Self employed gardener vs working for a company


Are you currently working for a garden maintenance or hard landscaping company but thinking about going it alone and starting your very own business? Or maybe you jumped straight into the deep end as a self employed gardener and have been offered the opportunity to work for a company. Either way I hope to shed some light on the pros and cons of being self employed compared to working for a company.

My first job working for a garden maintenance and landscaping company

When I first left school at 16 I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I actually went to sixth form to study ICT and business studies with a view to going to University but after just 3 months I just couldn’t find the motivation to keep going. I was young with dreams – Dreams that required money now and not later. So one day, being young and wreckless I decided that it wasn’t for me and left.

Not wanting to see me completely waste my life away, it was at this point my father introduced me to a landscaping company that he was working for on a self employed basis at the time but they had agreed to take me on the books and have me work directly for their company. My father lived 12 miles away from me but being young and money hungry I would ride that 12 miles on my BMX push bike every Morning to my dad’s home, have my breakfast there at 7AM before jumping in the van with him to go to work! From memory, I had to leave at around 5AM, so on some days if I were to stay out late with friends then I wouldn’t even sleep out if fear of not waking up on time. Looking back now I’ve no idea how I done it!

The company I worked for was great but I was often reminded by my father that it wasn’t forever. You see, the owner of the gardening company was ran by someone that simply priced up jobs for regular garden maintenance or hard landscaping and had people come in and do the work on her behalf. She had people working for the company on the books for the safe regular maintenance customers and sub contracted the one-off landscaping jobs to self employed people like my father. But I joined the company when things were a little different.

You see, my boss had managed to secure a large job essentially rebuilding a 2 acre garden which at the time we wouldn’t know how long work would continue for, but ended up lasting 4 whole years! So I was employed on a temporary but ongoing basis, until work at the property would come to an end.

To be honest, I loved working there. It was laid back. There were around 10 of us at some points with half being a similar age to me so there was a mixture of hard work but games and laughter too. I saw many people come and go depending on the projects we were working on but I was always one of the ones to stay, and when my younger brother reached 16 he joined too. It wasn’t always pushbike rides for 12 miles as after the first year, a man joined that lived local so he would pick us up on the way in return for some diesel money.

It was at this company that I learned so much. In the beginning I would be asked to perform simple tasks like raking leaves and sweeping the yard as well as other general labouring tasks but as time went by I would start general garden maintenance tasks. These included strimming the ditch outside the front of the property, to hedge cutting and cutting the grass with the ride on lawnmower. After 12 months I was being asked to help with the hard landscaping, although I was more of a labourer trying to learn everything I saw.

With the hard landscaping I watched and learned how to lay paving which ran round the entire property, likely 250 squared meters. I also learned to use the mini digger and dumper when digging trenches across the entire garden to install a sprinkler system. Other garden projects that I helped and learned as much as I could on the site included;

  • Building a brick-built carp pond including fibre glass etc..
  • Building a large nature pond
  • Building raised flower beds
  • Laying shingle and other decorative stones
  • Sprinkler system installation
  • Paving
  • Building walls / brick laying
  • Fence installation
  • Shed and summer house builds
  • Laying concrete bases
  • The list continues…

In short – I loved working for this company. Everyday was different and I enjoyed learning new things. I know every company is different but this particular one was layed back and for my first job, I couldn’t have asked for more. Thanks dad!

Why I left the company to start my very own self employed gardening business

At the age of 19 I had been working for the above company for 3 years and I was still very much enjoying myself. However, someone came along which completely changed my way of thinking and that someone was my first son, Alfie. Well, he arrived the next year when I was 20, but he was on his way when I was just 19!

When me and my now wife, Katie found out that we were expecting, the first thing we done was ofcourse move out together. A nicer location to where we were already living and one closer to work. Although I wasn’t earning bad compared to some people, we quickly realised that financially things weren’t going to be easy. My wife had a young daughter (only 2 years old at the time) and so I went from living at my mums with no financial commitments to living with my now wife, her daughter Lexi and my son Alfie on the way. We would be OK, but we didn’t want our children growing up with us struggling to financially provide for them.

In my short life, I had only learned how to perform basic garden maintenance tasks such as grass cutting, de-weeding etc and I wasn’t confident in performing hard landscaping tasks since I was only ever really a labourer learning as I went by. So with the knowledge I had gained in just 3 years of working for a company, I decided to go self employed and start my very own garden maintenance business.

