Start a One-Person Gardening Business (And Earn Up to $40 an Hour)
If you’ve been looking for a lucrative way to spend your summers outside — then the thought might have crossed your mind: Why not become a gardener? While most places have ample landscaping companies where you can find work, there’s a better way to make money as a gardener or landscaper. Start your own business.
For the uninitiated, striking out on your own can be scary. But if you know the steps to take to protect your business and make it thrive, it’s actually pretty straightforward. As someone who started her own one-woman gardening business last summer, I can tell you a thing or two about how to get started.
Here’s a handy little guide on everything you’ll want to know before launching your own gardening business.
Gardening as an Employee vs. on Your Own
Before we dive into how you can go about starting your own gardening business, it’s helpful to understand why you’re doing it. There are two main differences between being employed by a landscaping company and striking out on your own. The first is earning potential.
On average, the national hourly rate for landscaping employees is $17. But as a gardener owning your own business, you can easily charge twice that amount, or more.
In fact, many landscaping companies do just that — they pay their employees a wage that’s competitive for the local market, then charge the clients twice as much for their labor, thereby pocketing half of the value. It might sound strange, but this is actually pretty standard practice for manual labor businesses. That being said, it’s good to know your worth, and that if you do decide to strike out solo, you can double your hourly wage overnight.
The other main difference between being an employee and working for yourself is responsibility. As an employee, you’ll likely have very little to worry about: Show up, do good work and go home.
But being a business owner comes with a whole new set of responsibilities and expectations from your clients. They’ll expect you to have more knowledge about the plants and products you’re working with, as well as the ability to answer their questions or direct them to someone who can.
If you’ve never gardened a day in your life, it's a good idea to get your hands dirty (literally) before investing any time or funds into starting a gardening business.
One way to do this? Work as an employee for a local landscaping company for a season or two. This will give you the chance to learn the trade and make sure you like it (and are truly up for it — gardening is hard work!) before striking out on your own.
How to Start Your Own Gardening Business
Once you’ve determined that now’s the right time for you to launch your very own gardening biz, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. The first of these, is to come up with a business plan, ie. define the parameters of your business.
Define Your Business
Having a successful one-person business is all about boundaries. After all, you’re just one person and you can only do so much. That’s why it’s a good idea to get very clear about the kind of work (and how much of it) you want to do, right from the outset.
The best way to determine this is to start browsing the service offerings of other local landscaping or gardening businesses. If you can’t readily find this information online, you can always call up a business and pretend to be a client inquiring about their services. You can also ask friends and neighbors who hire gardening services what kinds of things these companies are doing for them.
The main thing to establish is how much gardening versus landscaping and hardscaping you want to do. While some landscapers offer a range of services from growing their own plants, to moving large rocks, designing gardens and building them from scratch and even light tree removal — I didn’t do any of these things in my business.
I decided to strictly work on “beauty gardening” projects, ie. weeding, planting and pruning plants. I only worked in established gardens and never did a job that required power tools or heavy equipment. This was a personal choice as well as one that came after a conversation with my insurance company — we’ll get to that later.
Think about what your strengths are and what you actually want to spend your time doing and then get ready to enforce your boundaries — mainly with future clients. A go-to line of mine became, “I don’t do that, but I can help you find someone who does.”
Another thing you’ll want to define early on is who you want to work for. This is something your insurance provider will ask you, and it will also help guide your advertising efforts if you know in advance whether you’ll be working for private residences, businesses or both.
Price Your Services Competitively
Once you’ve come up with a rough list of service offerings, it’s time to start thinking about pricing. The biggest thing to keep in mind when coming up with a price tag for your offerings is to make sure they’re competitive with local rates.
This is where it comes in handy to talk to landscaping companies, gardeners or those hiring them to find out what they charge. Before I set out solo, I spent some time calling up local companies pretending to be inquiring for an elderly relative and asked how much they charge and how they structure their pricing. Shameless? Yes. But also very effective.
I also asked a friend if I could peek at the invoice for their latest gardening bill to see the breakdown of what they charged.
Don’t undersell yourself. After all, as a business owner you have other expenses to consider: Like maintaining and replacing your equipment, paying for insurance and your travel costs.
When deciding how and where you want to work, it’s a good idea to decide how far you’re willing to travel free of charge. For businesses or homes outside that range, come up with a fair travel cost to charge. I charged my hourly rate for one way of travel. So when my rate was $37 per hour and it took me 30 minutes to get somewhere, I added a line item to that client’s invoice called “travel fee” for $18.50. I did this for any client who lived farther than 20 minutes away.
You’ll also want to have some sort of disposal fee in place if your clients expect you to haul off any waste. Again, find out where you can offload this waste (usually at some sort of compost or waste center) and how much they charge. Work this amount, plus whatever you’d like to charge for your time, into your invoicing.
Incorporate as many business tools into your workflow as possible. This will help streamline your services and impress your clients. For example, I always offered emailed itemized invoices.
Insure Your Business
Before you dig into anyone’s garden bed, you’re going to want to be covered under an insurance policy. Why, you ask? Because like most things, anything could happen—and being insured as a small business owner protects you from being sued personally in the event that something does.
Even if you never operate a single power tool, hand tools alone can do plenty of damage: They can pierce plumbing or electrical wires, or even damage irrigation systems (learn about those, or make friends with someone who fixes them, because this will happen).
So — get covered under a small business insurance policy. A good place to start is with the company providing your car or home insurance, as these companies often offer discounts for multiple policies. Shop around and find the best deal for your business, and be sure you don’t start working until your coverage begins.
Set a Schedule
Another thing to consider before taking clients? Your schedule. Maybe you’re side-hustling and have other gigs to fit in, or maybe you just hate working at certain times of day. Consider all of this, and what you can realistically do in a day. Gardening is hard work, and I often found it impossible to do anything else — including computer work, after a long job.
Think about all of this before you start talking to clients, that way you can provide them with your actual availability, rather than some ideal schedule you’ll never want to do. Since I was balancing my gardening with writing work, I found two six-hour shifts to be my weekly ideal.
This meant I couldn’t actually take on more than six to eight clients at a time, since beauty gardening in Colorado involves showing up to work in a garden every two weeks. Depending on where you live and the size of the gardens you’re working in, this frequency might be more or less. These are all things to consider, and things you can learn by working with (or talking to) an experienced gardener.
This is actually a lot simpler than it seems. If you see a business with a neglected garden, you can easily walk in and offer a brochure of your services.
For private homes, it’s better (read: safer and less weird) to have some sort of “in” with the neighborhood before you start approaching people. Ask friends to spread the word in their neighborhood, post flyers advertising your services at local nurseries and garden stores, or start by working for people in neighborhoods you’re familiar with.
You might even consider calling up garden companies and leaving them with your name and contact info in the event they become fully-booked and need to refer out clients. With the current labor shortage, this is more likely to happen than you’d think.
You’re going to be working outside in the heat. Make sure you’re drinking enough water and protecting yourself from the sun.
The Final Word
Once you start having a steady stream of clients, there are two things you should be focusing on to continue growing a successful business: Making people happy and getting reviews and feedback.
Create some sort of online presence for your business, whether that’s through a personal website, a Google business account, or even just social media. Then get in the habit of asking happy customers to leave you reviews. This will lend you credibility when people are deciding to work with you, and will also help you to continue to grow as a business for many gardening seasons to come.
Contributor Larissa Runkle frequently writes on finance, real estate, and lifestyle topics for The Penny Hoarder.