Gardening Business - Start Up Pit Falls
First Thing's First...
This is my first Hub in several months now, The reason being, my laptop finally gave up the ghost after some slight impact damage but now... now I'm back!
So, why gardening?
Little do my readers know, when I was eighteen I ran a semi-successful gardening business for a year until my tools were pinched.
I was gutted.
You see,I had underestimated the value of insurance and the little chance my tools would be stolen didn't seem comparable with the cost of insurance.
I had acquired all my tools previously just over the years, you know? For example, my lawnmower was a battered old Flymo which had almost had it but with some TLC, I restored it back to good health; acquired from my very first client.
The rest of my inventory boasted only a spade, an edging toold and a fork and pair of shears. I relied heavily on my clients for tools and though at the time, I believed my skills to be quite diverse, things were about to change...
That was then, this is now.
The above photo is my latest completed project which was completed over three days, just over a week ago.
So, now it has became my wish to re launch my business; Hill's Landscape Design & Garden Maintenance...
I decided a while ago, midway through following my dreams of working in the fitness industry as a personal trainer, that my only successful business was gardening. With this in mind, I have decided personal training can be a hobby to keep myself fit and possibly earn some money on the side. With fees costing over £3000, I can use Gardening to first gather the funds to take a few classes to expand my gardening skills and then embark on the personal training qualification.
I used to be a hairdresser. As you can see, I have many skills; another being I have written and published a poetry book as well as spent several years as a performance poet whilst I was a hairdresser and still in school.
So, the personal training qualification will also allow me to see if my routines are on form and safe. This will also keep me going through the winter months alongside the slower gardening work and possibly a small one man window cleaning operation which will see me a few extra pennies during those cold months which, quite honestly for the first year, I am dreading because I may not have enough regular clients to see me through.
Back to the matter at hand, the business.
This time round, I am looking for funding which we will cover first because it is the most important part of a start up, without funding you only have an idea.
So, what are your options?
Here in the UK, there are several small business grants operating which are given to many new businesses depending on eligibility which is justified upon a criteria applicants must meet such as age, business sector, industry, sex and race and religion. The same goes for loans.
As well as this, there are several awards such as Virgin's 'Pitch-To-Rich' which encourages new innovative businesses to come forward and apply to win up to £1million!
Most high street banks offer start up loans, one of which I remember vividly is Barclay's who will give you a matched-capital loan, where you raise half the start up funding and they'll lend you the rest. These are suitable for most businesses but the interest rates can be cripplingly high.
The other funding option is the option I've chosen which is a government backed start-up loan from the Start Up Loans Co., an organisation formed to help people start a business who otherwise wouldn't be able to be through conventional funding options, they offer up to £25'000 at low interest along with a business mentor and various other support mediums from helping with your business plan to advice on money management.
This being said, we need to also cover my initial funding plan which involved the Sir Thomas White Loan Charity, a charity organisation who offer interest free loans but their business plan was tricky to navigate so I decided to put this organisation on the shelf for the time being although I'm regretting this as they hold interviews on the 5th of May and I will have had a decision within a couple of weeks. As it stands, I'm still waiting to hear from the mentor before I can even progress my loan application and I plan to launch in June which is looking like a quickly fading dream, .
You'll notice I have left out many funding options such as investments, angel investors, venture capitalists and this is because quite frankly, I don't understand them and I imagine if you're reading this you are looking to start a business in gardening too and I doubt you'll need to research this type of funding.
The Plan Of Action
So, the idea is simply, I want to launch this business by June so I can gather a decent amount of regular clients so I can see myself through the winter. Then early next year I can increase my prices with my experience, grow the top and dissolve the bottom and by the following winter be absolutely fine.
Should this not work due to, for example funding (or lack of it), then a one man window cleaning operation will be a must, as I won't have the personal training qualification until way into my business life, as that certain qualification will be primarily for hobby purposes.
After increasing my prices slightly, I will be able to put aside a bit each job and eventually embark on various courses to expand my knowledge and expertise.
You see, in this age old industry worth over £1.3Billion a year in the UK alone, you can start on very basic skills. If you can only mow a lawn, you can be a gardener.
You can be a gardener by just mowing lawns and expanding on this and maintaining a lawn care business whilst occasionally building flowerbeds or doing the occasional after-winter garden clearance.
As I said previously, you'll remember, I thought I had a diverse range of skills but whilst researching the industry for the purposes of the business plan (something I lacked the first time round) I realised the skills I had were minuscule compared to those skills of more advanced, more professional gardeners...
But you don't need to know how to lay a patio to be a gardener, even I don't yet and as a landscaper that is pretty basic. My slogan will be "No job too big, if we can't do it, we will get someone who can!" and for any jobs I can't do, I'll get someone in and learn where I need to improve, taking very targeted tuition courses, I will have all the skills I need under my belt with future jobs paying for the course in one go. For example, a patio laying course would cost perhaps £155, and the usual rate for laying just a patio is usually £120 for a small garden, so if I had a medium garden just one week after the course, I will be breaking even on the course.
