Margaret Williamson

I honestly think the best thing to do is re-assess your business every several months. I think it’s too easy to get caught up in the day to day details that you lose sight of the overall.

Margaret Williamson, creative director and lead designer, founded Leaf + Petal in 2015. Leaf + Petal is a floral design studio based in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans that offers beautiful custom florals for weddings and corporate events. Their floral work has been published in various web and print publications, including Vogue, Style Me Pretty, and Green Wedding Shoes. Leaf + Petal has also partnered with major corporations and celebrities for events and weddings, including Mary J. Blige, Town & Country Magazine, and the BBC.

Prior to starting Leaf + Petal, Margaret worked in the fashion industry as director of PR & marketing for various showrooms based in New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas. Upon relocating to New Orleans, she decided to pursue her interest in floral design and received her floral license. After gaining valuable experience through working with established florists, she opened the doors to her own studio.

Margaret lives in New Orleans with her husband, who is an attorney, two pugs, and a kitty. In her spare time, which is unfortunately limited, she enjoys gardening and cocktailing.

Where did the idea for Leaf + Petal come from?

I used to work in PR & marketing in the fashion industry and was starting to feel really burned out. At the time, my now husband and I were living in Texas. We wanted to move back to his hometown of New Orleans, so I started looking for fashion/PR jobs but couldn’t find anything. I saw that as an opportunity and decided it was time to start fresh. It was around Valentine’s Day (if you want to be a florist – don’t start then), and I found a slightly sketchy job for a florist on Craigslist stripping leaves off thousands of red roses. After getting some experience there, I had a few ideas for how to create my own business. Honestly, it was kind of a ‘no time like the present…’ kind of moment which changed my life.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I’m a morning person, so I get up early and start checking emails at 6am. When I finish going over those, I head to the studio at around 9 or 10. I’ll do some floral work until it’s time to pick up Edward & Bernard, our two pug puppies, and bring them back to the studio to “work” with me. One of them is sitting in my lap as I type this. Toward the end of the day, I go home at around 4pm and check emails until about 6:30-7, which is just about cocktail time in our house. I work in an industry where we’re viewed as creatives, but there’s just as much office work and proposal writing in floral design as there is anywhere else. It’s a hard balance, but I try to keep to my coffee/emails/flower work/dogs/flower work/email/cocktail schedule as much as possible to maintain that balance. It keeps me productive, but the pug puppies unfortunately do not.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I think it’s just as much about numbers as it is creating visuals. I usually visually plan the space, take the aesthetic into account, think about the mechanics involved in creating it, and then sketch it out. Then, we break it down by numbers. We actualize each square foot and multiply, that way we can figure the floral count. I guess I just really love to sketch; I carry a pad of graph paper in my purse everywhere I go. Oh, and Pinterest is a great source of inspiration when creating new and unique pieces!

What’s one trend that excites you?

I would say as a business, Leaf + Petal isn’t really very trend driven. The majority of our business is weddings, and I usually tell brides to go with whatever aesthetic they’re naturally drawn to. For example, the pantone for weddings this year is coral. Well, that’s pretty specific; and from someone who isn’t terribly partial to orange, I would want the person who’s giving me advice on my wedding aesthetic to help me feel comfortable in choosing what I always gravitate towards. Having said that, I think a wedding trend that will never go out of style is a romantic look. Personally, that’s what I gravitate toward, and, in turn, what our business gravitates toward as well. That’s not to say we haven’t done some bizarre stuff. We’ll make you anything you ask for, we just might not put it on Instagram.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I associate being productive with my frame of mind. I absolutely love what I do, but, even so, some days it’s hard finding the drive to answer 100 emails. I have a support group of a couple other women who work in the industry and own their own businesses. Speaking with them really helps me stay on track. It creates support, and it helps keep me creative. Discussing ideas and business with them also really helps me stay in a productive mindset. I mean, being a business owner is incredibly hard – it’s time consuming and can easily overwhelm you. Knowing I have people that I can walk through ideas with definitely keeps me grounded.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I think it’s really easy to be hard on your younger self and I know I am. I think I should have done this or that sooner or certain things not at all. I think I would tell myself it’s ok to not have things figured out but the need to have motivation and drive is extremely important. I think I worked ‘hard not smart’ for a long time and would tell myself to take a step back, look at what you’re doing and re-assess.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I shouldn’t say this as a designer but I hate primary colors.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I honestly think the best thing to do is re-assess your business every several months. I think it’s too easy to get caught up in the day to day details that you lose sight of the overall. Or, I guess that can easily go vice versa–a little forest for the trees scenario. The overall vision is incredibly important as are the minutiae of the day to day. I think taking time occasionally to step back and realistically view what you’re doing/where you’re headed is important.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Please explain how. When I started, I worked out of a back studio at our house. I was my only employee (unpaid) and my now husband helped me set up weddings on the weekends (also unpaid). I didn’t have to worry about overhead, what my margins were, etc. Fast forward to selling the house relocating Leaf + Petal to Magazine St (if you’re unfamiliar with New Orleans, the rent there is nuts). I now had rent and my business had grown as such that we needed employees. By now, margins and overhead mattered significantly. I finally took seriously every dollar that came in vs how it left. I started relationships with new growers to source new pricing, started actually looking at my QuickBooks and created a new plan. One that involved actually having a plan.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I think when your business is going well, it’s easy to wear rose-colored glasses and believe that it will just as easily continue. About a year and a half ago, I took on several large scale projects (non-revenue building) so I would be able to showcase the fact that our business had grown and that we were now capable of significantly more than we were when we started. Unfortunately, these projects all came back to back, and I also decided to do this at a time when I was restructuring Leaf + Petal. I was changing our pricing and was in the process of moving Leaf + Petal into a different style of business. Increasing overall and changing how we charge fees, etc, initially made sales go down. I understand that’s inevitable but to change the type of business we’re getting, we had to change our business model. In hindsight, while extremely happy with the outcome of both moves I had to take a huge hit for two straight months. I would definitely re-evaluate my timing in taking on both concepts at the same time. My advice, don’t change your pricing and take on non-revenue producing projects at the same time. I think it just about gave me a heart attack.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I can really only speak to the industry I’m in (weddings and events), but I’m desperate to get my hands on a venue. Since New Orleans is such a tourism-driven location, there are always events going on all over the city. Real estate here is ridiculous though. I think there is an insane amount of money to be made owning and running an event space, but it just takes an insane amount of money to get it off the ground. So if anybody’s got the capital, I have the idea. Call me.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I gave a raise to one of our main employees. While I find everything we do important (be it design work, marketing, etc), I think the importance of your employees is something that cannot be underestimated. They help us create and produce all the amazing things that head out our door every day and Leaf + Petal truly wouldn’t exist without them.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I really can’t say enough about QuickBooks. Every month when I reconcile it really helps me stay on track monetarily. I think it’s being able to see how every single dollar is spent, what’s working, where I overspend, etc, is really eye-opening.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I don’t think I can be terribly helpful here. The type of books I read are more to block my mind from thinking about work, more about pretending work doesn’t exist for a little while.

What is your favorite quote?

“Good judgement comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgement.”

Key Learnings:

Being creative is just as much about using creativity and designing but also actualizing the mechanics behind the idea. Space planning and numbers are just as important as the beauty of the aesthetic.

Employees are the backbone of a business.

Step back and re-evaluate the route your business is taking from time to time. Day-to-day detail is important but you can lose sight of the overall vision.