Curious Lola

3 Ways your Inexperience will Help You Succeed in the Wedding Industry

It sucks to feel like a sputtering, throbbing amateur. It can feel like everyone else around you has figured it out and you are still groping for clarity. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my last 7 years of event and floral design, it’s that, unfortunately, there isn’t a manual and there’s no right way. I get into wrangling these anxiety-inducing topics in my new ebook Be Fearless Scared, But Do It Anyway . BUT I also know that there are three key areas where you have the ADVANTAGE by being a newbie.

Hooraaaaay! Seriously.

Because in uncertain times we need to acknowledge and be grateful for all the wins we can muster, right?

This applies to you if you are a burgeoning floral designer, event designer, planner, invite person, or if you make things I can put in my mouth. (I especially love the latter). Basically any service or product you can take a picture of.

Apparently, my mouth is ALWAYS open and my glasses are ALWAYS halfway falling off my nose. Take action baby.

Oh look, here I am (again) with my mouth wide open teaching folks how to make gardeney bouquets last year.

These three ways where your inexperience helps you are meant to empower you to take action and feel willing (note I did NOT say confident) to put yourself out there. It’s all too easy to observe, not get in the game, and chalk it all up to quietly gaining experience.

BUT that’s just fear talking. The fact is, the faster you start digging around, the faster you will figure it out, the faster you will gain clarity, the faster you will be profitable. In my ebook, I talk about my journey and how it took me five years to feel like this business was going to be okay.

THAT’S FIVE YEARS OF SLEEP ALTERING NAIL BITING!

You can do it in less and I want to help how I can.

These three facts are based on my own experience. These are things I did and they worked. They are based on forgetting about your problems, and solving the problems of others.

So here we go: 3 Ways your Inexperience will Help You Succeed in the wedding industry.

  1. Local Wedding Media Loves the Newbies.It’s true. Your local wedding magazine loves to feature new designers. It’s how they feel they are staying fresh. As a crusty, well worn designer reading through my local wedding mags, young whippersnappers such as yourself make up about 30% of what I’m looking at. All you need to do then is be seen.

Oh, and you are in luck again because their staff and interns are clammoring for new media to put up on their online platforms. Be nice, be generous, take some great shots of your work, or write a little article about something cool for them to put up on their FB page….. like, how to use write guests names on clam shells or something. Or how to make a veil out of bark…. don’t do that. Mention that you would love to be considered to participate in an upcoming feature should they need help with anything.

We were lucky enough to be featured in Seattle Met Bride and Groom and Seattle Bride early on. AND far before we could ever afford purchasing an ad. So, it works.

2. You Are A Blank Slate and You Listen.

After nearly a decade of doing this, I’ve sort of learned a way that works for me. I’ve learned I need a minimum budget for me to feel like we can deliver a stellar product, I’ve learned that we need a lot of responsibility and creative input regarding the entire event. We’ve learned what styles and what sorts of folks are NOT a good fit for us.

But you may not know that yet, and at least for getting work and developing relationships with other professionals and venues, that’s a GOOD thing. It means you can be truly open to listening how the other person likes to work, how they like to run their events, what their clients and audience is like.

You are in a perfect position to let the folks you meet with to feel like you really understand them. You are their person. They WANT you to succeed, so they will likely push work your way.

PS, how do you meet these folks? You call them… or email if you are telephonophobic like me:) It’s a modern cold call… don’t freak out.

PPS, don’t ask to meet them and show them what you do. Ask to meet them to learn about their venue/ practices/ approach, etc. Then work in your stuff but it’s not the point of the meeting. The point is for you to learn about THEM.

The last one is a big one and is a little hard to feel comfy with but is so important. In fact, we talk about it a lot more in my ebook. (See giant link image below:)

StartHere

3. Sell What They Actually Want, Not What You Think They Want.

When I first began, I thought I knew what people wanted beautiful florals chock full of creativity, unexpected materials, and unusual flowers- preferably local. I was stressed out of my mind to make more stuff so I could have a stunning portfolio. After all, a great portfolio was going to get the work right?

Wrong.

I didn’t have a great portfolio, as a matter of fact my first floral designs were awful. What I did have was a background in project management. So I talked about that.

Ding. Ding. Ding.

