How to start a gardening business

How to Start a Gardening Business in the UK

If you’re lucky enough to have a garden in the UK, you’ll probably spend a fair amount of time keeping it tidy.

Most people will do this themselves, but in the last few years people are busier than ever and quite a lot of people opt for a gardener to do some or all of their garden maintenance.

In this article, we’ll walk through all the necessary steps to start a garden maintenance business in the UK, from market research to launching and growing your business. 

With that said, let’s get started!

Finding gardening business competitors and customers through market research

When starting any business, it’s vital to thoroughly research your customers and competitors.

Why?

Because you need to know who to target in your advertising, and you need to know if others are already doing what you plan to do, so you can differentiate yourself accordingly.

So what comes first when you’re doing your research? Customers or competitors?

It’s up to you! We’ll start with your customers, but you can approach this in any way you like.

The target audience for a gardening business

Your target audience is the ideal person who will need your service.

With a gardening business, it’s not as much about the person you’re looking for, but where they live/work.

For example, you can exclude everyone who owns or rents a flat, as they don’t have gardens – however, you can include the owners of the building! This is because there are often communal gardens around flats which need maintaining. 

There’s a subtle difference here, but is crucial to understand if you want to be targeting the right people.

So in essence, your ideal customer is going to be someone who is/owns/rents any of the following:

  • Individuals with large private gardens and grounds, or smaller residential gardens
  • Landlords
  • Care homes
  • Local councils for public spaces
  • Estate and letting agents
  • Owners / managers of holiday lets
  • Commercial grounds
  • Housing and residents’ associations
  • Property management companies
  • Schools, colleges, universities

But it’s not going to be possible to effectively target all of these. You’d need to focus on a specific set of customers, for example you might want to only target people who own or rent houses, or you could focus on students, with a focus on the end of tenancy garden tidy ups.

Yes, by only focussing on a small subset of that list you are limiting your potential, but you allow yourself to become much more niche as the saying goes, you want to avoid becoming a “jack of all trades, master of none”!

So now we know and understand who we are targeting, how do we find them?

Finding your target audience for a gardening business

If you read my last article, “How to start a dog walking business” then you might know what I’m going to suggest.

As gardening businesses are mostly local and tend to stay local, then looking locally is your best bet.

So aim to look in local magazines, newspapers, online groups (like Facebook groups) and local bulletin boards. It’s also a great idea to have a look at how many of your competitors are advertising in this way too.

You can also look on property sites, like Rightmove and Zoopla to look at the kind of houses that are within a certain mile radius of a postcode. Likewise, you could use Google Earth to see where the most suitable house areas are!

Finding competitors in your area

Like looking for your target audience, looking at your competitors is equally crucial to understand how to position and operate your business.

Why?

Finding out what your competitors:

  • Offer in terms of a service
  • Pricing is like
  • And areas they service

This allows you to mold your business model and pricing strategy to give you the optimal chance at success.

So like finding your audience, you can use the same techniques to find your competitors!

Searching local magazines, bulletin boards, papers and online groups like Facebook will give you a good indication of what competitors are doing.

If you want to be really cheeky you could give them a ring or drop them an email to dig a little deeper!

Note down what your competitors do as this will inform decisions for your business later on. 

The first of these will be your business model, which we’ll discuss now!

Choosing the right business model for your gardening business

If you’ve read my previous article, you’ll know what a business model is, but if not, have no fear! Check out this article for an in-depth look at a business model.

If you went to check out that article, welcome back! 

Now, which business model is right for a gardening business?

There are a couple of options available, so let’s break them down and you can make the decision about which is right for you.

As a gardening business, your main goal is to provide gardening services to households, businesses or landlords in a specific area. So approaching customers directly is one option, this is also known as direct sales.

You can also look into franchise opportunities. 

Franchises are businesses that provide entrepreneurs and other businesses everything they need to become a part of the franchise, from branding to uniforms to supplies, along with support and guidance in return for a fee. 

This allows the franchise to grow rapidly in size, while rewarding the franchisees who develop the business.

Be warned though, getting into franchising can often come with a large upfront cost, before you even start making money, so best to think carefully before going ahead.

In essence, a business model is simply how you’re going to get your product to market.

List out all your ideas, and start thinking about how much you need to sell to break-even, this will give you an idea of whether your business model is viable or not. 

Ensure you use your market research to inform your decisions as this will give you a more accurate idea of what you’ll be able to charge and the affluence of people in your area – which leads us nicely on to your…

Pricing strategy for a gardening business

So now you have an idea of what you’ll be doing, who else is doing it and who requires it, you need to decide how much you’ll charge for your service.

Typically, if you’re doing maintenance, you might charge per hour or by the job, especially if it’s a job you carry out regularly.

If you’re taking on larger jobs, such as landscaping, you’ll need to provide an initial quote and then you’ll receive payment typically after completion.

Here are a few tips to providing a good quote:

  • Take a ‘to supply and install’ approach for each item or if you want to break it down further, materials and labour. 
  • Add a brief description of what’s involved, for example if you’re laying paving you might want to include excavations, skip hire, paving product details, laying pattern etc. 
  • Ensure you include your payment terms and conditions within the quote
  • Ensure you include how long the quote is valid for, as material prices may change.

