In order to achieve the required result of a campaign, you need to write down all ASSETS that are available to YOU. include the following as a minimum:
Vehicle – Type and drive (4 x 4?) Snow chains? Snow tyres? Fuel supply adequate?
Tools and Equipment – Especially items useful in emergency work e.g. Chain saw, winch, ladders inc. number and type, Pumps, type e.g. sump, petrol powered etc, Generator/s, power rating, power type (electric or fuel), snow shovels/hand tools, Long reach pole saws, including type (power, hand), Track laying vehicles, dumpers, excavators, etc; capable of crossing difficult terrain, Tractors including tyre types (grass or all terrain), Cables, straps, ropes etc. ANYTHING that could be useful not only on site – but to get you TO site!
Paperwork – including Insurances – are you covered for emergency work? Safe use Tickets, inc. Working at Height, Ladder Training, First Aid, Access Platform/Cherry Pickers, Chain Saw, – again, anything useful for emergency work. Take copies of these documents, put them together in individual files to hand out if and when the need arises.
Dry Storage Space/Work Area Available? Size of areas and underfoot conditions. Can you work in a clean, dry area e.g. a large garage, barn or shed?
You need to now work out how much time you think you can reasonably/easily fill without additional Winter Work. Do you need to find one, two, three or more extra days each week? Do you need to find alternative works, as you rely on mowing and grass cutting for the majority of the year? If we cover off thirteen weeks – say January through to March inclusive – how many days work do you actually need? This is an important question, as over trading will cause as many problems as having too little work.
Existing Customers – not only those that you are working for today, but perhaps check out all those for whom you have worked for over the past three years. The numbers and type of clients will vary from firm to firm, but they should all be aware of your company, and have a clear idea of your skills and services.
Potential new sources will include Insurance Companies, especially your own. Parish Councils, Parochial Church Councils, (look around ten miles or more for this source, or as far as you could be called ‘local’), Trading Estates, Sports Clubs or anywhere with large car parks and wealthy visitors, Police stations in your chosen area (for Emergency works), Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes, Office complexes (again, where it is vital for the owners to keep the sites clear of debris/damage/snow etc), Private ‘Squares’ in Cities and large Towns.
National Trust and English Heritage sites. Large Estates e.g. Goodwood. Anywhere that MUST be maintained to a high standard, yet has had staff cutbacks, relying on Summer Staff. Offer them Winter Staff in an emergency, or to carry out vital works they do not have the staff to carry out. This is where Step One becomes very important.
Case Study About twenty years ago, I was asked to carry out a modest (£4,000) job in London for a ‘Square’ – a privately owned communal area accessed only by residents, where they can sit/walk/exercise pets and children – their own private garden in the middle of the city. These may be found in virtually every City, from Bristol to Edinburgh. The owners of properties situated around the squares all pay a sum of money to a Managing Agent who operates and maintains the areas. This payment is mandatory, and forms part of their Leasehold Tenancy Agreement (no-one ‘owns’ their houses, but live in them on long term leases. Many in London are owned by The Duke of Westminster).
The job involved replacing a number of broken concrete edging tiles, to the sides of a very long path – almost 800 metres to both sides – in Randolph Crescent, St Johns Wood.
Importantly, the work could only be carried out during the winter, to avoid disturbing the various ‘owners’. We were so popular with the individuals involved because we treated them all as though they were ‘our’ clients, meeting, greeting, generally being friendly gardeners, clearing up behind ourselves, never leaving any mess, that we worked in that Square for three successive winters. Projects eventually included replacing all of the rope top edging, creating a new rose garden, complete with timber frames and swag ropes, and a host of other schemes. We turned down the opportunity to renew a whole lot of metal railings. Stupid! I wouldn’t turn it down now, but find someone to carry out the work on my behalf.