As it turns out, my clients didn’t want the best floral designer. They wanted someone who was organized, responsive, who wasn’t going to make an ass out of themselves on site, someone who was going to show up, get sh** done and leave. They wanted someone they could trust to make their jobs and day easier.

I could do that. I could show that through my communication with them, by the way I presented my material, and later, in every aspect of the event day.

That right there was a revelation for me and became our basis for selling for years…. still is. Our process and execution is paramount. Are we the best designers? meh. doesn’t matter- at least not as much as trust to my clients.  (though we are pretty damn good…obvs:)

So think about the process, execution, client relationships, conflict resolution, all the things that can be trouble for your client and communicate how you plan to resolve them, or even just show that you take those aspects just as seriously as the actual creative work.

Get Deeper Into This Topic

If you’re interested in delving a little deeper into this topic and are curious about the challenges I faced starting out and how I dealt with them, check out my FREE eBook, “Be Fearless Scared, But Do It Anyway.”

This will give you some perspective, and will show you how this beautiful (and humble!) creative took action and worked her way through the maze and reached the other side.

Behind The Scenes At One of Our Favorite Past Weddings

Check out what it took to pull together one of Lola Creative’s favorite summer destination weddings!
We thought you’d like a behind the scenes peek into how things were made, installed, delivered, all that not-glamorous hidden stuff that you may want to know about.
Maybe you want to do a big DIY feature for your own wedding (beware and read on)…
Maybe you are just starting your own floral or event design company…
Maybe you are just curious…
As for me, I just want to have an excuse to look at these gorgeous photos. Nonetheless, here is a look behind the scenes at a fabulous destination wedding.

View More: http://lauragordon.pass.us/lelandweddingJana and Troy got married at Roche Harbor Resort in Washington’s San Juan Islands (Friday Harbor to be precise). All these light filled dreamy images are shared with us from Laura Gordon Photography. Thanks Laura!

A Luxurious Journey

The day went something like this: our staff catches the 6am ferry from Anacortes. This means we get in line sometime around 5am to be sure not to miss it. Which means we have left our houses sometime around 3:30am. (ugh). We sleep on the ride over.

We arrive, eat some breakfast, and head over to the resort to be let into the reception hall, a charming, white washed room filled with light and easy vibes.

Everything Went According To Plan

The van floor is awash with water. Since we don’t use foam often the water from our pre-made floral arrangements sloshes out. The first thing we do is find a shady spot for the floral arrangements and refill them with water.

Kokedama? Yes Please!

Four people get working on hanging an iron gate to the beams that will be the structure from which our kokedama balls will hang.

(Our bride introduced us to kokedama and now I am obsessed.)

The bride and mother of the bride supplied us with pearled wire and baubles to hang from some of the kokedama. We hand made the tassels days earlier in our studio. Kokedama are made by wrapping plants with roots in a well draining soil wrapped with moss and then hung.

Emily Anderson Favorites-0041

Some Assembly Required

Two people get to work on assembling the sweetheart table backdrop. It was inspired by a fabric display in an Anthropologie window. For a ten foot wide and 7 foot tall display, it took over 400 yards of fabric and four people 3 full days of ripping and tying.

TIP: This is good info for you folks planning your own DIY feature for a wedding. These things take lots and lots of time, and often much more materials than you may think. The individual fabric strips are pre-tied to a rope so that just the individual strands need to be attached.

We attached the back to two adjustable height coat racks so that they could be moved behind the DJ after dinner. A shorter strip was attached to the ceiling to create a frame and layered effect.

View More: http://lauragordon.pass.us/lelandwedding

The couple sat on a vintage loveseat behind wooden farm tables with luxurious garlands. The loveseat was provided by our dear friends at Vintage Ambiance.

TIP: Vintage furniture is often lower to the ground than contemporary furniture. We solved this by building two 4″ height risers to prop up the bride and groom to normal height.

Next we hung the kokedama balls.

TIP: If using kokedama or any hanging plant with soil, make sure you have watered it a couple of days before. Do not water it on the day of your event, or it will drip or be unnecessarily heavy. Also, pre-tie your individual plants to an S-hook so you don’t have to adjust the height in the air.