How was it going self employed and starting my very own gardening business?

I wish this was where my story ends and that we all lived happily ever after, but sadly this would be far from the truth. Being young, I was also naive and full of dreams. I thought that all I would have to do is list my gardening business in a few business directories and I’d be on my way to the riches. I was lucky to have saved enough money to cover us for a few months as in the first 2 weeks I had earned to small jobs. To say I was worried was an understatement and I was very quickly bought back to reality.

After the first month and feeling desperate I decided to print 5000 leaflets and I walked the streets delivering all of them but still this only brang in enough customers to work part time hours with the occasional one-off big job which would earn well. I ended up calling my ex-boss and asking to work a couple of days a week to make ends meet whilst I worked the days that I had booked. I was fortunate that my ex-boss was flexible enough to help me out on the days I needed it.

This work relationship continued until my son Alfie was born in August 2011 when I was 20 years old. In Winter 2011 nearly all of my regular customers had asked that I stop for the Winter and so I started working full time again for the very company that I had left in the first place. I didn’t know that garden maintenance work would quite literally go quiet in the Winter. To be honest, I thought there would always be something to do in the gardens. I felt like all of my risk and hard work was for nothing. I knew they were expecting me back in the following Spring but I had no intentions of going back. I thought what was the point? Just to run out of work when Winter came round again. But I had another problem. One much bigger. The problem that the garden maintenance and hard landscaping company I went back to was coming to an end of their large project and although I had a full time job now, it would only last for 6 months at most.

At 20 years old with a young family, I had quite the predicament on my hands!

I quit being a self employed gardener and started working for a commercial garden maintenance company

At 21 years old, shortly before being laid off by the company that had helped me and my family through so much I managed to get a job working for a garden maintenance company which specialised in communal developments. What this means was they would get the contracts for estates, usually the communal areas for blocks of flats and we would go to each site for X amount of hours per week. Although garden maintenance was the biggest part of the company, other duties included keeping the bin areas clean, litter picking and even the hoovering and polishing of the indoor communal areas.

To be honest, the pay wasn’t great at just above minimum wage but the extra hours made it seem more worth while. We would start at 7AM and finish at 5PM and I opted for 6 day weeks to keep on top of our finances. This worked out to 70 hours per week.

Although nervous at first, I really enjoyed working for this company. We were given our own vans and kept in groups of 2 so we grew close to who we worked with and only saw the boss in the Mornings when meeting at site meant that we felt trusted enough to be left alone. The problem with working for a minimum wage company that you furoughly enjoy working for is that it’s very easy to settle. I could have easily worked there for the rest of my life it was so easy. But my new family was a constant reminder that we needed more and so after 12 months, at the age of 22 I decided to go self employed again and start my very own gardening business. You must think I’m crazy right? Don’t worry – Your not alone!

What changes did I make when going self employed and starting my own business this time around?

I was more mature this time around and so naturally, I felt more ready. I must have done as I didn’t have the money saved that I did the first time around and my family depended on me financially. You see, every opportunity I got whilst working for the above company, I took to learn more on how to be successful at running your own business.

I would ask my boss how he finds new work. I would ask every self employed gardener working on neighbouring sites how they get new customers and what they do in the Winter. Towards the end, I felt like I was only working for this company just to gain knowledge and better prepare myself for my second attempt at starting my own business again.

Nearly all of the gardeners I asked only ever advertised online and gave up on leaflets a long time ago. Online marketing is the world we live in they would say. And they didn’t just go to the free directories either – They would pay to be at the top of search results! Then word of mouth would come naturally and eventually you will be forced to either stop advertising and be happy with your regular customers or keep advertising and grow your company further by employing people to take on the extra work that you can’t.

Not only this, but many of the gardeners would work 12-16 hours per day in the Spring and Summer months which would allow them to budget for the Winter when work slowed down. Although with so many customers they still worked part time hours in the Winter, and with the money saved they would just enjoy the time off to spend with their families.

One gardener actually had a separate chimney sweeping business as their busiest months are in the coldest months when it’s harder for gardeners to get by. What I learned is that there is a way for everyone – You just have to find the way that works for you!

Not only this, but I was going to add hard landscaping to my gardening business. I felt like I had learned enough whilst I was working for the first company, and if I got stuck then my dad could always come to my rescue as he had been running his own landscaping business since I was a child.