The Managing Agents were delighted, not only with our work, but to have found a ‘civilised’ company to work with, and we ended up working in over a dozen or more of the famous ‘London Squares’, recommended to other Agents. When I ‘retired’ from contracting in 2001, to become Head Gardener at Goodwood, my son, James (Arun Landscapes Ltd) took over my work sources, and even today still carries out similar work. Only a few months ago, he carried out works in Holland Park.
There is still plenty of work there though – James only carries out fairly large schemes – he lives fifty miles away, and has a minimum charge rate, so don’t be put off! There are many, many other Squares in need of Winter Work.
Having identified your strengths, available equipment and existing paperwork (certificates etc), and being completely comfortable with your ability to fulfil any offers you may wish to make to potential clients, consider your type of current advertising. By type I mean the whole range of advertising or public awareness. HOW are you known in your marketplace? WHAT are you known for? What is your UNIQUE SELLING POINT? Do you have a USP? Do you have more than one USP?
What is your Market place? (If you live in the middle of a city, what part of the urbanisation do you serve? If you live out in the country (as I do), who do you want to service?
There is absolutely no reason why you cannot have more than one Public Persona. Try hard not to pigeonhole yourself into one slot. I will attach a couple of my adverts to this article. You will note several things about them. One – although I have over sixty RHS medals, 37 as designer and builder, the rest as builder – I make no mention of these awards. Why? Because I know it would frighten people from contacting me. Better by far they find out AFTER I have secured the contract. At this moment, I am trying to lure them in, not scare them off!
The advert for Garden Features does not include any mention of APL/IoH/TGG etc – nothing that identifies me as a Landscaper. Why? Because I am after restoration garden works, not gardening. In other words, I am tailoring my adverts to attract the sort of work I want from that chosen market place. My USP in this case is the highlighted note regarding No VAT. The postcard format is important, as most ‘shop window’ outlets carry only postcard size maximum. Note too, the dark border to make the ad stand out.
The second advert requires me to be more specialised. Hence I now add a few bits about the APL etc, still nothing about Chelsea medals. I do however, introduce some pretty obscure notes about Mazes and Labyrinths! I have secured well over £50,000 worth of work from the Pruning Specialist advert in the past couple of years. These are just two of six adverts I use for different markets and times.
By using different angles to your talents, and not simply listing them all (fencing, turfing, planting etc) which in all honesty, people expect you to do anyway, you can channel your chosen target audience in a finite manner. You will know what they want you for, before you even turn up on site!
This is particularly helpful for larger firms. A small company is like a little boat – easy to manoeuvre and change tack. A large firm cannot so easily change course, but it can still attract different work by styling their advertising.
If you live and work in a rural area, it may pay you to add the word ‘Estate work’ or ‘Equestrian works’ to attract another type of market – or at least act as an inference that you can carry out such works, and be very helpful if you wish to work on National Trust or English Heritage sites. You are not being devious – you are simply opening up a discussion that would not have had if you were simply described as a Garden Contractor or Landscaper.
One of the very best sources of local work is from monthly Parish Magazines. These are read by a certain percentage (10 – 20% according to locale) of people who have an interest in their property and surroundings. They are often multi-talented inasmuch as they sit on various Clubs and Committees, Local Councils and Parochial Church Councils, not to mention Sports Clubs and Social Societies – in other words, the very people who are our typical customers.
If you take out a regular quarter or eighth page advert monthly, it costs in the region of £25 – £50 p.a. for a black and white insert, including photograph if required.
You also get a receipt for the tax man. I usually take a full page/back cover advert for £50.00 in our local Spring or Summer Fete programme – just to help out the function and keep in the public eye. I am currently working on the third of three projects, each worth around £3,500.00 I picked up from our last Easter Monday’s Village Fete. It really works!
It is also very good PR if you do gain an extra ‘special’ scheme from the advert, to either write to the Editor or send some flowers as a ‘thank you’. They will certainly not expect them, and you will have gained a great supporter!