Making Sure Everything Is Right

One of our team takes the bouquets and personal flowers over to the couple as they prepare for photos. We want to make sure they are perfect and that they love them, know how to hold them, and remind them to dry off the exposed stems when they are out of water.  We leave little vases with them so that the bouquets can stay hydrated when they are not in use.

View More: http://lauragordon.pass.us/lelandweddingView More: http://lauragordon.pass.us/lelandwedding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We hustle down to the chapel to get the ceremony in order before heading back to the reception hall. We assemble the giant bird cage and fill it with candles and vines. Attach two giant swags to the door (both created without foam), and attach the adorable pew ends. Simple and beautiful.

View More: http://lauragordon.pass.us/lelandwedding Emily Anderson Favorites-0016Emily Anderson Favorites-0014

 

 

Once the ceremony is complete, we head back up to place the mixed greenery garlands on the tables, flowers, and add decor to the indoor and outdoor fireplaces.

We tie sweet feathers and leather straps to candles, light all the 10 hour tealights, and fine tune any wayward flowers.

13 Hours and… It’s Break Time

We get the “okay” from the mother of the bride and are off for dinner around 5pm. So far, my team has been working for 13 hours.

The Flip

After dinner, two of our team arrive back at the reception. After the guests have finished eating we roll the backdrop behind the DJ and take down the hanging layered piece.

Tear down

Two people stay overnight and wake up early to tear it all down, pack it up, and catch a ferry home.

Emily Anderson Favorites-0044View More: http://lauragordon.pass.us/lelandwedding

What It Takes

Wedding sets, especially destinations,  are usually long days.

This one took two staff 8 hours and two more 16 hours.

But sweet, trusting families, light-filled rooms, gorgeous pieces to make, and dreamy photos like these are worth the sore feet!

And moments like these…

Emily Anderson Favorites-0021(sigh) just beautiful…

 

Designing Events, With A Pinch Of Wonder

I was going through images last week and came across this book arch we created a few years ago. I always thought this was so cool, and people went crazy.

designing events

With wedding madness in full swing, I thought the book arch would be a good reminder of how powerful this business can be.

Much of the time we get caught up in running the business:

  • Has everything been ordered?
  • Is everything ready to go?
  • Are all the subcontractors prepped?
  • Is there enough staff?
  • Etc.

And for set pieces like the Book Arch:

  • Do we have the materials?
  • Do we have the welding equipment?
  • Are we sure it’s going to be stable?
  • How does it look?

It’s easy to get caught up in the mundane–albeit necessary–aspects of getting the job done.

When I come across images of events that really worked–and that had such a wide impact on people outside the event–it is a good reminder of the purpose of what we’re really doing: we’re adding that wee pinch of wonder that makes the difference between a serious yawner and a “I can’t stop gawking at how amazing this is” experience.

When we’re at our best, we take a profound moment in someone’s life and insert a bit of magic. It’s incredible what can happen when everything lines up.

Things I Wish I Knew When I Began My Event Business, Part 3: Support

because we give a hootYou are starting your own creative business. That’s awesome!
You don’t know what you are doing, but you probably have an idea of what kind of business support systems you will need.
But before you add yet another thing to your to do list, I’d like to review some of the systems and networks that are help and those that do not.
Some things look like a worth time and money investment but actually end up helping somebody ELSE with what they need.
We are in about the middle of our “10 Things I Wish I Knew Series”. Links to the other pieces are at the bottom!

Here is a list of the kind of support you will NOT need:

I know that you’ll probably want to try a few of these out anyway. Hopefully, this list will at least make you aware of when something might not be working out and needs to be purged from your attention.


 

NO: A Group Of Like-Minded Individuals Also Just Starting Out

While this can help you feel safe and calm your fears, it is far better to gain that information from people who already passed through your stage in business.

Networking with established business is scarier but trust me: most of them remember being where you are, and will tell you what you want and need to know.

The event industry relies on each other within our own disciplines and across other disciplines.You know you will need the kind of emotional support that will allow you to keep moving forward even when your motives start looking a little blurry. You need someone to remind you that the trade-offs you are making in your personal life are worthwhile to gain a wildly satisfying living.

In the beginning, there is a lot of struggle.

