How to become a floral designer
Looking back at the last 30+ years, it’s not surprising that I ended up with a business of my own that involves flowers - but I never intended to become a florist. Growing up I played “greenhouse” more than the stereotypical game of “house” played by my sister and friends. Hobbling together old screens, discarded flower pots and pulling sprouted castoffs from the compost I set up shop in a little corner of the yard and made myself at home. Starting in high school and continuing through college I worked for the City of Colorado Springs in their Parks and Recreation Department. Greenhouses donated by the city founders back in 1907 (and still in use today) provided space for nearly 200,000 annuals to start from seed before spreading a blanket of color and beauty over the city and throughout parks. My favorite part might have been collecting deadheaded bits to take home and enjoy or picking bouquets of flowers to gift to visitors at the greenhouse. A foreshadow of what was to come.
I pursued a degree in Horticulture with dreams of one day owning my own greenhouse and creating space for people to gather around flowers and coffee, good books and friendship. After college I moved to the greater Boston area and found myself working at Wilson Farms - a family owned farm and garden stand. Their giant greenhouse initially caught my eye, but I ended up working in their cut flower department. They had a large, market-style display with traditional cut flowers - roses, tulips, asters and mixed bouquets. While I wasn’t on the design team, I learned a lot about cut flowers and gained confidence in identifying and care.
Eventually, I moved onto other jobs, new locations and changing dreams but the thought of flowers stayed buried deep inside. Along the way, I discovered women doing amazing new things with flowers that didn’t include a traditional flower shop setting. I started following the ladies at Studio Choo who were breaking the mold of what I knew a florist to be. Erin from Floret Flowers was growing incredible blooms and making gorgeous bouquets captured in front of a glowing sunset. Their work and passion set a little fire in my heart, and I knew this was something I wanted to pursue, but where to start?
Like most of the other designers I know, it started with a request from a family member, then two more and then a friend who asked if I could do their wedding flowers. I used my knowledge from my time at the cut flower counter as a base and built a little portfolio to start. So where does one start when you want to become a florist?
If you don’t already have hands-on experience with flowers, I suggest you do one or maybe more of the following before proceeding.
Starting from scratch
Attend a workshop
These can be a pricey investment but will give you hands-on experience and a real glimpse into what it takes to make flowers work. Plus you’ll get to learn from a pro, use beautiful product and make some friends along the way.
Look for internships or freelance opportunities with established designers. Sweep floors, wash buckets, haul boxes and generally soak in what happens behind the scenes. I’d say at least 75% of being a florist is cleaning, book work and preparations for actually working with flowers. If you’re able and willing to jump in and do the dirty work you’ll learn a lot and hopefully get to play with some flowers along the way.
Get your hands on some flowers! Depending on where you live this is easier said than done, especially if it’s winter. In the beginning, I was picking handfuls of violets for little mini vases, flowers from the side of the road and a few bunches from Trader Joe’s whenever I could.
If you're confident you’re ready to go, let’s start here:
Setting up a business - the basics
Pick a name!
This can be daunting but also fun. Whirly Girl was a play on my last name and a perfect fit for my style. (It’s a good idea to do a little googling and make sure your idea isn’t already taken before going forward.)
Make it official
Get a resale license for your business. Contact your local Small Business Administration office for help and specific guidelines for your state. Once you have this in hand, you’ll have access to wholesale flower and supply warehouses and all the flowers your heart desires! Most require your resale certificate and some basic paperwork to get started.
Other things to consider and plan for the first year:
I operated for several years with a hobbled together logo I made in a word document. Not fantastic but it served the purpose. Eventually, I had a custom, hand-drawn logo created to fit my style and brand, crafted by a former bride and friend, Joanne Shih http://www.joanneshih.com/
Even getting a simple homepage together with your contact information and one beautiful photo is a great place to start. Over time you can blog flowers and events and share a portfolio. Registering your domain is generally inexpensive and worth saving even if you use a free website host like Wix or Wordpress. I use Squarespace and love it!
Start Facebook and Instagram accounts, share what you’re learning and show them beautiful things!
Consider professional liability insurance once you’re booking gigs to protect yourself. It’s generally inexpensive and worth it. Call your local insurance agent; they can connect you with the best options.
Sourcing flowers in the beginning can be the biggest challenge - especially if you don’t have an official business set up. To start, you merely need practice and picking a few bunches from your local grocery store or farmers market is a great place to find an affordable product to play with. I often supplement with a few things cut from my yard or local green space that I know is ok to forage. For my very first wedding, I called the flower department at a local Whole Foods. The manager there was happy to take my bulk order and brought in specialty items just for me.
Knowing what specific flowers to order, and how much, is a skill that requires time and effort. As you work and familiarize yourself with flowers, it will get easier. Websites like Sierra Flower Finder and the Mayesh Flower Library are great places to search flowers and colors when looking for something specific. For more information on Sierra Flower Finder, check out this Team Flower Blog.
For those with the luxury of a wholesaler or larger market close by - GO VISIT! Even if regularly going for orders isn’t always possible, taking the time to build relationships with your vendors and reps will be invaluable. Plus, hand picking each bunch is a treat.
Never stop learning. There are tons of free resources available here at Team Flower that you should take advantage of. And as time goes by, plan for purchasing classes or attending conferences (like the Team Flower Conference!) and workshops to help fill in gaps you may have. Anything from business basics (Business Foundations is a GREAT place to start) to designing centerpieces, choosing color and flowers, installations and corsages - there’s something out there to help you as you grow as a florist.
Over the years I built relationships with other florists and pitched in on events when needed. Not only have I made some great friends, but I have also learned valuable things along the way like how to efficiently pack vases for transport, build large installations and super easy bout wrapping.
Building your business
In the beginning, I needed a creative outlet and wanted to make some money along the way. I wasn’t dedicating lots of time to building a large business but consistently talked about my passion and shared flowers whenever possible. Each year I booked a few more events, did bigger weddings and pushed creative boundaries. For me, this was perfect and led naturally to where my small studio is now.
When I feel stuck, or nervous or afraid of the next leap, I remember something my mom told me years ago, “Myca, Do the next thing.”