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Starting Up

Good Evening

I have spent most of the evening browsing this forum reading everyone's posts and taking information in. I am in the process of starting up because I have always had a life goal to own my own business. I am coming back into the industry after a hiatus. The business plan, website and social media pages are pretty much finished. Next month the business will have been registered with companies house. A few questions I have are 1. Is it worthwhile leasing a van or buying one out right. 2. Should I aim for a mix of commercial and residential business. 3. If there is one thing you should have done when you started up what is it?

A bit about me. I have a nvq level 3 in amenity horticulture (sports turf) with approx 8 years experience in sports turf maintenance, sports turf construction. I left the industry in 2008 when the credit crunch hit and was made redundant I have recently moved to Cornwall and I am starting a BSc in horticulture (garden and landscape design) at Plymouth uni in Sept. It is time to get back into the industry I love.  

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      • I had a fair bit of gardening experience from working in my own gardens but my career had been in the building industry before I did this. I put out feelers to see if anyone needed help with their gardens locally and it has grown quite quickly from there. You have to be honest about what you know and what you can do but in my area there is a shortage of reliable gardeners and people willing to take on small landscaping projects. I find I am learning all the time, both on the job and through reading and researching and that gives me the confidence to take on work I might not have been happy to do at first. The course I was going to do was through the RHS but I soon realised that a lot of what it covered wasn't relevant to my day to day work so I prefer to choose my own areas of study.

        • PRO

          That's a brilliant insight. I think there will be plenty of people wanting help in the local area and persimmon are starting to build a few thousand homes so i think i will have to target them when they're sold and people start moving in. I am going to still plan to start the degree. But if i am too busy then i can always say no before i start.  

  • PRO

    Hi Dan

    I came from a similar background - qualified greenkeeper for 20 years with NVQ's / spraying certs, I was fortunate that I did an HNC in business at night class before jumping ship over to self employment.

    It's a lot easier to work/study at that level when someone else is responsible for providing work and paying your wages.

    I would encourage you to focus more on doing business classes as opposed to the horticulture degree, as this is where you are more likely to fail or come up short. 

    Not long after I left full time employment & joined the ranks of self employed I started into a foundation degree in horticulture, however I soon came to the realisation that i just wouldn't have the time needed to work at the at level and build my business at the same time.

    Not one of my clients has ever asked me what qualifications I have, all they are interested in is knowing you have the ability to do the job to do a high standard.

    Sorry if that sounds a bit negative, by all means have a go, if you can get it to work for then great :)

    • I am pleased someone else has bought this up, but qualifications and certificates are not the passport to a successful gardening business.  I have none at all, but in 40 years of trading, I have never once been asked to provide any.  You cannot have too much knowledge, but the first step is a broad base of skills and these can be learned through common sense, books, the internet and experience. 

      An eye for detail is absolutely essential.  We can all buy the same materials, but when I started out, I wanted to know WHY one wall looked a little better than another or with paving, a small detail such as ¼” narrower joints would make all the difference.  Planting ‘best side to London’ etc etc.,  many, many little things put together enabled our work to stand out.  Even now, after all these years, there is still much to learn(with help from LJ!) – I have my first lawn aerator on order, ready to attack our lawns and move our expanding maintenance business forward another notch.

      • PRO

        It's a good point, apart from mandatory training for PA & CS capabilities etc, qualifications can often mean nothing to a client. We all know the sort who just wants continual training and confirmation by certificates that they are 'the best'.

        However, I know for some it is a form of safety net, providing them with confidence they need to step out into the big wide world. That should never be discourage because our upbring, training, eye for detail, interaction skills all form the 'people' we are. There is no right or wrong I guess.

        I will play devil's advocate and ask; Would a formal, required qualification (nationally recognised & promoted) further promote our industry and help push wages up to 'comparable' trades ?

        Anyway, you are unlikely to walk into commercial work, so would focus on residential clients making good use of your background. Look for niche markets unless you are prepared to go head to head with all other local businesses providing 'garden related' services.

        My take on vans is slightly different; buy the best, smartest one you can within your budget. Consider cheap leasing, but understand any financial committments. Reliability and image are key when starting out IMHO.

        Gear; Again, be sure what services you intend to offer. The temptation is to get 'everything' in the early days but often expensive items can sit lightly used in your store with the money having been better off used elsewhere. Consider hiring large equipment initially, to help cashflow and also to 'try out' a brand etc.

        Find a good Dealer, tap him for his recommendations based upon reliability and ability. Buying cheap or at distance will cause a problem when you least need it.

        Leverage sites like LJN. You'll get a wide range of oppinions that you can mull over. The Business Objectives Group is useful if you want more in depth info or discussions.

        Finally, find a good small business accountant, make him your best friend. Ask him for help & listen. Also don't forget to take advantage of any business related training(often free) or grants.

        Good luck :)

        • PRO

          Thank you all for the advice. It has been a great eye opener. Flyering is something i have to do after reading all your advice. I think i am going to aim to buy a cheap van and then once i am more financially secure i will probably aim to lease one. Equipment wise i am going to buy the bare essentials that i need and hire any specialist equipment i may need for 1 off jobs. I already have a fair amount of basic equipment that i have bought over the last year.

          I am going to have to start networking asap to build up contacts and really work hard on business generation. Luckily my mum is an accountant so she has offered to help all she can which will be brilliant.

    • PRO

      Hi Robbie

      Thank you for insight. The issue with doing courses at the moment is that my current employer wont allow for any time of to do it. Night classes don't fit either as i am on call every other week.

      Do you find a lot of what you learned and experienced greenkeeping is transferable to your own. What did you find was the steepest learning curve  

      • PRO

        I specialise in lawn care, I sell my experience as my unique selling point & lots of people by into it.

        The trickiest thing in my first year was generating work, keeping it coming in and getting it done.

        I started up on a shoe string and all my advertising was done by myself family and friends delivering flyers - a time consuming task

        On days with no work I would have done flyers, I still do to an extent... 

        • PRO
          Thank you for your insight. I'm not worried about working hard and will do pretty much anything to make sure this business is a success. Do you find that your experience makes customers more willing to part with their cash?
  • I ran a landscaping and garden maintenance business whilst attending University, and also advise 100's of small business start-ups every year. If I could advise you to do one thing, it would be to make sure you set up the business as a business, and not just create self employment for yourself. 

    It's become a bit of a cliche these days, but you need to be working ON the business, not IN the business. 

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