This often leads to looking at the success of others as a reminder that you aren’t succeeding. While it may feel good to know that you are not alone by surrounding yourself with others who are in a similar position, it’s not helping you progress–it’s helping you feel safe where you are now. The catch is: You don’t want to feel safe where you are! Assuming you’re not planning on staying in that struggling, beginning stage for very long, you want to use that discomfort as a motivator for moving forward.

Onward.

YES: A Group Of Seasoned Business Owners…

…even if they’ve been in the biz only a little while.

They don’t even have to be in your exact industry. In John C. Maxwell’s book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, he writes that the environment in which you choose to place yourself should have the following characteristics:

Others are ahead of me.

I am continually Challenged,

My focus is forward

The atmosphere is Affirming

I am often out of my Comfort Zone.

 


NO: A Group Of The Wrong Kind Of People

I was a group junkie when I first started out.

I thought there might be a group of people who could help me grow faster and give me the answers I needed. I thought that I could cross promote my business through other businesses. I’ve checked out mastermind groups, the kind of groups where other people are required to refer your work and you are required to refer theirs regardless of whether or not you actually think they are the best at what they do, industry groups, and women business owner groups.

It turns out that in my specific creative business of event design, there are only a few people at very specific times who are ready to make the decision to hire me. Cross promoting with businesses who don’t serve this laser focused person is a waste of resources.

If the group you are in is not a challenge, if it wastes too much time, if it’s filled with people who cannot get you the kind of work you want, people who are not stretching themselves and reaching, people who do not understand the necessity of finding your ideal customer, then it’s not the right group of folks for you.

YES: Tangential Interest Groups

Try groups where you can causally network and show them what you do.

That may not be business owners–this may be places where your clients hang out.

Maybe you are a floral designer and you are hired by wedding planners–join their planning group.

Maybe you do non-profit fundraisers–join a fundraiser’s education group.

Perhaps you want to target restaurant owners or hotels–join a chamber of commerce.

Maybe you need to access wealthy women who entertain regularly. Heck, join their local yoga studio. Win win.

The point is, go to the people who likely have a problem you can solve. Then stay connected.

 


NO: Financial Support In The Form Of Debt

The beginning of a business is a little experimental and can feel frantic. It’s easy to get caught up in feeling like you cannot begin unless you have the right tool/ training/ mentor/ webpage, etc.

There are so many people trying to sell you something with great stories about why their ad, their whatever will help you sell more.

Before you have figured out what makes you special and who wants to buy your kind of special, you are better off saving your money.

You may find that what seemed like a great tool at the beginning, is actually not necessary. You may find you don’t want to offer a service that you thought you would offer, you may in a month, discover a totally different message than the one you spent money on.

Give it some time. Get your hands dirty first.

When I first began I had visions of an event design firm that worked side by side with a landscape design and build company. I would, of course, do both. I soon realized that these two services required directing my attention to two totally different markets.

My attention and effort would be split and that could not be good if I needed to be profitable within a year. After about 3 months, I had to revise my website, and get new business cards.

Save yourself the agony, and figure out what your business is, who it serves, and why customers should buy from your instead of all the other choices in the marketplace before you spend money on the next major money-printing widget.

YES: Creative Means Of Covering Your Needs

Will you need some sort of financial safety net? Yes.

And most people I know do not have a sugar daddy/ mama or their own nest egg.

I’ve met business owners that moved into their parent’s basement when they first started. People have become nannies. Maybe you could do it just by growing more slowly than I did and implementing the systems I will talk about later. Maybe you could quit your full-time job and get a part-time job.

What you can do by not taking on more debt, you should do.

 


NO: Misguided Friends And Family

Your friends miss you. They miss going out to restaurants and spending your paychecks on food and that botanical infused locally made gin cocktail of the day. They miss going on vacations with you in the summer. They miss you not being stressed out. The miss griping about their jobs with you.

To this group of risk averse friends, this thing you are doing just looks like something that is making you LESS financially secure and more stressed out.

You will hear things like…. “what’s the good of money if you can’t enjoy it.”

And “We never see you anymore” and “You’ve just got to relax, I’m worried about you.”

This is brain noise you don’t need.

You already have your work cut out for you with quieting your inner critic. Be clear with them on your intentions, or just nod your head and let it wash past you.

