CEI Stories

Serving & supporting small business owners just like you.


January 08, 2021

Watershed Floral

Though Sarah Ann Lapine has been a professional floral designer for 10 years, seven of them full-time, her current career wasn’t a long dreamed-of plan.

“I didn’t have a grand vision of being a floral designer,” Sarah recalls, “but I always imagined myself being an entrepreneur or self-employed. Especially with raising kids. I had a bigger vision of day-to-day life and what I wanted my life to be.”

Over the years, she’s continued to craft her business, and her life, to meet her current circumstances and support her overarching goal – a well-balanced life.

Prior to starting her own business, Sarah worked as a classroom room teacher, and before that as an employee on a flower farm in Bowdoinham. It was on that farm that she discovered and developed her floral design skills, using them to design arrangements for friend’s weddings. When it became clear that her side-gig had the potential to be a full business, she began to reach out to some of the resources in Maine’s small business support community.

Sarah wanted help with the financial tracking portion of the business, but she quickly realized that even numbers needed to be looked at in more than black and white. Her first mentor felt too profit-focused and their conservations felt limited by a focus on standard business models that didn’t fit her larger goals of managing a career that met her needs as a woman and soon-to-be-mother. Through her and husband’s connections in the nonprofit sector, Sarah had long been aware of CEI and she decided to reach out to the CEI Women’s Business Center instead.

“My CEI Women’s Business Center advisor was so instrumental in helping me create some systems for tracking finances and she helped me not feel embarrassed about my lack of comfort with that area of running a business. Even more, she really understood and made me feel heard about my other goals. She seemed to take a genuine interest in me as a person and my story. I don’t know that I would have become as successful as I had been without that support. It was really pivotal at the at start.”

The flexibility Sarah built into her business has become key over the past year as her life, and business, faced several major changes.

First, in November 2019, her family fulfilled a long-time dream of buying a farm, which moved the home-based business from Portland to Pownal. The relocation meant she would be able to grow more of her of her own floral stock, in addition to feeding her family, but it also meant incurring a number of costs in the spring to retrofit the space to accommodate the business, including the installation of water access and refrigeration units.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. “Wedding season was essentially cancelled,” Sarah said, “and for good reason.”

While she would continue to do some small events and retail sales, her primary line of business was gone. She did look into federal relief options, but the applications seemed overly cumbersome and the programs ill-fitting for her business model. While the home-based nature of her business gave her fewer overhead risks, she’s hopeful that a recent application to the Maine small business recovery grant program will help cover some of the expenses of the Pownal home studio refurbishment.

In the interim, amidst the rescheduling conversations with clients, Sarah took the opportunity to dive into farm life – planting and growing more than she had originally planned for their first year on the land.

Letting go of plans is just a fact of life in 2020.

“Everything still feels up in the air, and I don’t have as much as a plan that I’m used to having, but that doesn’t feel like something that one can have right now. The pandemic has definitely given me pause and made me think about I what want and what I do.”

For now, the thought is to continue wedding work, particularly the rescheduled events, over the next few years and focus more on the farm as an area of growth, particularly as her son reaches school age and the summers, in Sarah’s words, become “more precious.”

“We’ve always wanted to build a place where people can gather,” Sarah said with a bit of a laugh, knowing that particular dream for the farm will have to wait. But, if anything, Sarah knows how to that when it comes to her business, flexibility is key.  

Photographs by Courtney Elizabeth



CEI offers a wide range of assistance to emerging and existing business owners. Through one-on-one consultation, training, workshops, seminars, peer networks and other services, CEI helps individuals across the state get the information they need to start or expand their business. In addition to providing general business assistance, CEI has programs for women; marine-related businesses; farms; ag and food businesses; and refugees and immigrants.

Check out the full range of CEIs Business Advising offerings at https://www.ceimaine.org/advising

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