Research suggests that approximately 87% of UK households have a garden. And it’s estimated that private gardens in Britain cover an area bigger than all of the country’s nature reserves combined, at over 10 million acres.
With an estimated 24 million gardens in the UK, it’s no surprise that the garden maintenance industry is growing at a rate of 2.8% per year.
The landscaping services sector provides a wide range of services to private households, commercial establishments and public-sector entities. With a revenue of £4.5 billion, it employs more than 65,000 people in approximately 17,000 businesses.
Are you passionate about planting, keen on cultivation and love to landscape? Is your dream to put your green fingers to work by starting a gardening business? This article will explain 10 key points to help you nurture a successful garden maintenance business from the seed of an idea to full bloom.
It will cover the following considerations:
- Understanding what’s involved
- Writing a business plan
- Deciding on the business model
- Growing a client base
- Developing a marketing strategy
- Building an online presence
- Figuring out the finances
- Knowing the legal stuff
- Employing the right staff
- Organising premises, tools and transport
Becoming a self-employed gardener or setting up a larger business can be highly profitable. However, it’s important to understand what’s involved.
It’s a varied job that includes:
- physical labour and getting dirty
- being outside in inclement weather
- liaising with customers
- sketching out designs
- negotiating with suppliers
- drawing up contracts, budgets and project timelines
- knowing about different flowers/trees/bushes etc. and what can grow where
- handling pesticides and poisonous plants
- travelling between clients
- maintaining and handling tools and machinery
- directing sub-contractors and managing projects
- keeping up to date on latest garden design trends and best practice
- tendering for larger commercial jobs
- knowledge about drainage and irrigation, decking, stonework, paving etc.
There is also the business management tasks such as accounting, marketing, and HR (if you employ staff).
A large part of becoming a successful landscaper is providing excellent customer service. This ensures that you’ll retain customers, be recommended, and build a solid brand reputation that sets you apart from the ‘cowboys’.
There is no requirement in terms of qualifications to be a professional gardener, however qualifications can help reassure customers. Experience is also not required, but some customers might be put off if you’re very ‘green’. Therefore, if you’re new to the industry, a qualification and some professional work experience will prove invaluable in winning new business.
Gardening tends to be a seasonal job, with most work done in the summer months. Many customers might not want or need their garden tended in the winter or over holidays. So, it’s important to plan for quieter periods, by saving or taking on other work during this time, or offering a monthly subscription service to clients.
You might want to set up a garden maintenance business because you love the smell of freshly mown grass and enjoy being outdoors, however that won’t cut it in terms of business success or securing funding.
Writing a business plan will help cement your goals, vision and strategy. It helps to narrow your focus and lay out a high-level plan of action so you don’t get overwhelmed and lost among the operational day-to-day weeds.
Before starting a gardening business, you should research the market. This will help inform your business plan as you’ll understand your target audience, your competitors, how much you can charge, the different services you can offer, and the current opportunity in a specific location.
Your business plan should include:
- Executive summary about you and the business
- Your mission, vision and values
- SMART goals and objectives
- How you plan to operate and the services you’ll offer
- Your target market
- Your competition and how you plan to differentiate your business
- Initial set up costs and sales forecasts
- Marketing, pricing, sales strategies
Your market research should help to inform what services you’ll provide and to who. There are numerous potential clients and you could decide to zoom in on one specific type of customer, or be broad with who you’ll work for.
Customers could include:
- Individuals with large private gardens and grounds, or smaller residential gardens
- Estate and letting agents
- Owners / managers of holiday lets
- Housing and residents’ associations
- Property management companies
- Care homes
- Commercial grounds
- Schools, colleges, universities
- Local councils for public spaces
In addition, your market research should’ve highlighted the types of services that you’ll offer which are either lacking in the market, or can be improved. This could be ongoing weekly lawn mowing, weeding and hedge-trimming, or large one-off projects such as redesigning a garden from scratch or installing a pond.
Your services will reflect your target customer, and can be niche or broad, depending on what they might require.
Pricing your services is a key consideration. Research competitors in the area and see how much they charge for similar activities. You might decide to charge by the hour or by project, or charge a set monthly fee for a certain number of days.
Your growth and sales strategy is a key consideration. Growing a client base from scratch isn’t an easy task, however it can be achieved with careful planning and consistent activity.
