Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Work / Business / Life

I've been cogitating on business (and busyness) lately. Of course I want my business to work. Passionately. Because I really like what I do - and of course for all the usual reasons that one needs to work. But I am not and never will be a thrusting in-your-face businesswoman with lots of pushy marketing campaigns and networks and goodness knows what because that just isn't my way. Nor will I, I hope, take other people's ideas and pretend they are my own. And I hope I never pretend my business is anything other than it is.

When I started growing flowers to pick and arrange and package and sell I didn't really have much of an idea how it would all work out, but I was positive it would work, even if I didn't know exactly how. I have never been someone who plans with much precision, more a big picture optimist. And because I didn't know how it would all work out I didn't want to start with some great fanfare but wanted to give things some time to develop. In fact it has of course worked out fine, or better than fine, with some interesting diversions along the way and I hope there will always be interesting diversions.

I am notoriously admin-lite because I still (ridiculously) feel that time spent on businessy things in front of the computer is time wasted when I could be doing something outside, and because there are times when I am just so over busy there is no time to spend at the computer apart from dealing with the immediate necessities. So I don't send out efficient mail outs, I don't email all my customers from time to time although I know full well that I probably ought to, I'm hopeless at anything apart from utterly necessary follow up. It's not because I don't care about my customers. I do. I really really do. I want every customer to be a happy customer. And to that end I want to be out there doing or organising things to make sure every customer is a happy customer. And I want to be out and about getting ideas and inspiration rather than sitting in front of an email package or whatever. I think that is how things can stay fresh. I know the business might be a lot more efficient in terms of numbers etc etc if I spent more time at the keyboard, but I am totally sure it would lose out in terms of energy and originality, and care. And I did have someone helping me out with all office stuff last year but I felt guilty she had such a boring job, though I will have someone else here too, but only for a few hours a week if possible. I still won't do efficient email mass mail outs or newsletters and the like.......

Some years ago, when the business was still very young, Jigsaw clothing stores asked me if I would be interested in supplying flowers for all their shops. I thought about it, was pleased to have been asked as it was a new venture for them, but knew it was a bit of a tricky one as I was still finding my feet. However, I had discussions with them and got stuck in. But I didn't have enough of my own flowers to supply everything from my garden and fields all the time, so I bought in part of what I was sending out. I bought in British flowers of course, and made up interesting bunches BUT it didn't feel right, it just felt like business rather than the joy of the flowers. And I was naive and didn't realise that actually I could easily have bought in cheap and sent out expensive and didn't need to put a huge variety of blooms in each arrangement, and didn't need to stress about the look so much, I could just have gone to the professional growers and bought stuff in and kept it simple. But I didn't. And ultimately it didn't work for me because I wanted to give them the true nature of what I was doing, and felt I couldn't because of the volume and because I had to buy some flowers in to go with mine, and because of the hot lights in the shops which meant that certain flowers only were really up to lasting the distance and I'm more a fan of slightly more unusual more delicate things that will last at home for good while but couldn't withstand shop conditions in the same way , and it didn't work because I was a small business and couldn't wait up to 90+ days for payment from them, so I told them it wasn't working for me and we stopped working together. But I then did the weddings for several of the girls who worked in the Head Office or the shops, and supplied the Head Office with flowers for some special occasions, so it wasn't a failure, it just wasn't a way of working I wanted to develop. Though I have to admit it was a nice cheque even the way I did it, when it arrived. And I did love doing their Christmas arrangements. And I was terribly pleased to have had the chance.

Jigsaw didn't have flowers for a while then another company, much larger than me and incredibly business minded, got the contract to supply their flowers and I'm sure it's working very well. That company is very clever and has always traded on the impression that they grow everything themselves etc but they don't, they buy in but they buy in British so it's all good, just a different thing, and their flowers are put together by professional florists with a much better eye for cost than I could ever have!  Good luck to them, I would not want to be a company like them though they have mildly irritated me at times as they were always a bigger venture than me but seemed to keep a close eye on what I was doing and go in big on imitation - from packaging style to even selling exactly the same jugs after I had exhibited well at Hampton Court. Perhaps it's just competitive business practice. They are very bright - what a brilliant wheeze to harvest your corn for bird seed and package it and market it well for example, I can't imagine how much a tonne that must work out at compared to normal agricultural practices, very very smart.

There are increasing numbers of people out there doing the sort of thing I do. And that is A GOOD THING. But it's not all good when people just jump on a current bandwagon -  there are some brilliant growers and flower providers out there, and some less so - why oh why put pictures on your websites of wilting or dying arrangements? We should all try to give our customers the very best at the very least. Sometimes it goes wrong, inevitably, but at least start from the right point?

I do hope this business doesn't go down the same line that so many others do, where people are all in effect turning out the same thing to a greater or lesser degree. I do hope everyone can keep/inject originality into what they do. It's a little dispiriting to trawl through sites (I finally thought I'd better take off my blinkers and see what else is going on!) and find so many young businesses almost using exactly the same words and descriptions of their flowers. Copying is not actually very flattering. Though I have been quite amused to see edible bouquets appearing now, they always went down best for me at trendy markets and events quite a few years back, a lady who came on one of my courses a few years ago kickstarted her whole flower selling business with edible bouquets and they certainly are good fun. I have one bride this year who is going for the whole edible theme, it should be interesting! And it has been interesting having a quick look at what other folk are doing. What oh what is an artisan florist? Not a term I like, at all, it's just so meaningless and dare I say pretentious. I do understand the difficulty in what to call yourself, I am not a florist because I don't have any florist's training, I don't think like a florist, and rarely have clean hands and finger nails, but I do the same job that some florists do.  I am not a grower because I don't grow professionally like those who have been trained to do so, but I do grow flowers. So what do we call ourselves - or do we need to call ourselves anything at all? I think the time to define oneself by a job title is so long gone especially as so many of us chop and change through life. I hope we can all maintain our differences and manage to grow ever better and more interesting ranges and produce ever more inventive produce.

Gosh, I need to get off the page and into the gardens. I feel as though I'm veering towards a rant which was never the intention!

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