“Start small and grow your business, not ahead of it.”
Her name when translated to Japanese means ‘Flower (Hana 花) Child (ko 子)’, so it’s with great serendipity that Premium member Hanako Lee ended up in the floral business. But it wasn’t always the case. Beginning her career as a high school teacher working with children with emotional and behavioural disorders, Lee needed a side project to help cope with the stresses of the job. She started putting together flower arrangements for friends and family, and thanks to word of mouth, it soon took off.
We were thrilled Hanako let us into her colourful world for a chat about how she switched careers, her advice for aspiring florists and the importance of naps when your workday kicks off at 3 am.
You used to be a high school teacher, what made you change fields?
The school I was teaching at was a school for students with emotional and behavioural disorders so it meant we had to take care of ourselves. Flowers were my outlet and what soothed the soul. It grew little by little from doing flowers for friends and family to friends of friends, and now everybody!
So naturally it became hard to balance the two so I chose to ride the ‘floral wave’ and leave the teaching behind for now. The flowers don’t talk back to me, which was a nice change even though I miss the social justice side of my job.
What steps did you take to switch careers?
I am not a huge risk taker, I need to know if the path ahead is to be acquired it has to have little to no damage to myself or anyone else. I also needed to weigh up if the path ahead would be something I would regret if I didn’t take that step forward.
I decided to go part-time teaching and part-time floristry to be able to make a safe transition. Once it got too hectic balancing the two I took a step forward to go full-time with the business. I got my own warehouse studio space, worked hard on the business, took on all jobs big and small, and here I am today.
You have a beautiful symmetry with your name – did you expect to be doing this now?
Not at all. I knew I always loved flowers but never knew I would be running my own business in floristry. It really is a coincidence and sometimes I have the battle to think “Is it too personal with my name in it?”
At the end of the day I know it is right because my business is built upon relationships as the core. I value that the most and find everything else falls in place if I put the utmost importance on the relationships I foster with my clients and the industry.
What was the lightbulb moment you had where you thought, ‘I can do this as a career’?
It was when I was doing this full time and there was growth in our figures. It was where I was able to live comfortably and not have to worry about whether I was able to put food on the table and also where you know you’re earning enough or more than what your salary would be elsewhere.
I know it sounds a bit money-focused (which is so not me) but at the end of the day I realised if you’re not earning enough from it then there’s not much point with the amount of blood, sweat, and tears that go into it. But it’s also a matter of balancing that and doing what you love.
Run us through your day-to-day operation:
3 am: wake up, drive to the markets for 4 am entry, eat a banana and rice cracker to give me some energy
4 am: catch up on some emails or admin
5 am: market opens and I do all my scouting and buying
7 am: leave the markets and stop by the café for a sandwich and tea
7:30 am: Unload the van at the warehouse/studio
8 am: Do essential emails
8:30 am: Start work on event/wedding
12:30 pm: Lunch
1:00-1:20 pm: Power nap
1:20-6pm: Work on more flowers
6 pm: Home time, make dinner, catch up with the fiancé
9 pm: Shower and bedtime
What does your workspace look like?
I don’t have a physical store but I have an online store. We love doing gift bouquets, but we aren’t able to do these when we are busy with weddings and events, which is most of the time! We specialise in weddings, events, and corporate events. We work from our own little warehouse/studio in Dulwich Hill – approx. 140sqm where our office, lounge, kitchen, bathroom, workspace, and storage space is.
What boundaries do you set for yourself to have your own time?
Tough question, because I am not very good at this and am guilty of not putting boundaries in for myself all the time. I think when you own your own small business it’s a 24-hour thing and also in events, there’s very busy periods and quieter periods.
I do like scheduling a one-hour massage, a manicure or pedicure, or catching up with some friends when the physical work isn’t as crazy and I have more admin duties to do.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own floristry business?
Floristry is a competitive industry, so start small and grow your business, not ahead of it. Floristry is an industry that people do because they love it and are passionate about it so let it grow organically.
Once it becomes a full-time business it no longer stays your hobby, so being able to keep the balance is important because there’s a lot of admin involved in physically handling the flowers a lot of the time.
How does Business Chicks help your business?
It has helped so much in encouraging me to push on and push further. It has instilled perseverance in me and those little reminders and emails keep me going. The team at Business Chicks are also beautiful people so knowing that you’re a part of something great makes everything that much better and relational.
Photographs: Supplied. Cam T Photography, Alex Carlyle Photography, Lara Hotz Photography.