Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Design, Grow, Sell: reviewing a book about setting up a garden based business.

Country Living magazine has had a series running for a while now called "Kitchen table talent".  It began as a competition for those who made things, grew things, wrote things or had other passions which they followed in their spare time, on their kitchen table.  Those who won a competition in each of the areas were given advice and assistance to help them turn their passion into a business.  This book, "Design, Grow, Sell: a guide to starting and running a successful gardening business from your home" is one of a series published by Harriman House in association with the magazine to look at how to turn your talent into a business.



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:

  1. coming up with your initial idea
  2. interviews with inspiring individuals with a whole variety of garden businesses
  3. choosing a course and getting trained
  4. the technicalities of setting up a company
  5. the practicalities of setting up a company
  6. getting started and building a customer base
  7. building a network of contacts
  8. promoting your business
  9. dealing with customers
  10. 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!

17 comments:

  1. This looks a tempting book. Not that I could make a living from my garden but I do enjoy reading case studies as opposed to theories, whatever the arena.

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    1. I could lend it to you Judith! That might at least ensure that we met up for coffee, in Ruthin maybe?

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  2. Hello Elizabeth:
    This sounds to be both an interesting, practical and helpful book for those considering turning their garden into a business.

    Having gardened seriously in Herefordshire for twenty-five years where the garden achieved something of a National reputation and where we also established a highly successful garden design business which, later, we brought to Hungary, we can confirm that it is possible to make a very good living from the garden. However, as we are certain that you are aware, it requires a great deal of hard work, as with any business, a definite focus and, increasingly, the development of a brand by which one/it can be recognized.

    We were delighted to see the link to the Women's Farm and Garden Association with which we were involved for a number of years. This is an excellent organization and fully deserving of support. A few years back we had the pleasure of entertaining a group of them here in Budapest for a weekend.

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    1. I rather love the idea of the WFGA on tour to Budapest! How wonderful.

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  3. You beat me too it! I think it caters well (indeed it's inspirational) for group 1, but not so well for group 2. It's interesting to read your viewpoint seeing you help so many small businesses in your area and know so many of the ins and outs of getting started. Now I'm in group 2 myself, there's quite a bit I've learnt along the way which I thought was missing.

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    1. Interesting. I thought it was only a little light on some of the stuff for group 2. Will have to read your blog!

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  4. I've seen this book and being in group 1 thought about getting it but I think I am far from in the position to move to group 2 yet so will wait. Who knows by then I might be in my 50s so the prime website might be of help whilst at the moment in my 40s no one wants to help :(!!

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  5. That sounds like a very useful book for gardeners. Good review!

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  6. Business plans - they always sound a bit mysterious. If I were starting a business, examples would be a good idea. But I also imagine such a book could be interesting to people considering all kinds of business. Maybe the approaches are inspiring and transferable.

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  7. Elizabeth, I wanted to wait until I had enough quiet time to myself before reading this post and its immediate predecessor. You have expressed yourself so well, and offered much wisdom to all who visit here.

    I do recall when you were debating the professional change from London, and am so glad that the years since then have very much validated your decision.

    Visiting here is always a pleasure, seeing the views you show us, reading your excellent writing, and continuing to discover how one can successfully make dramatic life changes.

    I do keep hoping that one of these days/years, we will have the opportunity to actually meet each other and talk and talk.

    xo

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  8. I do think you see the 'little guy' able to cut into flower farming more in the UK than the US. The US has so many huge farms of crops, whereas here it is on a much smaller scale. I would love to have a flower farm one day :) A girl needs to dream... XOL

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  9. Hi Elizabeth,

    Thank you for your kind comment on my book. Your Country Living book sounds interesting. I always enjoy reading the articles in the Country Living of How to start your own business.

    Have a lovely evening!

    Madelief

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  10. Really this book sounds like a very useful book for gardeners. Nice review!
    The Equation book

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  11. It does sound like a good book that would be an educational read even if you do nothing with it.

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  12. What an interesting post Elizabeth - Is this book for me? (Probably)
    :)
    K
    xx

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  13. Great review, though I have come to the conclusion that I need gardening and my garden to remain hobby and personal rather than trying to make money from it. It did remind me that I really need to start thinking seriously about putting together a business plan for my other life though, if I am ever to get myself off benefits and make myself self supporting again. Bother, I'd much rather plant things.

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  14. I am always interested in the series that CL runs. Right now I'm reading (always a month late) the series on women who establish home-based craft businesses in garden sheds. It makes me very envious of their garden sheds! The book sounds like a good read - more arm-chair dreaming for me.

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