How to start a gardening business

If the unpredictable British weather isn't enough to counter your desire to work outside, gardening is a great industry to get involved in. With the ease of networking and use of a strong hobby, entrepreneurs are in a brilliant position to start a successful business.

If you have dreams of landscaping huge public properties, or simply want to make a living interacting with people outside of an office, this guide will help you start up and give you a few tips to getting your name out there. Who knows, one day you may find yourself exhibiting at the world famous Chelsea Flower Show.

Day-to-day

It's hard to pin down a strict routine for someone running a gardening business but, for many, this will be part of the market's appeal.

Typically, you can guarantee early morning starts and weekend work. Customers are likely to want their work completed at specific times and may want you to be around the house when it is happening.

If you are taking on less residential work and working with businesses instead, you will find you have a more regular working day. However, it will be difficult to find these corporate contracts in the early days.

An important thing to remember is the commitment you will have to give to networking and administration.

Showing up on time, even early in the morning, and maintaining good relationships with clients will help spread your name. At the same time, you should be prepared to spend evenings dealing with invoices and replying to emails.

Location

Due to a combination of simplicity and pre-established networking opportunities, it is most common to start a gardening business near where you live.

However, don't assume this is the best option. Research your location first as you need to know how many competitors you will be up against, what they are offering and what they are charging.

If everyone you know is already using a well priced and effective gardening business near you, it is going to be very hard to start reeling in customers.

The best option is always going to be providing a service in an area that is lacking it, so carry out the research and make sure you know as much as possible about where you are going into business.

Once you've scouted out a few, large areas that you can reach, weigh up their benefits, such as gaps in the market, against disadvantages such as commuting time and expenses. Once you have done this you can decide what will be the first location of your business.

Natural skills

Running a gardening business will require you to function in a lot of different ways. While your ability to create beautiful landscapes will be put to the test regularly, as a head of a business, so will your financial expertise and people skills.

Therefore, before committing yourself to the business, ask yourself if you have the following skills:

  • A creative mind set
  • Great personal communication ability
  • A talent for organising
  • An aptitude for design
  • Planting and general gardening proficiency
  • Negotiation skills to drive down costs and increase profits
  • Reliability to hold up your business' name
  • Motivation to keep working in the wonderfully changeable British weather
  • A grasp of business and accounts

Training

Once you get past your immediate circle of contacts, you will need some clout to show you know what you are doing in a garden. While a bulging portfolio of your work will help, so will a professional qualification.

There are a wide range of options available, such as a diploma in garden design, which costs £9,000 from the English Gardening School  or a certificate in practical horticulture, setting you back £500 at Capel Manor College.

A more innovative path to gaining the qualification is through http://www.garden-design-courses.co.uk/, which offers video tutoring of the course at a reduced fee of £6,750.

Another route lies in taking the Royal Horticultural Society qualifications. These are progressive and allow many opportunities to specialise along the way. Read through their offerings before making any decisions.

Make sure you research the best qualification for you in order to help build your business and enhance your skills. If there are optional modules that offer the opportunity for business courses, do not shy away from them.

Premises

A specific building is unlikely to be necessary as a home office will suffice for the administration aspect of a gardening business.

However, what will be absolutely essential is a safe, clean environment to keep your goods and equipment. Maintaining the necessary gardening tools and goods to use and sell to clients will require a lot of space.

If you have use of a personal garden and shed, this may be enough, but if not you may need to hire an easy to access storage facility. Large examples of these can be found for around £100 a month in many locations. Consider using Big Yellow Storage or other options that give you flexible access times.

Money

One of the best aspects of starting a gardening business is the low costs, allowing you to set up without seeking outside funding.

Other than what you spend on any qualifications, your outlay will go towards equipment, goods and travel. You can keep the first two down by establishing good relationships with suppliers although you will need a wide variety of equipment from the outset.

When starting up, it may be wise to combine buying smaller pieces of equipment with hiring the larger, more expensive options to keep your invested cash to a minimum before you know how well your business will be doing.

Shop around at wholesale stores and online for the best buying deals (remember to negotiate and create lasting relationships for the best prices) while using companies such as HSS to hire from.

You can expect to pay around £2,000 for everything you'll need, including a good laptop or computer for design work.

At first, there will be no need for extra staff and while you may need to invest in a larger mode of transport than you currently have, it won't be anything expensive enough to stop your new business.

On the profits side, make sure to be realistic about what you can make and take every opportunity available. When starting up, it will take a lot of hard work combined with effective selling to begin bringing in a good income.

