How to Become a Professional Floral Designer

All over the world, flowers have long symbolized human emotions–love, despair, passion, and even honor. Flowers are given on almost every holiday, and many large scale events like weddings are practically planned around them. For this reason, arranging flowers is truly an art form unto itself. Floral arrangements are not necessarily the first things that come to mind when considering an art form. However, working with flowers and plants is an extremely challenging craft that requires patience, tenacity, and a keen artistic eye. It can also be polarizing–everyone has different views and opinions on what a floral arrangement should be, the colors it should use, or the flowers it should have. However, becoming a floral designer allows an artist to connect with nature, create beautiful art, and to be commercially valuable to clients in their area. Floral designers can specialize in weddings or events or open their own stores for everyday type flowers. The options are endless, and the demand for a talented and unique eye for floral visions is high in many cities across the country.

Sound like the job for you? Check out this infographic to find out a little more about the industry.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

Sophie Lau

Petals by Sophie – Owner

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Sophie Lau spends many of her days in the dirt. Making art isn’t necessarily a clean activity for her. Instead of photographs or drawings, Lau prefers her art to come directly from nature. As a floral designer and owner of Petals by Sophie, she is able to express herself, flex her creativity, and please her clients all at the same time.Floral design began as a hobby for Lau and has now grown into a successful career. After she was let go from her job at an insurance company, Lau decided to attend a local community college in San Francisco. A friend of hers had taken a floral design class and had recommended that Lau give it a try. The class turned out to be transformative as Lau discovered she held a passion and talent for working with flowers.

It was exciting. It was a great visual expression–like painting or clay, but with fresh flowers. It was a new medium. It incorporated colors, texture, composition–all of these important principles as you would drawing, painting, or photography. It was a live art. I fell in love with it.

Like many floral designers, Lau apprenticed under several well-known floral designers. She worked tirelessly to learn the ins and outs of the business. Although she had studied and was interested in art during her undergraduate and high school studies, Lau never imagined that floral design could turn into a viable living. Her internship experiences proved her wrong. In addition, while classes at the local community college had prepared her technically, it was her internship that sparked her interest in starting a career as a floral designer.

You want to learn as much as you can as you shadow under designers. I would go into their study or work area. I would work from their home. I would clean and prep on Wednesdays, design on Thursdays and Fridays, and then help with the events on Saturdays.

Two years later, Lau operates her Petals by Sophie as a side business. In the beginning,  business blossomed slowly. Today, many of her clients still find her directly from her online presence, but more importantly– she is getting word of mouth recommendations.

Word of mouth really helped, especially through social media. I was surprised when a friend I haven’t heard from in years passed me along to her friends. She spread the word about me without me even asking because she saw my work through my Facebook feed or page.

Lau also has taken to the street to build her brand. For example, Lau’s pop-up shop experiment last Valentine’s Day was a great success for her floral design business. Lau went to several local cafes and asked the business owners if she could set up shop in their spaces after hours. Lau then used the space to sell her flower arrangements on one of the flower industry’s busiest days of the year.

Advice

Learn the ins and outs of business
Becoming a floral designer and starting her own business wasn’t an easy feat. Lau has had to learn the ins and outs of the business on her own. She notes that floral arranging has a high overhead cost to owners which is why many work from their homes or garages like she does. Pricing flowers can be tricky and requires great accounting skills.

You need to be a great communicator
Floral designers need be great communicators. Often, clients will contact Lau months before their big events. She notes that many clients shop around, making quick turnaround times vital to getting business. She then works with the clients on their visions and budgets. While 6-9 months seems like a long time to plan and design, Sophie notes that time passes rather quickly while she does the behind the scenes work.

Be creative and savvy
For those interested in becoming a floral designer, Lau recommends that you learn the ropes of both the business and technical side. Not only is being a professional at all times is essential, but also having a good sense of how to communicate and work with others is big whether you plan on owning your own business or working with a larger floral design group. Creativity and artistic sensibility is a major part of it, but floral design requires you to also be savvy.

Just go for it
Most importantly, Lau recommends that interested designers just go for it! “There is a lot of fear… of the unknown,” she concedes, “but if you don’t try it, you just dont know. There will be a lot of challenges that will pop up, but fail or not, it’s a learning experience.”