I appreciate that many larger firms would never contemplate advertising in local Parish sources. Why not? If you live and/or work in an area (by definition, we all do), why not support local matters by advertising with the Parish? It is one way of giving something back to your community, and it seen as such by the locals.
I know you are waiting for the promised schedule of potential ideas for Winter Work, and I will introduce them next weekend, not as Step Five, but as a list of suggestions, with appropriate notes against each.
An example of which is STUMP GRINDING.
This simple operation is something that could bring together one or two sole trader firms and perhaps a garden designer, all working as a Team, or Buddying Up as I prefer to call it.
You will definitely need a second person to work with you on any stump grinding operation, both to manhandle the machine and to act as a banksman/guide to the business end of the grinder. You will also need to locate the stumps in the first place!
If you teamed up with another local operative – not in the same immediate vicinity/village as you may need to spread your net a little wider. As wide in fact, as the number of existing clients you have between you (I suggest a designer, as they may have specific knowledge i.e. their clients, which is helpful to the operation)
You will already know of a number of stumps – those difficult to mow around, eyesores in the herbaceous beds – that populate your clients’ properties. They are never dealt with due to costs involved in having them ground out. By pooling the number of clients, adding up the number of stumps to be potentially removed, and hiring a machine for a period of (say) one week, you could grind them for perhaps £30.00 each.
You would need to work out the logistics before pricing, but the opportunity for a few days’ work at the same time as helping out your customers – old and current – is quality Winter Work.
I offer this service to my customers, (and they contact their neighbours), at least once a year. I hire a suitable machine, (having the right p.p.e. already !) and book in the various sites. I offer two rates; grind, clear and tidy on the day or grind only, leaving the mess for the client to clean up. (You sometimes get additional work, replanting/making good at a later date), but everything is carried out on a timely basis, time being ‘of the essence’ due to the hire charges. You can make very good money with this project.
Remember, we are looking at the thirteen weeks, January to March inclusive, multiplied by five days, and trying to fill those sixty five days with gainful work. Six or so days stump grinding equals 10% of the Campaign period!
Another example is POND CLEANING. – During winter months, fish are dormant, the vegetation has died down and nothing much is happening in the garden pond. Armed with a few simple items, including at least two 300 litre water butts in which to fill with existing pool water to hold any fish, plus a couple of pumps (never rely on just one) suitable for pumping out, some nets and perhaps a small oxygenating pump for each butt, together with a variety of buckets, hoses, brushes and cleaning tools, this is the ideal time to undertake a Winter Pool Cleaning exercise.
Unless you know the pool and its’ depth/gallonage etc, always charge by the hour. Whilst you will take the greatest of care, you cannot be held responsible for any losses of livestock, but this is the right time to carry out the work – whilst the fish are not active.
Once equipped, you should be able to pick up a number of such cleaning operations, as they are not the most favourite projects for owners! Allow time too, for refilling afterwards. One word of warning – if you leave the client to turn off the tap once filled, make sure they remove the hosepipe. It would not be the first time someone has disconnected the hose from the tap, leaving the end of the hose in the pond – and subsequently siphoning the pool empty overnight! Check too, the delivery rate of the water pipes, as a slow filling pond may require another visit.
A NEW INITIATIVE!
In every town and city, there are a large number of houses – in what I would call ‘wealthy’ areas – with gardens perhaps 7m x 20m to the rear, with walls and trellis or fencing down each side and at the bottom – typical town houses if you like, to be found in Bristol and Brighton, Birmingham and Manchester. I have worked in several this year alone, in Wimbledon, Putney, Battersea, Barnes etc; all plagued by cats and foxes.
The lawns and flowers beds used as quadruped latrines, electrical cables chewed through, irrigation pipes destroyed, all sorts of anal deposits left for the unwary. Any songbird that decides to visit becomes a snack.
