Author Topic: Winter Work Campaign - Initial Schedule of Ideas and Proposals  (Read 2217 times)

Alan Sargent

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WINTER WORK CAMPAIGN – INITIAL SCHEDULE OF IDEAS AND PROPOSALS

As the previous articles indicate, there are no hard and fast rules for Winter Work. So much depends on the size and type of operation, location, population numbers and potential wealth – which, when added to the abilities and wherewithal of the individual firms dictate the level of possible ALTERNATIVE work.

The original premise was to concentrate on the three months, January, February and March. Three months multiplied by five days per week equals sixty five working days. Presumably, even if you are a Specialist company carrying out mowing as an exclusive business, you will be able to find some work, strimming or clearing, perhaps on a regular annual basis. Unless you are very unlucky, you should be able to find some work to help reduce that sixty five day period.

As previously mentioned, generally speaking, the smaller the firm, the easier it should be to diversify. A rowing boat is much more able to manoeuvre than an ocean going liner! Even larger companies should be willing to be flexible if required, and the Management is able to think outside the normal rules of their operation.

IT IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT THAT YOU CHECK YOUR INSURANCE COVER ON THESE WORKS, AS THEY MAY BE PERIFERAL TO YOUR NORMAL OPERATIONS.

HERE THEN IS THE INITIAL LIST OF POTENTIAL WINTER WORKS, WITH NOTES AS REQUIRED.
These should be read in association with the Four Steps to Winter Work, as much of the requisite information and suggestions for approaching various people and concerns are covered in those articles.

For the sake of regularity, I begin with two previously described examples.

STUMP GRINDING
This simple operation is something that could bring together one or two sole trader firms and perhaps a garden designer, all working as a Team, or Buddying Up as I prefer to call it. You will definitely need a second person to work with you on any stump grinding operation, both to manhandle the machine and to act as a banksman/guide to the business end of the grinder. You will also need to locate the stumps in the first place!
If you team up with another local operative – not in the same immediate vicinity/village as you may need to spread your net a little wider. As wide in fact, as the number of existing clients you have between you (I suggest a designer, as they may have specific knowledge i.e. their clients, which is helpful to the operation).

You will already know of a number of stumps – those difficult to mow around, eyesores in the herbaceous beds – that populate your clients’ properties. They are never dealt with due to the costs involved in having them ground out under normal circumstances as individual operations. By pooling the number of clients, adding up the number of stumps to be potentially removed, and then hiring a machine for a period of (say) one week, you could grind them for as little as £30.00 each. You would need to work out the logistics/sizes of stump before pricing, but the opportunity for a few days’ work at the same time as helping out your customers – old and current – is quality Winter Work.

I offer this service to my customers, (and they contact their neighbours), at least once a year. I hire a suitable machine, (having the right p.p.e. already), and book in the various sites. I offer two rates; grind, clear and tidy on the day, or grind only, leaving the mess for the client to tidy up. You sometimes get additional work, replanting/making good at a later date, but everything is carried out on a timely basis, time being of the essence due to the hire charges.
You can make very good money with this simple project!

POND CLEANING
During the winter months, fish are dormant, the vegetation has died down and nothing much is happening in the garden pond. Armed with a few simple items, including at least two 300 litres water butts to be filled with existing pond water to hold any fish, plus a couple of pumps (never rely on just one) suitable for pumping out, some nets and perhaps a small oxygenating pump for each butt, together with a variety of buckets, hoses, brushes and cleaning tools, this is the ideal time to undertake a Winter Pool Cleaning exercise.

Unless you know the pool and its’ depth/gallonage etc, always charge by the hour. Whilst you will take the greatest of care, you cannot be held responsible for any losses of livestock, but this is the right time to carry out the work – while the fish are not feeding and active.
Once equipped, you should be able to pick up a number of such cleaning operations, as they are not the most favourite projects for owners! (If you have a handy leaflet ready, specifically for Pond works, leave them to be passed on to their friends).
Allow time too, for refilling afterwards. One word of warning – if you leave the client to turn off the tap once filled, make sure they remove the hosepipe from the pool. It would not be the first time that someone has disconnected the hose from the tap, leaving the end in the pool – and subsequently siphoning the pond empty overnight!
Check too, the delivery rates of the water pipes, as a slow filling pond may require another visit.