Doing these will make sure the customer can see exactly what’s involved and what you have allowed for within the quote.

Naturally larger jobs will vary greatly in price, depending on the scale of the job and what the client requires.

But maintenance work that is done by the hour, is a lot easier to price for.

You might have a list of services that are included in your hourly rate, such as pruning, mowing, trimming etc.

If you’re charging per hour, most gardeners will charge anywhere in the region of £20-£40 per hour, with an aim of earning a minimum of £150 a day.

With this in mind, you should be able to start thinking about how you will position yourself –  will you try and undercut the competition, or charge a premium but ensure a high-quality job?

You need to think about your time, and ensure you will be able to make a profit on your pricing strategy. 

This is the point where you should start thinking about your financial plan. Take simple steps like jotting down your costs, this will start to inform how much you should charge to ensure you’re making a profit.

Don’t worry, we’ll go over the financial plan in much greater detail later on in the article, but it’s a great idea to start thinking about it now.

Marketing your gardening business

Marketing a new gardening business is crucial to start bringing in customers

The most important elements to your marketing are:

  • Trust signals (customer reviews, ratings etc.) 
  • A portfolio of work you have done.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, how can you have trust signals and a portfolio of work when you’re just starting?

The best thing to do is to do some work for friends, either at a reduced cost or for free, get them to give you reviews and take photos. Do this for a few friends and you’ll soon build up a portfolio of work.

You should also:

  • Advertise in local magazines and newspapers
  • Start an Instagram/Facebook page to showcase your work and gather reviews.

You can start a website if you’d like, however it’s not essential when you’re just starting and will likely run you more costs than it’s worth – a website becomes more important if you’re doing larger jobs or landscaping.

In conclusion, local marketing is essential, targeting your audience and highlighting what makes you different to your competitors.

Setting up and running your gardening business

Before you go out and get cracking with your business, there are a few things you’ll need to set up and do.

Registering your business

If you’re in the UK, you’ll need to register with HMRC and Companies House. As you’ll likely be self-employed, you need to complete a self-assessment tax return each year – where you’ll pay income tax and national insurance.

It’s important to keep records of all the customers you work for, how much you spend on items for the business, i.e. tools, mowers, vehicles (if applicable). This is so you don’t overpay on your tax.

Other countries will differ, so make sure you check, a visit from the tax man is the last thing you want!

Licenses & Insurance

There’s no license necessary for gardening thankfully, however it’s important to have the relevant insurance.

You should think about professional indemnity insurance.

This covers you against:

  • Making mistakes, such as accidentally over cutting someone’s favourite flowers!
  • Accidentally sharing personal or confidential information
  • Losing clients data

Public liability insurance is a must, it’ll cover you against:

  • Accidental damage to people or property – crucial as you’ll be carrying out work on clients properties.

The following are not requirements, but if you’re new to the trade, it might be worth looking at, as they will give your customers confidence as well as you!

If you’ve not got loads of experience, investing in some training is definitely worthwhile.

Take some health and safety training for handling of large equipment or machinery.

And finally, if you’re going to be using pesticides, it’s a good idea to take some training surrounding the handling and storage of these chemicals.

With that said, you’re finally getting ready to start your business, but there’s a couple more things looming that you’ve got to take care of first…

Funding your gardening business

Funding is usually the make or break for many startups. But one of the reasons a gardening business is so popular is that it costs relatively little to start.

In fact, most gardening businesses can be started for under £1000, provided you don’t need to purchase a van.

Because of this, you won’t enter any formal processes of applying for funding, such as approaching investors or banks.

The only considerable costs (i.e over £1000) you might need to consider is buying a van, and any custom branding you’d like on said van. 

In terms of general costs you should expect:

  • Petrol
  • Tools & equipment
  • Advertising
  • Insurance
  • Accounting costs

It’s a good idea to have a van to house the tools and equipment you need to transport them to your clients location. 

However, even if you do need to buy a van, you wouldn’t need to apply for formal business funding, you’d only be applying for a finance deal through a car dealership or purchasing one second hand.

Read more: How to fund a startup or business in 2020

The financial plan

Now you have an idea of how much you’ll charge and what it’ll cost you to start, you can get to work on your financial plan, arguably the most important part of planning any business. 

Forecasting is essential if you want to remain in your budget and to ensure you’re not running out of cash. 

It’s also crucial if you plan on expanding, even if that’s just bringing in another staff member, as a well constructed plan can tell you when the best possible moment is.

You should be returning to your financial plan often and forecasting the future of your business. 

Now for this section, I’ll be building a plan in Brixx and breaking it down step by step.

Brixx is a financial forecasting tool perfect for startups to plan their ideas without needing a background in accountancy.

You can follow along by starting a free 14-day trial, or you can download any of our Excel & Google Sheets templates here.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Financial Forecasting

Section 1: Setting up your plan

When I start a new plan in Brixx, I’m given this screen:

I’ve set my plan length to 3 years, I have VAT turned on (as of writing, only required for businesses with a turnover greater than £85k) and my currency is GBP.

