I'm always delighted to receive emails from budding florists - those just setting out or those merely dipping a toe in a pool of possibilities of becoming one. I always reply. Always. After another three of these emails dropped into my inbox whilst sunning myself on holiday, I thought I would take this time to share my thoughts to those interested parties. You have been warned, I am no textbook florist (whatever that maybe), more of a maverick flower lady!
I am not a qualified florist, I've never been one for wearing qualifications and certificates like badges, nor do I pursue accolades or awards, it's just not my style. I've one City and Guilds floristry qualification, THE most basic one. I do have qualifications mind, I have a first class BSc. in midwifery from Kings College, London so you could argue I am reasonably qualified but only to deliver a baby rather than a bouquet!
My life as a florist began with an introduction by a friend to her aunt, Louise worked from home, something I was also keen to do with my young family; during her early years she too had raised her family alongside running her successful floristry business. It turned out Louise was a very successful event florist, before the days of social media and websites, one where word of mouth got you work based on your talent, pure and simple. A world away from my life as a community midwife, a world I would soon fall head over heels in love with.
My first job began very early one morning at a smart country club. Louise handed me a pair of yellow handled scissors and began to show me how to arrange the most enormous arrangement. "You know I've never arranged flowers before"I said anxiously, she replied, "well, my dear, you have to start somewhere"! That first day after nervously arranging my first 'whopper' as Lou liked to call them, we drove back to her home where she proceeded to demonstrate with alarming dexterity and speed, how to wire buttonholes and make a spectacular shower bouquet. I was hooked, drawn instantly into a love affair with flowers and floristry that I have never recovered from. That was in 2001, the rest, as they say, is history.
My first bit of advice is: Experience is everything.
I worked for Lou in several capacities as her driver (she couldn't drive due to a medical condition), her bucket carrier, I've lugged buckets around the swankiest of places (no bingo wings for me) but largely as her apprentice or 'trainee' as she always called me (she still does) for two or three years on and off. I absorbed everything she did like a sponge, absolutely everything. From the drawing up flower lists prior to market days, dealing with near disasters when flowers die in either extreme heat or cold or just wilt for no goddamn reason (!) to packing a van full of arrangements ready to deliver - a skill I might add, I can only align as a midwife with the delivery of a breach presentation! I owe her so much and still work for her occasionally to this day. She told me once that florists never stop working, they merely slow down and invariably die with a pair of snips in their hand!
Experience equates to practice and practice let me tell you is crucial. Find yourself a florist to work for but if you don't have a mentor like Lou, enrol on a course to learn the basics. To be frank my C & G course was insignificant compared to the things I learnt on the job with Lou. On a final assessment I almost failed over a corsage, why? Because I was being timed and there were specific rules I'd apparently overlooked, I considered it to be a reasonable corsage but those 'rules' I maintain to this day, make an ass of the true art of flower arranging - the emphasis being on the word art.
To me floristry is and art form, not a science and whilst learning some skills is necessary I think the creativity comes from within. We all have some but it's a matter of harnessing it. Be sure to learn your craft from those who inspire you, from those who know what they are doing and are most likely to be respected for these skills. Never in 13 years have I been asked to provide anyone with a certificate, so take your time and take every opportunity to either practise at home or work with other florists. I equate my 'certificates' to my portfolio, my website and satisfied clients' recommendations.
Learning the basics is definitely really useful and crucial if you are to get any freelance work to hone your skills further. Knowing how to make a hand tie or wire a buttonhole, do a simple floral foam arrangement, beyond this I see little value in certificated courses. (Sorry, but I just don't). If anyone works for me ( admittedly only rarely) or when I have freelanced for others, basic skills and a willingness to learn are all that's required, beyond that you will be shown what it is you are to do and if it's not right you will be told!
Which Courses? I'd suggest those run by florists who share not only their skills but their passion, be it wiring, creating large arrangements, wedding flowers or how to create funeral tributes. These may not result in pieces of paper to give you letters after your name, but if you can leave with the skills to design and make something beautiful and importantly desirable off your own back, that is all you need. There are lots of flower schools that offer just such courses, run by really good florists and I would suggest choosing ones who actually are jobbing florists in their own right. I've never been on any so I cannot recommend, but I see lots advertised on all the social media sites.