WATER FEATURES – SERVICING
Working with, and discussing with Garden Designers and Landscape Architects (especially domestic based), and suppliers of High Quality water features, including sculptures involving moving water – there are many such contacts in most areas – locate and maintain a list of potential clients who have spent a lot of money on installing the objects, only to see them become green and polluted.
I know of several such features, all in need of regular maintenance especially in early winter and early spring, both to monitor water levels to prevent frost damage to paved edges, and avoid blockages that could also result in internal splitting of pipeworks.
When clients spend thousands of pounds on water features, they want to see them operating all year round. Do your homework. Collect some suitable tools for cleaning and repairing the surroundings (paving etc – not the sculpture!).
Cleaning water features is good all year round work. It should be possible to build up a ‘round’ of customers, visiting every three months or so, two of those calls falling within our Winter Work period.

CLEANING GARDEN FURNITURE
I am not suggesting that there is a huge market for cleaning garden furniture – but I know of several landscape contractors who have wealthy clients, who have their expensive furniture taken away and cleaned/varnished/oiled/metalwork painted etc – all on a regular annual basis. If you have such clients,  they would not ever consider ‘their’ gardeners/landscapers as being able to undertake garden furniture maintenance – unless you make the first move! I can assure you, once you start to offer this service, you will secure a regular annual income. I know of at least half a dozen such clients paying £2,500 - £3,000 p.a. for having a Landscaper look after their furniture.

GREENHOUSES AND CONSERVATORIES
As gardeners and landscapers, we have many hidden talents! We are used to working with chemicals and sprays, we hold ladder training tickets, we understand growing, we are well versed in working in domestic situations, operating in a clean and tidy manner.
How many of us offer annual visits to restore/repair/clean/sterilise greenhouses? I’m not talking about the 8 x 10 in a rear garden, but larger units.
Stately Houses, National Trust, English Heritage, Golf Clubs, Hotels; all may have glass houses and conservatories. Again, you will need to build your ‘tool kit’ ready for the various operations.
Winterising works should be carried out late November through to early January. Spring clean and allied works may be undertaken during late March, dependant on your location.
Gravel beds and micro irrigations systems need regular changing and checking. Timber frames and supports need maintaining.
If you can offer a regular service to visit and carry out a schedule of works, using your horticultural and landscape knowledge, you could create a useful ‘round’ of such properties.

NATIONAL TRUST/ENGLISH HERITAGE/FORESTRY COMMISSION
Due to cutbacks, many National Trust and English Heritage properties have reduced manpower, yet still are required to maintain the sites in their charge. Remember to add the title ‘Estate Services’ or similar to your web site and business cards/letter heads. You will know the level of input you can muster, and the range of your skills, but hedge laying, pruning, pond maintenance, ditching, fencing etc are all items to list when making your pitch to the Estate Manager.
Remember too, that NT are also responsible for a number of car parks, as are the Forestry Commission. These require regular maintenance, usually undertaken when the cars are quiet i.e. during the winter. There are a whole host of projects – everything from infilling and levelling potholes, restoring and installing bollards, cleaning and securing signage, extending and creating new parking areas – so many Landscape operations which are second nature to our businesses. As always, ensure your presentation is professional. Always present your insurance and business information as a separate sheet (this may be pinned on their office notice board) and a schedule of skills that your company can offer. This is another example of Buddying Up if you think that you are too small to make a coherent and practical business offer.

