How to Start a Gardening Business

Man laying turf working in a gardening business Adobe

In today's world, gardening is about more than straw hats, aching backs and rusty tools. In the 21st century, it combines traditional elements with modern technology to improve the cultivation of herbs, the look of flowers and even the state of the soil. 

With more people ready to spend significant sums of money on their front and back yards, a full-time gardening business can turn out to be a profitable venture. Although hobby gardening is a fun activity for some homeowners, many of the more mundane or complex tasks may be too much for busy professionals who lack time to dig, plant, hoe, rake and trim. This is where your startup comes in.

Of course, knowing how to plant shrubs and grow tomatoes is only half the battle; having a business mind is key to reaching customers and making a profit. Therefore, if you've got a green thumb, it's time to start making some green from your passion.

Step by step, this is how to start a gardening business.

Step 1: Market Research 

According to a 2018 study by The National Gardening Association, US households are getting their hands dirtier than ever before. The survey found that young adult men were primarily responsible for this growth, with amateur gardeners spending a record $47.8bn on their lawns.

Ultimately, such findings suggest consumers are willing to invest the money – if not always the time – in their gardens. If a customer is hiring the services of a professional landscaper or gardener, then they are either doing so to complement their hobby, or because they want a professional spin on their posies. Either way, a developing market need is evident.

It's a business idea that is not without flaws, of course; gardening is seasonal by nature, and the primary fear among neophyte entrepreneurs is downtime in the winter months (unless you are located in a warmer climate). That said, winter gardening is a prime opportunity for small businesses because it involves doing something radically different among households: planting and harvesting crops. This is the kind of diversification and potential for innovation in your model that can help you stand out from the crowd. 

Step 2: Company Research 

The next aspect of starting a gardening business is to conduct some introspection. Because you are specialising in such a niche field, it may be harder for you than a technology or retail startup to generate the necessary funding, or attain the required resources for operations. Therefore, it is essential to consider the following elements before you plant your first flower:

Funding

For lenders, a gardening business is not the most appealing venture to invest in. That said, with the right business plan and a stellar credit rating, you can receive a commendable sum of money from the bank to purchase the necessary equipment to get the job done.

The amount of money that you will need depends heavily on your access to equipment – and the quality of it. You will likely require a business vehicle to transport this equipment, too, but overall, startup overheads should be relatively minimal – especially compared to other types of startups.

Expertise

If you are a novice gardener, then it is better to wait before launching your business. Mowing somebody's lawn doesn't require too much expertise or experience, but if you want to establish yourself as a reputable and professional business – and receive serious contracts that generate a stable income – then you need to know your stuff. Consider obtaining specialist gardening and horticultural certifications at a local college to widen your knowledge and boost your credibility. 

Networking

Many gardening companies start with a small pool of local clients, before generating more business through word of mouth and, increasingly, social media. As with many startups of this nature, building a portfolio of work with smaller clients will make it easier to attract larger ones in the wrong term.

Resources

As mentioned, a serious gardening business needs its own set of reliable tools, as well as a vehicle to transport this equipment. Also, it is increasingly vital to complement your gardening toolbox with digital technology, such as a cloud-based hydroponics gardening manager and various mobile applications. This can help you stand out from the competition. 

Licensing / Legal

Every jurisdiction has its own legal standards for businesses to abide by. In the US, for instance, gardening businesses are required to pass exams issued by the relevant state licensing board and then obtain a federal tax identification from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Gardeners also need to acquire a surety bond, liability insurance and a business permit.

It is important to check with your relevant legal authority exactly what licensing or legal paperwork you will need to complete before accepting jobs from your clients. 

Step 3: Business Documentation 

Gardening is a unique type of business, but this does not mean it is immune to the conventional guidelines of the corporate world. A professional gardening startup – especially one that wants to establish a legitimate, sustainable and scalable business – must perform the typical elements of entrepreneurship, including a thoroughly researched business plan.

