Gardening can be both a relaxing pastime and a profitable, low cost, easy to start business. Here is a guide to setting up your own cutting (h)edge gardening enterprise.
Gardens are places where we can take a welcome break from our hectic lifestyles and noisy, polluted cities. Many home and business owners just do not have the time or inclination to maintain them.
This presents the perfect opportunity to establish a profitable home gardening business. The initial costs are small and if you are lucky you may get to ride around in the sun on a motorised lawnmower.
Gardening Business Basics
You don't need to be particularly green fingered to start a simple gardening maintenance service. Although it does involve a certain amount of strenuous effort, it requires no prior experience and start up costs can be minimal.
Many one man (and woman) gardeners work solely for private householders. These clients fall into two camps: those with plenty of money but little time or willingness to do gardening jobs, and elderly people who enjoy their garden but who are no longer physically able to do the work themselves. By doing a good job and developing a good relationship with clients you can soon generate enough work to put you in profit and keep you busy.
There is also big money to be made working for corporate clients. Many large offices, for example, have extensive grounds which need to be maintained. Since the demise of council parks departments many gardeners have profited by taking on a team of casual staff and tendering for local authority contracts.
Bear in mind that this is a seasonal business and you will have to work extra hard in summer to get you through the lean times in winter. You will also need to be prepared for anything the British weather can throw at you. For most, however, the easy going working conditions, friendly client relationships and odd spells of fine weather make this the business to be in.
Training and Qualifications
You don't need any formal qualifications to become a gardener, but if you can provide any you'll stand a better chance of impressing potential clients. Your local further education college will advise you on NVQ, HND, BTEC and degrees.
Aside from formal qualifications, the best training you can have is experience. Offer to work in garden centres at weekends and read as much as possible about the main subject areas.
Also remember that you're operating a business. You'll need to understand how to keep your finances in order, particularly if the tax man should pay a visit. Update your accounts regularly and always keep your receipts. It may be worth investing in a part time business management course.
Good fitness and stamina is vital, as the work is extremely physical. You also need good people skills - word of mouth recommendations are important, so you must concentrate on building up a good relationship with your clients.
What Kind of Gardening Business?
Before you begin, you will need to decide on the direction of your business. Gardening can be divided into three main categories.
You will know which of these areas best suits your knowledge, ability and interests. This article concentrates on starting a basic gardening maintenance business, which for most is the natural place to start, at least until you begin to develop an understanding of horticulture, landscaping and design.
Buying Your Equipment
Although some clients will have their own garden tools which you can use, you should carry your own set of essentials such as gloves, clippers, a trowel, spade, fork, and preferably a watering can, lawn mower and wheelbarrow. By shopping around and buying second-hand maybe from factory shops, the basic tools could be purchased for a total of under £100.
Be realistic when buying equipment. You can impress clients with a new £3,000 ride on rotary mower with petrol engine, but how many gardens will be big enough to accommodate it? Start with the basics and gather more items as your earnings increase. Consider quality as well as price - a cheap fork may rust away in six months, whereas an expensive one could last a lifetime.
Occasionally, you will need expensive gear such as a rotavator, chipper, chain saw or sit down mower. It is best to hire these as and when you need them, rather than paying for them outright.
Another important consideration is transport. Ideally you should have a van or truck for carrying tools and ferrying old branches and twigs to the dump. A small transit van will cost around £12,000 new, with annual insurance costs of about £300. Initially it may be possible to do without if you are working for clients who already own the basic tools.
Finally, it is worth investing in either a mobile phone or answering machine so you can take bookings from clients when you are out on a job.
Promoting Your Business
Once you've purchased your equipment it is time to look for business. Concentrate your marketing to cover, say, a 25 mile radius around where you live. Garden maintenance services tend to use the following means of promotion.
Each of these marketing methods is cheap and effective, but it can take a while to build a solid client base. To speed things up you may wish to get a Yellow Pages listing and place classified ads in the local paper. Another effective tactic is to distribute flyers at garden centres and through letter boxes.
When you find a new client, work hard at impressing them so that they decide to employ you on a regular basis. As an incentive you could offer them a (cheaply purchased) free plant of some variety. Give satisfied clients a few of your flyers or business cards to hand to friends.
You should aim for the affluent premises, as employing a gardener is generally considered something of a luxury. You need not focus solely on private homeowners - many businesses have gardens or plots of land that need tending and developing. By adding companies to your customer list you could find yourself with a regular source of income should your private work decline.
Be prepared to spend at least £100 on advertising and marketing to get your business off the ground. Remember, you won't be the only gardener in the area - your competition may be well established and you will need to get people's attention. Starting a gardening business is no bed of roses.
As environmental legislation becomes increasingly intrusive and tough, you will be expected to comply with all such measures. Chemical pesticides and fertilisers, together with most other chemically based agents, often have restricted usage. If you introduce any poisonous plants into a garden be sure to inform the owner, especially if they have pets and children.
Make sure you have a sound understanding of The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations and The Control of Pesticides Act. The 1959 Weeds Act will inform you of poisonous weeds and the regulations governing them, and you should also be aware of the Wildlife and Country Act of 1981. This Act covers endangered plants which should be left alone. Finally, the Health and Safety at Work Act should be strictly observed, particularly if you intend to employ others who might operate machinery .
If you are concerned at the damage chemical based pesticides and fertilisers cause, why not operate on a strictly organic level? This could be a great marketing device, as many people these days are rightly concerned at the environmental damage they may unwittingly be causing. You could encourage a whole new generation of environmentally concerned homeowners to employ you as a result of your conscientious policies. (Make sure you remember not to use peat extracted from protected marshland, as this may cause bad publicity.)
If you succeed as a general gardener you may, after a few years, wish to specialise in certain areas, or even start up your own nursery. Designing, landscaping and consultancy are profitable avenues to explore. Expert gardeners are always needed, not only by homeowners but by garden centres and businesses too.
By the time you begin to consider specialising you'll already have built up quite a reputation, at least in your local area. By attending important horticultural events and displaying your own achievements you will get your name recognised by the people who matter.