Self-Employment: Flowers for Special OccasionsInes De Meerleer works as a legal secretary for Wilmer Hale in Brussels and also runs SeniFlorum, a supplier of flower arrangements for special occasions.
Ines De Meerleer spoke to Brussels Legal about her self-employed business.
We started by talking about where the motivation for SeniFlorum came from.
BL: So why start a business concerning flowers?
ID: I love flowers, they have always been a passion of mine. When I was 12 I used to dry them (then very fashionable) and then I had a summer job between the ages of 16-18 working in a specialist flower market. Normally the market's surplus flowers would be destroyed at the end of each day, but I knew someone there and so was able to get a few of the surplus each day. I dried those flowers, arranged them and then sold all of them at the Christmas market in my village.
BL: When and why did SeniFlorum start?
ID: Even though I qualified as a legal secretary and started working with my law firm, I maintained my interest in flowers.
It was around February 2003 when I created SeniFlorum. I started supplying flowers to my law firm and to a couple of other companies. The work was enjoyable and it did not take up so much time.
After about a year or so I was asked by one of the companies to supply the flowers for a special event. By coincidence the owners of the event venue also planned wedding fairs and they were impressed with my flower displays and recommended I attend one of their wedding fairs.
At first I was a bit unsure about attending: I had to pay to attend and had no idea what the response would be from customers. In fact I had never considered doing something like this before.
Well I attended the wedding fair and it was great: a lot of customers were interested in my work and a lot of the florists were asking about SeniFlorum.
After that I have attended more wedding fairs (Antwerp, Brussels, Gent and Mechelen) customer interest in SeniFlorum grew.
BL: So what does SeniFlorum do today?
ID: SeniFlorum supplies flower arrangements for weddings, funerals and to companies (such as for their reception areas). We also deliver plants to these companies and take care of them on a weekly basis. At the moment SeniFlorum's customers come from Brussels, Flanders and north-eastern France.
BL: How do you promote SeniFlorum?
ID: Customer word-of-mouth is great and SeniFlorum has a brochure and website (www.seniflorum.be). I have learnt a lot about design in the process - creating the right image and using the correct colours - and website-building too!
Specifically for weddings, I have been building up referral relationships with wedding dress boutiques, wedding organisers (they are growing in number and increasingly prominent) and limousine-hire companies. We have each other's brochures and try to promote each other's business.
BL: Given you work full-time as a legal secretary, how do you balance your employed and self-employed commitments?
ID: My law firm gives me opportunities to grow my self-employed business. When I have finished, I go to the wholesaler and it is like starting another working day.
The hours are long - but I run SeniFlorum as it is a passion of mine. I have made a lifestyle choice; my husband totally supports my choice and we do not have kids as yet.
BL: More practically, in getting started as a self-employed person how did you deal with the administrative matters?
ID: I have always prefered to do as much as possible myself. I knew some basic accounting and researched more information (there is a lot of public information available). I had a friend with some accounting experience and asked her advice. Today I do my quarterly VAT returns myself. I think it is mostly common-sense and becomes more straightforward the more you do it.
I have tried to keep business matters simple; SeniFlorum is my business, I have not set up a BVBA/SPRL.
BL: The creation and running of SeniFlorum all sounds very smooth. Was it?
ID: Turning my hobby into a business was less risky because I have carried on with my job. I did not get into debt starting up SeniFlorum. It was important to start small and build up the business.
But some things have not worked out well. For example, one company offered SeniFlorum free publicity, I signed up and it then turned out not to be free. But those learning experiences are part of starting a business.
BL: How do you see SeniFlorum developing?
ID: SeniFlorum delivers flowers to its particular customers (rather than its customers coming to a shop); that is a practical way that I want to continue. The business has more room for growth as it could serve customers in all parts of Belgium (and even further).
BL: What advice would you give to an employee thinking of setting up his/her own business?
ID: Go for it!
Initially I was so scared about the idea of starting up a business on my own. I started with nothing. I made sure the business did not get into debt.
But if I had not started I would never have met so many interesting people and come across the opportunities that have helped me develop my business to where it is today.
My advice is try whatever it is you enjoy doing. Do not simply jump into a business - choose something you feel passionate about, start small and just gain experience. Always keep your eyes open to what is around you, as new ideas offer new opportunities. Good luck!
BL: Thank you and good luck with SeniFlorum.
Author: Brussels Legal ©
Published: 5 April 2006
Location: Brussels Legal/Archive/Interests & Hobbies