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Gaining commercial clients

Hi, all of my work is for residential customers (other than the occasional job where a commercial client will come to me for a one off job).

I'm looking to gain more commercial customers such as supermarket carparks, pub gardens, office block grounds etc as I find they are bigger jobs, you can charge more and its year round work so my question is how have people gone about getting this type of work- sending out an email, phone call or a letter etc? I'm capable with the physical work just looking for advice on the marketing side.

I am not a big company I am a sole trader, if that has any baring. With insurance and waste license etc.

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  • Just to add the work I am talking about is grounds and garden maintenance.

  • Max, you're in the same position we were 40 years ago and it's the right way to go, there is just not the money in domestic work. Around 5% of our work is private and we insist on it being paid on a flat rate over 12 months, so the same as commercial work and at our commercial rates which average £65 to £75 per hour plus vat.

    Anyway to the question, firstly identify sites which you're interested in , we found that a cold call was the most successful way, we gained our first site this way, a private hospital which we still maintain. You might feel uncomfortable doing this but remember they can only say no! Inevitably your call will be answered by reception and  your conversation should go along the lines of - Hello, I wondered if you could help? I run a local grounds maintenance business and I wondered who the best person would be to speak to about quoting to maintain your grounds? At this point they will either transfer the call or say the person isn't available. If you get to speak keep it brief,  don't waffle, just tell them your name, it helps to sound more professional if your business has a trading title - such as Bodge it and Scarper Landscapes ( only joking on the name) but you need to come across as a professional. After introducing yourself say you're a well established business looking to expand and could you quote to maintain their grounds? Remember it's likely they use someone already so find out if it's a contract and if so when it expires and could you call back to quote ? Drop into the conversation that your prices are very competitive and service levels high.

    The other scenario is the reception won't put you through or the person is unavailable in which case ask the persons name and try to get an email address, email is last resort, by getting the name next time you call you can ask straight away to speak to Mr Smith rather than explaining again why you're calling. Keep trying! Only email if you're not getting anywhere but in my experience it's a waste of time.

    The other option is to call into reception to leave a business card and get talking to find out who looks after the grounds and as before who to speak to. 

    A good website is essential, we've picked up a lot of work from ours, you need to present yourself well with clean workwear that displays your business trading name ( essential). Don't start talking about insurance and waste licences unless asked , these people are generally uninterested more interested in a good service,price and professionalism. 

    The main issue we had was credibility on getting the first commercial work and that's a difficult one to overcome unless you blag it ! Once you've got the first you can say we look after supermarket savers site.

    When you're looking at potential sites forget any of the national retailers/ chains they almost always use a national contractor and to some extent so do the pubs.

    Concentrate on office blocks, industrial estates/units, motor dealerships, property management companies that look after blocks of flats. 

    I wish you every success but it's not easy,  don't get disheartened it's taken us 40 years to get to the level we're at now. You'll get knock backs but rise above it and remember persistence pays off. Good luck!


  • PRO

    A few things to think of here.

    Do not and I repeat do NOT get involved in anything for a supermarket. These are mainly maintained through one big main contractor and their attitude towards their subcontractors is well known in the industry lets say. Another certain well known supermarket chain chooses their own contractors and lets just say its easier getting blood out of a rock and you won't see any money within 120-180 days...

    Pubs are currently also not a good place to be - I used to do numerous but post covid they are all struggling and it can be difficult to get them to pay what the jobs are worth as well as the inconvenience of having to work around their opening times.

    Larger commercial customers, you will not pass their 'prequalifing questions' in many cases if you don't have employers liability insurance (which you wont have if you don't have employees) and quite often they will want you to be a limited comoany and be VAT registered as well.

    You will need watertight risk assessments and method statements for every operation and a watertight signed contract with them too.

    They will want a one stop shop for mowing, weed control etc (Do you have PA1/6?).

    A lot of commercial sites don't allow 'lone workers' as its against their health and safety policies.

    As always there are exceptions - I can only speak for my 15 years of experience in the industry.

    I am not trying to put you off trying but be just be very aware that many big companies are far less than scrupulous when it comes to paying their invoices... 

    I generally find 'nice domestic' customers can be of equal value to most commercial...


    • Adam, you've obviously had some bad experiences. 