At 22 – I was ready to start my own business and go self employed again!

How did it go when starting my own gardening business and going self employed for the second time?

Well I’m 30 now. My family has grown pretty big as since Lexi and Alfie me and my wife have had 3 children under 3 so now have a family of 7! And how do I financially provide and support them you may ask? With the very company I set up 8 years ago at just 22 years of age. So here is how I done it!

Being the largest business directory the first place I listed my business was Yell, followed by a phone call to their marketing team. I ended up paying a fixed sum to be number one on their listings for the keywords ‘garden services’ ‘garden maintenance’ and ‘landscaping’ across a 20-30 mile radius. I also set up my own website which I learned to build myself on one of the many online platforms available today and then set up a monthly budget for Google Adwords which I linked to my website. This meant that I would appear in the number 1 position on Yell for my chosen keywords as well as rank high on Google for the same keywords. I also listed my new garden maintenance and hard landscaping busines in just about every free online business directory I could find. Ofcourse what worked and still works for me might not work for you, so just use the above for some ideas. It’s worth noting that with Yell, at least from memory, they will never give your position away as long as you are paying them and only positions 1-3 were available.

As well as the above, I tactically started my new gardening business in the middle of February so that it was fully set up and ready for March in regards to advertising, the start of a gardener’s busiest period.

I can’t say exactly which worked better between Google ads and advertising on Yell but what I can say is that almost immediately work started flowing in. I couldn’t believe it! It wasn’t long before I was working long days and every day of the week.

After 2 months and still dreaming big I actually called my team partner Allan from the company I worked for previously and asked that he works for me providing garden maintenance. The reason for this is that I was getting calls for hard landscaping projects that I couldn’t entertain as this would mean letting the regular garden maintenance customers down. Landscaping would bring a bigger income but there would be no regular customers like the garden maintenance guaranteed.

My plan was simple. I would charge £20 per hour for garden maintenance and pay £10 per hour to my employee / former team partner, Allan. At 10 hours per day I would profit £500 per week which I would try my hardest to budget as to pay him for the 3 months of Winter when work would die down. Although I hoped that he would be busy just enough for me to break even in the colder months. Once Winter was over and Spring came again, I could dip into the savings that I had kept to one side.

In May I started my first hard landscaping job which involved laying a new patio, small brick wall and to finish it off with new turf which would last 4 weeks. By the time the job was finished I would have a new job booked in and so on. There were a few short gaps between the landscaping jobs but all in all it was going well.

When my first Winter came, it did hit my business quite hard. My landscaping jobs had dried up and the garden maintenance was bringing in 25% of the wage for Allan. Luckily I had just about budgeted enough money to pay him through the 3 months of Winter as well as keep on top of my own financial commitments. Ofcourse I could have taken Allan on a self employed basis and only paid him for the hours worked which would reduce the risk to my gardening business in the Winter months but I saw this as actually being a higher risk in the long run as who is going to stay committed to working for a company only working and getting paid for 9 months per year?

A couple of years went by like this and my gardening company had grown a little and taken on a couple more employees. But with more customers and employees meant more stress. I had turned my self employed business into a limited company which meant more accounts and payroll as well as more stress when employees called in sick, when customers let me down last minute, late paying customers – To be honest there is a long list of added stress as you grow a company. It’s not for everyone. At 24/25 I decided that I wanted the benefits of running my own gardening business without the stress of having a particularly large one.

It was at this point that I pulled Allan to one side, who at this point I was also good friends with and asked if he wanted to join the company as a director with 50% shares. I let him know that I no longer wanted to provide garden maintenance but to focus on hard landscaping and that it would mean no longer having a guaranteed wage although I hoped that he/we would earn more than he does now despite the quiet Winters. He was over the moon with my offer.

So for the last 5 years or so, it has just been myself and Allan focusing on landscaping. It’s what works for our business. It took a few years to figure out what worked best for me and this was it. One week we could be erecting a new fence, the next laying a new patio, the next building a shed and so on. We work hard and earn enough to survive the Winters and somewhere along the way stopped advertising as word of mouth was enough.