The work is, of course, quite grueling; Lau often keeps long hours and has to travel long distances for setup and teardown. But, she says, the only thing that matters is “the end of the night, when you see how delighted the guests and bride and grooms are.” That payoff, she says, makes everything worthwhile. “It’s the joy that you give them when I know that I have done a great job–that they trusted me to deliver the product and vision they had envisioned.”

Jackie Dumouchel-Combs

Lotus & Lily Floral and Event Design

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  • Jackie Dumouchel-Combs
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • 20
  • Lotus & Lily Floral and Event Design
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My day starts early with answering emails and text messages from newly engaged brides, clients, event coordinators and other event industry vendors; scheduling design consultations and meetings; endless proposal writing; sourcing and shopping for upcoming events; and “mock-up” meetings. Wednesday is usually reserved for our weekly visit to the Los Angeles Flower Market where we shop for and purchase all of our floral and decor items for the weekend’s events. We also offer fresh flowers on a “walk-in” basis, so my assistants spend a great deal of time keeping the shop clean and keeping the window displays current.

I adore the endless beauty of flowers. I never get tired of being around flowers. My visits to the flower market can be compared to a “kid in the candy store”! I want everything, and my assistants have to keep me focused on the weekly shopping list only! If I see something that is just so beautiful and exquisite, I have to have it. Whether that is a gorgeous vase or a jaw dropping box full of orchids.

I dislike all of the paperwork and administrative type of duties. I would much rather be visiting sites for my upcoming events, sourcing fabulous items for my clients or my shop, or sending my friends and colleagues that surprise “just because” arrangement.

Advice

Visualize your goals
I wish I would have known earlier on in my career that my potential is unlimited. I wish I would have had more focus and more of a solid business plan. Now I know how important visualization is. When I set a goal now, I visualize that goal, find the best way to achieve it and then pursue it until I succeed.

Find someone to learn from
Find an amazing designer to apprentice for. Watch how they put things together and what their method is. Construction of anything you make is as important as the way it looks. It’s the smallest details that will set you apart.

Learn to draw and sketch
Drawing and sketching is an extremely valuable tool for a professional floral designer. I would recommend learning how to do that, but if you intend on starting your own company, business and marketing is very important.

Sarah Prgomelja

Floral and Twine – Owner

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  • Sarah Prgomelja
  • Sydney, Australia
  • Less than 1 year
  • Floral and Twine
  • @floralandtwine
I have a Certificate III in Floristry at our local government education provider (TAFE) but only recently acquired it after a change in career and lifestyle. I have a background with 5+ years in retail management and decided I needed a change from a career with limited growth. I entered this industry with no experience or knowledge in flowers, but my course has given me all the basic understanding and confidence to start pushing the limits of floral design. I have never run a business before, but my partner (Jamie) has, and you definitely need someone to help push you and mentor you along the way.

I wake up early, around 4am, to get to the local flower markets to buy my stock for the day, I mostly work on an order basis, so I only need to grab the stock for the next few orders I have lined up. The flower market is very busy, and I have built up a good rapport with the suppliers, which is something I highly recommend any floral designer to do.

After the flower markets I generally get all my stock into water as soon as possible to ensure they last. My studio is set up without a cooler so this is important to get the longest life out of the flowers for my clients. I generally spend the morning designing and creating arrangements for my clients for delivery in the afternoon.

After my arrangements are finished and some business management is complete, I pack up my car and head off for the day dropping the flowers off to my clients. I love being the one who delivers the flowers, as their expressions make it so rewarding.

I love flowers. The smell of flowers in the morning sets you up for an amazing day; without these in my life I feel empty. When I make deliveries and see the reactions from my clients when they receive flowers it makes it very rewarding. The mornings are hard at first, and the crowds at the markets can be daunting, but you soon get very used to it. I would say the dislikes are very few, finding creativity on a day-in day-out basis can be difficult so you will need sources of creative inspiration.

Advice

Don’t let your creativity be stunted
If you are thinking or about to start a floral design course, you may find the curriculum restrictive. Don’t let this affect your creativity. You will be taught the basics, but don’t be afraid to push the limits of floral design when you finish.

