Setting and Holding Boundaries
Greetings from Maine! I had a very nice winter attending conferences and learning so many tidbits to help me plan better and work more wisely this year. One of the tricky aspects of being a farmer florist is setting and holding boundaries.
I have struggled with protecting my time with all the correspondence, customization, and responsiveness clients require to book flowers. Over the last couple years I have closed in on some tricks to contain the florist part of your business so it doesn’t eclipse the farmer part. I spoke about this at the Wedding Floral pre-conference of this year’s “Flowering in the North” meeting in Portland, Maine that happened in January.
A major part of setting and holding boundaries is about communicating your needs and expectations clearly and sticking to them. I like to refer to this as “setting the tone.” Stay professional. Project experience. Start sentences with “In my experience,” “We’ve found that,” “We need,” or “We require,” etc. This is also about playing the role of the expert in the conversation. You set the pace, you run the meeting. I like to ask open-ended questions about the vibe of the wedding, but very specific questions about the pieces folks need and what they have in mind. I’m more likely to sort of suggest two options and see how they respond than just ask what they had in mind for vessels, for example.
In order to communicate the work you’re going to do for your clients you need to have a good handle on your style and be able to explain it clearly in ways that will filter your prospective clients. Write a couple sentences about your design style to put on your website, and use those to respond to each inquiry. For example, my design style is “seasonal and spontaneous with lots of texture and greenery.” If someone is looking for a cube of hydrangeas (and it’s fine if that’s what they are looking for) they might notice that my style is not their style and will seek another florist. Or if they don’t notice that I will refer back to my design style and refer them to another florist. In my area, demand for floral design is high enough that I don’t need or want to take on each job that I can so I prefer to pass on events that are not a good style match for me.
The sooner we say no to a job we don’t want, the better everyone’s life is. It took me a while to learn this. I used to feel sad that I had to say no to customers, so I delayed myself in breaking that news. That just made my life more stressful because I still needed to deliver the message and the client’s work finding another designer was also delayed. Being prompt with a negative reply is very professional, and if you can also refer another florist you are potentially helping everyone. Remember, you’re the expert on the work you do.
These are great reasons for turning down a job:
• If you are already booked and don’t have the capacity for the job.
• If they are rude at all.
• If they ask for something that is not your style.
• If the job is out of your delivery zone.
• If they are asking for something that is impossible.
I used to feel guilty about responding to any of these. Now I feel excited to have decided and for that interaction to be over. Usually I refer all clients I’m turning away to other florists in the area who use local flowers, especially if the designers buy stems from me.
At the same time as we reply to each inquiry with our style statement, we include some rough pricing. This is not custom pricing at all, but it gives folks a range of what to expect for bouquets, centerpieces, arbor work, and wearables. If this range is out of the customer’s range, we have saved each other a lot of time. I also include some inspirational photos of color combinations that work well for me so we can speak the same language of color in the consultation. I like to keep those descriptions as wide as possible so I have the most flexibility when it comes time to execute the job.
How much of your life are clients buying when they hire you? Boundaries are so important to protect your time and brain space. People who are getting married love feeling connected to the people who are growing and designing their flowers. They love feeling as though they have hired their new friends. Our Instagram accounts help them think they know us and we are friends. At the same time, I work hard to filter folks from actually being part of my day to day life, because I want to only really be selling my design skills during the planning process and the week of the event. After that it’s basically over.
I think it’s better to err on the side of too private than not private enough, so I recommend declining Facebook friend requests from clients, I don’t follow back wedding clients on Instagram, and I don’t want to get notifications about their Pinterest boards. This is a slippery, muddy slope, folks, and I have found that my life is much happier if I focus my attention to the planning of the event florals through just one portal with one key person. For me, I like to work via email (rather than phone calls and texts) and I prefer a well-curated vision board with good verbal descriptions over their Pinterest boards.
I like to break client care into two stages: landing the client and producing the event. When you’re negotiating the initial estimate, response time should be quick. The client needs to know what’s possible and about how much it will cost so they can secure your services. In the month leading up to the event you need to know certain details so you can make sure you get paid on time and your production lists are complete. Between these two stages, I want radio silence because that’s when we are growing the flowers! Now that I know that that’s what I want, I tell my clients just that: “Your flowers are now booked. The next stage is checking in one month prior to your event.”
One of my favorite phrases to use when someone is pushing a boundary is “I’m sorry to report that we don’t have the capacity to take that on.” You’re welcome to use that to free yourself from anything from making more garland than you want to working with an ingredient you don’t grow, to traveling farther than you want to, or adding in an additional meeting that is not needed.
Maybe this column has felt a little like a therapy session. I’m not sorry if that’s the case, because I think we all need help learning to communicate clearly. Sometimes it takes work to decide what we want and how to communicate that, but that work will pay off with every event we book for 2019 and beyond.
Happy planting and growing! I hope to see many of you up here in southern Maine in July at our “In the Thick of It” farm tour meeting.