Tips for hiring a freelance floral designer as well as finding and accepting jobs as a freelancer.
By Shawn Michael Foley, AIFD, CFD, PFCI
Finding employees and freelancers, and building a balanced team, are an ongoing challenge in the floral industry. I have been fortunate to be on both sides of this exchange where I have had to hire freelance designers and have also been hired as a freelance designer. While writing this article, I took a moment to interview my longtime mentor, Sue Weisser, a freelance floral and event designer, educator, and owner of The Floral Studio PA in Flying Hills (Reading), Pa., for a few of her thoughts on this topic, as well. I have found that regardless of which side of the coin you are on, the key to a successful employment partnership boils down to communication in the following four main topics.
The greatest distance between two people is a misunderstanding. Take the time to set your expectations of what your standards are. This goes for everyone involved, be they employer, employee, freelancer, etc. Compensation, working conditions, meals/food, travel expenses, lodging, skill set and working hours should all be agreed upon before starting the first day of active work.
If you’re a freelancer, do not go into a new job without getting the full details of what the gig will entail. If you’re expecting to work eight-hour days but the employer is expecting you to work 16-hour days, you need to know this in advance so you can plan accordingly—if you agree to work together. Will you need to be on tall ladders during the installation? What sort of design work are you being contracted for (e.g., sympathy design, wedding design, large installations, daily designs), and is this something in your wheelhouse? Is the environment one in which you will be mentored and taught new skills, or is it more of a hustle and busy workflow environment? Neither of these necessarily make or break a decision to work together, but you must know what you’re jumping into so you can show up ready to go, with your best foot forward.
If you are the employer, being squeaky clean with your expectations and communication is an absolute must. Although we are all working in the same industry, every individual business has its unique order of operations. To assume that new employees or contractors will instinctively know how you like things done is sloppy management and, ultimately, set them up for failure. Meet them with the respect you would like to receive in return and have a kind and clear conversation about your expectations, protocols and procedures. Be OK with answering a lot of questions even if you think they’re silly or redundant. A new employee asking questions is a sign of him or her wanting to do a good job in your environment, not a sign of incompetence. Nurture them, and take the time to answer them; you will be glad you did.
The Match Game
Finding the right fit is a two-person dance. There are times when you, as an employer, simply need a set of hands to crank out work or, conversely, when you, as a freelancer, simply need some income and take a job that will pay the bills for a while. Working with someone who isn’t a great match generally has an expiration date stamped on it from the first day. There will never be a perfect employee or a perfect employer; we are all human, after all. However, you do want to work with quality people with whom can get along, who can work well in a team setting and who you can trust to accomplish a well-done job.
“When I’m scouting a new company to freelance with, I want to make sure it creates the caliber of work that I want to be a part of,” Weisser explains.
As a freelancer, when you’re having discussions with companies for work, be sure that you’re in alignment with what they do. If you love working on huge weddings and events but you’re looking into freelancing for a local shop for Valentine’s Day, realize that those are two very different types of production work. Neither is good nor bad. You just need to be sure that you are pursuing the right type of work that aligns with your personal career goals and skills.
Social Media and Portfolio
Before you panic, you do not need to have 100,000 followers or be an influencer to be successful whether you’re hiring or looking for new work. It is, however, important to use your social media platforms as your living portfolio. This goes for everyone in the floral design world. When you, as an employer, post your designs and behind-the-scenes shenanigans, you’re giving a peak into your world and what it’s like to work with you.
When you’re a freelancer or just starting out in the industry, you need to post things that you enjoy making. Sometimes what you create day to day doesn’t show your full range of potential. Whenever you have a leftover bucket of flowers, create some designs that showcase your skills. If you don’t share what you’re truly capable of with the world, no one will ever know how brightly you can shine.
“When you’re freelancing full time, your work can start to become more utilitarian because you’re executing someone else’s vision,” Weisser notes. “It’s super-important to show that you have your own creative voice [with your portfolio] so everyone can see the full extent of your talent.”
Networking is the biggest factor in finding great employees and lining up freelancing jobs. “Employers are loyal to the people they can count on,” Weisser shares.
You have often heard “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” Why is that? Networking boils down to a way to assess risk. A referral from someone you already trust holds much more weight than taking someone’s word for it—someone whom who may not even know well. When you look at networking as an extended network of referrals and friendships instead of a means of gatekeeping, it will dramatically change your experience of making and keeping connections.
Another important aspect of networking is to be genuine, kind and realistic. Divas rarely get asked to dance twice. When you’re a contracted employee, you are a guest in another person’s business—not a guest star. Respect and befriend the full-time employees, and remember that you are a part of their team. When you integrate well with an existing team, you become a dream to have as a freelancer. You are far more likely to be asked to freelance again by a company if the staff likes to work with you. Networking includes everyone you work with—not just the boss. So be kind and respectful always. You are always one moment of genuine kindness away from your next referral.
To summarize, everything boils down to crystal clear communication between employer and employee. There is no such thing as asking too many questions when interviewing each other to see if you will be a great fit for collaboration. Be kind, be mutually respectful, showcase your best work and be authentic—and don’t forget to enjoy the design process.