Sargent's solutions - assessing whether your business needs a manager

Employing a manager can free you up to further develop your business but you need to be sure there is a definite need for the role, says Alan Sargent.

I have been steadily building my garden maintenance business, branching out into some more ambitious landscaping projects and looking forward to a time when I can justify employing a manager to help share the responsibility of running the company. Is there a stage I should reach before taking this step?

Not every firm will need a manager. Indeed, numerically only a small percentage of gardening businesses ever grow to become so large that they genuinely need the skills and input of a manager.

No business is exactly the same as another - personal circumstances include a very wide raft of variations and financial requirements that have a strong bearing on the success of the business. Those in our industry are often run by a team effort of partners and family members, if only to relieve the burden on the proprietor and aid the everyday well-being of the owners.

Recognising the pressures of running a business is a key strength on the part of the owner. With seemingly more and more work, responsibilities and decision-making at a professional level begin to weigh more heavily the larger and more complex the firm becomes.

Without a knowledgeable and sympathetic sounding board, serving as designer, manager, company representative, surveyor and estimator as well as money chaser, health and safety officer and general guardian of the company on your own can be a very lonely affair.

Once you have reached the stage where you feel unable to continue carrying the load all by yourself, you should identify those tasks that cause you the most difficulty and loss of time. Decide which jobs you would rather hand over to someone else and produce a schedule.

Such a list will include estimating, planning, day-to-day operations and site management. Dealing with customer relations and identifying and seeking more work will also feature strongly. Which jobs do you really enjoy doing? Perhaps it is the interaction between you and the customers or maybe planning and developing the business to move onwards and capitalise on the growing success of the firm.

General overview

Whatever title you give to each department of your company, taking a general overview of the whole range of tasks may show that simply employing a manager is not quite the answer it seemed before undertaking your audit.

After all, he or she will not have the same vested interests or drive that you have displayed in creating a successful business, and will initially only act on your instructions. To offer carte blanche to a stranger - no matter how well qualified - is always going to be the most difficult decision of your career.

They may well earn your trust and if you give them more and more responsibilities as you build up your mutual relationship, then working with a manager can be both successful and rewarding to you both. It goes without saying that the choice of individual will be critical to the success of such a major milestone in the growth of the firm.

Outsourcing option

Your question regards the lifestyle/life stage of your business and it may better suit your purposes to outsource some of the tasks identified in your audit. For example, if you currently offer garden design, why not approach one or more local designers and offer them the opportunity to work with your company? Perhaps you have space for a show area for a public display of their work.

This decision will relieve you of a time-consuming element and increase the possibilities of more work coming through the new partnership. Many designers are more than happy to undertake work in the name of another company if they are paid the appropriate rates for their skills and given credit for their work.

Outsourcing surveying and estimating are other services offered by highly skilled independent firms and individuals. Again, you will reduce the amount of work that you would have had to deal with in the past, plus make more potential sources of enquiry by working together with other professionals.

Should you be certain about wanting to employ a manager, you would be well advised to talk things over with your accountant. The wage bill for a senior employee will be substantial, certainly not less than £35,000pa plus a vehicle and other expenses, and you will be fortunate should the cost to your company be less than £1,000 per week. You will begin to recoup some of the expense after six months or so, primarily because you have been released to carry out paid works yourself to mitigate the costs.

Management structure

Of course, larger and more established gardening businesses could not operate without a management structure, and their financial ability to cover the costs will have been factored into their plans. The owners of those companies will have been through the same stages of company growth and no doubt went through the same issues that you are currently experiencing.

Without careful planning and ensuring that you are meeting a genuine requirement for a manager - or indeed any other senior/expensive employee who is unable to earn sufficient money to cover their wages, expenses and profit directly from maintenance/design/construction income - it will prove a drain on your financial resources.

Whatever you decide, take care to ensure that your candidate has a proven track record of working for similar sized companies and is able to recognise and meet your needs.

Alan Sargent is an independent gardens consultant at the School of Garden Management -

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