career choice: start own business or employment?

linaria_gwApril 18, 2012

Hi there,

I know, complex issue. I am a mom of two, do some garden design occasionally, give 2 workshops once a year and write the odd article now and then.

Before my kids I worked full time in a small landscape architecture office. After my first kid, I had trouble finding a new job as part time seems to be not very popular here in Switzerland.


I discussed matters with my husband but we hit some dead end somehow.

Right now I feel I need to make a choice.

Plan A: work 4 days a week, probably commuting (1 way about 1.5 hours), hopefully with a reasonable boss. Payment: reasonable, regularly.

Drawback: time spent on commuting+ if one of the kids get sick we are really in trouble, grandparents/relatives too far away, friends working as well.

And sometimes after a bad night (little one teething or some such), I felt that I just couldnt pull through such a job.

and my computer skills are slightly rusty which seemed to put off some future bosses when I applied for a job. But I am positive that I would catch up just working with the present version of the drawing programm.

Plan B: start a business of my own. I have an excellent knowledge of perennials and plants, garden maintenace, pest and diseases. I can do nice garden designs and feel comfortable when dealing with clients/people in general.


no real experience with the commercial side.

Dont have the present CAD-software. I dont think that I should/could compete with larger planning offices who do the "green stuff" around new housing areas or work with architects together.

I think my most important decision is about whether I want to work within my speciality about plants/garden design or just do the regular office work.

ok, money is another angle. With my own business I would make less than half the salary in the beginning.

But big advantage of own business would be, that I could work flexible hours when a kid is sick and I am not packed with new appointments in the starting phase.

about a website:

I thought it would be good to have one, showing some gardens/borders and my "philosphy" or something like that. So people who dont know me at all could get a first impression and see whether they like my style. Hubby says it is unnecessary, pointing out a number of architecture businesses who dont have one. But then those are well established and dont need to make this effort, (I think).

And I could develop small packets of garden consulting. I did a consulting just last week, with new home owners who hardly have money to have it all built at once, and are glad to get advice about order of steps, details on material, and so on. And my knowledge was wide enough to answer any of their questions on the spot, about mowing, hedges, choice of hedge plant, perennials in general...

Thanks for your thoughts, I am drawing up a complete pro/contra-list as another step to make up my mind.

Well then, bye, Lin

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Thats a tough one. When my children were younger I chose plan B. I now am the owner of a very strong business with more than enough income that I can take winter "off". But right now, in the beginning of spring I am working 12 hour day, 7 days a week. Here's a few thoughts I have coming from that perspective:

-there is the possibility of finding a lower paying job, closer to home which would give you time to grow your business.

-Last year, Matt Nathanson, singer, spoke at our high school's graduation. He gave some of the best life advice I have ever heard. EVERY DAY I think of his advice "get comfortable being uncomfortable". To be successful you have to push the envelope all the time. I linked his speech below...well worth a watch.

-if you decide to do Plan B- the key to being successful is keeping all expenses very low. Don't run out and buy trucks, rent an office or any of that off the bat; I have seen sooo many landscape companies come and go because of that. On the other hand, its important to spend money on product that you know you can sell. Planters, shrubs, trees and the bigger the better because there is more money in it.

-I don't use CAD anymore. It was an expense I couldn't justify considering that hand drawn is usually just as good. Actually better if you are designing perennial gardens. I also don't advertise, its never been a necessary expense. I treat my customers well enough that they are excited to share my name.

-My initial business plan was not only to provide flexible employment for myself so I could prioritize my family, but to provide flexible employment to other moms. Right now I have a mom working for me who can only work random hours, but if she can get herself to and from our job site, why would I tell her she has to work the same hours as everyone else? Its important to be outside the box and creative about making a business work. I have a local friend who is in virtually the same business, and for him, his crew needs to be ready to go at 7am until 4pm everyday. If they are late he is furious. I personally don't understand that. I am very flexible and my crew always appreciates that and respects me.

-I don't think about my business in a competitive way. "All boats rise" is my motto. Meaning that the more good landscaping there is out there, the more people want their landscaping to look that good and the more business there is for everyone. Very very few home owners get competitive bids on work. This year I had one, yes one, competitive bid situation. Ironically my price came in at HALF what the other landscaper bid. I think that tells you a lot about how pricing works in this business.

-For a while, I was very successful providing "elite" services. I was considered the landscaper that all the wives in the richer part of town wanted to have do their gardens. It didn't matter that my prices were higher than other garden designers, actually it helped. I say for a while, because that effect has diminished in this recession. But it is an interesting thing to consider. Think Martha Stewart doing your gardens...

-I don't think a website is necessary but an internet presence is important so customers can google you. Websites can get really really expensive especially if you are working all the time to stay on top of the search engines. I use Facebook as my website. It comes up if people search my name and you have a built in audience. Last year I got two jobs, one the biggest job we had all summer, off of Facebook. Post some pretty pictures of your work a couple of times a week and you reach however many friends you can find on there. A website just sits there but FB is interactive.

I LOVE my job but I especially love the business part of it. I love to challenge the way people think about running a business and proving them wrong in their traditional thinking. I think liking the business part of it is important; its not just planting flowers.

Okay, I know that was just a random bunch of thoughts, but i hope it helps. Good luck and i think you should be comfortable being uncomfortable and choose plan B.

Here is a link that might be useful: Matt nathanson, hes on FB too.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 6:48AM
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Thanks a lot drtygrl,
that helped a lot. I am impressed and glad to hear from someone "who has been there". Looked up some of your older threads, I didnt know that there were actual dicussions on design going on. Funny, with some of my "perennial folks" we rather ponder single cultivars, and with co-workers at the last landscape architecture business design was hardly ever a topic.

about expenses
I do work from my desk at home, have a computer, neat camera, library and even a range of basic hand tools (just in case).
I plan to specialize in designing and planning and rather not in building. At least in the beginning it would help to keep my stuff managable.

And I probably have the option to rent rather a desk with acquaintances than an office if need be.

I have begun to build a kind of net work, know some good nurseries, a bulb specialist, one or two landscapers.
about clients:
how did you make your first contacts? My present two jobs are results of a workshop I gave last winter. Otherwise I find it tricky to get to new clients, or to be found by them...
At least the gardendesign-job has great potential as a model garden, the clients are willing to spend money on good quality stuff and asked for a very simple design.

the talk by Nathanson is really inspiring, thanks a lot

another good point to ponder is the seasonal aspect of work

Well, I just carry on getting my things together, bye, Lin

    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 4:47AM
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first contacts - word of mouth. I talked to everyone I could think of and then people started calling. The most referrals came from the local garden center. I made friends with one of the people who worked there, she is older and doesn't do gardens for people anymore and she started referring me. I am sure to always keep her updated on any and all projects; were all garden nuts so she loves to talk about it.

Believe it or not, I get referrals from the hardware store - I guess people come in trying to find solutions for landscape problems.

I talk to a lot of people about gardening, all the time, and I am generous with free advice. Most of the time when people ask for advice, the conversations end with "could you just come over and fix it?"

I don't know where you live, but I live in a small town, very rural. I think it might be easier to get going in a situation like that because you know a lot of people. and you run into people you know all the time.

Good luck! I know its a hard decision, but things work out the way they are meant to be.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 6:30AM
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