If you’ve decided to start your own gardening business then here are some of the key factors you’ll need to know. This article will look at how to start a gardening business in the UK by covering the following areas:

  • Do the groundwork
  • Choose a legal structure
  • Set up the business and register with HMRC
  • Open your business account
  • Get equipped
  • Gardening regulations
  • Get insured
  • Find some customers
  • Plan for the seasons

Do the groundwork

Like starting any business, you first have to do some research. 

First, find out if there is a lot of demand for gardening services in your local area. You may choose to work on residential clients (the general public), commercial clients (businesses or other contractors to work with), or both but you should understand if there is an audience for it, or if there are a lot of competitors where you are.

You might want to choose a speciality to make your business stand out from your competition. Say you have a lot of experience with tree removal or are skilled at building custom flower beds. By highlighting a specialist area you can gain a reputation and potentially word-of-mouth recommendations for providing that specific services for customers, and you can use it in your marketing.

Next, pull together your business ideas, your competitor research and details about your target audience into a business plan. This will allow you to make sure your business is sustainable in the current market, and plot some important milestones you want to achieve.

Choose a legal structure

You have a few options when it comes to your setting up the business structure.

Sole trader

Many gardeners will operate as sole traders. This structure is simple to manage and there are fewer rules and regulations for you to abide by. It means easier accounting responsibilities and you can access any business funds you’ve earned immediately, as and when you choose.

However, unlike a limited company, you will be personally responsible (liable) for any debt you take on, and you must be properly insured to protect yourself and the future of your business.

Limited company

A limited company may give off a more professional image, but there are more administrative responsibilities associated with this business structure. 

It’s a slightly longer process to set the business up. Once you’re set up, you’ll have to make your accounts public, and you’ll act as a director and employee of the business. You will have limited liability, meaning you won’t be personally liable for any debt that the business can’t pay, unlike with a sole trader. But you will have more legal and tax obligations to meet so be prepared to spend more time on business administration tasks.

Set up the business and register with HMRC

Once you’ve chosen whether a sole trader or limited company is best for you you’ll need to register the business.

First, you get to choose your business name. You may want to operate under your own name, with something like ‘J. B. Gardening’ or something a little more ‘general’ that doesn’t specify your name, such as ‘Roots & Shoots Gardening Services’.

If you’re a sole trader, it’s a fast process. You’ll need to register with HMRC as ‘self-employed’ and ensure you are set up to pay your own tax and National Insurance contributions. Then you’re ready to trade!

If you’ve chosen a limited company to operate from, then the process is a little more complicated. You’ll need to register your business with Companies House, which is called ‘incorporation’ and you can do this online or via post. You’ll need to provide:

  • The company’s registered name and address.
  • Names and addresses of directors (you, and any other person who has bought into your business)
  • Details of shareholders (you and any other person who has bought in) and capital (how much money your company has).

You’ll then need to contact HMRC to list the business as an employer, so you can pay yourself through PAYE and register for Corporation Tax.

Your company is almost ready to trade, but read up on what records you will need to keep so your accounts and bookkeeping is organised from the get-go.

Open your business account

If you are a limited company you legally have to have a separate current account for your business. If you are a sole trader, it’s not a legal requirement to have a separate account, but we’d still recommend it so that your personal and business finances are kept apart. This makes your taxes easier to manage, and your bookkeeping simpler.

You can use a service like Countingup, which gives you a business current account and accounting software, all in one app. This will save you hours of financial admin on bookkeeping, as well as a simple account and card for you to use for business purposes.

Get equipped

Now consider what equipment you will need to be able to run your business.

Equipment

First, do you need a vehicle? Purchasing a van or trailer to keep your equipment in, and be able to travel from client to client may be one of the biggest purchases you make. 

Consider the other tools you’ll need to operate. Many tools needed for maintaining or tidying gardens you could get hold of for relatively cheap, such as:

  • Wheelbarrow
  • Shears
  • Spade
  • Fork and hoe
  • Plant feeder and food
  • Secateurs 
  • Planters
  • Trowel
  • Gardening gloves
  • Protective goggles and hard hat

You have a choice to make about other types of gardening equipment that are more costly. You could buy them so you have them as a permanent part of your kit, or you might choose to rent them for occasions that you need them, such as:

  • A van or trailer
  • A professional mower, or a ride-along mower
  • Strimmer
  • Leaf Blower
  • Axes or a chainsaw
  • Power washer 

If you choose to buy then you’ll be responsible for the repair and upkeep of those tools. However, you can expense the cost of maintaining your equipment on your self-assessment. 

