It is written by Sophie Davies who is herself both a journalist and a career changer who studied at the English Gardening School and ran her own garden design business. I have been sent a copy to review and thought that as it interested me it might interest you too!
My first thought on reading this was that there are two audiences for this book: people like me who love gardening and are interested in the idea of turning that interest into a business in a rather theoretical, dreamy sort of way, those of us who stare out of the window, and the much smaller group of people for whom starting a garden based business is a serious prospect. Maybe the second group of people all started out in the first group!
This book hits the spot for both sets of readers. It is structured in ten chapters which cover:
- coming up with your initial idea
- interviews with inspiring individuals with a whole variety of garden businesses
- choosing a course and getting trained
- the technicalities of setting up a company
- the practicalities of setting up a company
- getting started and building a customer base
- building a network of contacts
- promoting your business
- dealing with customers
- growing your business
and there is a wealth of hard information for the serious career changer. But the format of the book is a series of case studies of twenty two people who run all sorts of garden businesses, from designers to growers, landscapers, garden coaches and small nursery owners. It is far more engaging to read about someone's personal experience than it would be to plod through a raft of practicalities and the problems and satisfactions you might face as the owner of a new gardening based business are brought to life by the stories.
This does mean that there is a lot of personal opinion in this book, some of it inevitably contradictory! For example, Hugo Bugg of Hugo Bugg Landscapes says "Never say no to anything" while Juliet Sargeant, vice Chairperson of the Society of Garden Designers, says "Don't be a jack of all trades. Be focussed and you will offer a better service". Perhaps you can do both: be focussed in your idea of what your business is and who your customers are and still be open to opportunities that come your way by serendipity and open new doors for you! The range of people interviewed does mean that you are bound to find someone whose story or whose personality speaks to you in some way and with whom you feel a connection.
I loved the way the passion the interviewees had for their businesses came through very strongly. I also liked that the common thread which ran through all the case studies was the need do things well and to look after your customers. As someone who is an accountant by profession and who helps small businesses with marketing themselves, I couldn't fault the business advice. There is a great section on establishing your client base by undertaking work for friends and for a local community group which really brings out the value of doing things for free at the outset your business life, while stressing the importance of not being taken advantage of and the necessity to regard yourself as a professional and to have confidence in your own pricing. I also really liked the section on networking and promotion which balanced what for some might be the unwelcome truth that you really do have to get out of your greenhouse and talk to people with the need to establish real connections and conversations, not just talk marketing speak.
There are very useful references to other sources of help for those who are the non dreamy, serious readership of the book. The writer points you in the direction of websites like www.prime.org.uk aimed at supporting business creation by the over 50s and www.startuploans.co.uk for the under 30s which aim to help new businesses get going. The Women's Farm and Garden Association helps women who want to work on the land in some way and has a long and noble history! There are links to providers of education, to possible sources of funding and to sites to help you with the issues involved in taxation and taking on staff. One thing the book certainly did for me as a dreamy reader was to bring into sharp focus the scale of the commitment involved in starting a business like this. But it doesn't put you off. It is realistic, not at all discouraging. And there is an emphasis on starting small and working and marketing locally in the early stages of your business which helps to make the prospect of taking the first steps seem much less daunting than it might be.
So I was impressed with this book. I liked its easy, conversational style underpinned by sound business advice and clear guidance. It might have contained even more of the hard stuff I suppose. There was a section talking about business plans which could perhaps have contained an example. There was an apparent focus on the use of a company structure for setting up a business in the chapter headings which could be a bit off putting. It was in fact balanced in the text by advice on working as sole trader, a structure likely to be more immediately appealing to anyone starting small as a one man or one woman band. But these are small quibbles. This is a thoughtful, engaging, well balanced book that combines inspiring stories of those who have started a garden based business with plenty of practical advice. I would recommend it not just for those who are grappling with the implications of making a career change like this right now but also for those in the dreamy camp. Who knows, it might help to take you beyond just staring out of the window!