Your market research should give you an idea of the current prices being used in your location. From this you can work out if you can undercut the competition, or if you feel you offer something better and can afford to charge more while still reigning in customers.

Either way, prepare to be flexible with your price system. Gardening is an industry which sees a lot of entrants come and go and there may be times when the market is flooded and lowering your prices is necessary to maintain clients.

Insurance

Insurance is a big deal in the gardening industry. You need something, which covers you for accidents, injury, theft and damage to property. When starting a gardening business, you should consider the following insurance options:

  • Property insurance for wherever you keep stock
  • Individual insurance of expensive pieces of equipment
  • Motor insurance relevant to your specific form of transportation and who is driving it
  • Business interruption insurance
  • Professional indemnity insurance if you are offering advice as a professional
  • Product liability insurance if you are selling equipment to clients
  • Employers' liability (mandatory if you ever take on staff)

Consider talking to an insurance advisor and make sure to carefully read all terms and conditions to fully understand what you are covered for.

First steps

During any qualification or training you may go for, get a feel for what you want to specialise in. Make sure it's nothing anyone else is doing in your location and then set this as your area of particular expertise.

Having an in-depth knowledge and skill set attuned towards a specific brand of gardening will give you something to sell yourself on and will help you reel in business, even when there may be others in the market.

Once you know what you can offer, get the word out as far as possible. While local advertising such as papers and shop windows may work, it will be far more effective to spread your name through friends, family and contacts.

Luke Evans, a gardener in his local area, says: "I'll always regret not making more of my time studying at college. I had completely the wrong mindset. I wanted the qualification and nothing more. If I do another course, I'll make sure to network as much as I can."

Taking up any work available from those around you will give you a basis to show what you can do, and give them the chance to confidently recommend you to others.

Beyond this, consider trying to strike up deals with garden centres and other related businesses in your area. If you are buying goods from them regularly, and they do not offer landscaping services themselves, then maybe they can recommend you to customers.

Tips

  • Don't be blind to the range of opportunities available. While acting as a gardener, remember you could be selling tools and products to your customers too.
  • Seek out new ideas. Attending gardening shows and keeping good relationships with others in the market will allow you to stay attuned with trends and ensure you have a wide range of abilities to offer your clients.
  • Keep up-to-date with technology. Not falling behind on any developments as far as equipment goes could be crucial to cost saving and presenting a professional image for your business.
  • Be inventive in a traditional market. Just because gardening is a long-established market, doesn't mean all your thinking should be traditional. If you don't use a website to advertise yourself and effectively brand your company, you will lose out.
  • Stay on top of your administration. Keeping up with invoices, emails and maintaining spreadsheets will save you from last minute revelations, missed deadlines and unnecessary stress.
  • Be both professional and friendly with clients. Striking up friendships with all your customers is the best way to bring in business, but always stay professional, have prices agreed and decisions documented to prevent unwelcome disagreements later on.

Mark Cummings, of MC Garden Design adds the need to develop a thick skin: "I've had some difficult clients at times and it's disappointing when a relationship goes sour, but it does happen. Some people are just not very nice or realistic or both, which is the worst combination," he says.

"I've been advised not to take it personally. But I do because it's my business. Moving on from that type of situation takes time. Just be aware of that."

Common pitfalls

Not doing your research - the biggest pitfall is always a lack of market research. Being heavily invested in an area before you find out someone already has a monopoly on the audience could kill your business before it even starts to grow.

Not buying the right supplies - turning up to a job without the right plants or equipment will waste time and leave you looking very unprofessional. Once you've signed up for a job, make sure you research it and have everything you need before turning up on the first day of work.

Letting yourself become disorganised - just because you currently have a few jobs lined up, doesn't mean you shouldn't be canvassing for more in the near future. But, at the same time, double booking yourself will leave at least one customer dissatisfied and may spread a negative impression of you. Stay organised to remain on top of your clients.

Forgetting to reinvest the profits you make - when revenue starts to come in after a few successful jobs, it will be very tempting to enjoy this in a frivolous celebration of success, but remember to keep your stock up to date, your equipment in full working order and some money reserved for emergencies.

Not appreciating the importance of your personality - once the business is off the ground, every person you meet is a potential client and, unless you are already dedicated to presenting the best version of yourself at all times, you may want to start. Bad press and bad impressions will hang around the growth of your business.

Trying to cover up the mistakes you make - when running a business where your reputation is essential to its success, honesty is crucial. While it may be difficult, never lie or hide what you have done, even if something has gone wrong which you will have to fix.

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