About Nancy: Off to Spring Training

18 March 2012

Nothing beats hand-on experience and the wisdom of those who have paved the way before me. 
So, yes, formal training is absolutely necessary to learn mechanics, color harmony, etc- but without the guidance of someone who has been in the trenches and shares their successes and mistakes, it will be much harder to stay afloat. Nothing beats a mentor. -Jeanette Kleitz

I'm taking a short break this week and going to Spring Training.  While I'm gone I just want to follow up and answer a question from a previous post apt titled Lessons: Self Taught v Mentored v Trained.

Some people don't need school to learn.  They are self starters and they learn by reading, seeing, touching, experimenting, and observing.  My husband, Kevin Chin, is one of those artists who is self taught.  Though he took some photography classes, he honed his craft through real wedding experience without a real mentor to help him along.  After 23 years, he remains one of the most technically savvy photographers I know.   His real strength is his dedication to learning and his willingness to practice his craft.  He is truly one disciplined person.

Many self taught artists who happen to attain success and longevity are the exceptions to the rule.

After speaking with many designers and other pros, I'm taking this view on self taught v mentored v trained.

I feel with my whole heart that having some training especially at the start is fundamental to success.  Having a mentor(s) has been the greatest help of all.  And lastly, working for several larger corporations have helped me immensely to develop business skills.

The reason why I'm not that enthusiastic about taking a self taught approach is the fact that those who have formal training as well as mentors have two out of three key skill sets.

Let's examine further ----

Training gives you the time to hone a craft through classwork.  While attending Floral School, you actually learn the history of floral design, the various principles and the many techniques still used today.  I was a student at CCSF's Floristry and Horticulture program.  This Associate degree program is one of the best in the nation and prepares designers for success.  CCSF's alumnae include Leighsa Montrose of Branch Out, Karen Axel of Tapestry, Natasha Lisitsa of Waterlily Pond, Karin Woodward of Haute Horticulture.   What formal training gives you is a foundation that allows you to understand the rules of design so that you can practice, refine and then break the rules. 

A student taking lessons from Jenny Tarbaracci, instructor at CCSF.
Some formal training studies will feature actual demonstrations, where you can pick up the instructors' techniques.  While formal training isn't the end all, there is just some things that you need an instructor to show and guide you through.

Steven Brown, one of my favorite instructors from CCSF.
Since flowers are organic, it's wonderful to get hands on training where you can touch different flowers.   Learn about their uniquenesses.  You don't have to know all the names of each flower but some accredit Horticulture and Floristry programs do have a Plant and Floral ID classe which is helpful for those who want to be a small business owner.

More importantly, when you learn from a book or just through experimentation on your own,  you don't have a trained eye, experienced instructor to bounce ideas off of.  I especially like having my work critiqued. Plus, it's more fascinating to ask questions and get answers from a person, not a book.  And most certainly, if you are self taught, you don't have the luxury of getting valuable tidbits and feedback from a seasoned pro.   A trained expert can critique and correct while guiding you so that you can learn advance floral techniques.   A trained expert can also find your weakness and improve your skill levels and technical abilities.   Especially in floral design, the many techniques can't be learned just through a book or through copying.

Mentoring is also key.   This is by far the one area that I have gained the most from. Through working for and developing a rapport with my mentors, I have learned even more than in classwork.  Working for a floral designer opened my eyes to many practical things including how to process, how to do mechanics, how to load and setup a wedding which a book about floral design never addressed.  Logistical issues were never really taught in floral school so real world training helped me to prepare for my own business.

Another great part of mentoring was the times that I spent shadowing my boss.  When he would go to the market, I would follow him. This gave me insight to how to work with suppliers.  It also helped me to see what was available at our local flower market.

There's Pico Soriano, mentor and great teacher working on a beautiful parallel design.
When he had consultations, I would observe.  When he had client meetings, he actually let me sit in on them.  This gave me insight to the creative process which was invaluable.  Without his mentorship, I wouldn't have known how to write a proposal or how to know what the boundaries were.  Thank you PICO.