Driving sales can be accomplished using tactics including:
- Word of mouth e.g. asking existing customers to pass on your details, this can be incentivised
- Researching and approaching the appropriate person at property management companies, local councils, care homes, hospitals, colleges or holiday lets etc. e.g. by cold calling, sending letters, emailing, setting up meetings
- Signing up to be a member of British Association of Landscape Industries and/or The Association of Professional Landscapers or other relevant associations that allow you to publish and showcase a searchable profile
- Offering loss leaders e.g. discounted services that attract new customers who will then continue to employ you and pay full price
Developing a marketing strategy when starting a gardening business is crucial. You need to launch your new company so that your target customers see your brand name and remember you in the future.
Consistent marketing will keep your brand name front of mind, so that when a potential customer is looking for a new gardener, they recall your business. An effective marketing strategy will ensure a continual drip-feed of new business.
Marketing tactics can include:
- Advertising in local newspapers, magazines, newsletters, radio
- Advertising on social media e.g. Facebook and Instagram
- Advertising in relevant trade publications e.g. a magazine targeted at property management companies
- Flyers and direct mail e.g. putting through letterboxes of residential properties in a target location
- Having a presence at community or industry events e.g. a stand at a trade show
- Networking at business or industry events
- Signage e.g. to leave outside customers’ houses
- Branded vehicles
Having a website is important to drive new customers. Many of your customers are likely to do their research online when choosing a gardener. This enables them to compare different options and also acts as a first impression of you and your business.
A website doesn’t need to be complex. It can look professional and yet have basic information on it, such as a list of your services and contact information. If possible, include photos of your work, recent projects you’ve completed as well as testimonials from happy customers.
If relevant to your target customers, you can also look at setting up social media accounts for your business and creating content such as ‘how to’ guides or case studies that you can share with followers.
Starting up any new business requires investment. As part of your business planning, you’ll need to work out what funding you need upfront, what ongoing costs you’ll need to pay and the amount you’ll need to earn each month to cover them.
Create budgets and forecasts for start-up, the first month, first quarter and first year. Also, potentially for the first three years. This will enable you to plan out the capital required to launch your business and operate for the long term.
Cash flow is an important factor to get right from the start. It will ensure the smooth operating of your business. It’s particularly important to work out in advance your plan to cover quieter months to keep cash flowing rather than stalling.
Considering how you’ll take payments from clients can help with cash flow. For example, if you’re planning on offering ongoing monthly services, then offering customers the option to pay by Direct Debit will ensure their payment is collected at a pre-agreed date each month, so you know exactly when the funds should clear in your bank account.
First decide whether you want to set up as a sole trader or a limited company.
Deciding on this legal structure will then enable you to register with HMRC for tax, National Insurance and potentially VAT and PAYE, if you’re employing staff.
You’ll also need to get the relevant insurance. This should include professional indemnity insurance, public liability insurance and possibly employers’ liability insurance. Accidental damage is a high possibility, for example, if a stone flies out from your mower and smashes a customer’s window.
There are no specific rules and regulations for setting up a gardening business, however it’s recommended that you get the relevant training for handling, storing and transporting pesticides and chemicals.
And proactively take relevant health and safety training for handling heavy equipment, wearing the relevant safety gear, and working outside to keep yourself fit and healthy.
As mentioned above, there are no required qualifications, but if you don’t have a wealth of experience behind you, then investing in relevant training is a good idea.
For example, learning about the best time of day to spray weed killers, how to prune trees or how to design water features will ensure your customers value and trust your knowledge.
You might start as a sole trader and then expand to take on staff, or you might have plans from the start to employ a dedicated workforce. Employing the right people will see your business thrive rather than flounder.
A recruitment strategy is important to identify the roles that you need to recruit for, the type of candidates you’re looking for and the qualifications or experience required. For example, you might need a manual labourer to help with the physical aspects, or you might require a part time bookkeeper or sales administrator.
Understanding your specific requirements will help you to write job descriptions and advertise in the right place so that you’re attracting the best-suited talent to your business.
Starting a gardening business will require specialist tools and transport – it’s not a case of using what’s in your garden shed.
You might need a lawn mower, strimmer, wheelbarrow as well as safety equipment such as goggles and gloves. Your services might also require the use of larger machinery such as cement mixers, angle grinders and chainsaws.
Rather than invest in all equipment, it’s worth researching whether you can hire equipment and tools. You may only use these occasionally so it could work out cheaper than owning your own.
All of your equipment will need to be transported from one customer to the next, so a van or truck could be a necessary expenditure. And you might need to hire premises to store this equipment or house an office with administrative staff.
Starting A Gardening Business Today
Planting a garden and watching it grow involves hard work and patience – but is a joy to behold when trees blossom, water features turn on for the first time and new decking areas host their first BBQ.
Starting a garden maintenance business requires the same investment in skilful planning and continual nurturing. With the right step-by-step approach, it’ll flourish into a thriving entity that keeps on giving year after year.