Practice whenever you get the chance
Practicing on weekends and performing small floral arrangements for friends and family is the best way to get experience and your confidence up. Make the extra trips to the markets to go a bit crazy on the weekend with weird and wonderful designs.

Find your niche
Trying to stand out in a kitchen of floral designers can be difficult when we all use the same ingredients. Find a style you’re good at or explore a new style, and push to become the best at it.

Market your skills
Market yourself on social media. Establish a website and any way you can get your name out there. You will be pleasantly surprised at how many people will want to get behind you and pick up an arrangement of flowers to brighten their day. Ask your friends who need flowers for events, special occasions, presents and small things you can create from home. This is the best way to get your experience up and learn new techniques.

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Become a Floral Designer?


There are many education options to choose from if you are thinking of becoming a floral designer. The cheapest one is becoming an apprentice to someone who is already great at it. You will get hands-on learning and pick up all the industry tricks. Plus, this will help you figure out whether you love floral design or not.

The second cheapest option, and maybe a great combination with an apprenticeship, is a floral design course through a school or as continued education. This will give you the basics and prepare you to look for an apprenticeship position. It is an especially great opportunity for those who are looking at floristry as a second career, since it will take a lot less time.

Having said this, you do not have to exclude a college education from your options. You can get an associate degree or even go for a full bachelor’s; all you need to do is choose the right program. This could be floristry, horticulture, botany or even fine art. All of these will prepare you for the job.

Don’t forget, however, that if you plan to go into business for yourself, then you should check out some business and/or entrepreneurship courses, or if you are getting a college degree, take a business minor.

WHAT IF I WANT AN EDUCATION IN FLORAL DESIGN?

Today, many community and junior colleges offer coursework and full programs in floral designing. The classes are taught by professional in the field that will give you valuable feedback as well as teach you to work with flowers and tools. If you enroll in a full, Associate Degree program, you most likely will go through the process of a full fine arts education from taking coursework in a variety of subject areas that are relevant to your career as a designer.

An alternative to attending a community or junior college is to take coursework online or through short-term career focused programs. These programs will most likely include a formal, lecture style class with informative and instructional videos that will walk you through the basic technical aspects of the job. You will probably focus less on the business preparation or science and directly study the technical requirements.

If a short term education is what you are looking for, a floral design certificate program may be up your alley. Both online and in person courses offer this. Holding a certificate in the field can boost your credentials, help you land a job, or attract clients looking for the best trained.

A collegiate degree in art and/or design may also benefit your career if you are looking to have a traditional, four year program in your background. By enrolling in a program that will allow you to work and craft a variety of different arts, you can expand your knowledge and expertise far more than those who take a focused approach. A bachelor’s degree can also prepare you to study business foundations and the basics of science.

Here are some options for Floral Design programs:

  • Rittners School of Floral Design
    A Boston-based school, Rittners offers a 12-week evening course for those looking to learn floral design. Additionally, they also have business and entrepreneurial bootcamps and themed workshops, such as bridal flower design.
  • Phil Rulloda’s Southern California School of Floral Design
    Located in Anaheim, California, Phil Rulloda’s offers basic floral design courses that last 10 days, or options for the more advanced designers, such as bridal courses, advanced floral design, and workshops on hand-tied bouquets, bridal design, and others. Tuition for the 10-day basic course is $1,495 plus books and materials.
  • City College of San Francisco
    If you prefer to get an Associate Degree, then the City College of San Francisco is a great option, offering a two-year program leading to a degree in either Floristry or Environmental Horticulture. Annual tuition here is $11,901 for in-state and $24,490 for out-of-state.
  • Floral Design Institute
    With a more intensive approach, the Floral Design Institute in Portland, Oregon, offers a 15-day, 120 hour course on basic flower design to its students. Similarly to the other schools, FDI also has advanced flower design courses, bridal design, online training, and very importantly business courses. Tuition for the basic course is $2,350 including all materials and books.
  • California Flower Art Academy
    Located in San Jose, California, this school has a wider range of courses on offer, however to complete basic training you will need to take a few of them. This lets you create your own program and possibly bring down the cost. You have the basic options like basic floral design, but also more specialized courses such as Ikebana, gift wrapping, etc. Workshop tuition starts at $89.

