From Tiny Acorns, Mighty Oak Trees Grow
Liz Bennett has bootstrapped her part-time neighbourhood gardening gig into a thriving business.
23 February 2023
At 27, Liz Bennett had just resigned after 10 years in the UK police force, and she wasn’t quite sure what to do. But she’d always liked gardening, so she did a degree in landscape architecture, which she managed to work around having her two sons. As a full-time mum, she occasionally did some garden design work while focusing most of her energy on raising the kids.
It all started with an ad on Neighbourly
Then in 2016, she wanted to start working again, and began looking for a part-time job with plenty of flexibility to fit around school pick-ups and sports events – with no luck. Instead, Liz posted an advertisement on Neighbourly. It said something like, ‘I love gardening but I live in a rental and I have no tools. If anyone wants me to do some gardening for them, I’ll do it for $25 an hour.’
The advertisement got four responses, and Liz started doing weeding and planting around the neighbourhood. That ticked over nicely until she hurt her back doing too much digging, and her friend, also a stay-at-home-mum, offered to step in for her. As soon as Liz’s back healed, they worked together, which allowed them scope to take on a few more clients.
“It got insanely busy really quickly through word of mouth,” she says. “For two reasons, I think. First, we always turned up, and we did what we said we’d do. Second, we fitted into a niche – there are mowing companies, and hedge-trimming companies, but we didn’t have a mower or a hedge trimmer, so we did basic gardening. We were on our hands and knees getting the weeds out, with just secateurs and trowels.”
Expanding the team
Soon Liz needed more people, so she started asking around for other mums who wanted some super-flexible work. Plenty of people were happy to take her up on the offer of $30 an hour for weeding, and Liz was able to start buying a few more tools. By expanding her workforce to include some younger and stronger full-time employees, Busy Lizzy Gardens was able to offer services like hedge trimming and stump grinding. She was also able to spend up large at the Stihl shop on tools that would last for years, not just months. During this period Liz often worked 17-hour days, sometimes seven days a week.
“It really just mushroomed,” says Liz. “Now I have 18 staff, including two landscape architects and a designer, and I took on my first licensed builder in February, with another one starting next month. At our core we’re still planting people, but we can also do more designing and building.”
Debt-free, 100% bootstrapped with reinvestment
The business has been completely bootstrapped, funded through its own profits, with Liz paying herself less so she could keep funnelling profits into vehicles, tools and staff.
“I earned $5,000 the first year, and $50,000 the second year. The growth was exponential; between year two and year three, the revenue increased by 820%.”
Despite never having imagined herself as a business owner, Liz loves running her team and providing outstanding customer service. She’s proud to be able to give her workers flexible schedules and time off to look after their health or their kids – and says they repay her in spades with loyalty and hard work.
“I’m trying to build a business that’s slightly different from other landscape gardeners,” she explains. “We pick up a lot of new customers from our competitors. People are left dissatisfied when prices are very expensive and they get a different guy each week, or a 17-year-old who spends all day staring at his phone. We aim for a very high level of customer service, and I hire five managers to deliver this; the model must work because our clients keep coming back.”
Financial independence might be the best return
Over the next few years, Liz plans to keep growing the business, without taking on any debt. She’s recently had a buy-out offer, but she turned it down. The income from Busy Lizzy Gardens has meant that she’s been able to buy a house and be financially independent – which would likely have been impossible if she’d been working as a landscape gardener for someone else.
“The only reason this business exists is because I couldn’t find a job that would let me pick up the kids each day,” she says, with a laugh. “I never thought I would love it, but I do. It’s paid me back for all the time and money I’ve invested in it.”
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