If you love the idea of running your own gardening business but don’t know how or where to start, our straightforward guide tells you all you need to know.
Understand the day to day
Chances are you’re already a keen gardener and understand the physical side of the job but doing it for a living will bring different challenges. The seasonal nature of the business, with most work being carried out during the spring and summer months, means you may have to take on another part-time job to supplement your income, at least until you get the business off the ground. You’ll also have to be happy working on your own, as most landscapers or professional gardeners do while having the confidence to interact with other trades as required.
Dealing with clients
How comfortable are you dealing and/or negotiating a price with clients? You won’t always have a free reign to come up with ideas of your own and may have to stick to a strict brief. Clients can be demanding and may expect you to be on site at a time that suits them, for instance, in the evening or at weekends. You will also have to provide sketches and plans as well as written estimates for the job and ensure the work is completed on time and to budget, including costs for labour and material.
Is it for you?
Make sure you fully understand what a gardening/landscaping career entails by doing your own research. Are you willing to put in the long, often physically demanding hours required to build and sustain the business? Are you equipped to deal with all the other stuff that goes with running a business (see below)? Before committing yourself, do as much research as you can first by searching online, reading up on the subject and, if possible, speaking to professional gardeners to get their take on the job.
What qualifications do you need?
It goes without saying that you should enjoy being outdoors – in all weather – love working with plants and have a creative mind-set. Experience also counts for a lot and there are various landscaping and gardening courses you can do to advance your knowledge and skills. Some clients may feel more confident in dealing with a gardener who has formal qualifications.
The Royal Horticultural Society offers a range of courses for all levels and the English Gardening School is widely recognised as a centre of excellence. Their garden design diploma course lasts 8 weeks and costs £4395; they also offer distance learning courses. Shop around for other courses and be sure to check out your local college to see what courses are available.
Work out your costs
Unless you’re planning to pitch for large-scale commercial projects, you won’t have to invest too much in equipment to get started. A range of basic gardening tools is all you need and you can always hire heavier equipment as required. You can do the admin side from home initially but you’ll definitely need somewhere to store equipment safely. Your own shed or garage may be an option, if not, shop around for local storage facilities that offer 24-hour access.
Insurance is another cost to consider and it’s important to have the right policies in place. You’ll need cover against theft, damage or loss of equipment, motor insurance for any vehicle used for the business and public liability insurance against injury to members of the public. As a professional gardener offering advice, you should also take out professional indemnity insurance and if or when you take on staff, you must have employer’s liability cover. Read our guide to company insurance here.
Company structure and paperwork
One of your first decisions will be to choose a legal structure for the business. Many gardeners set up as sole traders and register with HMRC for tax and national Insurance, filling in an annual self-assessment tax return. Other options that offer certain tax advantages include forming a limited company or, for partnerships, limited liability company. Either way, it’s important to get the legal side sorted so seek expert advice on the company structure that’s right for you. Compare business structures here.
How much can you expect to earn?
It depends is the simple answer. If you establish yourself as a much sought-after professional landscaper, you can name your price. More realistically, as a self-employed gardener you can expect to charge between £10 -£25 an hour, depending on the where you operate. If you’re based in London or the south-east you can charge a higher hourly rate than in the north, for instance. For guidance, find out what gardeners are charging per hour in your local area.
Check out the competition
Research the number of professional gardeners or landscapers operating in your area so you know what you’re up against. Are you prepared to travel to find work, if necessary? You may need to go where the work is and take a hit on pay to build up a solid portfolio of work and establish yourself. Hopefully, any sacrifices you make now will prove to be worth it!
Promote yourself and your business through social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and advertise your services through local directories and newspapers. Over time you may want to develop your own website but remember, word-of-mouth referrals and repeat business is what you’re aiming for, so always ensure you provide great service no matter how small the job!