Read carefully as I reckon after you have mastered the basics set out above this bit is essential to your success!
Three key points to success as an independent / freelance florist:
Inspiration + Style + Personality = Your Brand
How does one come by inspiration?
To be honest I don't recall having it in spades at the beginning of my floristry career, very little in fact! What I did have was an eye for what I liked; I saw inspiration abundantly in absolutely everything - all around me and most importantly, not just in flowers.
Style is innate, for me I cannot help but put 'me' into my flowers, style is as personal as ones own handwriting - totally unique and crucially, sets each florist apart from their contemporaries. Inextricably linked to style is personality and I think this is something over the years I have come to learn makes the difference between getting work and simply being admired (and missing out on that peachy job). Look beyond glossy websites (someone else has probably designed these), and see what the florist has actually done, do they display inspirational flowers? If the answer is yes, they have talent. I'm no fan of hype and gloss, a good florists will show you what they've done visually not with words or arty angles.
Personality. By this I mean putting 'you' in your brand. For The White Horse Flower Company this is through my blog, my website, such as my photo galleries and through social media posts.
Feedback from clients has taught me that it is me (quite literally) that ultimately made a client choose The White Horse Flower Company, not as you might think exclusively my flower arranging skills! Clients like to work with me as much as they admire my work. This is mainly because of the fact I work as a wedding florist. I should stress it may be quite different as a retail florist.
Confidence. Time and experience has afforded me confidence. Confidence in my own ability to create flowers that firstly, I love and secondly that clients want me to create and love.
Get yourself noticed, offer your services if necessary, at cost to begin with, practise, practise and more practise maketh a florist - get your business name out there show your audience what you're capable of.
A very important learning curve for me was to learn how to put myself across whilst not appearing arrogant or cock-sure (arrogance is something I personally loathe). By being positive, up beat, amusing and interesting you will engage others. Do this through using social media.
Look at the big hitters on social media sites, they don't always post a pretty bouquet, they are putting across a story, a personality and often inviting us to be part of it.
A huge fan of Instagram, Face Book, Pinterest, I use these as a way of getting my brand seen by as wide an audience as possible. Most importantly, for a small independent like me - it's free (Hooray)!
Through social media I am able to "meet" like minded florists and floral artists and appreciate their incredible talent - trust me there is an entire world open to view and I am genuinely humbled on a daily basis by what I see.
Don't necessarily follow just the big names with thousands of followers, there are a lots of lesser knowns who are equal if not better in my opinion. Incidentally there is a lot of love and support to be found amongst the melee of florists using social media and I have met some wonderful people who I now count as friends through this powerful medium.
Blogs are another way of learning, appreciating and following trends, with so many to choose from I'm not even going to begin to suggest any (says she writing her own blog)! Other than one name which spreads the floral word like no other: Flowerona! Rona Wheelan has forged an enviable reputation as the 'go to' social media flower guru. Bless her floweriness! She does wonders for spreading the word of flowers. She appears to have access to all areas and has opened the gates to a universe of communication, interaction and inspiration in floristry. This lady is top of the list of blogs and websites to view.
Lastly, it's important to point out that floristry is influenced by lots of factors not least trends, fashions as well as cultural influences; it is a career of lifelong learning. Every day I learn something new. Every day I am open to the possibility of a new ideas, alternative methods, new styles, new combinations of flowers and colours. Like so many occupations, floristry evolves and changes and I happily move along with it. Today's newbies will be tomorrow's trendsetters and they can teach me a thing or two right here and now, thirsty as I am to know what's in and what's out.
Ultimately you are the creator of your own destiny, It's not rocket science or medicine or midwifery, just flowers. So let's see what you can do.
I hope this blog has been entertaining, interesting and in some small way helpful. So if you are up for it, hungry for it and not afraid of sheer hard graft, good luck get out there and inspire me and spread the floral love!
A happy and humble florist owner of
The White Horse Flower Company