We are currently working on behalf of another landscaping company

This whole article is to give you an insight on the comparison between going self employed and starting your own business or working for a company and I have done both, more than once. Which is why this article is likely one of, if not the longest article I have written yet. So far I started off by working for a gardening and landscaping company when first leaving school, to failing at my first attempt at starting my own business, to finding my feet again at a communal development maintenance company to finally succeeding at my second attempt at starting my own business. But why are we now working on behalf of another company if things were going so well?

Well as we all know, covid 19 came along and with many people unsure on the security of their job, we found it harder than usual to secure work as well as have people cancel jobs on us. We still weren’t doing bad by any means, but it did mean that we wouldn’t have the cash flow in place to survive Winter like we usually would and so we looked for a temporary solution.

Luckily we were introduced to a fencing and soft landscaping company that worked on new build developments. After a few phone calls (we weren’t 100% sure that we wanted to make the move no matter how temporary) they made as an offer we couldn’t refuse.

Firstly, they would be sub contracting through our company. So at the end of each month we would send them an invoice for the hours worked for both myself and Allan and they would pay into our company’s bank account just like any other customer would. Therfore we are still running our own business.

Secondly we would be provided with a company van, fuel cards and tools which meant any money the company earned would be profit with no cash flow problems.

Finally, since we would be working on building sites, they would pay and provide our CSCS cards and work would be just as busy through Winter as it would be any other months.

Working for this company isn’t as layed back as the other companies I have work for. Often we are working 1.5 hours from home with the yard being 1.5 hours away too. So some Mornings we have to leave at 5AM to get to the yard for 6.30AM to load materials, to then travel another 1.5 hours to get to the site to start work. It’s not uncommon to work 14 hour days but on the plus side, at least they pay hourly from the moment we leave home in the Mornings.

As well as this, you find yourself (through no fault of our own) working on sites with tight or missed deadlines so naturally start working as hard and fast as we can often forgetting to have breaks. Ofcourse we don’t have to, but it’s easy to feel the pressure and do everything you can to help the company that’s helping you. As a whole, starting your own garden business and then working on behalf of another company isn’t a bad thing as it brings in regular work. Although I wouldn’t recommend putting all of your eggs in one basket!

The pros and cons of working for a company compared to being self employed – My conclusion

If you’ve managed to read through my mountain of words to get here then congratulations! I don’t think I’d have been able to do it! By now though, you’ll have seen that I’ve worked for a gardening/landscaping company, to starting and failing at my very own business, to working for a garden maintenance company, to succeeding at going self employed and starting my second garden company to the pandemic coming along and working on behalf of a fencing/soft landscaping company. I’ve quite literally done it all which is why I feel like I can give some good advice to the pros and cons when comparing being self employed to working for a company.

Firstly, being self employed doesn’t give you the job stability and piece of mind that working for a company gives you. That’s not to say that being self employed and starting your own business wouldn’t work as you could be so busy that your turning away work – Just know that there is a level of risk involved, atleast at the beginning and to make sure you have some savings behind you before making the jump. Just incase.

Whilst job stability and piece of mind are number 1 on ones priority list, depending on the company you work for you may not get the job satisfaction and dedication needed that you will get from running your own self employed business. The company or line of work you work in may be limited for opportunities compared to running your own business where the possibilities and room to grow are endless.

It’s true that being self employed and running your own business can bring more flexibility, giving you more time to spend with your loved ones but be careful as before you know it you could easily be working more hours than you ever did working for another company. It’s not just the work itself, it’s the keeping track of accounts, cash flow etc that also takes time.

Nothing is more daunting than having a boss to answer to. This is one stress that goes away when running your own business. But one stress gone is another gained and running your own business can bring just that. You will need to find ways of keeping business coming in, keeping your customers happy, being careful as to not underprice jobs and the list goes on.

I have been lucky as the companies I have worked for have been enjoyable, but not all companies are the same. If you aren’t enjoying or getting the job satisfaction out of the company you are working for then try working for another company before making the jump to starting your own business.

If you do decide to take the jump and start your own business then make sure you have the capital needed to get your business off the ground to begin with. No one makes it over night but in the long run it could be more than worth it!

If your thinking about going self employed and starting your very own gardening business then why not read my article ‘how to start your own gardening business‘ and ‘the best advertising that works for my business

If it’s a gardening business your thinking about starting then why not see my 25 tools every gardener needs?

If you have any questions then as always, please comment below! I’d love to hear from you.

Leave a Reply