Today, running any small business isn’t easy, especially in the tertiary sector of the economy, such as a gardening enterprise. There are many challenges you have to overcome in order to succeed. Since you are not the first entrepreneur to face them, here are 11 tips gathered from other small business owners for overcoming the challenges of a gardening business.
Small business owners must overcome many challenges that include such things as seasonality, competition, and the economy, while at the same time learning regulations well enough to not become an obstacle to growing your business. Let’s look at the various challenges, and more importantly, how to overcome those challenges.
The most obvious drawback of running a gardening business is the fact that business slows down in winter. In this sense, running a small gardening business is as if you ran a souvenir shop on a Greek island: it’s mostly seasonal work. As first from settles in during October and December, people stop shopping for gardening accessories and they stop hiring professional gardeners. The most obvious way to literally winter out this period is to save enough money to make it last until springtime.
The alternative is to come up with additional services you would offer in winter. In regions of the world with heavy snowfall, you can offer snowplowing and driveway clearing or you can help the equipment for cleaning snow, such as pusher snow shovels.
Unlike other industries where big businesses are gorging up small mom-and-pop shops, small gardening businesses others face competition from one another. There are a lot of startups in gardening because it’s fairly cheap and easy to buy gardening equipment. One way to overcome this problem is to set up your business away from densely populated areas with a lot of competitors. Before you are ready to offer your services, you have to conduct extensive market research to determine which neighborhood is most suitable to set up shop in.
Like any other business, gardening is an industry susceptible to market fluctuations. The COVID-19 crisis is just one example of how the market can turn volatile within a short period, albeit in a positive direction for “green” entrepreneurs. However, the fact remains that most homeowners consider gardening services and equipment as a luxury, rather than a necessity. When hardships hit (last April, more than half a million Australians lost their job due to COVID), having enough to eat and paying utility bills become priorities.
One of the household expenses that are cut includes landscaping services or expanding the garden. However, this is not the end of the world, as folks might not have the money to hire you to mow their lawn but they will come to you to purchase a land mower, fertilizer, pruners, etc.
If you’re in the business of selling gardening equipment, then you might have noticed that sales have dropped for certain items. You can search for the root of this problem in private labels that offers shoppers the best price-quality ratio on the market. Since you run a small business, it’s impossible to launch your own label to counter those of major garden retailers and wholesalers.
On the other side, you can undermine their sales pitch by promoting the brand quality of garden accessories you offer clients. If the difference in price isn’t that big, gardeners are more likely to go for a well-established brand they can trust rather than a generic private label.
When we say the “gardening industry,” we are actually referring to a number of jobs. From growing sampling for subsequent sales to mowing other people’s lawns, there are thousands of careers in gardening. However, in gardening, you don’t have to stick to a single job, as they can be mixed to increase profits, i.e. you can multitask between several professions. For instance, you can sell garden accessories and offer gardening services using those same tools. Also, you can teach workshops on how to sow seeds or which fertilizer to use.
Speaking of workshops, you can also offer certification for prospective gardeners. You just need a permit from the department of agriculture or the department of education and you are all set to go. The only prerequisite for selling knowledge about gardening is to have experienced teachers. You can teach yourself or you can hire other people to teach, but make sure your training is effective. In any case, the educators have to be in the industry for decades, so they have enough knowledge to pass onto interested green thumbs. Mind you, the educational part of the gardening business is least physically demanding.
Having mentioned certification you have to keep in mind that the government, whether federal or municipal is one of the biggest “challengers” to a gardening business. Namely, all of the restrictions, bylaws, and taxes are hard to follow, which wastes entrepreneurs’ time. Once you add the regulations pursuant to other people, such as vehicle registration and equipment licensing, you get a myriad of costs that can really eat into a small business’s profits. Municipal regulations further complicate things with fertilizer and pesticide ordinances that are decades old, i.e. outdated.
The trick is to develop a system a policies and procedures you can use to make compliance easier with all of the regulations, laws, and ordinances that must be followed.
The first thing buyers and contractors do is drive down prices. However, many landscaping companies have disrupted pricing with low offers that only pay off for big businesses. Luckily for small businesses, the industry is growing steadily at a rate of a couple of percents each year. Among clients, a lack of confidence is evident. To improve your business, gardeners should focus on careful estimating and bidding, including cost control. Estimating, i.e. bidding is harder than it sounds. Handling crews and materials can be expensive when you set a competitive price. Even the slightest delay means that your profit margin goes down.
Customer service and customer care aren’t terms usually associated with small gardening businesses unless they are exclusively retail ones. Regardless of how you call your clients, even people who mow lawns have a customer base they have to actively care about. In this sense, customer service is so important that you should consider outsourcing it. Yes, it pays off to invest in a call center and a social media manager, so your customers get the ultimate care and support. This is something that other small business owners have already introduced, so you don’t want to be lagging far behind.
Managing growth opportunities is among the priorities of business owners. Simply keeping up with phone call and email volume is a real challenge unless you have customer care set up, as explained previously. So it is important to recognize the signs your business is ready to expand.
When your small gardening business grows too much too fast, you are forced to ignore potential customers. Hiring more staff, buying new equipment, and finding new business partners are just some of the strategies you can resort to.
Speaking of hiring your dream team of new people for growth, it’s hard to find workers you can trust nowadays. However, if you have at least one employee who you can trust even the hardest gardening jobs, turn them into a mentor. This way, you get to keep your senior staff and train new hires, all at the same time. Moreover, it’s not nepotism if you invite your brother or cousin into the business. They don’t necessarily have to do fieldwork, as you need people whom you can trust as managers and customer care agents. If they do their job right, they can count on a hefty bonus at the end of the year.
For every business challenge, there is a way to overcome it. You are not the first small gardening business owner that is on the rocks, so learn from others how to become an inspirational leader and rise to the challenge every single time.