Selling Sunshine: How an Ex-Mortgage Professional Became TikTok’s Plant Mother
Sonja Detrinidad, greenery proprietor, has already spoken about Snoop Dogg and menopause five minutes into our conversation. She also discussed her “murder score”–the level of danger she perceives in each of her plant-sourcing missions.
My first question was: How did a 50-something ex finance professional break the code to selling on TikTok? Unprompted, she says that she wants to be Martha Stewart of succulents. “But I’m willing do a small misdemeanor to help a good cause.”
Sonja is the founder and CEO of Partly Sunny Projects. This online business ships the California sunshine to all corners of the country. As a distraction from her stressful job, the idea grew out of her passion for TikTok and was fertilized by an increase in pandemic-borne hobbies.
Polarizing an audience is okay. People who like you will just love you more.
She wasn’t trying to be the favorite plant mom on the internet. It was organic. Although Sonja discovered the secret formula to harness TikTok for her business quite by accident, there is a way out. She says, “It’s okay if you polarize your audience.” “People who like you will just like you even more.”
Sonja was kind enough to share her thoughts on starting over, quitting your job and finding community during a global pandemic. She shared her secret sauce to winning TikTok advertising from her garage.
Sonja spent 16 years working as a mortgage specialist. The industry was changing and Sonja felt the stress. She says, “I found myself in a fetal posture crying and drinking vodka under my table.” She decided to distract herself by trying to improve her home’s landscaping with a $0 budget. To find free plants, she turned to local buy-and sell sites. She says that she would basically troll Craigslist looking for a snack like a hyena and end up in some sketchy situations (hello, murder-scale).
Sonja started blogging about her misadventures and gained a large following through Facebook. Soon others began to seek out her plant-sourcing expertise. She was positioned as a personal plant shopper and took requests via a WhatsApp group chat. Then she invoiced her customers. She says, “I didn’t see anyone else in this space.” “People were selling on Facebook and websites, but nobody was doing one-on-1 shopping trips.”
The question was, “Who is going to want plants during a pandemic?” And the answer was everyone.
Sonja quit her full-time job to sell plants and ran her business this way for nine months. Although the requests were flooding in, she couldn’t get the system to work. She hated invoicing with a passion. She says, “I’d rather pull my own nails.” In March 2020, she switched to managing a Shopify shop, right at the beginning of the pandemic.
Sonja launched her website at just the right time to attract a group interest in distractions and hobbies at home. She says, “I thought, “Who’s going be interested in buying plants during a panic?” “And the answer was everyone.”
TikTok was born. Sonja changed her way of sharing stories about plant moms and used the video platform for traffic. It was a natural match.
Partly Sunny now has more orders than Sonja is able to manage on her own. Sonja’s husband, an aeronautical engineer, helps her out when she can. Sonja also hires an employee to handle shipping, and recently hired her daughter to grow her social media channels. TikTok is the main reason Sonja has achieved her success. You wouldn’t think that Sonja’s one-woman show would be a brand account. However, it still drives the majority of her traffic and sales.
This is a no-bullshit Tiktok guide for business
Businesses are eager to make their social platforms more mainstream and relevant. While some brands fall short with too strong sales pitches, those who can find the sweet spot – the right content at the right time and the right tone – will win. It was possible to grow organically on platforms in the early days, even before algorithms made it more difficult.
Brands and influencers will find it difficult to crack TikTok’s code due to its mysterious algorithm. What is it that makes something viral? How can you get your content seen by more TikTok users Sonja, who began amassing thousands of followers each month by giving tell-it like it is plant advice out of her garage, clearly had a knack for finding the right solution.
How to win at leveraging TikTok for your small business in eight steps, according to Sonja:
1. 1.Be yourself
Sonja says, “I am a woman in her 50s and in menopause.” “I don’t have the energy or the will to make myself look like somebody else,” Sonja says. Her interview isn’t different from the one I had been following for weeks on TikTok. It’s like I know her already. It’s refreshing to take a break from the polish-free (see Step 5), and the relatable blunders of (see Step 4).
“I don’t wear a bra.” She asks, “Who the hell are you?” It’s a pandemic
2. 2. Make people laugh
You may have seen the meme in which social media platforms are mapped to characters from The Breakfast Club. In which the smart kid in the movie is Reddit, and the popular rich girl on Facebook. Each platform is unique and publishing content on all of them can be difficult. Talk about your brand on Twitter and Instagram. Be inspirational on Instagram and TikTok. Make it funny. Hire someone who is funny.
Two things bring people together, regardless of where they live on the planet: laughter or grief.