      But I can't agree with many of your points  we have never been asked for employers liability even though we have it,only public liability. Only occasionally get asked for risk assessments, never had a pre-qualification questionnaire . We work for the NHS and several well known major PLC companies including the likes of Astra Zeneca and others.  Never come across the lone worker issue, we always state payment terms in our quote and never had any serious issues. Never been told that we should be vat registered although we are and we aren't a LTD company. I can only speak after 40 years in the trade.

  • Some interesting thoughts on this thread. Here are mine, for what they are worth.

    I have been trading for nearly 33 years and in grounds maintenance since 1985.

    I work for many different types of client – including – Parish Councils [playing fields/cemeteries etc.] – PCCs [churchyards] – Schools - large trading companies – large and small domestic and last but certainly by no means least, Chatsworth Estate.

    I have only ever been asked once for a risk assessment [once in 33 years]. That was six years ago when I successfully gained a large council contract [they asked to see the risk assessment when tendering]. They have not asked to see either a risk assessment or a public liability document since then [for six years].

    I worked for one parish council for 11 years [until 2016] and was NEVER asked for any proof of anything, not even verbally.

    Chatsworth only want you to upload your public liability every year. That’s all and nothing else.

    So apart from one risk assessment and one client needing to see public liability, no one has ever asked to see any other ‘ticket’ of any kind.

    As for gaining this kind of work, there is only on way, at least in my experience. Go and talk face to face with those you have identified as the people you would like to work for. An in person chat goes such a long way. You project everything you want them to see by not just what you say, but your whole demeanour.

    I have never had business cards, never had a website, never sent out flyers and never cold called by telephone. Yet I am so busy I can hardly move. All you need to do is be very good at what you do and then by word of mouth and recommendation the work comes in. And when cold calling in person, make an impression. It’s that simple.

    So pick the ones you fancy working for and then go and charm them.

  • I'm in a similar position. I have an established gardening business and been on my own for 6 years now .I'm a sole trader and effectively a one man band,.sometimes sub in some work when I need some extra hands. All my work is residential and my background is horticultural based rsther than hard landscaping.

    I was recently approached by a private housing development in my village of 25 houses that sits on a 6.5 acre site (so a  fairly big site for the number of houses) the original request was to maintain the beds, but after some thought and crunching some numbers I asked to tender for the grass contract to fit along with the rest of the grounds maintenance. 

    My standard hourly rate for private residential fortnightly maintenance is £35ph. I'm making another £10 an hour off a sub contractor that works with me on this site, giving a total of £45ph for a 4 hour slot. I've used that rate on the boarder maintenance for the development as they need so much work I couldn't do a job price as it's endless and wouldn't be able to manage expectations, at least with an hourly rate they know what they are getting and if they need more then they can add hours on.

    But now I've also taken on the grass contract at a fixed price per cut on top of the border maintenance it's put my overall hourly rate up to £70ph for the 6 hours a fortnight. Taking the grass contract has taken it from making £180 in 4 hours to £420 in 6 hours. Bit of no brainer 

    As a result I've now realised the potential of getting the right commercial jobs over residential. And going forwards I'm definitely going to have mix of commercial and residential. My next thought was how do I get more commercial jobes? The first thing I did was Google local management companies. The first one I rang I spoke with the receptionist and explained who I was and that I live locally. I've just invested in some bigger grass cutting equipment and expanding my business to cater for larger developments.amd if they had any sites in need of a local and reliable contractor then please give me a call. Within 20 minutes I had a phone call back from one of the directors asking me to meet him on Monday at a development of 35 houses to quote for grounds maintenance. 

    As others have already said, get out there and sell yourself. You've got to hustle a little bit in the right way... Keep it professional and smart.  Even a simple little thing, I was my local petrol station last week and asked to talk to the manager after paying for my fuel. I'd noticed they lost plants from last winters frost and it just didn't look good. They were delighted that I had noticed and were very keen for me to quote on some replacement plants. And the next thing they are doing is building a Starbucks on a bit of land they own next to the petrol station and they want planting for that once built. You can see how things can snowball just by asking a couple of questions. 


    Best of luck, it is what you make it.

  • Thanks for the replies so far. Some useful information 

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