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Any advice for growth?

shaky, but I endured and kept going. By the end of year one I had saved up enough to see me through the winter and pumped a fair bit back into the business. Major van upgrade, Tool upgrades, Professional Logo redesign etc. Year 2 has been tough, everyone tells you how to get a business started but no one tells you how to actually run it when it works out! I've had a couple of lads help me out here and there 5-6 shifts each month and that has barely seen me through the year. I'm getting 4-5 Enquiries a day, still in November. My accountant has been telling me to take someone on for a few months now, but I've been cautious due to the winter months coming up, for obvious reasons I wouldn't want to take someone on, train them up then run out of work for them (it seems now that wont be an issue though). So I’m currently looking to hire now. I'm turning down / not finding time to reply to 30-40% of inquiries and feel like I'm letting things slip a bit. It's tough to stay motivated, I'm losing enthusiasm and struggle to find the energy now to even get out to complete the massive workload I have on. I'm sure this is burn out and I know I'll bounce back and get control of things again. That's a VERY brief bit of background information, now for the advice.

I have my goals, one of them being that I want to be running the business, I want to be talking to the customers, quoting, viewing the properties and running the office side of things, but not out breaking my back every day. Which means I'll need to hire. And with that, decide whether to hire someone with loads of experience to take over the gardening side of things completely and get them an apprentice in 4-5 months or start off with hiring an apprentice. Both obviously have huge pro’s and con’s. Has anyone managed to successfully achieve this with their business? Build it up and have a strong team run the labour side? It is starting to feel more and more like a fairy tail. If anyone has experience with this I'd be very grateful for some advice. 

I know my business is ready for the next step, however I need to create a clear plan on how to achieve it. And because I spend 90% of my time alone in gardens or in the office, I never get to bounce ideas off of other people. And the people I do try and speak to, have no idea what I’m on about, because it's either business talk or gardening talk.

I know I'll get a few generic responses, and the questions are a bit vague. But summed up, any advice or help in regards to moving from solo - Business owner with a team would be appreciated.

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  • Woops, meant to start with this, not sure how to edit!

    ......"I've been in business 2 years now and things are going great. The first 1/2 of year one was shaky, but I endured and kept going."

  • PRO

    Step number one and this isn't intended to be rude - have a VERY close look at your pricing as once you employ someone, you need to be charging out three or four times their hourly pay to make things work.

    You will find that any job for less than about £30 just isnt worth your while anymore as fuel, plus staff wages plus tax loss on profit just makes it uneconomic.

    Its difficult to answer fully as I don't know your business basis but would suggest that if you are unindated with calls you may be on the cheaper side as opposed to what you 'could' be charging.

    Realistically and I will say this here, to maintain a sucessfull business in this trade with legit employees, you will need to be charging an equivalent to or in excess of £35 p/h of employee on site. Would you current clients accept this or are 'you the business'?

    It can be done and if your figures are not in this range, then I would look at and address any underlying price imbalances before going further.

    Wages are just one part of the equasion with employers national insurance contributions to pay, employers liability insurance to fork out for, additional premiums on vehicle insurance etc.

    Unless you already have a 'clear post tax take home' of around £25K, your business cannot support employees currently - thats advice from my accountant and having worked things out its true.

    Apprentices must be supervised at all times as thats the law plus must be on recognised day release college scheme, plus bear in mind they will know nothing of the world of work. Anyone that's any good in this trade is either A - working for themselves or B - will want a take home of £30K plus to run your business.

    Anything is possible but unless your pricing is right, you are not going to succeed.

    A good measure is this - if you get every job you quote for, you are too cheap - raise your prices a bit say 30% - you might loose 30% of quotes but your making 30% more on the ones you do get!

    Every business needs an incrememntal price rise every year and with the way that fuel and associated costs are going, this financial year coming is going to be hard for many that are tied into priced contracts.

  • PRO

     Hi Kelvin

    Whereabouts are you based?

    There's lots of questions... what sort of work do you do? Landscaping, border maintenance, hedges and lawns? What do you major on? Residential or Commercial, large or lots of small mow and go type things?

    Before this I ran international teams of 160 people, that compared to hiring your first right hand man or woman is a walk in the park. I really would not be looking to hang up your boots anytime soon, work with that person when you find them. Do they work to the same standards as you do, if you do residential work, are they able to build up a rappore with the clients - do the clients like them?

    I've been going 5 years and am looking to pass the business on (I'm 65 this year) - the work is there (bucketloads of it) - but finding reliable staff, who you trust with your clients and work to your standards AND can drive has been impossible for me. I have one lady who works full time as an employee - I just cant find anyone else - and to be honest am not trying anymore - it works well with the 2 of us, we have a strong lad who helps on the bigger gardens. By all means message me and we can chat.


  • PRO

    Hi Kelvin,

    If you are struggling with potential burnout, then the message is clear - you are doing too much. To my mind, you have one of two clear decisions to make - Cut back the workload, put your prices up, and just work for yourself, OR, as you seem to be wanting, grow your business. The latter will involve taking someone on. In my experience, the best recruits come from those you already know. They might not necessarily be in your sector, but they might be looking for a change. What is their work ethic? Could you trust them? A good attitude in someone is 90% of what you are looking for initially. The skills they need can be trained in by you. This of course takes time, but as previous respondant said, this is not done overnight. But you will get an employee who does things the way you want them done. Also, with a bit of company and assistance, the whole experience may became much more bearable and enjoyable. Once you have this employee up and running, the time might be coming to look at a second. Personally, I believe the initial years of slog are worth it in the medium to long run on so many levels.

  •  As I see it, the problem with employees, particulalry with domestic work, they soon realise they're being paid £10/hour and the customer is paying £30/hour so he bypasses you,and goes straight to the customer for £20/hour           Everyone is happy except you lol!! 

    • PRO

      You could try aligning yourself with another gardener at a similar stage combine complimentary skills and share your workloads . 

      Just having someone to share the burden and responsibility with even if its just one day a week can make a massive difference and lift your spirits .

    • PRO

      Graham, have you ever employed a member of staff ?

    • PRO

      I always make sure my employee knows the cost of everything that the company buys from van servicing, fuel, kit purchases, insurance, you name it they get to know how much it cost.... They soon realise there are lots of costs other than their wages

      • PRO

        Here here! I've had two of my guys try to set up on their own, and I have helped them do so initially. But they both soon realised that running a business is not in everyone's gift. We'd all be doing it if that was the case. They both came back to me and are very happy in their work 🙂

  • I’ve said it before, but the answer is sub-contractors.

    In 2019 I was run ragged. I had taken on too much. So in 2020 I brought in a second sub-contractor to do the really large playing fields. This sort of contractor has the large gang mowers and so can cover the ground very quickly. Therefore the price they charge is very reasonable, so there is still a very healthy profit left in the work.

    I also have another guy who does all the strimming in the churchyards and cemeteries. I mow them, he strims them.

    Both of these work very well. I get the work done but I am not employing anyone.

    Obviously you can sub-contract out any type of work that you have.

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