How to Become a Florist Full-Time
I recently left corporate employment to run my flower business full-time. It was a not an overnight decision but rather a steady two-year transition from doing flowers part-time alongside my “real” job. While I don’t have all the answers, I learned a lot along the way that I hope can be useful to those of you starting out with flowers or considering going full-time.
I’ve broken my journey into three phases with some key takeaways from each:
1. Start with an Authentic Vision
Before putting any services out there, I spent a long time reflecting on my “why,” i.e., why I wanted to build a flower business and more broadly, what my personal values and reasons for being in business were. Two principles stood out:
Principle 1: The importance of community. I love connecting people, and I desired to know the people I buy from and sell to in my community.
Principle 2: Sharing my South African heritage - I wanted to create a brand that was connected to my identity as a South African
- Everyone needs a vision. It will be different for all - it may be based on your current situation, history or personal passions - but it will be formative to creating your unique brand
- Your vision should act as your guiding light, helping you to make decisions about where and how to invest your time and money. It will also help differentiate you from your competition to your customers and connect them to your business’s purpose.
2. Testing & Validation
I find that having too many ideas or options creates inertia. I spent a long time trying to identify the perfect business plan until I realized it would be better to start with a bad idea rather than to not start at all. I qualified an idea if it met the following criteria:
It resonated with the principles I’d identified for my brand.
I could act on it immediately without it getting in the way of my full-time job
I could afford it financially
Because of Principle 1 (the importance of community) I knew I wanted to buy local flowers and target a very local audience in my neighborhood. I decided to set up a flower stand at a local Harlem Farmers Market selling local or “slow” flowers grown in the Hudson Valley. Unfortunately, there was zero foot traffic, the flowers died in the blazing heat, and the tent kept blowing away. Fail!
To make matters worse I now had a weekly harvest of flowers invading our tiny one-bedroom apartment and no customers. The dying flowers, however, were a great motivator. I hit the streets every evening after work with samples, offering floral services to local businesses. None took me up on the offer. Again, fail! Eventually, one of the restaurants asked if I could do the flowers for a “small” event in their basement, which turned out to be a full-fledged wedding!
That single event led to weekly orders for the restaurant and flowers for all their private dinner parties and banquets. I also secured a mini pop-up space in a local coffee shop that I decorated according to my brand and began supplying with weekly bunches. Here I learned that the average customer wouldn’t spend $15 for a bunch of fresh flowers, but it did create brand awareness that led to referrals for corporate event work.
Through these mini-trials, I was continuously evaluating to see what was working and what wasn’t according to the vision I’d defined. As a result, I stopped the weekly restaurant delivery, switched from fresh bunches to a plant display in the pop-up cafe and re-focused on weddings - the only action thus far that had proven sufficiently profitable. For my sanity, I only took on as many events as I felt I could cope with without affecting performance at my “real” job.
In this start-up phase, I joined the Team Flower Community and was so grateful to be able to ask questions on the forum like “How do you keep weeklies fresh?” The forum community gave me great tips on how to approach challenges and helped me feel less isolated on my floral mission.
As I started to envision a future in flowers I wanted to meet face-to-face with people who were successfully doing this job full-time. Could they pay their bills? Did they still love the work once it was no longer a hobby? I needed validation that it could be done so I sought out a gathering of flower professionals who I thought shared similar values around community as well as working with slow flowers. The Whidbey Island Flower Workshop provided creative inspiration and reassuring examples of women making it work.
Whidbey was also a great test bed to discuss ideas I’d had for the broader community. One of my dreams was to share my native country of South Africa with other flower lovers. I tentatively expressed the idea of creating a floral “expedition” to my homeland and was encouraged when some of the workshop participants showed excitement at the concept. In addition to weddings this has now become a focus for 2018 and fits with my Principle 2: Sharing my South African heritage. The first Cape Lily Botanical Journey to South Africa will include a three-day design workshop led by Susan McLeary of Passionflower who I met at the Whidbey Island Workshop!
I wholeheartedly believe that if it weren't for these pivotal in-person interactions, I wouldn’t be on the path I’m on today. I left the workshop feeling inspired and empowered and full of affirmation that full-time flowers was right for me.
- If you’re thinking about getting started with flowers or a new service offering, decide on your criteria and dive in rather than waiting for the perfect idea or perfect time
- Once you’ve started, take the time to run small experiments and use the results to determine your next step. Stop the things that aren’t working and test new ones. Repeat until you discover success.
- Connect with people who will inspire and guide you! You never know where it might lead.
3. Commit to Full-Time
Once I had been through a few experimentation cycles, I started to feel as though I was gaining momentum and growing closer to committing to full-time floral design. But, there were some things I needed to sort through financially and emotionally first.
A financial target and plan: I wanted to be sure I had enough savings to support myself as I transitioned to full-time (I set this to eight months of my current salary) and that I had enough information to create a realistic financial projection for my first full-time year in business. I’d been saving with a purpose for some time, but even when I’d met my savings goal, the thought of saying goodbye to the benefits of full-time employment was daunting. At this point, I spent time reflecting on how much I valued a steady salary versus the lifestyle I was trying to achieve through working for myself.
Listen to yourself: As I inched closer to that full-time commitment, I realized that nobody was going to tell me when or how to quit my job or give me the approval to do so. Only I could make that decision, and there was a battle raging within me! While I felt sure that full-time flowering was for me, my inner voice told me that quitting my job was the easy route. Wouldn’t it be more responsible to continue working as a part-time employee? Or wait until the next bonus round? Or even wait until I was ready for maternity leave? I spent a lot of quiet time listening to my inner voice to decipher what was really going on. I found years of conditioning, expectation, and identity to sift through until I heard it loud and clear: Quitting my full-time job was not the easy way out… it would be the hardest decision of my life, but it was the right decision for me.
- Set some clear financial savings criteria and an initial financial business projection for yourself. If you’ve done that and something else is holding you back from going full-time, try to assess what’s going on emotionally
- Nobody can make the ultimate decision for you: not your partner, spouse, siblings or best friends. When you strip out all the self-judgment and opinions, all that should be left is your inner voice calling out for the thing it wants. It might be that you need to work with flowers full-time, or it could be that flowers remain passionate hobby which fuels your going to your “real” job every day. The "right" decision is whatever is best for you!
The path leading up to going full-time with flowers was a physically and mentally grueling one, but it was without a doubt the best decision I’ve ever made! No matter where this journey leads, I am liberated, inspired and motivated by all the unknowns and future potential. I know I am on the right path for me.