Can I specialise?

Evening allI am in the process of starting out on my own. After a career break raising my children I've decided doing a maintenance round would best suit my family life. I have 10 years experience estate gardening, especially border work. The question is. Is there any call for specialised work such as bed maintenance and pruning? I worry that having a maintenance round you have to be a jack of all trades. I live in Surrey and I know there are a lot of large gardens in the area but would people expect you to do everything in their garden?

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    • Steer away from hourly rates if you can. Factor in fuel cost to job and fuel used if lawn cutting etc. Also factor in waste disposal but encourage your customer to compost it on site. There are many posts on here concerning hourly rate v day rate. I charge a flat day rate for 8 hours which include my lunch break and a quick coffee break in the morning and afternoon.
      • As Andrew says there has been much discussion about what to charge for our time. Also he, like many others recommends steering away from hourly rates. From reading previous posts it seems that those who price individual jobs earn more ( sometimes much more ) per hour than I do.
        However, I have a regular round of customers

        that I have been going to for years.... 25 years in one case. There has never been a need to go out and try and find work and spend time pricing jobs. All the gardens I work in have something to do all year round. The only thing that stops me is illnes ( very rare ) or snow which is aso rare. Everybody I work for pays me 52 weeks a year and I have two weeks paid holiday.
        The work involves caring for herbaceous borders, veg growing, all types of fruit production, growing of annuals for planting out, cut flower production, pruning and care of a wide range of shrubs and small trees, hedge cutting and topiary work both formal and informal.
        Because I go to the same place each day, each week and am reliable, people build their routine around that. Sometimes that means being at home and working with me, which I enjoy, or maybe taking the opportunity to go out, and asking me to let the dogs out into the garden or maybe let the sweep in etc. Over the years I have also buried several of the dogs when the time comes.
        This all means that I have a genuine relationship with my customers, I have watched children grow, leave home, get married and have children of their own.
        Some people may find this way of working boring, too much of a routine, but it is what suits me and the approach I have to my work. It also seems to suit the people I work for.
        There are several other people in my area who work in the same way, and, without any collusion between us we all seem to be charging the same amount.
        I have never wanted to employ other people and to have felt responsible for making sure of sufficient work is coming in for everybody to be able to pay their mortgage or rent etc. The people I work for want me and my skills, rather than not really knowing who they were going to get.
        Sorry if this has been a bit of a ramble but I wanted to put forward an approach to this profession that doesn't seem to get much of a mention.
        You must choose your own path but hopefully it bring you joy, an ever growining fund of knowledge and most importantly, contentment.
        • Thanks Peter, it sounds like you've made a very happy career. Lots of things to think about.
        • PRO

          you only take two weeks holiday?

          When the legal minimum if you were employed is 28 days inc bank hols, I figure if working for yourself you should get better than the minimum.

        • Peter, you and I are on the same wavelength though I take 5 weeks off a year and not do BH Mondays either.
  • PRO
    I love working in borders, weeding and planting etc.
    I don't have an extensive knowledge but do ok and my knowledge gets better and better all the time.

    I like the varied weeks rather than just lawn and hedge cutting, I think it's a nice part of the job, seeing a border change through the year.
  • Sounds like fixed rate is the way for me. I understand for set tasks there is one fee but what about regular tasks? For ongoing maintenance do your customers pay monthly? Can you explain how you break it down
    • I charge a flat day rate for whatever I do. One day may be mostly spent on border work and involve using £150 of kit but the next visit I might be cloud pruning a 15' x 25' box tree which means using £2000 of kit and working off high step ladders ( all my own tools ). I am aware that a contractor would want two or three times my day rate for the box tree, but for me it is all a part of caring for the garden all year round. It gets too complicated trying to price different tasks at different rates.
      I never take rubbish away from the job, everything is composted burnt or goes in the council bin.
      Most of my money is paid monthly straight into the bank. Some comes as cash.
      Try and make sure you start at a decent rate to avoid having to ask for a raise after a short while.
      If your accountancy skills are like mine ( rubbish ), ask other local tradesmen to recommend somebody to help.
      • Hope you don't mind me asking Peter, what is your day rate?

  • PRO
    Age massively comes into this debate and affects the route you can takes....

    If young, hungary to succeed with growing family to support you look at it differently to someone at the other end of their lives, perhaps looking to wind down, maybe working less hours and/or with less overhead or persue life long interests but that's not to say it can't be mixed up whatever age you're at...

    Also, I maintain if you're self employed or an employer, you're running a business and that brings with it certain requirements and expectations that can't be ignored.
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