If you want to work for yourself, and you enjoy the outdoors, then why not start a landscape gardening business. It would make a great choice!

Not sure where to start? We’ve compiled a step-by-step guide to starting a gardening business to get you off the ground.

Working as a self-employed landscape gardener means you’ll have flexible working hours and you can choose which projects to work on. What’s more, it can provide great job satisfaction.

Benefits of a career in garden maintenance

There are many benefits to start a gardening business:

– Regular, reliable work – whatever you earn this month you will likely earn again next month.

– Developing a good relationship with your customers – seeing some of them every week.

– Healthy, enjoyable, challenging, outdoor work.

– Flexible working hours.

– Potential to earn a good wage.

– Practically recession proof; garden maintenance is regular and necessary.

Disadvantages of a career in garden maintenance

You need to be aware of the disadvantages so that you can plan to avoid them:

– Less work during the winter.

– Some days lost due to bad weather – but not as much as you might think.

– Competition from casual labourers.

– Labour intensive work.

– Unpaid travel time between work.

– Supplies, equipment and tool maintenance is expensive.

– The cost of repairing damage to your tools or customer property is usually higher than you would have earned doing the job. – Danger – you may also be hired to do a job that is dangerous or difficult to access.

Here’s a step-by-step checklist to follow when starting your gardening business:

start a gardening business

Steps on what to do to start a gardening business:

1. Understand the job

Starting a landscaping business for the first time? It’s important that you know what the job entails. Landscape gardeners might work with residential clients, commercial clients, or both.

Generally, work is conducted during the summer months. Most landscapers in the UK work on their own, but you may need to interact with tradespeople in order to deliver for clients. You also need to be prepared to promote yourself to win business.

Some of the elements of your role will include:

  • Working with clients to understand their garden and what they want from the design
  • Sketching out plans in line with your client’s vision
  • Making sure your plans come in on budget, calculating the costs of labour and materials
  • Working out estimates for clients
  • Constructing water features, planting trees, cultivating turf and ordering furniture

2. Look at qualifications

You don’t need any formal qualifications for general garden maintenance. But a love of the outdoors, as well as a healthy dose of creativity, is a natural prerequisite for the role. It makes sense to have a good knowledge of the various plants and how they grow in different environments. Generally, for simple garden maintenance, employers place more emphasis on the importance of hands-on experience rather than academic qualifications. 

However, for a career in landscape gardening, completing a BTEC, HNC, HND or foundation degree in a relevant subject, such as horticulture or landscape management is a must for securing employment. 

The CAD systems and software needed for planning and designing are technical and training would be needed to use these systems. Some aspects of gardening are incredibly scientific, so it is a good idea to study for this.

start a gardening business
Picture credit: Northampton College

There are courses available in horticulture and gardening, so taking these may put you at an advantage. For example. you may find it useful to build up your skills by doing a course, like:

  • Level 2 Diploma in Horticulture and Amenity Horticulture
  • Level 2 Certificate in Practical Horticulture
  • Level 3 Certificate or Diploma in Horticulture

Finding people and organisations that need volunteer landscapers could give you the experience you need to forge ahead. As well as courses, there are even apprenticeships where you can learn and pick up skills whilst working.

3. Budget carefully

The fact that landscape gardening is a seasonal job affects how much you’re paid; you’ll likely have more work in the summer, so it’s best to save for the winter.

Landscape gardeners will usually set a fixed price per job. When working out how much to charge, you should factor in what materials you need to get the job done, how difficult it will be (and what skills you need to use), and how long it will take to finish. Self-employed gardeners can charge up to £25 an hour depending on where they work, with London and the South East commanding the highest rates. Research what other landscape gardeners are charging in your area and set your prices accordingly.

Labour is your most basic service. However, as a gardener you can offer additional services such as waste removal (if you have a waste carrier’s license), jet washing of patio, weed killer, lawn treatments etc. These are extra services in addition to your basic hourly rate for labour. Having a clear pricing policy will give people the option to ‘buy’ these extra services from you as and when they need it.

You will also need to budget for eye/face protection, steel toe-capped boots, long sleeves, good trousers, gloves, first aid kit. You will use all of these regularly and it’s well worth buying top quality safety equipment.

Having your own tools shows that you have invested in and dedicated to a career in garden maintenance. You can easily spend £3000 + on basic maintenance tools. Think about what you are likely to really need. For example; a mower, strimmer and hedge trimmer are essential.

