Gardening services have become increasingly popular in recent years, fuelled by garden makeover programmes on television and, let’s be honest, the fact that people simply don’t have the time to dedicate to their outdoor space. From start-up costs to insurance, we’ve got all you need to know about working with plants or in the great outdoors.
Why start a gardening business?
If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, then this is a venture that can be both highly rewarding and profitable. With relatively low start-up costs, this is also a business that is ideally suited to new entrepreneurs with great potential to expand and diversify – most gardening businesses start off as one-man bands and grow from there when the time is right.
There are a number of ways to specialise with a gardening business and go up against the corporate competition. For instance, ‘garden centre’ is a very broad term so you can create an innovative USP to attract customers, making it a very individual and flexible business.
What skills will I need?
You need to have an extremely diverse range of skills. Far from merely doing some hedge trimming and weeding, you will need to understand garden design and be able to complete all kinds of work – from laying a new patio or decking, installing water features, ground-work and joinery. Aside from gardening skills, you will need to undertake other elements of running a business such as general admin and managing accounts, knowledge of profit and loss, awareness of cash flow and marketing and PR. Other skills required may include:
• Knowledge of plants, their characteristics and care requirements
• Understanding of garden design including what flowers and plants go together
• DIY knowledge to help customers with project requirements such as decking, pressure washing or shed construction
• Knowledge of water features and components e.g. pumps, filters, chemicals
• Treating bug infestations, both on flowers and plants and in buildings
• How to grow fruits and vegetables successfully, including ‘alternative’ methods such as organic farming
There are many specialist horticultural colleges that offer courses that can equip you with the skills and expertise needed to run a gardening business. You may come into contact with potentially dangerous chemicals and poisonous plants, so you need to know how to handle and deal with these in the correct manner.
In terms of professional and academic training, there are courses available. The scope varies greatly. You may, for example, want to take a more business-led course such as Garden Centre Management. Alternatively, you can take a series of practical horticultural courses which also contain a theoretical element, leading to well-rounded knowledge.
You may need to take out both public liability and professional indemnity insurance in order to protect yourself against damages or accidents during the projects you undertake. When the time comes to take on staff you will also need to take out employer liability insurance. Remember that a specialist insurance broker will often be able to negotiate a better premium on your behalf.
What are the keys to success?
• Building a strong reputation. Gardeners tend to gain most of their business through word of mouth. Achieving a positive reputation means consistently meeting or exceeding your client’s expectations – people are hiring you to achieve a result that they would be unable to get without your expertise and skills, so you must be able to deliver on your promises.
• Planning ahead. Since this is a business that is very much affected by the weather – expect delays and disruptions throughout the year, especially so during the winter months where a drop-off in trade is also likely.
• Flexibility. When you can’t work outside because of the weather you will need to spend those days doing other productive things such as client garden design and admin tasks.
• Conduct thorough research and write a detailed business plan which provides you with a ‘map’ of how you are going to achieve your business goals.
• Find out about other landscape gardeners in the area you intend to operate, research the services they offer and the prices they charge.
If you have decided to start your own garden centre, you’ll need to ask the standard business questions such as where you will get your funding and what your USP will be. You’ll also need to ask some industry-specific questions such as:
• Will you grow your own plants or buy them from a wholesaler?
• Will you offer on-site catering?
• Will you offer tertiary services such as garden design or pool installation?
• How will you ensure all plants are disease-free?
• How will you cope with seasonal variations common to this industry?
• How will you attract a wide range of demographics e.g. couples and families, and corporate clients?
• How will you minimise wastage and maximise returns from plants that may be past their best?
Take a leaf out of the experts' book
Gavin and Andrew, founders of Wilson McWilliam Studio, work on bespoke gardens and public landscapes. Take a look at our interview with co-founder Gavin McWilliam about the company, based at Barley Mow Centre in Chiswick, and their business journey so far.
Garden Club at Vox Studios helps transform urban spaces into green havens. Read how Tony Woods made his green-fingered start.
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