Paula, Mill Pond Flower Farm
Balance is a funny thing. When you have it you don’t notice, you can go through life with a feeling of stability and step out confidently. When you lose your balance you fall over more, you might go forwards quickly but not under control, or wobble about but not get where you want to go. You use a lot of effort and energy just staying upright.
Finding a balance in your business and life can save you time, effort and energy that can then be used to create, enjoy and relax.
This is one of the most important issues to get right, as your priorities will shape the development of your business.
It’s tempting to think that our work can do everything for us – provide money, a sense of purpose, friends, well-being and status. In general, people go to work to pay the bills, and if they enjoy what they do it’s a bonus. However, the purpose of work can become blurred when we run our own businesses.
We’re all quite clear about why we run our flower farming businesses:
Paula – I want to earn a living working where I live, to support myself and pay the bills. I gave up a job to do this, so it has to bring in an income.
Claire – I want to earn enough to cover costs of living in Surrey and pay my son’s school fees.
Carol - To combine what I enjoy doing, with being able to live in a place I couldn't otherwise afford.
What is the most important factor for you?
Think carefully about the priorities listed below and choose the most important to you.
You’ll want to say your answer is a mix of the responses, but you can only choose one!
Money – I want to make as much money from my business as I can
Satisfaction – I want to feel happy with what I do
Work life balance – I want to be able to do other things outside my flower farming (might include children, other work, hobbies, supporting other people)
Community – I want to help other people through my work
Environment – I want to be able to work in a way that helps the environment
Status – I want to have prestige and recognition
Choosing your markets to fit your life
Work and Life in Perfect Harmony
It’s tempting to think that working for yourself can be the route to the ideal life, where you choose when to work and what you do. And that may well be the case for you. However, most of us are driven to or pulled towards flower farming for a combination of reasons and being motivated by a passion for growing and what we do is often a primary factor. Just as a passion for growing is a personal feeling that has promoted the move into growing for a living, so the traffic can occur in both directions – growing for a living can make its way into the rest of our lives.
Choosing the right markets for our flowers is one of the decisions that can make it all work out.
The worksheet you completed as part of Lesson 1 activities might have highlighted other additional factors that restrict your ability to supply particular markets, such as space, time, expertise. While some of these might be overcome with time or training, others might be immovable for you. It’s very much a personal situation and you need to make decisions based on your own circumstances. It is a choice however, and making the choices that fit best with your life and business aims is the key to having a balanced business and a work/life balance.
I get a lot of requests from couples who want wedding and event floristry. I’m primarily a grower and enjoy that aspect of the work the most. However, wedding floristry can be very satisfying and brings in added value income to the flowers – basically I can charge more for each flower if it’s already arranged.
Throughout the flower season my week generally looks like this:
Monday – admin, taking orders, sending availability, invoicing, emails, planning
Tuesday – growing
Wednesday – cutting for wholesale orders
Thursday – delivery of orders, Yoga
Friday – catching up, clearing up, bit of growing, preparation for the next week
Saturday – growing, watering, life in general
Sunday – growing, watering, life in general, checking stocks for next week, deadheading
If I add wedding floristry to that timetable it takes up the later part of Thursday to cut the flowers, Friday to arrange them, Saturday for finishing off and delivery and Sunday for wedding take down and clearing up. This leaves me with precisely no time for ‘life in general’ and a great deal less for growing and plant care.
My choice is clear – weddings or life!! Although it’s a bit more complicated than that. I could take on staff to do the things I’m not doing, or the things I would rather not do. But my choice is not to take on staff as I don’t want to spend my time managing other people to do the things I actually want to do.
My solution is to take on only very local weddings with simple floristry – no clouds, crowns or hanging pieces – and not more than two a month.
It’s a personal solution that suits my life and my business, and it works for me.
Choosing your target market
Do you know how much money you need to bring in to your business each year? You’ll need to cover your costs and overheads before you can count the rest of your income as profit, or wages (if you’re self-employed).
[Claire does a very helpful, detailed course on Costs, Pricing and how to make a profit if you need more help with this –info here]
Each market has its own challenges, risks and opportunities. You can choose to focus on one, a few or cover a range. You can give each market equal footing in your business or spread your focus. Whatever you choose will require a targeted approach and a plan.
We all supply more than one market:
In order of biggest to smallest
Paula – wholesale to florists, retail loose flower buckets, wedding flowers, workshops, farmgate sales, bouquets for delivery
Claire – DIY wedding flowers, wholesale to florists, local flowers and workshops,
Carol – wholesale to florists, wedding flowers, local flowers and workshops,
Within each market there are a number of different customers whose orders make up the total income for that market. We might have only 10 florist customers, but they will spend a lot on a regular basis. A wedding flowers customer will hopefully only get married once but will also spend a significant amount. Workshop customers might return a few times and spend a moderate amount. Customers for bunches will not spend a lot but might buy from you 20-30 times a year.
Each market has its own risks and they will also be affected by your local environment and conditions. Any business has risks associated with it, the key is to be aware of them, plan to minimise their impact and have contingencies to ameliorate their impact.
Supplying a supermarket as your only customer, growing flowers for mixed bunches could be the ideal market for you. You’ll know how much you need to grow, you can plan which flowers to plant, have a good idea of the costs involved and profit to be made. Although admin is required, you’re only going to be dealing with one customer, so the time spent on customer management is limited. It can be a very attractive market for people who just want to concentrate on growing flowers, who want to know they have a market for their produce and a price agreed. So why don’t more small flower growers want to supply supermarkets?
I was approached by a large retail florist to supply them twice weekly with flowers for their shop. They wanted as many flowers as we could provide so long as they came in quantities of 20-30s, had minimum 60cm stem and would last at least a week. We supplied them for a month but then stopped,though they were keen to work with us. Why?
Claire supplied Jay Archer Floral Design for a few years and she was a very good customer. She ordered lots of flowers and provided a high profile for Claire’s flowers. Yet when she closed her business Claire wasn’t overly concerned. Why not?
It’s all to do with having customers that fit our approach to our businesses and managing risk.
If you only have one supermarket customer they hold all the power, if they want a lower price, different flowers, less or more, you’ll have to do what they say. If they don’t order, you don’t have a business.
The retail florist order didn’t work for us. As they approached us at the beginning of the summer, all our planting was done. What they wanted was British flowers but with the characteristics of imports. We had some flowers that fitted their brief but selling all those blooms to one customer meant that we didn’t comfortably have enough for our other customers. We had to turn away last-minute orders from our regular and valued wedding florists. Their business didn’t fit our business.
Jay Archer was a great customer for Claire as she spent lots of money and had a high profile on social media, but she needed particular flowers for her business, so sometimes that was high numbers of British flowers, and then for weeks at a time they weren't appropriate. Now Claire's working with florists who may take slightly smaller amounts, but do so regularly 3 times a month, meaning there is less feast and famine.
General business advice is to spread risk by ensuring that no single customer provides more than 10% of yearly income. The amount of risk you’re prepared to take is very personal and depends on your approach to your business and how much you have at stake.