I won't talk too much about tax as it varies from country to country, state to state but in the UK the tax rate remains the same; you have the standard rate and the higher rate tax bands, but one thing to bear in mind, even part of your rent/mortgage can be considered business expenses in this industry, along with household bills and even a golf membership if you use it for business networking purposes can be used as tax deductible expenses. It isn't illegal so long as your expenses are genuinely business use - with this industry, typically we won't need to rent an office outside of our home and as we can't accurately say how much gas, electric and rent we use toward out overall bills, in the UK you can use up to a third (to the best of my knowledge) of all household bills as business expenses which as I say are tax deductible.
Have you ever employed/hired or considered employing/hiring a gardener? What did you have done (Leave answers to this question as comment)?
Have you ever employed/hired or considered employing/hiring a gardener?
Logo, Names and Research and Marketing
For any business to succeed, you must do your homework on the industry. This will allow you to find out what prices are fair, what customers want and more importantly, who your customers are likely to be although never think you have your target audience down to a Tee, a potential client can be anyone who has some sort of connection, whether they own or know someone who owns or even knows of a garden because I've had people as me to do work for others as them paying me to provide a service as someone anniversary gift. I've even had people who don't have a visible garden ask me to help them manage their indoor gardens...
I noticed a massive pitfall in my pricing when I first rang my gardening business, I was carrying out work I should have been charging £200-300 for instead I was charging £40, this is what lack of research does to you. You rob yourself.
Alongside research comes names and logos which are arguably as important as research and marketing (marketing being considered vital as well as important) because these are what will GET YOU KNOWN, a common indicator of a poor business in my opinion is one which often and repeatedly changes it's name because generally, you want your name to be remembered so if you change it, it seems to me like you don't want to be known. Your logo is also important as people's eyes will be drawn to that and will associate things which they can relate to your logo to it and remember your business.
My name is Andrew Hill, it fits with Hill's Landscape Designs & Garden Maintenance as hills are something to do with landscape anyway. Alongside this, I have this logo, which will be underneath this capsule, which fits perfectly although I am not happy with it. I had a logo prior to this which I decided not to use but I'm thinking of reverting back. During the planning phase, you are allowed to make these cosmetic changes to find out what works best but when you launch, my advice would be to just go with it.
Marketing and Sales often get associated with retail and can make entrepreneurs cringe at the mere sight of the words. But they are vital. Your marketing gets your brand out there, makes your customers for you and your sales is your income. Your sales are the income generated from the services you sell.
The BEST marketing strategy in this industry is word of mouth, typically if you're a small business who like me, doesn't drive (I ride a bicycle), you'll mainly be working in your local area. Word of Mouth is where your clients tell their friends in the local area about you and I find majority of people want to be on top of the trend on the street and will often ring you, at least for a quote.
But the first client... well, I've always found Facebook to be the best source, search your local groups and like pages and post and advert. If you're reading this then you have access to the internet.
So, about this loan... Where am I now?
I've applied for a loan via Virgin Start-Ups, Richard Branson has always been a bit of an influence in my life and I've applied for £7'000, the loan is funded by Start-Up Loans Co. and backed by the government with a fixed 6% interest rate.
This was for the start up costs, including a van and insurance and tools. However, I started doing some gardens, again relying on client's tools and found myself with £800 and I have now purchased almost all of my hand tools and a couple of power tools, however I want a petrol lawn mower and petrol multi-tool (chainsaw, trimmer, strimmmer, extension pole and a couple of other gadgets, with safety goggles and ear protectors) and a high pressure washer which will cost another £250, I have the laptop too which means I can bring my loan amount down, reducing the debt and repayment fees so all I need to cover is the cost of the van (which I've seen some for as low as £1'500 so I bet I can get a decent one for £2'500-£3'500) and running costs, insurance, tax and MOT for that year. I don't have a licence either, so that will cost up to or more than £200 to pass, which will hopefully leave me about £2000 overall to cover unexpected overheads, public liability insurance and for those tools I didn't think of, as and when I need them and other supplies.
I've also developed a grow-to-order and gardening retail side-venture to go alongside all of this but that is another story.
I just really hope I get that loan in time to start my business before June this year (2015), I will keep you posted.
Any tips, suggestions, ideas, comments or hate mail, direct it to the comment section and I'll reply as fast and as best as I can!
Some examples of my other projects and my original logo.
Which Logo Is Best?
The pictures to the right are to be used to compare the logos for the purposes of the above poll.
I am really excited and though this hub has been vague, I don't want to give away too much before I launch my business. So stay tuned for an updated article soon!