Sonja says that laughter and grief are the two things that bring people together no matter where they live. “If your mom is sick, you will know what it feels like. It doesn’t matter who you are.” And laughter can level the playing field. A viral video she made recently received a lot of comments in different languages. She says, “Laughter is universal.”
3. To build trust, add value
Partly Sunny’s TikTok may be funny, but it also provides value to its audience, the legions of new parents who are looking for straightforward advice. Sonja is available to answer community questions and publish everything, from mythbusting plant myths to composting tips. Although she isn’t technically an expert, Sonja reminds me that she is honest about her own mistakes.
Building trust is only possible with vulnerability. Sonja believes that only then can you convert this audience into customers. You can make yourself valuable on the platform by being a source for information. Then you can take a side step and say, “Oh, by the way. Go ahead and order my products.” Because people trust you already.
4. Relevant and relatable
Sonja recently posted that a simple trip to buy one plant led to a car filled with greenery. I called her “Brilliant” and explained that she used an understandable concept such as impulse shopping, while secretly sharing all the new plants on her website. In another video, she calls out the “plant addicts” who are in large numbers. There are no meetings. It is not an addiction. She tells me that it’s fine, after noticing the plant takeover in my rearview mirror.
Do your thing. There are people out there waiting for you to arrive.
Sonja believes that being relatable is easy if you are yourself. She says, “Just go do your thing, whatever it is.” “Your people are there, and they’re waiting to you to show up,” she says. She also points out that many high-profile creators have large production teams that produce polished content. “I’m doing this in my garage trying to make sure you don’t see the flaps in my arms.
TikTok Marketing 101
Our guide to TikTok Marketing provides a detailed look at how TikTok can be used for business, as well as advice on purchasing video-creation equipment, running TikTok ads and scheduling your content.
Sonja doesn’t interact with Instagram the same way as she does with TikTok. She says that Instagram is saturated with filters. She tried to hire a marketing company to help with her Instagram strategy, but the recommendations she received were not in line with her instincts to be raw and unfiltered. TikToK has shown that beautiful people with stunning photos don’t have any personality once they attempt to transition.
Overproducing in her business can be detrimental. She says, “When it comes to plants, filters are not something you want to use.” It’s not reality and people have unrealistic expectations about what their gardens should look.
6. Do not sell to people. Move them
Sonja was notified by a customer early in the pandemic. We are grateful for your TikTok videos. You have made a huge difference in my life, and I don’t want to pressure you. “I finally found something that helped me cope with my sadness and anxiety.”
People will buy from people they love. This is how it works.
Sonja may occasionally push people to her website, but she doesn’t have the obligation. People who follow Sonja, or who are moved by her content and have received help with their plant care journeys thanks to her advice, will remember her when it’s time to buy. Sonja says, “People buy from people that they like.” It works that way.
7. TikTok is an online community
Engagement and neighborly acts are key to success on any social network or online community. Brands who engage in a generic manner and talk at their audiences lose connection with the communities they are trying to reach. Social marketing should be viewed as a two-way process. Engage with commenters, answer questions, and build community around your topic or cause.
Sonja goes one step further and nurtures a network of fellow plant sellers and her peers. She says, “I believe that rising tides do lift all ships.” “I don’t feel that helping other sellers will take away my success.”
8. Double down on your platform by finding it
TikTok may not be right for you, just like Sonja isn’t connecting with other social media platforms. If you aren’t connecting with your audience on TikTok or you’re not natural on the camera, it’s possible to give up and abandon your efforts. Trial and error is the best way to learn from your marketing mistakes. You can test, test, and test again to find what works, then invest your time there.
Sonja says, “It’s OK to focus on the one thing that works for me right now.” While she didn’t make much progress with Instagram, Sonja hired her daughter to manage the account. Sonja is aware that she will need to delegate more as she scales up, but she doesn’t want to lose her role as the face of her brand.
Sonja handled 1,200 orders in one month during the peak of plant-shopping season. Sonja’s subscription box was launched to 35 customers. Her latest shipment saw her increase her subscriber base to 150.
She is open and honest about her limitations as her business grows. She says that living in Southern California is very gratifying. She says, “I can’t swing an dead cat out here, without hitting a greenhouse.” But she does hope to eventually move out of her garage and into a dedicated warehouse.
It’s almost like I have so many ideas that my brain is buzzing with them.
Space is not just about logistics. Sonja has grander goals. She says, “I want Snoop Dogg to and I to have an outdoor gardening show together.” “I’d name it Hoein’ with Snoop.” She says that it is not possible because she is a 50-year-old ex-finance professional, who has amassed over 350k TikTok fans by sharing her passion for plants from her garage. She says, “I have so many thoughts.” It’s like bees buzzing in my head.