I can't tell you how awesome mentors are and the role they play even when you have been in business for a while.  Great seasoned designers like my dear mentor, Shawna Futagaki of Flower Divas often give me insights to complex design and procurement issues.  I have asked many questions in the past which included ---- "Where is the best place to find this?"  "Have you ever worked on a xxx project?"  "How do I make a floral elephant?"  And the questions go on from there.  Whether you have a mentor or not, I couldn't succeed without one.  Of course, I highly recommend that you have one to bounce ideas off of.  To help you alleviate your work.  To support you through difficult times which we are all bound to have.

Working for a corporation helped me develop business and communication skills.  It's something that many of you might have experienced already.  But for those who are starting out, there is still a chance that you can work for a corporation instead of starting a new business on your own.

Let me share my own experiences with you.

While working at Macy's, I had several fantastic positions.  One of my favorite buyers was Caren Krupnick(and later her husband Gary Muto, past President of Gap Inc, currently with Ann Taylor).    Through her guidance, critiques, and insights, I learned how to deal with very important fashion designers and brand managers.   This important business skill has helped me to remain calm and confident when bidding for larger projects.  It's given me the confidence that I can do a $5000 wedding to a $100,000 wedding.  After all, I was in charge of hundreds of thousands of dollars in merchandise at any given time.

I'm at the point where another floral design workshop isn't going to boost my career. That said, I feel somewhat on my own when it comes down to the business end of things. -Jeanette Kleitz

In a large corporation, mistakes happen and there are always incidences to learn from.  For example, during my stint in Young Mens and Men's dress shirts, I put the whole entire department on sale on a few occasions.  One time, instead of lecturing me, Caren told me to "fix it".  Her no- nonsense management style was very influential in the way I manage today.  Being able to learn from these huge mistakes has helped me to be a better owner of my own business.  Having worked for such a large companies, I learned quickly how my mistakes could impact the bottom line.  Unfortunately it's hard to practicing how to correct mistakes on your clients if you are starting a new business.  I'm glad that I learned how to mitigate complex issues.  It's helped me to see things in a different way so that I'm more customer oriented.

Working with a more structure business, I have learned business strategies, styling tips, and marketing insights that I still use today.  Without those business insights, I don't think I could run a successful business.  But truthfully, it doesn't matter if you have worked for a structured conglomerate or a coffee shop, each position can give you tools that can help improve your business.  That's exactly what I think is so important --- working for someone else can give you an advantage over someone who has never worked in that environment.
One last thing

If you have already started your own business, how can you develop business skills?  One thing is finding a mentor who has successful owned a business.  To be honest, this person doesn't have to have any wedding or floral insights.  What is important is to find someone who has strong business skills, who has maintained strong businesses and who is a good teacher.  If you look hard enough, you may find someone.  If not, there are many organizations including alumni groups in your area.  Or just ask your friends for suggestions.

If you can't find someone to mentor you on business than look for small business workshops.   Look to see if there are any classes in junior or city colleges in your area.  In many areas there is a NACE, WIPA and ISES group.  I offer a Wedding Floral Academy where we do talk about business development.  It's one of many workshops offered by other event pros.

No matter what, remember to have faith and hope.  There are always options.

Bottom Line--- you can succeed by creating your own style or being self taught.  But it really doesn't hurt to have formal training, a mentor to help you along the way, and even some business skills to give you a leg up.

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Sharon Chironda said...

I love this post Nancy. I have always described myself as self-taught and taken so much pride in that. However, I love any opportunity to take sewing classes or business / entrepreneurial courses. You can never be too learned or too skilled to learn something new.

Daisy said...

Nancy your post is just fabulous. I just started my own business and im self taught. I did flowers for many wedding from my own home for several years and i just started my business in a commercial area. I've never taken floral classes but having a mentor sounds like a good idea.


Laura Rovig said...

Nancy, having you as my mentor was the best opportunity I could have had! I agree with you wholeheartedly that an education along with learning from a successful leader in the industry gives you an edge and helps tremendously. Thank you for being a supporter of students and for giving all you have to help them succeed.

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