It’s as simple as that – l now hit “create plan”.

This is what you’ll see after hitting the create plan button.

On the far left of the screen, you’ll see the list of groups – “Sales, operating costs, etc.” 

This is where you categorize all the elements that make up your business.

When you select one of these, it opens up a new list of components to the right. These can be seen on the screenshot “Sales group 1” and “Sales group 2”.

This is where you enter your business data, so in Sales group 1, I might enter “per hour garden maintenance”. 

We’ll go through adding these in the next section.

Section 2: Income

My gardening business is going to be super simple to start with.

I’m going to offer a per hour garden maintenance service, charged at £25 per hour. 

I’ll start work at 7am and finish my last job at 4pm – taking an hour for lunch of course.

With this in mind, the maximum amount of jobs I can do in one day is 6 as I need to allow an hour in the day to travel between jobs.

Therefore my maximum income for one day at the moment can only be £150.

A best-case scenario would be taking £150 a day for the first 3 months – with my customers paying me after each job.

£150 at 5 days a week, gives me £750 a week.

And a month that is £3375.

When we enter this into our financial plan, each hour is a unit, so we should expect to sell 135 units a month at this capacity.

There is no delay to when I receive this as customers pay me at the end of each job.

We can now save and close this.

Now, this is me performing at max capacity, but in reality, when you’re just starting, that’s perhaps a little optimistic.

Realistically, I should expect to perform at half that rate to begin with and over time, as I get more well known in the area, I can expect to grow. 

It doesn’t hurt to create a plan showing your maximum potential in the short term though, as you’ll need to see what you can expect to earn when operating at max capacity. This helps to see if your business model works once it is up and running.

Using just one component like in my example works as a quick estimate, you may however want to go into greater detail and break down your product offerings. 

For example, you could break it down by clients, if you have a set of clients that you work for weekly, you can set up your income from them separately and have that recurring.

Or you may offer some different products, like weeding and weeding alone.

Aim to break down your products as much as you can, without going into too much granular detail. This’ll hold up much better in a detailed analysis of your plan.

Next, we need to input the costs associated with this income.

Read more: How to create a sales forecast

Costs of sales

Luckily, there aren’t too many costs associated with carrying out your work, you’ll need to regularly maintain or replace equipment, but other than petrol and pesticides, you’ll have very little costs of sales.

I will lump these costs together at £3 per hour, so for each hour I work, I get £25 in revenue, but only £22 in profit (before tax!)

Let’s add this to our financial plan and move onto the next section. Assets.

Section 3: Assets

Assets are tangible or intangible items that the business owns.

This could be a vehicle, land, intellectual properties etc.

But in the case of your gardening business, it’s going to be things like:

  • Mowers
  • Strimmers
  • Secateurs, trowels etc.
  • Your van or vehicle

Luckily I only need to buy a mower and van.

The van costs me £7000 second hand – I’ll be buying this outright.

And the mower cost me £500 – this I’ll pay for outright.

I now need to add these assets to my financial plan,  here’s what my balance sheet looks like.

Now you’ll see that in October the value of my assets decreases. This is because my van is not going to hold its value throughout its life. I’ve set it to depreciate at 10% each year. 

You can read more about depreciation and how it affects your assets here.

Section 4: Other startup costs

We spoke earlier about marketing and insurance.

Let’s add my insurance costs first.

Insurance (PII & PLI) = £17.53

Insurance is a monthly cost, so I will set these up to occur monthly.

In terms of marketing, I’ve decided to do some local and online advertising.

I’ll be putting some adverts in my local magazine and newspaper, as well as running a small social media campaign to boost the awareness of my business, I’ll be doing this on Facebook.

The print adverts will run me £50 a month until I tell them to stop. Social media spend is capped at £25 a month.

I’ve added all these to my plan and now my cash flow looks like this…

Now I’m up and running and generating a steady income, I can start to think about the next step.

Growing and expanding your gardening business

Some of you might be completely happy running as a one man band indefinitely, but others will want more. 

The next logical step is to bring on an extra pair of hands.

I’ll model this in our Brixx plan. 

From January 2021, I’ll hire a trainee gardener to work with me on jobs, which will effectively mean we can do about 75% more work in a day.

I’ll pay him a salary of £18,000 a year.

My monthly income will increase 75% from January too.

We can see this reflected on our cash flow and dashboard below.

There are other options to scaling up, you could hire an entire team and buy another van to handle even more areas, but you need to ensure the work is available. 

Only scale up if your demand is outstripping your ability to supply.

Conclusion

Gardening businesses are pretty popular to start, it can be well paid, and costs very little to get off the ground and if you’ve got a green thumb, you can spend a lot of time outside, doing something you enjoy! 

They’ve got great growth potential too, but the market can be tricky to break into, so always start small and build up a good reputation in your community, this way customers will be more likely to come back.

Best of luck and remember you can always use our free 14 day trial to map out your financial plan, and ensure you’re prepared for every financial situation.

Tim Room 8th September 2020 By
 

Take the tour of Brixx