#inspo: Helen Hung, Founder of 'Lime Tree Bower'
The founder of floral design and styling studio Lime Tree Bower, Helen Hung, (who's also the head hustler at Grow), lets us in on how she got started with her hustle beginnings! Having always loved making things since a young child, she lost a bit of that when she started working full-time after university. After dabbling in some craft blogging, she rediscovered her creative roots, which lead her into floristry. What started off as simply a weekend hobby, developed into something more and ultimately grew into a full time business! During the early stages, she noticed a severe lack of learning resources available to help with getting started. This sparked the idea for her first course about how to start a floral design business and lead to the spin off and creation of Grow by Lime Tree Bower - the place for anyone who's aspiring to build a floral design business out of their creative passion, and needs help and inspiration to turn that into a reality!
How did you get started with Lime Tree Bower?
I used to pen a blog online, which initiated from my year studying overseas, and later evolved into a DIY creative blog. It was through this that got me into gardening and growing flowers from seed, which then lead me to go to the flower markets for the first time. I fell in love with my first experience there and bought flowers to experiment with and create arrangements. I started creating simple DIY's for my blog and sharing it online through Facebook and Instagram. This lead to two friends asking me to do their wedding flowers - I said yes and that's how it all started! I did a few market stalls around Sydney, and put more effort into it all. It made me realise that I could turn this hobby into a side hustle whilst working full time in the city. I would do it after work, early mornings and weekends - basically any free time was spent on flowers!
So it seems like you didn't study floristry - what did you study back in the day?
That's right - I'm self taught, and studied a combined Business and Arts degree, majoring in Accounting, Finance and French at UNSW. I spent one year doing study exchange in Paris, which was a game-changing year for me in hindsight. That was the year that awoke my entrepreneurial and creative spirits, and when I started my blogging adventures!
Can you tell us a bit about your day job in the city?
I worked as a Software Product Manager, which involves working with a lot of people - software engineers, testers, designers, marketing etc - my role was to make sure we were building the right features and experiences for customers. It was partially strategic, partially technical, and involved a lot of problem solving.
Did you find that previous role helped you in any way with Lime Tree Bower?
Yes, definitely! I learned a lot around how to create amazing online customer experiences, and business strategy. Even though I'm not building a "product" in the same way as I was with software, I've still got an online-based website and lots of customer touch points, so a lot of the techniques I learned translates across.
What made you decide to go all in on your own business?
It was a very natural transition, that happened over time. This wasn't something that I was clear about when I first started - it was purely just a hobby at first! As time passed, and I received more interest and enquiries, I spent more time working on Lime Tree Bower. I came to realise how much there was to do and how much more I could be doing if I had more time on it. There was a moment there where I had such a long 'to do' list, I realised that I had probably reached a critical point. It felt like I had arrived at a crossroad - I could either take a stab at this and go all in, or continue to keep it small and not have a life working two different jobs.
How did you transition from full time work to full time Lime Tree Bower?
I was working full time whilst building Lime Tree Bower for about 1.5 years. My first critical point came when I was getting a bit overwhelmed with the business, and I was also feeling uninspired in my day job. I'd been in that job for quite a few years and it felt like it was time for a change. I left that job, but also didn't feel 100% comfortable to dive straight into Lime Tree Bower full-time, so I opted for a part-time balance. I joined a smaller company in a similar product management role, doing four days a week. I then switched to three days a week elsewhere, and after a few months in, I just realised it was time. Time to go all in! So I decided to jump completely into it shortly after and haven't looked back since!
Tell us a bit about your journey to date, and where things are with Lime Tree Bower today?
I began as a small creative businesses growing from word-of-mouth by friends and family. After starting off doing small weddings for friends, I began to post photos to social media which showcased my designs and this was effectively my way of marketing and advertising. Within my second year, I started picking up more weddings and other events from people I didn't know. I took the opportunity to start running small workshops and teach others who were in a similar position to me when I first started. I have always loved teaching and inspiring others and always get a lot of questions from other aspiring florists. All of these things became the catalyst for what Grow is now.
Just recently, I've decided to expand and go beyond just wedding flowers, and provide for corporate and PR events, as well as event styling and planning so that we can provide full service weddings too. However, I came to realise that I can't achieve all this just on my own, so that's lead me to hire staff and start building out a super-star team and hopefully take Lime Tree Bower to the next level!
