How Florist and Event Planner Rachel Bowes Turned Being Laid Off into a Blossoming Business
on July 18, 201701:44 PM Updated July 18, 201701:44 PM - last edited September 07, 201706:19 PMSeptember 07, 201706:19 PM by KiranDivvela
When the 2008 recession left Rachel Bowes out of a job, she was in no hurry to jump straight back into the rat race. Instead, the creative entrepreneur invested her event management experience and flower arranging expertise into a way more exciting option: launching her own business.
Rachel chatted with us about taking a skill she learned on the fly to makeFinch & Thistlethrive, as well as how she deals with a surprisingly heavy amount of admin in the day-to-day running of her business.
I organized fundraisers for the Seattle Symphony for about three years, so my background is in nonprofit event planning. While I was working at the company, I started creating the bouquets we needed for our events because it was so hard to commission a florist and stay on budget.
I didn’t have any experience in floral arrangement at this point, so I just headed down to Pike Place Market and bought flowers for the smaller events. But as my skills improved, I began putting together the pieces for the larger events as well, including the opening night gala and the big summer and winter fundraisers.
People started asking me whether I did floral design for weddings, which snowballed into freelance work. Eventually, that turned into me starting my own business!
Who was your very first customer?
I think it was a colleague of mine. I took the day off work to do her wedding!
My style has definitely evolved over time, so the bouquets I designed for her were nothing like the ones I do now.
At what point did you *know* your business was going to work?
I knew my business was working when I started to make a return on my investment into the company, which was pretty early on as I had very little startup costs.
I set a goal and said that I would continue with the business if I could make a profit within a year. I didn't really have anything to lose when I started out. I lost my job right in the middle of the recession when everybody was getting laid off, especially from nonprofits.
I knew I wanted to try something different. I don’t enjoy working in an office environment, and a job in the event industry means you put in a lot of hours during the evenings and on weekends for not-so-great pay. Also, with events, the workload is very much feast or famine.
I realized that if I was working for myself I could focus on bringing in new commissions and invest time in other projects during the quieter lulls instead of doing nothing.
What has been the biggest surprise so far after starting your own business?
How much time I spend on running the business compared to the hours I clock up designing and creating décor!
I think 75% of my work is admin: developing and maintaining the website, promoting my company on social media, doing my taxes and my finances. I think a lot of people don’t realize how much boring stuff goes on behind the scenes. Business owners need to have vested interest in what they're doing so they have the energy to also take all that extra work on.
How do you price your services?
I charge by the hour for event design and planning. When I meet with a client, we discuss what they want and the scale of the party.
Then, I’ll come back with a proposal based on the number of hours I estimate it will take me to complete the work. For floral design, which I price separately, I charge per piece as I have to add sales tax to the fees.
What does a typical day look like for you?
My day is very different depending on whether I have an event that week or not!
If I don’t, I typically get up with my toddler at the crack of dawn. I’ll feed him and get things ready around the house before sending him off to daycare. Usually I’ll work out directly afterwards, otherwise I don’t get the chance. I’ll also check my email before dropping him off, just in case there’s something urgent to address right away. Then I’ll sit and work until I need to pick him up at 3:30pm.
If I have an event that weekend, I’ll be at the flower market on Wednesday at 6:30am. I always preorder everything, but even then I can't be sure I'll get what I ask for. Flowers are temperamental, so sometimes the weather or season can impact whether I'll get what I've requested. There are always issues to deal with! But generally, I’ll go pick up my flowers and bring them back by about 8:30am. I’ll unload and check everything, which takes about two hours, then I’ll leave them in water for the rest of the day and start designing the next.
If you could go back in time, what would you do differently when you were starting your business?
I feel like my business has really developed alongside my own personal growth. There is no better way to learn than figuring it all out as I go along.
I redid my branding a few years ago and am on my third website now, but both have grown with me asFinch & Thistlehas changed and my experience has increased.
What would you like to learn today from a community of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?
Are there any networks out there where other event planners find future clients and partners to collaborate with? Where can I go to find new customers, or have access to shared resources specific to being a self-employed florist and event planner?
Let's all help Rachel out!
Calling all you excellent event planners out there! What networks and resources did *you* find incredibly useful when you were building your business? How do you connect with others in your industry so that you can team up and find new clients?
Share your own stories with us in the comments below! :-)