The Ins and Outs of Floral Design Freelance
One of my favorite things to ask when I make a new flower friend is how they got started working with flowers. While their stories are as diverse as flowers themselves, I find there are recurring themes, one of which is freelancing.
Freelancing played an integral part in my own origin story. I grew up surrounded by flowers in my mother’s garden, often arranging them for parties my family would host. I even had a cutting garden as a teen and loved playing with flowers. Sometime during art school, I decided I wanted to become a florist and a couple of years after graduating I landed a job at a local mom and pop flower shop. I learned the ins and outs of working in a busy shop and became a super quick designer. However, I felt that something was lacking. I wanted to express my creativity more and spread my wings as an artist, so I left the shop to start my own company.
Starting from scratch is never easy, and I knew that I needed to gain experience, so I began freelancing while figuring out how to start a business. Now after years of running my own company, I still reserve a few weekends a year to freelance. There is so much I still have to learn from those ahead of me in the business and being on their teams is not only a great learning experience but also super fun.
Often, I am asked for advice on how to get started growing a floral business, and my first answer is always to freelance for other designers. The simple fact is that it takes a season or two when first starting your business to gain momentum, book clients and start getting referrals. Those early days present a wonderful opportunity to grow as a designer and business owner while providing much-needed help to established florists.
I have had the opportunity to freelance for an incredible lineup of designers and have learned so much while working for them. From tackling large-scale installations to troubleshooting to managing a large team to client relations, I have picked up invaluable knowledge along the way.
So how do you get started?
Make Contacts and Establish Your Community
My mantra early on was “Just Ask.” Many of the contacts I have made started as cold calls. Sure you might get ignored, but eventually, someone will say yes and give you a chance. Reach out to florists in your area and ask for designers you already know to refer you to others. In my experience, established designers are always looking for more great help. Like most jobs, freelance networks are based on relationships. Work hard to become a vibrant member of your floral community, not just for what you can gain, but also for what you can contribute. Be kind and considerate of others' time, maybe offer to work for free a time or two to prove yourself and get your foot in the door.
Be Indispensable and Advocate for Yourself
Arrive early, stay late, work hard and anticipate needs. Leave your ego at home, have a great attitude and be up for anything. Be your own advocate, be clear and upfront about your schedule needs, desired pay rate and what is expected of you. Pay rates can vary widely based on the market, your skill level and experience so do your homework and don’t be shy about negotiating a fair wage.
Keep Your Eyes Open and Ask Questions
Some of the biggest takeaways I have gained from freelancing is seeing how the designers I am working for respond to challenges. The garlands arrive a shedding mess, the wind is gusting through the outdoor venue and blowing over centerpieces, all of the dahlias die the morning of the wedding, (real-life examples by the way), but staying calm and working through these kinds of problems can be hard! Watch and learn how to overcome issues when they arise.
During calmer times in the studio don’t hesitate to ask questions about problems or issues you are facing in your business. Florists are some of the most generous people on the planet and getting advice is so helpful.
Ask for client referrals. Most designers will be thrilled to recommend you to potential clients. Just be sure to say thank you when they do!
A Few More Thoughts
Do your research on the companies you are working for. Learn their signature style and become a cheerleader and team player for the business.
Practice on your own. Like any skill, becoming a great designer takes work and practice. Invest in your own abilities by giving yourself time to practice outside of client work or freelance gigs.
Make use of networks such as Team Flower and local Facebook groups to make connections, build relationships and find work.
Stay humble. No matter how skilled and how many years of experience you have, we all have something to learn from each other, from our clients and flowers. Our only limit is our own inhibitions!