Tips for sharing your vision and expectations with freelancers—enabling them to perform at peak efficiency.
By Molly Lucille
Freelancing has long been a backbone of the flower industry, and it has grown exponentially as a career-style choice for many designers and as a labor source for many business owners—including wedding and event florists as well as cut flower growers and product manufacturers—in the post COVID years. As this segment of the labor market grows, and as wedding floral trends delve deeper into the lush, large installations that require many hands, ensuring your systems of hiring and managing freelancers is more important than ever.
I’ve been a full-time traveling freelance floral designer for the last two years, working for florists in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Colorado, Texas, and all over the Midwest, designing luxury weddings, climbing endless ladders and scaffolding, wrangling Smilax, schlepping buckets and helping design some truly incredible flower installations with some of the greatest designers I’ve ever met. One thing I’ve learned is the importance of adaptability. Walking into a shop, studio or design facility can be a daunting experience, especially when you are working with a large team to undertake a task list a mile long. Often, I find myself making a “wish list” of communications that would make my job easier and allow me to perform at my best for each client. This wish list will empower not only the freelancers but also everyone hiring freelancers. We’re all on the same team.
My Communications Wish List
1. “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”
This quote about the importance of communication in building relationships and of speaking and leading with clarity and truth, from author and leadership guru Brené Brown, is applicable to so many things in our personal and professional lives, and it pertains to freelancing, as well. On most of my travel gigs, I have no context of what I’ll be walking into until I show up. I make it work (it’s my job to be adaptable), but then I have to spend time at the beginning of each job wrapping my mind around what will be expected of me.
A little work in advance on the part of the employer can go a long way to ensure that freelancers don’t waste time on the job. Preparing a checklist in advance or even a general mood board will allow the freelancers to walk into a job with the right mindset. One of my clients had a video of a lush English rose garden that he sent us the day before we arrived, to ensure we all would be on the same page about how the installations should feel. Watching that video on the plane was such a great way to get my head in the game and understand what vibe we’d be creating that week. Another client begins each job with a general design meeting. There is a master binder there for everyone to reference, full of inspiration photos and a list of all the pieces that need to be made, along with assignments—who he wants to create each piece.
Matthew “Coach” Blind, a fellow traveling freelance floral designer, finds this to be the best approach: “I think freelancers can do their best work when the clients really trust and empower them to know the full vision and scale of the event. Don’t give them just recipes; give them the full proposal each bride sees, including prices, so that they can adequately fulfill the full vision of the event.” Whatever way you want to go about it, if you’re informing your freelancers of what your expectations are before they arrive, it’ll ensure a much more successful event.
2. Delegation and workflow are key.
If you have a crew of freelancers, you can foster a teamwork mentality by being clear with delegation. We’re all part of the same crew, so leaving it up to the freelancers to divvy up assignments can lead to an awkward workflow. It’s best to either appoint a point person at the start of the job or clearly delegate which freelancers are on what crew. Once you develop relationships with freelancers, delegation comes much easier. As a freelancer, you must know your strengths and weaknesses so that you can empower yourself and your client to place you in the best position to perform at your best.
3. Location, location, location.
One of the most daunting things about walking into a shop, studio or design facility is having no idea where anything is. If you have a new designer coming into your shop, it’s important to inform them of where to find simple items. Clearly labeling drawers and placing frequently used tools and mechanics in clear bins on shelves are great ways to organize not only your own staff but also incoming freelancers. This ensures that freelancers won’t waste time with endless questions or trying to find items. This may seem like a no-brainer, but this is essential to ensuring clarity and a healthy workflow.
4. Where will I be working?
In the vein of location, communicating in advance about where an event is taking place is a game-changer for a freelancer’s pre-trip packing. As a full-time traveler, I have a set routine for my suitcase, but knowing in advance where I’ll be working—whether it be outdoors, in a warehouse, in a tent, on a beach, in the mountains or in a meat-packing facility (yes, I really designed in one!) will help me adequately prepare me for the working conditions. Though we all typically expect to wear black on black for set-up days, certain employers will communicate in advance if there’s anything additional to be aware of, and those details are greatly appreciated. As you pack, it’s a good idea to include a few options for set-up day; I always pack a “set-up Saturday” emergency bag, with a change of clothes, fresh socks, bandages, extra tools, snacks, and rain gear. It’s always best to be fully prepared, and some set-up days can be intense. An extra pair of shoes and socks can be lifesavers if you’re running around for a 15-hour day.
Communication is Power
The coming offseason for weddings and events is the perfect time for employers to create and implement new systems and processes for managing freelancers, to ensure the next wedding and event season will be their best one yet. Bethany Steinhauser, another traveling freelancer, offers this advice to fellow freelancers: “Don’t be afraid to communicate if you have questions or concerns. But with that, remember you are a guest in someone else’s space, and mutual respect goes a long way.”
And for those who hire freelance designers, building an effective and efficient system of communication will help your business thrive and grow—and to undertake larger projects than you ever thought possible. Information is power, and empowering your staff and freelancers to be set up in an empathetic and thoughtful way will enable them to perform at their absolute best, to help you and your vision shine. As freelancers, that’s our job and our joy.