YES: Be On The Lookout For New Go-Getting Hustlers Like Yourself Who Are Inspired By Working Hard On A Risky Venture That Could Pay Off Big-Time.

Seek them out and surround yourself with them. They will help move you forward, and will be a source of energy when it feels like your well of spirit and hustle is running dry.

As for the friends who can’t help themselves from pulling you down? If they cannot let up, it’s time to get some new friends.

You don’t need to necessarily toss out the old ones, just improve your relationship with the ones that can be excited about your path, and who will point out for you all the ways you are progressing while you’re slogging through your startup swamp.

 


NO: Service And Professional Support  

If your financial resources are sparse, know that you don’t need much in the way of professional help. The IRS is likely not interested in a business as small as yours and when starting out, you won’t need to pay taxes until the end of the year.

Don’t stress about an accountant. So depending on when you start, you’ve got some time. Bookkeeping, labor, graphic design, web development,  these are all things you can do yourself with inexpensive or free apps or by friend-sourcing.

YES: Find Free Or Cheap Ways To Get What You Need.

I’ve found that an invoicing system was necessary to prevent mistakes.

  • Freshbooks has a starter version that is reasonably priced.
  • Canva will help you create images for free to help you look pulled together.
  • Upwork or Fiverr can help you source graphic help or any tech help online from people all over the world eager to work with you.
  • Google docs in lieu of Microsoft Office.
  • Cute PDF Writer in lieu of Acrobat.

The point is, it may take a while for you to see financial promise–it took me three years. It took another two years to see that it could be sustainable at the level that I felt we were all being taken care of properly.

I’d like you to feel secure in your company sooner.

You are an observant person and you’ll gain knowledge from any experience in which you place yourself. My job here is to help you get the most useful stuff faster in order to raise you to that comfy place.

Sign up to our mailing list to ensure you don’t miss any of the next posts on “10 Things I Wish I Knew”. If you’ve missed the last ones, find them here:

Part Three:  Creating Systems

Part Two: The Expert

Part One: Marketing

Do You Excel At Chaos? Me Too! And This Is How I Turned Chaos Into Success

Painting equipment on a wooden table

Painting equipment on a wooden table

The Ugly Truth…

I’ve been called a slob before- my whole life actually. Just messy. I’ve lost roommates over it, enraged parents, and disgusted employees.

The fact is, I only clean for three reasons:

  1. To make space for another mess
  2. To avoid social humiliation (say if I’m having  party)
  3. To avoid strife between me and my spouse and employees.

If left to my own ways, I would end up like that hoarder muppet in Labyrinth.

As I’ve built a growing business, it has become clear that a certain level of organization, rules, and operation systematization is crucial to help me deal with the overwhelming chaos. It also allows me to live in a world with my much more organized counterparts. You could say, I am a reformed slob.

What did I do to solve it? Systemize!

What Does It Mean To Systemize?

A system is just a documented, repeatable way of doing something that achieves a desirable goal.

Documented so the system can be followed, measured so you know if it’s successful, and flexible so it can be improved. Once a system is in place and is generating success, you don’t have to think about the tasks to achieve that success–as long as you follow the system, the system will bring the outcome you want!

I view systems now as mechanics- and I can geek out about mechanics.

I ask myself, “How can I ease this operation so that as much decision-making as possible is automated?” I walk through the steps, document it, and try like hell to use it every time I have to do that task.

Voila, a system!

This way, all my creative fuel can go into less boring parts like actually forming and executing new ideas.

Approaching a boring task used to be like this….

“Ugh, so tedious, where was that thing I did before? So much to do. I have to move this stuff out-of-the-way first. So much stuff…  Maybe snack first… I love snacks. What was I doing?”

And this would continue until the actual amount produced that day was a shadow of what I knew was possible.

As it turns out, there are some studies in this area. They call it willpower, however that to me sounds like some sort of superhuman strength. When we mortals try to harness willpower we can only expect disappointment.

Really, willpower is only making the decisions that get you closer to your goal. And with systems in place this doesn’t require some sort of superhero strength.

Good Decision-Making Can Be Automated

You read that right: you can build systems to automate good decision-making.

That’s great because in Tierney and Baumeister’s studies on willpower in their book called (ahem) Willpower (non affiliate link), they talk about our brains having a finite ability to process information for that day. With every decision, you reduce your ability to calmly process data and come to a good decision.

