Have you ever wondered how it would be to work as a florist? In this article series, we give you a peak in the life of a florist. This week’s article features Scottish florist Emma McDonald who is currently balancing her life as a wife, mum of two and award-winning floral designer. Read on for the full story.
Written by Emma McDonald – Stems
How it all started
I am 27, wife and mum to two crazy children. I fell into floristry aged 15. I didn’t do so well at school, the system and I didn’t work. So I left without a single exam grade to my name and went into full-time employment. One subject I did enjoy was art so I guess you could say I’ve always been creative. I started from the bottom (literally… in the basement!) cleaning buckets, scrubbing weekly contract vases, conditioning flowers etc. And gradually I was taught how to make hand-tied bouquets, basket arrangements and so on. It was a lovely place to work, I really enjoyed my time at the flower shop.
In between working at the flower shop and starting my own business I dabbled in hairdressing and beauty alongside additional shifts in the hospitality industry. This was before we (my now husband Chris and I) decided to head off and travel around Europe in a transit van. After the death of my younger brother in 2009 my mum decided to follow her dream and bought a Quinta (farm in Portuguese) in the mountains of central Portugal. We decided to move out there too to help her with the land and work on her buildings. After 10 months in Portugal Chris and I found out we were expecting. It was then that we made the decision to come back home to have our daughter Shyla.
When Shyla reached 9 months and I was due to go back to work I realised I couldn’t put her into childcare while I worked the tedious 9-5. I decided then to get back into floristry, if I could make it work and earn enough to make sure the bills were paid while caring for her then I’d be happy.
I started Stems in 2012 age 21 and with just £200 in the bank I had nothing to lose but everything to gain. I would design and photograph my work and share the arrangements on my Facebook page in the hope they would sell. Every penny I made I put back into the business. Bit by bit I built up a good customer base and my confidence in myself grew with it. With the help of the Princes Trust, I gained a grant towards my first little workshop. Which I had to extend a year later as the business grew.
Our son Cody was born in 2015 and at 3 days old he started work with me (I had weddings booked!). Since then he has become affectionately known as Shop Boy. In May 2016 I took the jump and opened a shop in the small Borders town of Innerleithen as I realised there was a gap in the market. I’ve been here ever since and have one member of staff, my wee Rach.
Web design & online presence
My mum taught me web design so I was able to design my website to look exactly how I would like it to. This keeps the pernickety side of me happy and gives me the freedom to blog post and update it as often as I please. I asked a photographer friend to teach me how to work my DSLR camera properly and invested in some new lenses so that I was able to take crisp, clear photos of our work. This is massively important to me as our Facebook, Instagram and website are our online shop window so I feel they must show our work flawlessly. I try to make time every other day to take photos of designs before they head out of the door.
I’ve gradually built our online presence up to just under 10,000 Facebook followers and 1700 or so Instagram followers. I also have Twitter and Pinterest although I am not as active on those. Because we’re fairly rural Facebook is an easy way to show our customers what’s in the shop each week and interact with them. We try to do the odd Lonely Bouquet too to create a wee buzz.
The shop is now 2 and a half years old, and business is good. I have Rachel who does around 20 – 25 hours a week for me. Which is a great help and means I can get away early to collect Shyla & Cody from school & nursery and do the mum/wife duties. Cody continues to come to work with me, in between his time at nursery and Granny’s.
The Good Florist Guide
I am delighted to be listed by The Good Florist Guide, a web-based directory of the UK’s finest florists and I have won a few awards along the way for my wedding work, customer service and enterprise. The latter saw me heading down to a red carpet event in London where I met HRH Prince Charles himself and Ant & Dec! It was an experience I’ll never forget!
I have done around 300 weddings to date, I’d say I try to cap it at 50 a year although this year I had to close our diary in April as we reached our limit! 2019 is around 80% booked, and we are taking bookings for 2020 also. Although weddings are and always have been the bread and butter of the business I’m seeing a steady rise in orders for funeral flowers and I really enjoy creating these, it’s always a huge honour. E-commerce was a great move too, the website brings in additional income and does amazingly well during peak seasons.
I am delighted to be a grower ambassador for Meijer Roses and also a regional ambassador for Florismart in Scotland. Florismart has not only changed the way I buy my flowers (saving me pennies in the process) but has made me feel part of something much bigger. I’ve made some friends for life, have joined florists in focus groups and met the growers.
If I could go back years and give myself business advice it would be to spend time designing your logo and stick with it. I redesigned my logo 3 times before settling on it and I worried it confused customers. Now all of my business cards, gift vouchers, website, shop aprons etc. are all consistent in design and this makes me happy!
I’m not sure I can think of any bad business decisions, not because I’m perfect (far from it) but because any bumps I’ve come across I’ve got over and learned from and without those, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
To anyone starting out my advice would be to learn the trade, it’s not all ‘playing with flowers.’ There is a huge amount of skill and technique involved in everything we do. Take time to attend college if you can, if you can learn on the job even better. I attend advanced courses to this day to brush up on my skills and keep up with current trends. Make sure you have a clear business plan in place. If you are under the age of 30 The Princes Trust may be of help to you and there is also Business Gateway who run free courses on everything from bookkeeping to marketing.
Recently I’ve been working on my work/life balance. Trying to juggle the day to day running of the shop along with the huge amount of paperwork behind the scenes whilst looking after a 3 year old and 7 year old, as well as trying to keep on top of wife duties can be incredibly overwhelming at times. I have got back into mountain biking as I find flying down the trails takes my mind away from everything else and the times spent on my bike is probably the only time I can completely switch off and enjoy the here and now while having lots of fun.
Have a look at Emma McDonald’s designs in our Florist Finder. Go check it out!