it’s more than just a sip and paint kind of situation. It’s deeper than that. That has naturally led to a lot of word of mouth, people pursuing me with questions, and opportunities to form deeper relationships with people interested in learning more about plants.
NAN: Let’s talk more about building those relationships and how you’re aligning yourself with other business owners.
JILLIAN: My initial goal in starting my business was to support young women but also to be surrounded by women, because every time I work with women, I feel inspired. Especially in the farming industry, there’s a lot of comradery among women farmers and women in horticulture that is very different than the relationships I’ve formed with the men in those fields. Certainly not all of them. I’ve met amazing men and women through The New CT Farmer Alliance , which is a new statewide organization of farmers and growers.
When I pursue different businesses to form collaborations, I specifically seek out women-geared or women-run businesses. I want to support female-owned businesses and help build each other up.
Every time I pursue a venue about hosting a Plant Night or forming some kind of collaboration, a big part of my mission is to promote that venue—and have them promote me. Of course, I want to work with places that want to work with me. I also want to support Connecticut small businesses and the people who patronize those Connecticut small businesses.
NAN: What types of business resources have you explored as you’re starting out?
JILLIAN: In the very early stages, I worked with Greater Hartford SCORE and I’ve worked Kenyetta Banks, who is a Program Manager with the Women’s Business Development Council (WBDC). I also collaborate with the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce and received some mentoring there, too. Those are the main resources I’ve reached out to for feedback about business and financial planning.
NAN: You’re located in Middletown, but you spend a lot of time in Hartford. Why is that?
JILLIAN: Hartford is so vibrant. When I was working part time in Hartford and interacting with people here, I saw that everyone’s so inspired and motivated—and interesting. There’s an energy too, which excited me and made me want to spend more time in Hartford. People here are very genuine, especially in the entrepreneurial community. People talk to you. They’re interested in learning more about you and willing to help where they can. That’s one of the reasons you and I connected! Someone told me to reach out to you.
NAN: What do you need to move your business forward?
JILLIAN: It’s really forming meaningful collaborations, because I don’t think anyone gets anywhere alone. That’s what I need to go forward, developing those kinds of relationships. I think if I have that kind of community around my business, I can’t fail.