How does Lime Tree Bower fit into your life?
I'm still able to run the business from my home studio space, so it actually makes it really easy to balance work/life. I can still do work in pyjamas if I really wanted to! I try to keep a healthy work/life balance and be mindful about taking breaks and switching off, which can be hard. It is important to stay active, so I try to work out at F45 at least 3 times a week, take my dogs for a walk daily, and always make time to go watch my favourite football team, the Sydney Swans, play when they have a home game!
What do your days look like now?
Everyday is different, which I love! I am not a fan of the rigid-cooperate 9am-5pm structure, it is very much an organic work/life balance and depends on what events and goals are planned for the week. However, there is a method to the madness!
Mondays tend to be an email and quoting day as well as planning for the week ahead.
Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are a mixed bag. This usually entails more planning for upcoming weddings and events, organising supplies, ordering flowers, admin, blogging, updating the website, social media and running errands - the mid-week hustle and bustle!
I usually go to the flower markets early on Wednesday and Friday mornings.
Fridays to Sundays are typically when the bigger hands-on work takes place - super fun but also exhausting! Fridays typically go from from 4am - 10pm involving practical work and prep for events. If I'm lucky I will fit in some Friday night footy too!
Saturdays include on-site prep, delivering flowers and bumping out/packing up flowers, mainly weddings.
Sunday is usually a day for time out! This involves catching up on household chores and spending time with friends and family. And possibly more football :)
How did you learn everything when you first started off?
By pretty much much diving straight into it. Buying different flowers at the flower markets and experimenting, figuring it out as I go. I did a lot of googling, youtube, online tutorials, purchasing floral research books and I did a lot of research to help out areas where I got stuck. I used that to develop skills and would practice a lot. Over time, as you do more you learn a bit each time and increase your skill level and knowledge base.
Whilst there is some information available online, there's a lot lacking, particularly when you're just starting out. You're not sure if you're doing the right thing, or even if there is a right way of doing things. I've learned everything I know now but making mistakes, experimenting and experience. And this is exactly why I felt compelled to create a resource for anyone starting out, so they wouldn't go through the same frustrations as I did - that's how Grow by Lime Tree Bower was born!
Being a one-person business up until recently, what has kept you motivated to keep hustling along?
Dreaming big and looking at the bigger picture! Taking time out every several months throughout the year and taking time to think about what's next? What can I do that's new or different in the coming year? What can I get excited about and where can I take this? When I take time to brainstorm and dream about this, it sparks a lot of excitement, which is very motivating.
By doing this regularly, it means I always have something new or challenging to look forward to and work towards. I have been doing this since the beginning and it is what has led me to expand into workshops, online courses, going beyond weddings and building Grow into something bigger. It is important to continue growing and I am working on newer, grander things which means I will never get bored.
I know it can be really scary to push yourself and come up with new goals, especially if you're not sure whether you'll be able to achieve it. Fear is the worst! But as someone who I find truly inspiring, Dan Barber, once said in a Chef's Table episode, "if you're not about to fail, then you're not really creating." I took this very much to heart, and it made me realise at the time I heard it, that I wasn't doing enough.
What's your best piece of advice for someone who's looking to start their own floral design business?
Just start!!! Don't be afraid and let fear get in the way of you making progress. You will never know everything there is to know from day one. It takes time and experience to build knowledge. As you get started, you'll figure stuff out and learn as you go.
What's the biggest challenge you've faced so far with your business?
In the very beginning it was incredibly difficult. With the nature of the industry, bookings typically happen at least six months in advance, so when you're just getting started, it can be quite demoralising as you don't have anything booked but want to get going.
What do you enjoy doing outside of working on your business?
I am a big AFL fanatic, so football! Also the gym, travelling, Netflix and dogs are some of my favourite things!
What are you most excited about in the future?
Many things! Where to start? On the one front, creating an inspiring creative platform for Grow. Going beyond the courses we have now and developing this into more practical tutorials for floral design, as well as the possibility of going beyond that industry in the future.
On the other hand, expanding Lime Tree Bower into a team of superstars, doing crazier awesome weddings and events all around Sydney and Australia and holding bigger workshops. Oh and of course building out the styling, events and planning aspects of the business too. Watch this space! :)