This plan should focus on what services you plan to offer, who your target demographic is, what your proposed capital expenditures are and, conversely, your revenue projections. As you develop a business model, you need to outline your market analysis, management summary, financial plan and strategy, and implementation. 

You'll need to discern actionable mission and vision statements, too. What are the aims and values of your company? Where do you intend your venture to be in the future? By sneaking a peek into a decade from now, you can better set your company on the right course in the present. 

Step 4: Branding 

Despite the advice of many experts, a brand strategy doesn't need to be a state-of-the-art advertising campaign built on big data research and psychology-rich email marketing. However, at its most basic level, it should take into account your business name and aesthetic.

Then, you will need to delve into the more technical side of branding. Since you are more likely to be working from home and bringing your gardening expertise online, you need to put together a website, create a presence on social media (handles are imperative!) and start building a reputation in your community. These may not seem like the most exciting branding mechanisms, but they are essential in establishing your credibility as a gardening business.

Step 5: The Legal Bit

It's one thing to take cash in hand for trimming somebody's verge, but if you want to be taken seriously, do things properly, and position yourself as a credible firm, you need to register your business.

If you are working alone, then the best option is to operate as a sole proprietorship (also known as a sole trader), while if others have a stake in your venture, you can opt to be a partnership. As the business grows and you start to take on multiple large-scale contracts, you might want to expand and restructure as a limited liability company (LLC) or even incorporate.

Branding is another crucial factor when starting your firm, since you do not want to encroach on the intellectual property of a rival business. Gardening firms are particularly notorious for humorous names that form a large part of the company's identity, so you are more likely to encounter legal problems if you choose one that is already taken. When registering your company, ensure that the coast is clear.

Gardening businesses should possess liability insurance, too, since it can protect your startup against the costly consequences of an accident, or damage to a client's property. This includes protection for yourself: although physical fitness is part and parcel of being a gardener, you will inevitably come across a diverse array of risks on each job as you work with trees, bushes, and plants. 

Step 6: Attracting Customers 

If you plant it, they will come? Attracting customers is the primary goal of any business, and there is a wealth of approaches, techniques and platforms through which to achieve this.

Local SEO can potentially be a key source for clients, while social media is another important platform for small businesses. Consider the following:

  • As a visual platform, Instagram will be one of your most utilised tools – especially the 'Stories' function where you can share all the moments of your workday in a client's garden. 
  • Facebook is another crucial network to maximise, as this is where many customers will find you.
  • Consider producing 'how-to' videos on YouTube, or writing tip-filled blog posts related to gardening. 
  • Initiate aggressive marketing campaigns in the weeks leading up to the busy season.
  • Use your home as your selling point (why would customers hire you if your own front or backyard is not stellar?).
  • Offer gardening classes or workshops in your community to teach people the intricacies of horticulture. This could also encourage additional sales. 

Gardening no longer has to be about hoes and shovels. By combining yesterday's tactics with today's technology, you can bring gardening into the 21st century and develop a unique selling point (USP).

Case Studies

UrbiGo is a service that brings gardening to urban millennials and helps customers grow their own fresh ingredients at home. It offers a fully automated indoor garden that makes growing everything from herbs to cucumbers a lot of fun – and sustainable, too. It also utilises technological solutions, such as machine learning and gamified applications, to improve the taste and nutrition of what you grow. 

This startup is an excellent indicator of the potential for gardening startups, especially with more people living in urban centres that wish to connect more with nature. The company's success also highlights the increasing market for homegrown vegetables and produce, particularly among millennials, that your business could potentially tap into. 

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Gardening is an industry in full bloom – in both boom and bust economies. Indeed, gardening companies need to adapt to changing market conditions, but a shrewd entrepreneur can navigate accordingly. Many business owners make the mistake of adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to services and prices, but since you are a smaller operation (at first), you can tailor your business model to each unique customer. 

Tech-savvy integration into digging and trimming, an excellent customer service regimen and an artistic vision – your gardening business can go beyond just planting flowers. It can achieve beauty through cultivation, efficacy through technology and dependability through hard work. In the end, your clients will fall in love with their gardens in all four seasons.

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