Risking it all: Becoming a florist has made me happier than City life

She lost her job at the height of the recession, but The Gated Garden's Sharon Crane loves her market stall life come rain or shine

The Gated Garden's Sharon Crane is responsible for happiness, sympathy, regret and a multitude of emotions in between.

The life of a florist runs deep into the lives of others with a bouquet of flowers – like a picture – capable of saying a thousand words at just the right moment.

Based in London's Borough Market Sharon's stall is one of the first and most colourful scenes you'll see if you enter from Borough High Street.

When Startups.co.uk visited it was one of the coldest, windiest, wettest days, replete with thunder and lightning and situated as it is at the end of a tunnel from the high street, The Gated Garden was taking the brunt of the elements. Yet it did little to dampen Sharon's indefatigable spirit.

“The thing I love most about my business is creating the look. Every week it changes. I love making bouquets,” says the self-taught florist. “We have a lot of regular customers and they'll come back time and time again.”

Risking it all

It wasn't always thus. There was a time when Sharon made her way from Kent to a nice warm office rather than getting up at 2am to get to the wholesale flower market.

“We used to work for a large corporate company and we lost our jobs in the crash,” she says. “I worked in human resources. We looked after 1,862 employees.”

And it's here she gets a little wistful, laughing at the memory of her ‘former life'. “My office job was 8am to 4pm. Lovely hours, lovely clothes, manicured, made up! It just happened. A lot of people lost their jobs.”

Forced into a change, Sharon started working on The Gated Garden's stall with the owner. When the owner retired nobody stepped forward to take it on. Sharon picks up the story: “So I approached the market and was accepted. The florist who worked at the same time came on board with me.”

After her pre-dawn raid of wholesalers' stock, she spends the hours as the sun begins to rise preparing the display. Following a full day on the stall, Sharon finally gets to leave at 5pm or 6pm on a Friday to head home. It's fair to say it's not a job for the faint-hearted.

Keeping on top of cash

As with most cash-based market stalls, the work doesn't finish when you shut for the night. “One of the challenges you do have owning a business is the paperwork. Initially I think all of us are the same and will throw [the receipts] in a pot and then deal with them. However, the more suppliers you go to, the more receipts you get so you eventually have to come up with your own filing system.”

If it's not a system that works for your accountant you're in trouble. “If you're the only one that's used to it you've then got to sit with your accountant to show them exactly how you have gone through all of the receipts and what you are trying to claim for.”

It's a job Sharon leaves for Sundays with a spreadsheet for receipts and daily takings and anything else that has gone in or out of the business. Once complete she files it with her accountant to double-check that she is claiming correctly.

On the stall itself, Sharon keeps a £50 cash float of £10 and £5 notes, plus coins held at the stall as banks now charge to deal with them. Adjusting to life as a ‘part-time bookkeeper' has not been an easy transition.

“The accounting side of the business is tricky,” she says. “If you are in floristry or fruit and veg in particular you don't get credit. Everything you want to buy you have to pay for there and then. You really do have to manage your money and are reliant on selling the produce you have on the stall. If you don't you won't have capital to invest the following week.”

If Sharon could change anything it would be to get rid of receipts. “In busy periods you have hundreds of receipts. You've only got to mislay two or three and it can be quite damaging to your business.”

But would she give it all up to return to an office job with make-up and manicures thrown in? “I do think I'm a very fortunate person. I wouldn't go back to corporate life… maybe when I'm 70 I may have to look for somewhere in the warm,” she muses, “but no, I wouldn't change it.”

This film was produced in partnership with Sage One. For more business insight and tips to keep on top of cashflow and small business tax visit the Sage business blog http://uk.sageone.com/blog/.  

For a free trial of Sage One Start please visit http://uk.sageone.com/products/.

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