Blooming in Business: Debra Hayes

After a couple of years of struggling to find her passion, Debra Hayes (1988) found floristry. Debra took a leap of faith and started her own floristry business at 23. She has been a florist owner ever since. We asked Debra a few questions to learn more about what she has been up to since graduating from the College. 
Can you talk to us briefly about your journey since graduating from Santa Maria?
I struggled to decide what to do after graduating, as I didn’t get into my first choice of university course. I had wanted to do Law but settled on an Arts degree at Murdoch University. It was not even considered an option that I would do something other than university. People are much more open-minded about creative careers now, and there are more pathways to consider and options to explore.
I found university challenging and took five years to complete my degree – I enjoyed the writing and journalism subjects a lot, so at 22, after graduating, I applied for a cadetship at The West Australian. I had thought this was my dream job. I didn’t get the position, and then I faced the same rejection the following year. I wasn’t sure this was my dream job anymore, and I was unmotivated, unemployed and lost. This was the start of my resilience training!
How did you get into floristry? How were you inspired to start your own floral business?
I had always loved flowers and gardening and thought I might try my hand at horticulture. The guidance counsellor I saw for advice at TAFE looked me up and down and said, “I don’t think you are cut out for that…what about floristry?” At first, I was offended, but somehow this insightful person gave me the idea that it would become my future career, and I was surprised at how excited I was.
I decided to teach myself flowers rather than go to college as I didn’t resonate with the style. I hustled hard. I spent every spare cent on flowers and flower books and practised. I took photos, made a sample portfolio of my work and then hit the pavement to look for work experience and a job. I was 23 and filled with confidence. I was on a mission to find someone to train me, take me in and inspire me. I came up against endless brick walls in my quest. I was considered too old and too inexperienced for someone so old! It was awful. 
I was exploding with creativity and confidence but naive to the fact that I had no idea what I was doing. I decided that the only way forward was to open my own flower shop. My stomach churns when I think of this now, as I know it sounds so crazy, but I did not doubt that I could do it. I was completely unaware of the reality of entrepreneurship. I had learned minimal floristry through books and practice and needed business skills – this is where the fun began.
Can you describe your favourite part of the creative process and why?
I love that no day is ever the same. When working with seasonal flowers, you are constantly inspired by nature and never know what delights await you at the flower markets each day. It still gives me goosebumps when something I love comes back into season. Working with new and exciting flowers and foliage every day keeps me inspired. I love experimenting with different textures, combinations and colour palettes. Creatives also have the added challenge of keeping up with trends while being able to nurture their own unique style, this part of the creative process is one of the things that can set you apart from others, so it is really important to remember. 
In what ways has your business changed since you first started it?

My business constantly changes and grows to this day. I embrace change and growth, as we are always learning both in life and in business and this is a good thing. Styles, trends and seasons come and go but my core values remain the same. I am in business to provide a service that makes a difference in someone’s day through kindness and thoughtfulness. Each day when I achieve that, I know that I have done my job well. The customer and how they feel is at the front of my mind always. Whether you receive flowers from my store, send flowers to someone, we do your wedding, you come to a workshop or we help you with your mothers funeral; if you have felt the love and attention to detail that is given openly by my staff and myself, both to you and with the flowers we make, then you will hopefully be a customer for life. My customers are part of my community and the reason why I get out of bed (at the crack of dawn!) and have a genuine purpose every day.

What do you do to unwind and relax after a busy week?
I have learned that I need little moments of relaxation all through my week to get through it with a smile on my face! Retail days and shop life are constantly busy and being an entrepreneur can be a 24/7 consuming situation if you let it. I have been guilty of that for much of my career until the last few years. I now take the time to plan my downtime to include exercising with a trainer, yoga, walking and beach swims weekly. The job demands see me up at 5.00 am most days, so you will find me in bed with a cup of tea and a book before 9.00 pm to make sure I am ready for the very busy day ahead. Oh, and baking – a favourite place for me to unwind is in the kitchen.
Do you have any advice for students who might want to start their own business in the creative field?
I feel very strongly about my advice for any student, not just creatives. The most important thing to strive for in your career is to work doing something that you truly love and to be mindful of what you are naturally good at. It is a winning combination. You may not know what this is whilst you are at school and that is ok, if you pay attention to the signs, try new things and have an open mind you will work it out. No matter what you end up doing, be kind and generous and work extra hard because you will know that no matter what happens, you tried your best.
If you are interested in starting your own business, do your research and try to find a mentor. My sincere advice is to have a really good support network either family, friends or business groups and from the beginning get professional assistance with financials, accounting and business planning, especially if these are not areas of expertise for you. Creatives can sometimes let these things slide and then learn how important they are the hard way.
Once in business, find your style, embrace your difference, stay in your own lane and be nice to everyone – especially those in your industry, you never know when you may need help from someone who knows exactly what you are going through. Owning your own business is so rewarding. It may feel like a risk and like you need to take a deep breath and a giant leap of faith to make it happen, but if deep down you feel the love for it then you will enjoy the entire journey.
Thank you Debra, for chatting with us and giving an insight into what it is like to own a creative business!
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