HOW AN EDUCATION IN FLORAL DESIGN CAN HELP YOUR CAREER

Many students begin their training in floral design in high school with botany courses or floral arranging lessons. However, taking the next step towards a formalized, post-high school program can greatly benefit those looking to become professionals in the field. Most formal programs will do three things: teach you to become experts in flowers, prepare you to create common arrangements, and instill an understanding of the business of floral design.

Understanding basic botany may sound tedious; however, all florists should be knowledgeable on how flowers are grown and cultivated. Working with flower sellers, you will need to know the ins-and-outs of gardening form stems to seeds and growing seasons and patterns. Many floral design programs, especially fine arts based, will require some science or plant biology coursework to cover these fundamentals.

Your actual design coursework will teach you to work with the various tools you will utilize as a professional designer. Many classes will start with basic and easy-to-complete floral designs, like one or two flower corsages or small bouquets, and eventually work its way up to complex projects like floral wreaths and large scale centerpieces. Many programs will also allow you to express and flex your creative side with silk flowers and wire designs. These classes are not only practice for the future, but they also will help you establish your palate as an artist.

Most importantly, an education program may also offer coursework in the actual business of being a floral designer. Professional designer Sophie Lau of Petals by Sophie highly recommends taking business courses in order to prepare you for life in the field. She describes her “behind the scenes” as hectic, often requiring her to wear many different hats to manage her business. She states that in order to be a good floral designer, you must:

Be able to multitask and wear different hats. In any art-related business you will have to juggle between different tasks, be able to prioritize, bookkeep, keep track of your expenses, and have to respond to emails and negotiations.

GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR

Attending a floral design program or classes will certainly open the doors to your career as a florist. Whether you choose to take a certificate route or to enroll in two or four year programs, you will walk away with not only an educational background in your field, but also an appreciation and understanding for the science and technical aspects of floral design.

Today, many community, junior, and trade colleges offer coursework in floral design. There are also online and distance learning programs that offer foundational education in the craft. Becoming a student in one of these programs or taking coursework in the subject can put you on the path to a rewarding career as a florist or designer. There is much to learn about the art, starting with how to grow and garden to how flowers interact with one another. A good floral designer will study flowers and plants from around the world, as well as how and when they blossom. A floral designer will also do well to understand the basic plant biology and botany if they plan on growing or cultivating flowers in addition to designing them. Plus, knowing the makeup of flowers and the basics behind their anatomy lifespan can help a florist create better work.

The second part of your floral designer education will be in the design aspect. Practicing under the direction and guidance of a professor or instructor, you will learn how to create basic and popular designs like wreaths, bouquets, and corsages. Technically, you will develop skills in how to use floral design tools and how to care for flowers in the process. This is especially important considering floral design can be both physically demanding and require a delicate touch all at the same time.

SUPPLEMENTING YOUR FLORAL DESIGN EDUCATION

For many students, in-class instruction may not be enough to prepare you for a professional career as a floral designer. You may also be looking for a way to break into the competitive world of floral design. In both cases, a private internship or school in floral design could benefit your career greatly. Professional designer and owner of Petals by Sophie, Sophie Lau, utilized her two apprenticeships to become better skilled. She worked part time after she completed her community college floral design projects at the recommendation of her class instructor. Not only did she pick up more technical skills through her internships, she also learned the ins-and-outs of business management. “The internship and part-time position shone light to an aspect of the business that just taking a class would do,” Lau explained. “The classes show you the technical skills, but the internships showed the behind the scenes. Things like packing, accounting, and the business parts.” Floral designers looking to open their own shop or start their own business would also benefit from supplementing their technical education with classes in business management, marketing, and client communications. These courses can ensure that you are properly prepared for the challenges and journey ahead with a brand new business.

IN CONCLUSION

Today’s floral designer is one who can balance a business, market his or her brand, and create unique and stylish designs that set them apart. By taking coursework in floral design and/or completing an internship with a professional in the field, you are preparing yourself for a challenging and rewarding career in one of the world’s most popular industries.