Or you can choose to hire tools and equipment as and when you need those items. This may be a good option for when you begin trading, and once you’ve started to build some money from your client work, you can start to grow your kit with other tools and machinery.

Regulations

As a gardener, you may often work with pesticides, fertiliser or dangerous plants and weeds, and you will need to read up on regulations about how to handle, transport and store these safely. Always make sure you are making customers aware of any risk and protecting yourself properly by being compliant and prepared.

Protecting yourself is very important too, so when hiring machinery or purchasing it, make sure you are also prepared with protective clothing when it is appropriate to do so. You have to protect yourself as well as protect the business from potential negligence — insurance supports this, which we’ll look at next.

Get insured

It’s important to protect yourself and the future of your business in case a claim is made against you. Compensation could be several thousand depending on the claim, and this kind of cost could be devastating for a small firm. Here are a few types of insurance that could be most relevant to your gardening business.

Public liability insurance

Public liability is insurance that covers you if a claim is made by a member of the public against you or your business if they are injured, hurt or emotionally harmed during your work. For example, a customer might trip over your tools whilst you are working and cause themselves a long-term injury and be entitled to compensation.

Public liability insurance will also cover a claim if a customer’s property or home is damaged while you are carrying out your services for them. For example, if your digging work created a damaged pipe and a leak.

Though public liability insurance is not required by law, it would be unwise to go without it because you’ll probably have to deal with the public frequently in your work and it covers you for any accidents that may occur. 

You may also be required to show a valid public liability policy before you will be given a job for a commercial business, or allowed to work on another contractor’s site. 

Property insurance

Property insurance protects your tools and equipment against accidental damage or theft. 

A standard policy will insure your property at your business registered address, but you can find policies that will cover your belongings in a vehicle. So, if anything were to happen to tools in your van, the insurance would mean you won’t have to replace them all out of your own pocket. 

Always check the small print to check the vehicle is part of the policy, and if you keep your equipment at home then ensure your home contents insurance is up to date too. 

Personal accident and sickness insurance

As a self-employed person what happens to your income if you are unable to work for longer than just a few days? 

This insurance is for when you are unable to work due to injury or illness for a prolonged period of time. If you are recovering for a period of months or years then you’ll receive a weekly sum, to cover bills while you recuperate. If your injury or illness means that you can’t return to work at all, then a lump sum payment would be given.

Employer’s liability insurance

Employer’s liability insurance is for if an employee claims that you, or the work they did for you, are responsible for any injury or illness. 

You are legally required to have employer’s liability insurance in place if you ever pay someone to help you out with your gardening jobs, even on a casual basis. There are severe penalties if you are found to employ an extra pair of hands and don’t have this protection.

Find some customers

Your business is ready to trade, so now you need to find clients. 

When you did your audience research for your business plan, you might have identified when your target customers find out about businesses — for example, do they look online, in directories, use local business they’ve heard on the radio, or use a friend’s recommendation? Try to find the answer to this and then position your business in that place. 

If you’ve identified what makes your business stand out, or your specialist area, then use this to your advantage when writing your marketing copy. 

Here are some great methods of marketing you can try, to draw customers to your business:

  • Offers: give vouchers for a discount to referrals or new clients.
  • List your business in directories, such as Yell or CheckaTrade.
  • Use digital marketing techniques such as social media, content marketing or email. Using imagery on these channels of garden transformations can be particularly effective as it engages potential customers’ imaginations.
  • Local SEO may be especially effective for finding clients in your local area who are searching for services like yours.
  • Use offline marketing such as an old fashioned flyer campaign, business cards or newspaper and radio ads.

Plan for the seasons

Gardening is a profession that is highly impacted by the seasons. A lot of your physical work will be completed in the summer and planning can be carried out in the colder months. There are certain services that you can offer during the off-season, but it’s important to prepare for those quieter periods — either with another job to supplement your income, or careful yearly planning so that you have enough work and money to see you through the winter.

Save time on your bookkeeping with Countingup

Countingup is the business current account and accounting software in one app. It automates time-consuming bookkeeping admin for thousands of self-employed people across the UK.

With the Countingup app, you can create invoices in seconds, get notifications when you’re paid, and receive automatic invoice matching so that you don’t have to worry about bookkeeping admin.  

The app automatically categorise your expenses, provides an easy receipt capture tool and gives you real-time cash flow insights so that you can confidently keep on top of your finances in the early stages of starting your business. Find out more here.