I will produce an article setting out why I feel that Garden Constructors and Designers are the ideal people to offer a whole new opportunity for home owners. Those who wish to discourage, not harm, cats, foxes, and rats from visiting their garden. Not by masses of steel cage or noise making gimmicks, but by the ingenuity of the Landscaper. We are trained in the use of a whole range of interesting materials. Stainless steel, glass, mirrors, copper, timber, slate etc. With careful thought, a designers eye and craftsperson ability, I believe that we, as an industry, can do much to offer a real ‘Garden Makeover’.
If clients want to see wildlife, we can give them a garden fit for BIRDS, BEES AND BUTTERFLIES!
The potential for new and on going work is tremendous! I would urge you not to start planning your next move until after you have read the article in full. I will attempt to describe the many uses for, and types of, Landscape materials.
As previously mentioned, generally speaking, the smaller the firm, the easier it should be to diversify. A rowing boat is much more able to manoeuvre than an ocean going liner! Even larger companies should be willing to be flexible if required, and the Management is able to think outside the normal rules of their operation.
IT IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT THAT YOU CHECK YOUR INSURANCE COVER ON THESE WORKS, AS THEY MAY BE PERIFERAL TO YOUR NORMAL OPERATIONS.
HERE THEN IS THE INITIAL LIST OF POTENTIAL WINTER WORKS, WITH NOTES AS REQUIRED.
For the sake of regularity, I begin with two previously described examples.
This simple operation is something that could bring together one or two sole trader firms and perhaps a garden designer, all working as a Team, or Buddying Up as I prefer to call it. You will definitely need a second person to work with you on any stump grinding operation, both to manhandle the machine and to act as a banksman/guide to the business end of the grinder. You will also need to locate the stumps in the first place!
If you team up with another local operative – not in the same immediate vicinity/village as you may need to spread your net a little wider. As wide in fact, as the number of existing clients you have between you (I suggest a designer, as they may have specific knowledge i.e. their clients, which is helpful to the operation).
You will already know of a number of stumps – those difficult to mow around, eyesores in the herbaceous beds – that populate your clients’ properties. They are never dealt with due to the costs involved in having them ground out under normal circumstances as individual operations. By pooling the number of clients, adding up the number of stumps to be potentially removed, and then hiring a machine for a period of (say) one week, you could grind them for as little as £30.00 each. You would need to work out the logistics/sizes of stump before pricing, but the opportunity for a few days’ work at the same time as helping out your customers – old and current – is quality Winter Work.
I offer this service to my customers, (and they contact their neighbours), at least once a year. I hire a suitable machine, (having the right p.p.e. already), and book in the various sites. I offer two rates; grind, clear and tidy on the day, or grind only, leaving the mess for the client to tidy up. You sometimes get additional work, replanting/making good at a later date, but everything is carried out on a timely basis, time being of the essence due to the hire charges.
You can make very good money with this simple project!
During the winter months, fish are dormant, the vegetation has died down and nothing much is happening in the garden pond. Armed with a few simple items, including at least two 300 litres water butts to be filled with existing pond water to hold any fish, plus a couple of pumps (never rely on just one) suitable for pumping out, some nets and perhaps a small oxygenating pump for each butt, together with a variety of buckets, hoses, brushes and cleaning tools, this is the ideal time to undertake a Winter Pool Cleaning exercise.
Unless you know the pool and its’ depth/gallonage etc, always charge by the hour. Whilst you will take the greatest of care, you cannot be held responsible for any losses of livestock, but this is the right time to carry out the work – while the fish are not feeding and active.
Once equipped, you should be able to pick up a number of such cleaning operations, as they are not the most favourite projects for owners! (If you have a handy leaflet ready, specifically for Pond works, leave them to be passed on to their friends).
Allow time too, for refilling afterwards. One word of warning – if you leave the client to turn off the tap once filled, make sure they remove the hosepipe from the pool. It would not be the first time that someone has disconnected the hose from the tap, leaving the end in the pool – and subsequently siphoning the pond empty overnight!
