Three years ago, everything changed in my business. At that point, I had been doing weddings as a one woman show out of my outdoor metal shed, with no coolers, no AC; I didn’t even have lights to work after dark. I was also hemorrhaging money and was barely breaking even on my events. I was trying, I really was. I had a website, I was working with venues, I had done a few styled shoots, and I even started an Instagram. I had taken the business intensive course and a wedding specialist course from a well-known floral design school. For heaven’s sake, I was teaching floral design as a high school agriculture teacher- you would think I could run a business. I was failing, my ideal client was going to my competition and I couldn’t get a foothold in the local market.
Then I found the discussion threads on TeamFlower. I stalked that page, and for the first time, I was learning from others. People were sharing their struggles, and after a few weeks of sitting in the shadows, I responded to a query about mechanics. Because I knew the answer, and I had finally found the courage and the vulnerability to share with peers.
Then I got an email from a photographer that I had worked with on a recent wedding, one where I had finally remembered to bring my business cards with me to an event, and had introduced myself to the photographer- something I had been trying to do but had never really done well. Another tip I learned about from the TeamFlower threads. But this time, it worked. And four months after the wedding, I had an email from the photographer inviting me to participate in a totally new event that she was involved in, something she was taking a chance on herself. It was an anti-bridal show, and there was a pretty steep investment on my end. Talk about needing courage! Both financial and intrinsic- who knew if the investment would pay off?
I suddenly found myself as a participating florist with ALL THE BIG NAME local designers in a curated bridal event. I was given a mood board and assigned an area of the venue for an installation, and I was terrified! This was so different from the relatively anonymous online world of discussion threads. I knew the local “competition” from insta-stalking and was truly in awe of their abilities. I had never spoken with them, didn’t know their personal names if they were different from their business name, and honestly didn’t even know what they looked like…but THEY were going to see my work, THEY were going to judge me, and THEY would know that I was as bad at this career as I felt. I went into the event as a means to an end, it would be like pulling off a bandage and the faster I stopped pretending to be a floral designer, the less painful it would be.
I arrived at the venue to set up, hours before the event. And THEY were all there- working, creating amazing, wonderful, awe inspiring installations. I knew that as soon as I started, THEY would be taking note of all my shortcoming to tell brides. But, something amazing happened; something I never expected- one of THEM came over and asked me about my mechanics, me! We talked, and she introduced me to the other designers, and she introduced me by my business name even though I hadn’t told her. She knew who I was and for the first time I realized what a small, close knit community I was a part of.
The event was a turning point for me, because I changed my paradigm regarding competition. I had found a real live community- I was no longer a lone wolf designer. What that event did, that is so different from traditional bridal fairs, is it put designers together in a community instead of in competition. When the mindset is one of community over competition, amazing things happen. I now not only refer to THEM by name, but I recommend them to potential brides when I am booked. And they refer me. And I work for them as a freelancer when they have the biggest events of their lives, and they work for me when I recognize that investing in them is also investing in myself. We share wholesale sources and knowledge of local flower farms- and they came to my rescue when my new-to-me coolers froze my entire wedding the day before. We work together and share ideas, we make fun of each other, and we band together to increase the strength of our voice. THEY aren’t my competition; they are what makes my career possible and my business better.
My business became stronger when I stopped competing. I now have coolers, and a climate-controlled studio with lights. I have a new website, and most importantly I have stopped comparing myself to the other florists in the area. Learning from them and with them has helped me gain a sense of confidence in my business- I now know where I fit in the community and market place. I am more confident in my pricing because I know the market value in my area. I have also had the opportunity to mentor new designers and welcome them into the community- something that holds a special place in my heart after I struggled for so many years too intimidated to ask for help. I wish I could say that I am only booking dream clients with ginormous budgets (spoiler alert, I’m not) but I also don’t feel like a lonely failure.
The floral design industry is facing a huge crisis as we shelter in place- who knows what will happen when we are considered essential again. But I have seen nothing but an outpouring of support from florists to florists, people are sharing and brainstorming like never before. I see what my industry peers are doing with curbside pickup and delivery, virtual pop-ups, amazing ideas! I share their ideas on my own platform because supporting them is supporting myself. I believe that we will come out of this with a stronger sense of community, and that foundation will strengthen our businesses like never before. I challenge you to find a local flower farm, grab your competition, and do something together with flowers. Lift the community up, we are stronger together.
For more information about the Instagram drool worthy anti-bridal event, head over to @themilkandhoneyevent