Your tools will likely, on average, need replacing every 3 years either due to wear and tear, breakages, theft or loss. Remember to factor into these costs into your income target. Your van is probably your most expensive tool but one of the most useful. It is also one of the best ways to advertise your services.

start a gardening business

4. Plan for the seasons

Timing is everything! As a gardener you are at the mercy of the seasons. Use this to your advantage:

Winter: Soft landscaping, hard pruning, fencing, etc

Spring: Planting, weeding, feeding, fence painting

Summer: Lawns, hedge trimming, weeding

Autumn: Pruning, leaf clearance, lawn treatment (aeration, scarifying, etc), planting

Educate your customers and encourage them to delay work until the appropriate time.

Landscape gardening is a highly seasonal profession. Most of your practical work will be carried out in the summer, while planning tends to occur in the winter. In addition, many private, residential clients prefer not to have work done during holiday periods. Because of this, many landscapers supplement their income with other jobs during the colder months.

5. Choose a legal structure

One of your first steps when setting up a gardening business is to choose a legal structure. Many landscape gardeners operate as sole traders, and this may be the simplest route to choose. However, there may be good reasons for setting up a limited company, or if you’re in partnership, a limited liability partnership.

Your choice of legal structure will have impact down the line, particularly on accounting and other paperwork. Read more about the differences between sole traders and limited companies.

Before you begin trading, you’ll need to register with HMRC for tax, National Insurance and possibly VAT. If you’re employing anyone, you’ll also need to register for PAYE.

It’s important that you do this promptly, as there are fines for those who register late. Remember that you’ll also have to file an annual Self-Assessment tax return, and file your tax on time. Read more about Self Assessment for small businesses.

You will need to call the Inland Revenue and notify them that you are self-employed.

6. Take out insurance

Insurance is also essential. Accidental damage to property is all too easy and common. The cost of repairing damage will often exceed the amount you were earning. The customer is entitled to recover those costs from you whether you have insurance or not. Insurance protects you, as the tradesman, from being presented with a repair bill you cannot afford to pay. It gives the customer confidence that any damage will be repaired if and when accidents happen.

Insurance is a key consideration for every new business, including landscapers and gardeners. You’ll want to start with public liability insurance, which can cover you against claims arising from injury or damage suffered by a member of the public. If you employ people in your landscaping business, employers’ liability insurance is likely a legal requirement. You can be fined if you need it and don’t have it.

7. Work out an invoicing and payment system

You will need to manage cash flow; will you be expecting cash-in-hand or advance payment?

As with any new business, cash flow can be difficult to manage; particularly for gardeners, as clients can become unreliable (how regularly they’ll want you, holidays, bad weather…)

With this in mind, you’ll need to work out a payment system with clients that work for you. Usually, people expect to pay their gardener cash-in-hand on the day, but for cash flow purposes (and for the sake of professionalism), you may want to insist on an advance payment system.

It may be worth considering the available options for accepting mobile card payment. It may be more useful to use a system that allows you to send invoices online as well as take payments from clients online too. This allows for a more seamless process and gets rid of unnecessary delay in taking payments.

start a gardening business
Example of online invoice for gardening service

Online Invoicing with Grow in Cloud lets you create and send customised invoices from anywhere. It’s easy to use online invoicing tool saves you time and enhances your client communication experience.

start a gardening business
Option to pay for services online

You can also get paid instantly with Grow in Cloud’s online payments solution. Grow in Cloud works seamlessly with payment gateways such as PayPal and Stripe.

8. Use an appointment scheduling system

As technologies for scheduling tasks continue to evolve over the years, they are replaced by cloud based systems and issues of cost and compatibility have been addressed.

By allowing your customers to book gardening services online at a time that is convenient to them, means you don’t have to worry about missed appointment opportunities while you are out gardening.

start a gardening business
Example of online appointment gardening services

Appointment scheduling systems are software designed specifically to grant gardening business owners an easy way to arrange and manage various appointments.

Easy to use appointment scheduling feature with option to confirm from clients

Apart from booking/scheduling appointments, most gardening businesses are now under pressure to join other businesses to confirm and remind their clients of upcoming appointments via SMS or email. By utilizing a proper appointment scheduling software, such as Grow in Cloud, with features of appointment reminders and notifications included, these time-consuming tasks are managed automatically and with little user effort.