Check too, the delivery rates of the water pipes, as a slow filling pond may require another visit.
WATER FEATURES – SERVICING
Working with, and discussing with Garden Designers and Landscape Architects (especially domestic based), and suppliers of High Quality water features, including sculptures involving moving water – there are many such contacts in most areas – locate and maintain a list of potential clients who have spent a lot of money on installing the objects, only to see them become green and polluted.
I know of several such features, all in need of regular maintenance especially in early winter and early spring, both to monitor water levels to prevent frost damage to paved edges, and avoid blockages that could also result in internal splitting of pipeworks.
When clients spend thousands of pounds on water features, they want to see them operating all year round. Do your homework. Collect some suitable tools for cleaning and repairing the surroundings (paving etc – not the sculpture!).
Cleaning water features is good all year round work. It should be possible to build up a ‘round’ of customers, visiting every three months or so, two of those calls falling within our Winter Work period.
CLEANING GARDEN FURNITURE
I am not suggesting that there is a huge market for cleaning garden furniture – but I know of several landscape contractors who have wealthy clients, who have their expensive furniture taken away and cleaned/varnished/oiled/metalwork painted etc – all on a regular annual basis. If you have such clients, they would not ever consider ‘their’ gardeners/landscapers as being able to undertake garden furniture maintenance – unless you make the first move! I can assure you, once you start to offer this service, you will secure a regular annual income. I know of at least half a dozen such clients paying £2,500 – £3,000 p.a. for having a Landscaper look after their furniture.
GREENHOUSES AND CONSERVATORIES
As gardeners and landscapers, we have many hidden talents! We are used to working with chemicals and sprays, we hold ladder training tickets, we understand growing, we are well versed in working in domestic situations, operating in a clean and tidy manner.
How many of us offer annual visits to restore/repair/clean/sterilise greenhouses? I’m not talking about the 8 x 10 in a rear garden, but larger units.
Stately Houses, National Trust, English Heritage, Golf Clubs, Hotels; all may have glass houses and conservatories. Again, you will need to build your ‘tool kit’ ready for the various operations.
Winterising works should be carried out late November through to early January. Spring clean and allied works may be undertaken during late March, dependant on your location.
Gravel beds and micro irrigations systems need regular changing and checking. Timber frames and supports need maintaining.
If you can offer a regular service to visit and carry out a schedule of works, using your horticultural and landscape knowledge, you could create a useful ‘round’ of such properties.
NATIONAL TRUST/ENGLISH HERITAGE/FORESTRY COMMISSION
Due to cutbacks, many National Trust and English Heritage properties have reduced manpower, yet still are required to maintain the sites in their charge. Remember to add the title ‘Estate Services’ or similar to your web site and business cards/letter heads. You will know the level of input you can muster, and the range of your skills, but hedge laying, pruning, pond maintenance, ditching, fencing etc are all items to list when making your pitch to the Estate Manager.
Remember too, that NT are also responsible for a number of car parks, as are the Forestry Commission. These require regular maintenance, usually undertaken when the cars are quiet i.e. during the winter. There are a whole host of projects – everything from infilling and levelling potholes, restoring and installing bollards, cleaning and securing signage, extending and creating new parking areas – so many Landscape operations which are second nature to our businesses. As always, ensure your presentation is professional. Always present your insurance and business information as a separate sheet (this may be pinned on their office notice board) and a schedule of skills that your company can offer. This is another example of Buddying Up if you think that you are too small to make a coherent and practical business offer.
I feel quite strongly that if an Insurance Company wants my business, it needs to be a reciprocal arrangement. Find out the name of your local Area Manager and his contact details. Obviously, it is not helpful to demand a hearing by virtue of your insurance business, rather gently introduce yourself as a local company who can offer the following services, both in emergency and for tendering purposes in the event of an accident/fallen tree/broken fence/car crash damage/collapsed wall etc – again, whatever your personal skills run to.
