I've just joined up after reading a lot of great advice on the forums.  I'm planning on starting my own business so have many questions that will no doubt receive great advice!

I've 20 years experience working in heritage organisations (and recently a private estate) for historic Grade 1 and 2 Registered large gardens, as a Gardener and Head Gardener and after my recent Head Gardener fixed term contract ended I have decided to set up my own business.  I'm aiming to undertake the wide range of practical garden work as a sole trader, along with possibly advising garden owners regarding garden conservation, plant collection management, health and safety for estates that employ staff etc.

With my background and knowledge I'm hoping to eventually concentrate on the more complex gardens (not so much the average housing estate garden) but have a few questions below:- 

With always working for an employer, I haven't much equipment myself so quite a bit will need to be purchased before I go self employed.  Capital expenses such as van, machinery and tools will cost approx. £9,000 to £10,000.  I will also have costs like a printer/photocopier etc and some small advertising. 

Can I purchase all of these before I start trading and will the full amount I've spent be used for expenses (i.e not depreciated in any way)?

Is it better to wait until the new tax year to purchase equipment and begin trading for next year?  If I get all the gear now and start trading I'll have to send the tax return for this year with a lot of expenses and not a lot of income.  From April I'll have much lower expenses but (hopefully!) larger income.  Or does it not matter where in the tax year it is to undertake the initial capital outlay?! Advice would be REALLY welcome on this!

I'm back living at my mother's house so will be using that as the trading address......I don't pay any bills directly (I pay her a monthly amount to cover things) so would that affect claiming for elec., heating expenses etc?

Apologies if it's basic stuff but I've never had anything to do with self employment before!

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  • PRO

    Re timing and tax, it does not really matter. As you'll be a sole trader the expenses will just go against total income & tax for the year, and so could result in a refund from tax paid, or if more, refund and loss carried forward. Total expense can be used as it will fall under the annual investment allowance cap (huge).

    Rather than concentrating on buying all the gear, I would think about how you are going to get those first customers and put budget in that direction. Sure identify what kit you'd like, but it can be bought quickly as you need it, or secondhand on ebay.

    Re living at home, you can claim a reasonable amount of home expenses for running the business from there - there is guidance on the HMRC website.

    For a van, think about what kit you'll be putting in there on a bad day, and especially if any waste will be taken away - that's the space killer. Also for that you'll need a Waste Carriers Licence - free (low tier) to around £160 for 3 years (high tier) from the Env Agency website.

  • PRO

    Also, well worth joing the BOG on here and looking at the threads on business stuff eg pricing & marketing to start with.

  • PRO

    Hi Adam,

    Firstly, good luck! You sound like a very knowledgeable guy and with the correct business model / customer base you're going to smash it I'm sure. A really exciting time for you if you can nail the planning. LJN is an amazing source of knowledge, the BOG in particular. 


    Expenses is your best source of self employment / self assessment information. They hold regular webinars that are helpful on the correct topics. 

    Personally, I wouldn't worry about the exact timing. If you make a loss in this current tax year this can be brought forward to lower a future tax bill. Better to have your business up and running with everything in needs IMO rather than trying to wing it until April 6th. 

    You other point refers to claiming for 'business use of home'. £10-30 per month expense for contribution to your bills depending on how much you are using your home for business.  

    Set up as a sole trader - GOV.UK
    Register as a sole trader with HM Revenue and Customs and legal responsibilities if you run a business as a self-employed sole trader
  • PRO

    Thanks for the advice.....I've looked a lot at the and HMRC websites, along with others, but to hear advice from people who are experienced and actually doing it makes a big difference  I'll have at look at the webinars mentioned too.

    I'm about to do the Open University free short course on starting a small business and have already looked up where I can access free business advice locally, although you need to be registered self employed to access the main advice on offer.

    I've got some really good contacts and I'll be letting them know all about what I've planned so hoping I get customers through them, along with people I know who have already asked me to undertake work after hearing I'm back in the area.  Advertising too in select places, although I know a lot comes through word of mouth.

    I'll be looking at joining the full forum asap too.

    Thanks again and no doubt I'll be asking for more advice!

  • Hi Adam,

    I've spent the last seven years working and studying (part-time) in accountancy.  I am starting my own garden maintenance business next year, but currently work as a management accountant.  My advice to you is to look for accountants local to you who specialise in start-up businesses.