9. Create a website

There are many small businesses that still don’t have a website. Reasons they give: – don’t have the skills, the time, or the money to build a business website.

But a surprising number say that their business doesn’t need a website, either because it’s not required or because they use social media instead.

There is an importance of a website for sales. This is important to every business and not just for a gardening business.

Developing a website doesn’t automatically bring paying customers to your business but through SEO (search engine optimization) of your website, you can improve your chances of being visible online and bringing in potential clients/leads who are more likely to make a purchase of the variety of gardening services that you offer.

10. Budget for marketing

As well as spending money on equipment, it may be necessary to allocate some budget for marketing too. One of the struggles when starting a gardening business (and in fact any service based business) is building up a client list. When it comes to marketing a gardening business some traditional advertising, such as classified listings and flyers could be the best place to start.

start a gardening business
Example Flyer Temp;ate

Don’t be afraid to go out and knock on some doors too! Gardening can be a personal business and prospective clients may be more likely to sign up if they see you and know who exactly they are doing business with.

11. Use Social Media

Almost everybody you know will be on a social media site of some sort. It is a great platform for sharing your content as well as connecting with potential clients or maintaining relationships with existing clients.

Depending on what industry you are in, some social media sites work better than others, so here are a few that would be more useful for your gardening business:

Facebook:

Facebook has the most users (over 2 billions) out of all the social media sites so having a Facebook Business page is worthwhile for a gardening business to reach a wide audience of all ages.

You can also create Facebook as a way to set up a community for your clients who can post gardening tips and hacks or share questions with each other about gardening products.

Instagram:

Instagram is the most popular social media site at the moment. It is a visual marketing tool so it is useful for showing before and after gardening process pictures. 

You can share short gardening tip videos on Instagram stories, share pictures of your team with brief information sharing fun background information about them.

Twitter:

Twitter is another great way to interact with your clients and potentially new ones as your clients can promote you and your gardening business through tweets. You can engage with your audience by hosting Twitter chats as well as create a community for your clients and interact with them in real time.

Whichever social media platform you use it is always a good idea to use one or two and use them well and post regularly so you are not overwhelmed trying to keep up to date with your posts and trying to run a gardening business! Also, try and get your clients to tag you and your business when they add posts to their own profiles-this is another way of promoting your gardening business on their contacts list.

12. Looking for business

Now it’s time to start looking for business. There’s a range of channels you can use in order to find clients. Many landscape gardeners advertise in local newspapers or directories, but there’s an increasing move towards online marketing.

First, you can use these free tools to build a business website. You should also get set up on Google My Business. You might also wish to experiment with Google AdWords.

Finally, remember that repeat and referred business is the most valuable business! Make sure that you’re offering customers the best possible service and encourage them to tell their friends!

Here are some of our top tips to win customers:

  • Build a portfolio. Working quickly on multiple projects is one way to get your portfolio (and marketing) off the ground. It then becomes an easy way to demonstrate your skills and the best way to win clients. When you have your own website, you can update it with images of your work.
  • Build relationships. As we mentioned, repeat and referred business is the most valuable business, so rapport with your clients is key. Be the only person they think of when they want their gardening work done.
  • Build promotional activities. Use both online and offline marketing and cultivate your brand. Think about flyers, posters, signs. Advertise your services on online directories.

13. Have a contact management system

Once you build up your client list, you may want to consider some form of customer relationship management (CRM) system to help you keep track of your client data and offer promotions to loyal clients.

A contact management system allows you to store key information about your clients. This is usually their contact details (name, address, telephone number and email address), communication, payments and interactions with customers. All this is kept in one place. It can also keep a record of each activity; such as booked/ reschedules appointments, invoices and any notes made by staff member.

There is a misconception amongst many small business owners that a contact management system is only suitable for large businesses. They think that small businesses do not require a contact management system, because they have a small database, which can easily be stored and managed on spreadsheets.

However, in order to build and scale your gardening business, you do need some sort of a contact management system.

Summary:

Focus your early marketing efforts on friends and family members. Ask them to help share, advertise and promote your gardening business.

They can be your best service ambassadors (especially if you can afford to maintain some of their gardens for free, to show off to prospective clients!)

Good luck with starting gardening business. Happy Gardening!

To try out and sign up for Grow in Cloud’s 30 day free trial, simply click here.

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