INSURANCE COMPANIES
I feel quite strongly that if an Insurance Company wants my business, it needs to be a reciprocal arrangement. Find out the name of your local Area Manager and his contact details. Obviously, it is not helpful to demand a hearing by virtue of your insurance business, rather gently introduce yourself as a local company who can offer the following services, both in emergency and for tendering purposes in the event of an accident/fallen tree/broken fence/car crash damage/collapsed wall etc – again, whatever your personal skills run to.
Make sure that you not only supply him/her/them with some emergency postcards to be placed on their notice board, but follow up on a regular basis – once a month should suffice. Remind them that you exist, and when it comes round to renewal time, that is the moment to write to the Area Manager!
Ensure that your paperwork is in good order, especially Terms & Conditions, Quotation and/or Estimate Forms. Most importantly, ensure that you use Variation Orders. These Orders permit you to re-assess a situation in an emergency, where something may come to light that you could not reasonably have expected to have to deal with. For example, if you are contracted to reconstruct a wall that has been damaged in a vehicular accident, and you discover that is has no foundations, therefore you cannot rebuild it in a safe manner, then you require a fresh instruction, dealt with by means of a Variation Order – basically ensuring that the extra cost becomes part of your original quotation without the need to re-tender.

FIREPLACE CONSTRUCTION
I consider myself a pretty fair hand with a trowel, and enjoy building (often design & build) stone fireplaces. I use a PhotoBook to illustrate my business, and amongst the many photographs of gardens and garden features, I show a couple of stone fireplaces, complete with oak shelving/mantel pieces.
There are a few simple ‘rules’ regarding foundations, but these are very straightforward. Any Landscaper who can produce a good quality garden wall, raised bed, raised pool, barbecue, flight of steps etc can certainly build stone fireplaces. How many Landscapers offer this service? Very few I think. What better Winter Work could you have than working indoors in January, when the client is away skiing for a week.

PRIVATE ESTATES
I have not included these in the National Trust section, as you will be dealing with either a private individual or Estate Manager, not a corporate person. Therefore you approach, whilst similar in some respects, the emphasis will not necessarily be on those specialisms that would have been undertaken by gardeners that have been shed due to the cutbacks. If you do your homework properly, and make an assessment of the likely works that may be required at a large private garden/estate, and prepare your ‘offer’ accordingly. For example, if you know that the Estate has many climbing roses and wisterias, perhaps vines and fruit trees, write to the owner/Manager you have previously identified and request permission for the opportunity to tender for the pruning works.
Many Estates have pleached trees and hedges. These are specialist operations, and should fall well within a Landscapers skills, especially when you add in the Ladder Training or Access Platform Cherry Picker training certificates, you will be sure of an attentive audience!
If you have other skills and talents, including Citrus, Orchids, Topiary etc, these should also be in demand.
It is a fact that many such Private Estate owners call in experts from many miles away just to handle quite simple horticultural operations. I know of several such properties, and having taken on those works myself over the years, I can vouch for the profitability of the ventures!
The marriage of landscapers skill, safety ‘tickets’ and general confidence that comes with years of working in private gardens, together with horticultural knowledge and the business  and people management skills we possess as contractors all stand us in good stead.

PRESSURE WASHING AND STONE CLEANING.
This is an old favourite of many a contractor, and will already feature high on your Winter Work list, but I include it as no schedule would be complete without it. If you have access to a good quality steam cleaner or pressure washer (be aware that many domestic outdoor electrical supplies/sockets cannot handle steam cleaners without blowing fuses) consider extending your work to cleaning natural stone walls and brickwork. It may be to your advantage to offer to really scour the surfaces, with a view to repointing, not simply cleaning. Obviously, this will all depend on the nature of the project, but the ability to carry out a thorough clean and repoint operation is often overlooked. Offered to the ‘right’ client, you may be surprised at their reaction.

OTHER WORKS
I have not included the obvious list of winter works – or rather, those jobs that may be carried out during inclement weather. Projects such as fencing, ditching, clearance, gutter cleaning, hedge cutting, planting, turfing etc are too well known to require mention here, but it would be very helpful indeed, if you, the reader, could add something else to this list.

THIS IS THIS INITIAL WINTER WORK LIST. IT WILL GROW AND GROW – BUT NOW IT NEEDS YOUR INPUT!

PLEASE FEEL FREE TO ADD ANY OTHER SCHEME OR PROJECT, WORK OR IDEA TO THE LIST. TOGETHER WITH AS MUCH USEFUL INFORMATION, HINTS AND TIPS YOU HAVE.


LET US MAKE THE LANDSCAPE HUB WINTER WORK INITIATIVE BECOME THE CURE FOR FUTURE WINTER BLUES!

Alan Sargent
August 20th 2013