In 2012, I walked out of my office on a spring day. When those elevator doors opened and I said good-bye to the trusted doormen at my 5th Avenue office, I felt liberated.

For about three minutes.

That time I quit my 9-to-5 job

The ultimate doom of my decision came down on me like an anvil from an old ACME cartoon. I had zero idea where my next paycheck was coming from. What the hell did I just do?

After I quit, I found myself hanging out in my local bar + flower shop, you know, as one does in Brooklyn. One of the florists said, “You know we need a little extra help for the holiday coming up. Wanna work?” I immediately said yes, assuming that if I could weasel my way through the flower shop I could work behind the bar for the good cash.

A year later, the manager of the bar told me the flower shop was going to be rented out. The bar had to focus on the bar and the flower shop wasn’t doing well on its own with no real manager behind it.

She said, “Hey Suzi, you’ve always loved it, why don’t you do it?”

My stomach flipped. I started fantasizing about the idea of being a business owner. How exciting it would be to run my own show and be my own boss.

One small problem: I had NO idea where to start. And as luck would have it, I had two big roadblocks right away:

The two roadblocks to starting my own business

Roadblock #1: Business insurance.

The lease stated I had to have business insurance up to $1 million. No, that didn’t mean I had to pay one million dollars. It just meant I had to get coverage on my space so if someone got hurt during “flower shop” hours, the bar wouldn’t get sued.

Roadblock #2: Open in four weeks.

Just let that sink in. Four weeks from the time I heard about the opportunity to the time they wanted me to OPEN my business. One month to create a concept, come up with a name, figure out store hours, set up insurance, get a website? Uh.

WTF was I doing?

I’m still not sure I know. Although there are many tiny steps I took, these are the major ones I had to navigate when I opened my first store:

The 12 steps that turned me into a business owner

Step 1: I came up with a business name

You literally can’t do anything without a name. No email addresses, websites, or signs on your door can be created without a proper name. It was the first major thing that helped me open the shop.

To come up with a name, I wrote down words associated with my profession that sounded pleasing:

  • Petals
  • Sticks + Stones
  • Leaf
  • Phat Flowers
  • Protea, etc.

The right name came when I was on the phone with my sister. She asked me what I liked about flowers, and I described how I loved seeing the stems of flowers in a vase, the way their ends dance on the vase floor like ballerinas. She said, that’s it! Stems.

Step 2: I registered that name

I marched down to my local courthouse to file a DBA, or Doing Business As, which is basically for any business name if you aren’t operating as your personal name.

For instance, I wasn’t going to operate as “Suzanna Cameron” since I was doing business as “Stems.” Luckily, the name Stems was available.

I also had to set up a tax Identification number to collect sales tax and become a wholesaler in my industry.  

Step 3: I got a legit email address

If you don’t have a website, an email address is the most effective way for people to reach you, even more important than a phone number these days.

I didn’t know anything about domain email addresses like [email protected], where your business name is the web address after the “@” sign So when I started, I set up my email address as [email protected].

Cute, approachable, and tells people what we sell—flowers.

A year or so later I decided to brand myself as Stems Brooklyn—as there were two other shops with similar names in Brooklyn, and I identified strongly with being a Brooklyn-based business. The email address [email protected] was born.

But it still wasn’t right.

After three years, I learned how to set up G Suite for my business. Finally, I had the email address [email protected].

As my company has grown we have added in aliases and other department emails such as [email protected] or [email protected] for smoother operations on the backend.

Step 4: I got legit business insurance

I ended up finding an insurance company through my new business partners. I did not cross-compare pricing or look for other insurance companies because I had no time and quite frankly, didn’t know how to find another insurance carrier.

Easy peesy, but it’s a couple hundred a month. I admit, I didn’t budget THAT into my initial startup costs.

Step 5: I reviewed and signed my lease

I put down the first month and a security deposit. It was all the money I had in my entire life.

The lease was for one year at $500/month, with utilities included. It was a fair price for 99 square feet of a bar that had to be set up and broken down every single day. The cooler was in the basement so that meant I had to carry buckets down lots of stairs, and weave between kegs of beer to reach the walk-in cooler.

stems brooklyn how to open first store
Image: Suzanna Cameron

Step 6: I opened a business bank account

For some reason, Chase bank gave me a business line of credit.

Thanks to my Old Navy credit card which I had acquired at the age of 17, I actually had some credit and it was decent. The banks knew that I could handle a little something so they put a $1,000 credit limit on my very first business credit card. WOW, it even said STEMS on it! I was feeling like a real boss now.

My parents gave me $1,000 to get started (thanks, parents!), which was the only financial help I received for the next five years from an outside source.

Since I had a credit card and solid credit, that helped me open my first business credit card account. I also did not attend a traditional college track, only a year of community college while I was enrolled in high school, which meant I had no student loans.

Step 7: I got business cards!

Wait, I needed a logo first.

Step 8: I got a logo

These days, you can use websites like this that will automatically generate logos for you.  (Seriously, you can get one for like $35.) However, my brother was in graphic design school and made me one for an assignment. (Ynes, I paid him all of $50 for it). He even sent me an invoice because I heard that was something you should do.

Step 9: I actually got business cards

Try Moo or Vistaprint if you are looking for high-quality, affordable business cards, stickers, and banners. They’re easy to order from and reliable.

how to open a flower shop
Image: Bklynr.

Step 10: I purchased basic supplies for the shop

Since I was using a small space that I had to share, I didn’t have to do anything to the space right away such as installing displays or window dressings.

I painted a few existing walls and hung plants in the front window to dress it up a bit. Then, I bought some vases and clippers off the owners from the old shop, and they gave me a phone line to get things rolling. Finally, I also bought clamp lights from the dollar store for a “cool effect.”

I mean, I COULD have and SHOULD have done so much more, but I didn’t because, money.

Step 11: I commissioned  a sign

I commissioned a friend to hand paint a gold leaf sign on the front door. It was beautiful and artisanal, but the bar my flower shop was in started being mistaken for my business too. So the owners asked me to take it down.

We collaborated on a new sign with both our names on it, which you guessed it, cost more money I didn’t have. See, even in this easy situation there were always sneaky expenses coming into play.

how to open flower shop
Image: Bklynr.

Step 12: I set my store hours

I opened seven days a week to start. Ambitious yes, but I had to pay my rent, business insurance, and that little credit card bill back. I researched other flower shops in Brooklyn to see what the industry standard for flower shop hours were, 11am-7pm, which is still true today.

And that’s it. I had a successful business in just 12 easy steps!

Just kidding. I had no idea what I had actually just done.

The sheer ignorance of thinking that getting my doors open was the hard part. That was merely my first exercise in perseverance. Mountains, hurdles, road blocks, dead ends and every other metaphor for things “not going your way” were about to unfold. Lucky for me, I opened my business three days before one of the biggest floral holidays of the year: Valentine’s Day.

If you want to learn how I navigated customer service, having no support staff on a busy holiday—at one point, I had to close up shop while I ran a delivery—and the painfully slow days that followed a busy holiday opening… stay tuned.

Top image: Suzanna Cameron

Suzanna Cameron Suzanna Cameron owns and operates Stems Brooklyn, a full service retail flower shop in NYC. Her favorite flower is the Pincushion Protea.
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