With no formal business training, Fleming embraced that can-do Kiwi attitude, starting her first business, Boudica Flowers, the old fashioned way - by door knocking.
“It’s not really in my personality to throw myself out there and be really confident but I tried my best,” she says. “It started off slowly”.
One of the doors she knocked on was a niche grocery retailer who just happened to be looking for an instore florist. Fleming jumped at the opportunity and credits the seven years she spent on the shop floor as an invaluable experience - particularly later, when she decided to expand.
“A lot of the mistakes I made, I didn’t even realise I’d made them until way down the line,” she says. “Things weren’t selling or I’d bought too much or not enough or I was selling something too expensive. It’s just learning and knowing and experience.”
As the retailer expanded, so too did demand for Fleming’s business. At its peak she provided flowers for five grocery stores. Looking back she’s still surprised by how long it took to establish herself.
“It’s always a bit of a shock when you’re two years in and you still aren’t making any profit that’s going to pay your salary,” she says. “But when you have a small business you’re putting money back in all the time to try and see the growth.”
Grow it did. Boudica Flowers now turns a profit and has even helped bankroll a second business - The Flower Project - a joint venture with Fleming’s technologically-savvy brother.
An online-only subscription service, The Flower Project allows customers to order weekly, fortnightly, monthly or one-off custom bouquets with “no middle man, straight from the market to your house, whatever is fresh on the day”.
Subscribers range from husbands on the hunt for a romantic anniversary gift, to the time-poor who love seasonal flowers, to those simply interested in improving their DIY floristry skills.
Unlike a traditional bricks and mortar business, online commerce requires a different skillset than Fleming is used to.
“A huge part of an online business is worrying - is your website going to be seen?” she says.
Regularly servicing social media, vlogging and understanding how to rank highly on Google are now essential parts of her business management. Fleming admits the learning curve has been steep.
“The biggest challenge in my view is just having the skills that cover every singles aspect of the business,” she says. “There are so many skills you need, especially when you’re online because of all the marketing.”
The online investment is paying off, The Flower Project has had steady growth in the two years it’s been active and shows no signs of slowing down.
Looking back over her career in small business, Fleming says taking advice whenever the opportunity arose was important for her growth, whether it was tapping into her brother’s knowledge of online commerce, scanning social for photography tips, or signing up for small business events.
“I’ve met a lot of other young entrepreneurs and start-ups through going to workshops and…woman-only seminars and all sorts of business building workshops which have been beneficial,” she says.
“It won’t be easy,” Fleming tells newcomers starting out. “It will take a lot of endurance but stick at it and you will get there in the end.
“As long as you’ve got a good response in the beginning and your feedback is good, you’re onto a winner.”
Reina Webster-Iti is a bluenotes contributor