Make sure that you not only supply him/her/them with some emergency postcards to be placed on their notice board, but follow up on a regular basis – once a month should suffice. Remind them that you exist, and when it comes round to renewal time, that is the moment to write to the Area Manager!
Ensure that your paperwork is in good order, especially Terms & Conditions, Quotation and/or Estimate Forms. Most importantly, ensure that you use Variation Orders. These Orders permit you to re-assess a situation in an emergency, where something may come to light that you could not reasonably have expected to have to deal with. For example, if you are contracted to reconstruct a wall that has been damaged in a vehicular accident, and you discover that is has no foundations, therefore you cannot rebuild it in a safe manner, then you require a fresh instruction, dealt with by means of a Variation Order – basically ensuring that the extra cost becomes part of your original quotation without the need to re-tender.
I consider myself a pretty fair hand with a trowel, and enjoy building (often design & build) stone fireplaces. I use a PhotoBook to illustrate my business, and amongst the many photographs of gardens and garden features, I show a couple of stone fireplaces, complete with oak shelving/mantel pieces.
There are a few simple ‘rules’ regarding foundations, but these are very straightforward. Any Landscaper who can produce a good quality garden wall, raised bed, raised pool, barbecue, flight of steps etc can certainly build stone fireplaces. How many Landscapers offer this service? Very few I think. What better Winter Work could you have than working indoors in January, when the client is away skiing for a week.
I have not included these in the National Trust section, as you will be dealing with either a private individual or Estate Manager, not a corporate person. Therefore you approach, whilst similar in some respects, the emphasis will not necessarily be on those specialisms that would have been undertaken by gardeners that have been shed due to the cutbacks. If you do your homework properly, and make an assessment of the likely works that may be required at a large private garden/estate, and prepare your ‘offer’ accordingly. For example, if you know that the Estate has many climbing roses and wisterias, perhaps vines and fruit trees, write to the owner/Manager you have previously identified and request permission for the opportunity to tender for the pruning works.
Many Estates have pleached trees and hedges. These are specialist operations, and should fall well within a Landscapers skills, especially when you add in the Ladder Training or Access Platform Cherry Picker training certificates, you will be sure of an attentive audience!
If you have other skills and talents, including Citrus, Orchids, Topiary etc, these should also be in demand.
It is a fact that many such Private Estate owners call in experts from many miles away just to handle quite simple horticultural operations. I know of several such properties, and having taken on those works myself over the years, I can vouch for the profitability of the ventures!
The marriage of landscapers skill, safety ‘tickets’ and general confidence that comes with years of working in private gardens, together with horticultural knowledge and the business and people management skills we possess as contractors all stand us in good stead.
PRESSURE WASHING AND STONE CLEANING.
This is an old favourite of many a contractor, and will already feature high on your Winter Work list, but I include it as no schedule would be complete without it. If you have access to a good quality steam cleaner or pressure washer (be aware that many domestic outdoor electrical supplies/sockets cannot handle steam cleaners without blowing fuses) consider extending your work to cleaning natural stone walls and brickwork. It may be to your advantage to offer to really scour the surfaces, with a view to repointing, not simply cleaning. Obviously, this will all depend on the nature of the project, but the ability to carry out a thorough clean and repoint operation is often overlooked. Offered to the ‘right’ client, you may be surprised at their reaction.
I have not included the obvious list of winter works – or rather, those jobs that may be carried out during inclement weather. Projects such as fencing, ditching, clearance, gutter cleaning, hedge cutting, planting, turfing etc are too well known to require mention here, but it would be very helpful indeed, if you, the reader, could add something else to this list.You need to now work out how much time you think you can reasonably/easily fill without additional Winter Work. Do you need to find one, two, three or more extra days each week? Do you need to find alternative works, as you rely on mowing and grass cutting for the majority of the year? If we cover off thirteen weeks – say January through to March inclusive – how many days work do you actually need? This is an important question, as over trading will cause as many problems as having too little work.