Even small decisions affect your reserves.

That means, toward the end of the day, you have severely depleted your resources. In the morning, you fully intend to exercise, draw up a new proposal, and eat well. Around 5pm you are now sitting on a stool at happy hour eating cheese fries having only doodled over the cover of your notebook.

What can you do? Eating, sleeping, exercising, meditating, these are all things that can boost your metaphorical fuel tank. But, what can you do to preserve your fuel from reducing in the first place?

You got it! Systemize! (also called routine, but that’s boring.)

For example, if your goal is to get out of the house in a way that will not repel other humans, you will want to follow this system. I call it, the How To Leave Your House Without Being All Nasty System (patent pending):

  1. Get out of bed
  2. Take a shower
  3. Get yourself clothed
  4. Eat something
  5. Brush your teeth
  6. Fix your hair
  7. Get your stuff and walk out the door.

Congratulations! You have just completed creating systems and have not reduced your ability to make much more difficult decisions later on in the day.  This list represents an automated system you have repeated and mastered to the point that it is not a chore.

And you can do the same for MOST business tasks and operations.

Where Can You Find Systems?

Once you start looking for systems, you see them everywhere. Systems are routines you follow to get stuff done. (If it still doesn’t make sense, refer to the above example of How To Leave The House Without Being All Nasty.)

Once identified, then the critical task is to document it.

Here’s what putting together a flower arrangement looks like in our shop:

  1. Start timer
  2. Clean off workspace
  3. Assemble tools and compost bin,
  4. Get flowers and raise them up so I don’t have to stoop. Everything should be easily reached.
  5. Assess goal size and shape.
  6. Prepare container and Go. I even have a system for how to start flower arrangement which you can review here.
  7. Stop Timer.
  8. Assess time spent and see if it is in line with how much time I have left to complete other tasks. If I don’t have enough, I need to go faster or reduce a step. If I have time left, yay, I can go home early.
  9. Count flowers used of each type of flower.
  10. Document on my FLOWER RECIPE average time and any alterations to the recipe.
  11. Take picture.
  12. The picture, flower recipe, and time is filed away so that next time when I have a similar arrangement, I know how much time to budget, how much of what to buy, and what it looks like, each time I use this recipe, I document for which job it was used.
  13. Repeat steps 1-7

Later I view the receipts to ensure that my flower recipe is priced appropriately and make any necessary notes for next time.

By doing this, it’s easy to start work. More importantly however, with each iteration, I’m honing my profitability and can accurately estimate how many employees I need for how long.

My employees can also get into the habit of using this system and develop a sense for ways to make things more efficient. When you’re doing your quarterly or yearly review to gauge how profitable your jobs were, oh man it’s nice when they line up exactly where you planned them to be (or better).

That’s some serious satisfaction.

Where We Use Systems

We try to use systems whenever we can. Here are a number of areas:

  • Pricing: How to charge for what you do!
  • Mobilization and Load In: How we get everything ready to go, how we get it packed, and how we get started on site.
  • Payroll: How we track hours and get employees paid.
  • Invoicing: How we get paid!
  • Information sharing: How we share information internally.
  • Packing: How to ensure you aren’t running around looking for something on site.
  • Site and Venue analysis: What to look for, what to ask about, how to make a map.
  • Flower care: How to ensure flowers stay fresh and open nicely.
  • Yearly strategizing for labor, marketing, and expenditure budgets.
  • Flower ordering: How to make a flower recipe and ensure profits.
  • Proposals: What we show, and what we don’t,
  • Client Intake: What happens after we get an email inquiry and how do we make sure that inquiry is not lost
  • Client meetings: what we talk about, what we don’t, what info we collect, what processes happen next.
  • Photographing jobs and systems for naming files so we know who the photographer, client, and venue.

Need more info on how to systemize your operation? The first book I read on the subject was the E-myth. We’ll also be putting together a ‘Nuts and Bolts’ training system that will show you our backend systems.

Let us know what you are curious about in our operation and sign up to our email list to be notified when that is out.

This is part THREE of our ten part series: Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Event Business

Check out Part 1 (marketing, baby) and Part 2 (experts) to get all caught up.

 

 

 


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