    Any reputable accountancy firm will give you an initial meeting for free (a bit like a free quote) where they will assess whether or not they can acquire you as a customer.  During this meeting (usually an hour) you can get loads of free advice.

    They will be looking at you as a future customer and should respect you as such.

    P.S. I'm in absolute awe of your working background and feel a bit humbled reading your post.

    • PRO

      Thanks Nick, great advice which I will organise.

      I was lucky to get onto one of the best apprenticeships in historic gardening when I left school (and had always wanted to be a gardener with gardening from a young age!), which offered me great qualifications whilst being hands on at a property, constantly learning so much.

      You learn so much that comes with experience and also through real knowledge of plants and their origin by working with them.  If you can do a basic horticultural course,  there's many distance learning ones nowadays and it will give a good basic understanding of the science and therefore reasons behind a lot of what we do.      

      Good luck with your future!

  • I did the same 4 yours ago but without much of your knowledge (just being a keen gardener with an allotment as well). I had a few elderly neighbours gardens regularly before i started but not much. The area you live in will define the type of work you get but try and aim /get the large gardens with lots of shrubs and trees to use/sell your experience at a premium. Mine is simple maintenance mainly.

    Word of mouth worked for me but i work in an ideal spot ( good pensions but maintenance getting hard work) I printed 1000 leaflets, posted about 150 and did not get 1 job. 

    I got a new business grant of 60 quid a week for 13 weeks and 30 quid for 13 weeks so check on internet as well as job centre ( I had to ask them about it they knew nothing) Helped buy gear as I needed it.

    Don't buy really expensive until you need it. hedge cutter, mower .strimmer and probably blower 1000 quid and upgrade when they go wrong. I still only use a large ca(r but can call a mate with van when needed).and can get in 2 mowers, all gear and a helper (subby).I dont take away hardly any waste though, Brown bins or charge customers.

    Winter, I do fencing and sometimes advertise, You need a winter plan or go working for an agency (terrible), but its amazing the jobs you get offered if you are handy (e.g. decorating) once your clients have built up trust and rapport.

    I am making better money than I ever had but by no means a load, life/work relationship fantastic and have managed 3 winters ALMOST without worry.

    Go for it but start low expenditure and try not to go overboard you dont need it .your selling point is your knowledge and experience.

    • PRO

      Thanks Paul, I applied for the new business grant a few weeks ago and was due to meet with the business manager who runs the organisation.  He rang the day before the meeting to say it wouldn't be any good coming now and to wait until Spring, as there's no work in winter for gardeners!  I tried to explain how much work there actually is in gardens over winter, but he was having none of it.  

      Luckily I can do tree and woodland work, hedges, pest control etc which I'm hoping will give me enough work if I don't get into larger gardens that need year round work.  

      • I had half a business running and had to go for mentoring with someone who told me I could not cut someones lawn for 8 pound on my doorstep for 20 minutes work @24 pound an hour..I needed to be charging 15 quid according to him.

        Every bodies jobs are different so price accordingly if you are confident. mine are mainly small cheap and cutting a mix of moss and weeds as long as its green and the borders are weed free but they mount up. I do some lovely half day jobs too with beautiful borders shrubs and fruit trees but make more just cutting grass.

        Just say what you think your business adviser wants to hear and get the grant,its tax free as wel

        Do it your way.I started aiming at 10 pound an hour labour and with the fencing etc,I do not consider less than 15 pound an hour in winter and towards or at 20 in summer .

        After getting 8 pound an hour with no pay rise in 10 years in a semi skilled fabrication job which involved travel time and stress. self employment is fantastic once you have built up a steady trade. 

        I still think you need to find something a bit more for the winter, I was always going to make bird tables and planters in the winter to sell in the summer but havent needed to so far.

        Mind you I live near Newcastle and we have a long winter.

        Work hard, talk to your customers be fair and you will be a success. Most of all stick to your beliefs, I was advised my business plan wouldnt work, It has.

      • PRO
        I think with your knowledge you will want to be aiming for the bigger better gardens for want of better words.
        They won’t want a nasty cheap car with a rotten trailer sat on the drive!
        That’s not to say spend a fortune but clean and probably sign written small van along with a uniform of sorts will make all the difference.
        As for tools buy the best you can afford, again doesn’t have to be new but buy branded stuff simply because you will be able to get spare bits when they break!
        You’ve got the knowledge so will be fine.
        Good luck with it;)
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