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Learn the Basics of Floral Design

Floral designers cut and arrange dried, live, and silk flowers and various types of greenery to create decorative displays. In this job, you will work closely with customers to select flowers, ribbons, containers, and other accessories to make up their floral display. You may grow the flowers yourself or order them from a wholesale flower distributor. The floral industry is a time-sensitive one since flowers do not have a long lifespan once cut from their growing source. You also need to keep in mind that flower arrangements are for events that take place at a specific time. So, meeting deadlines and being flexible and adaptable are traits floral designers must have to succeed.

People who do well in this career tend to share certain personal attributes and skills. Some of these include:

Artistic Ability:  You need a strong sense of style and the ability to coordinate colors, decorations, and different types of plants and flowers for an aesthetically pleasing design.

Creativity:  While artistic ability can sometimes be taught, creativity tends to be more of an inborn trait. As a floral designer, you use the skills you have learned to create designs appropriate to the occasion. You must be open to new ideas since trends can change quickly.

Time Management:  Floral designing comes with a sense of urgency because the displays need to be completed on time for the special event. You need to consistently meet deadlines, or you will lose business and damage your reputation.

Excellent Communication Skills:  You interact with customers and suppliers every day and need to know how to get your message across to each. With customers, you will explain different options for a floral design as well as how to care for the plants and flowers after the event. Since you will place orders with suppliers, you need to communicate exactly what you need and ask questions to ensure you understand what to expect in your order.

Attention to Detail:  You must be careful about all the details that go into completing a customer’s order. If a customer orders roses and you mistakenly ship carnations, you will have an unhappy customer that will not return to place another order or recommend you to friends and family.

Independence:  Although you may work at a company and as part of a team, there will be many times (probably most of the time) that you will be required to work independently and develop your own unique way to doing things with innovation and creativity. This is especially true if you won your own shop or freelance.

Concern for Others:  Floral designers often work with clients who are facing hardships or emotional times in their lives. Being sensitive to other’s feeling and being understanding can be very helpful.

As a floral designer, you may take orders from customers over the phone, in person, or over the Internet. If your employer sells to a worldwide customer base, you need to prepare flowers for shipment to various climates, worldwide. It’s vitally important that you know the unique properties of each type of flower and plant you sell so you can advise customers on its care. For instance, carnations can last outside of water for many hours, but other flowers will wilt more quickly. Some flowers and plants are poisonous to certain animals, like lilies, which are toxic to cats. It is also essential that you know which types of flowers and plants blend well together and which do not.

Designers must know the average size of each flower and the different color varieties, and they must be able to communicate to their customers how to care for each variety of flower or plant, including when and how much to water the arrangement, and what the ideal temperature is for the arrangement to last as long as possible. Floral designers will process newly arrived flowers, cut and mix flower food solutions, and sanitize workspaces.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, most floral designers work for florists, grocery stores, nondurable goods merchant wholesalers, sporting goods stores, or lawn and garden supply stores.  In 2014, about one in four floral designers were self-employed.

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Develop Your Skills & Personal Style

Most floral designers have a high school diploma and learn the skills they need on the job, and through apprenticeships or internships. Additionally, some flower shops offer entry-level and management courses to new and existing employees. Designers pursuing a career in floral design do not need to earn a postsecondary degree. That said, completing a degree or certificate program will increase an applicant’s job opportunities and chance for advancement.

Some individuals will opt to earn an associate degree (AA or AAS) in floral design, horticulture or floristry.  Coursework includes general education classes, as well as hands-on course working with flowers and other tools of the trade, as well as plant and flower identification, concepts of floral design, advertising techniques, training working in a greenhouse, and a variety of business courses. 

People who are self-employed in the floral industry are the most likely to have completed a formal education. Working alongside an experienced floral designer either as an apprentice or in an internship is the best way to gain experience in this field. Some of the entry-level tasks you can expect to complete include:

  • Tying bows and ribbons
  • Cutting the stems of plants and flowers to an appropriate length
  • Taking orders from customers
  • Learning the proper care and handling of different types of plants and flowers
  • Basic flower arrangement

In addition to taking courses or earning a certificate in floral design, you can pursue the Certified Floral Designer credential offered by the American Institute of Floral Designers. This voluntary certification helps you stand out as an expert in your field. You need to demonstrate a strong grasp of floral design knowledge that you gained through previous education and on-the-job training to pass the certification exam.

After you have been on the job for a while, you will learn in-depth information about dozens of types of plants and flowers and their growth properties. This gives you the skills you need to create more complex floral designs on your own.  Some designers have long-term contracts with restaurants and hotels to replace older flowers with new arrangements on a recurring basis.

But, the one thing about creative jobs, including floral design, is that you should always be open to learning new techniques and skills. Whether you are a seasoned designer or just starting out, to flourish in this field designers must also have active listening skills, time management and analytical skills, coordination, manual dexterity, problem-solving skills, an understanding of all equipment and materials needed to do certain work, and sound writing ability.

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Build Your Experience & Learn to Market Your Business

You need a lot of practice with floral designing to become an expert at it. If you decide to take classes at the local level, your instructors can provide you with more information on obtaining employment or finding your first customers. Some programs may have you volunteer several hours at a greenhouse, flower wholesaler, or retail business to gain real-world experience.

It can be slightly more challenging to make industry connections when you get your first job in the floral industry just out of high school or after a career change. To gain credibility as a floral designer, ask family or friends if you can create a display for them free of charge. Take photos of each display you make and analyze it to help improve and grow as a designer.

Once you’re confident in the quality of your work, take pictures of your most attractive or challenging displays and place them in a personal portfolio. Prospective customers or clients will see that you can create floral displays using a wide variety of flowers, plants, and decorative materials. This helps to establish you as an expert floral designer.

Get to Know Our Experts

Sophie Lau

  • Title:
    Owner
  • Company:
    Petals by Sophie
  • Where:
    San Francisco, CA
  • Experience:
    7 years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    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

  • Title:
    Founder
  • Company:
    Lotus & Lily Floral and Event Design
  • Where:
    Los Angeles, CA
  • Experience:
    20 years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    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

  • Title:
    Owner
  • Company:
    Floral and Twine
  • Where:
    Sydney, Australia
  • Experience:
    Less than 1 year in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    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.

    Florist Infographic