How to ditch the office, breathe the fresh air, and start an outdoors-based business
Suddenly people are waving goodbye to office life to break out into the open. The UK’s Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) says that demand for its work-based training programmes jumped 58 per cent in 2021, the highest rate of increase for decades.
It sounds great, but there’s a snag: many of the jobs that involve outdoor work offer poor pay, especially at the entry level. Starting pay as a horticulture apprentice, for instance, averages £15,000 a year according to job comparison website Glassdoor. Your desire to get outdoors may be trumped by the need to earn more than that.
The solution? An outdoor franchise
By starting a business that takes you outdoors you are not subject to the pay rates set by employers - and there are loads of franchises that will help you set up and grow an outdoor business that can pay you more than you would make as an employee.
Outdoor franchises cover many sectors, including:
• Garden maintenance, from lawn mowing to full gardening services.
• Van-based franchises that involve outdoor work such as erecting signboards for estate agents, windscreen replacement, mobile tyre-fitting, and many more.
• Outdoor sport and recreation franchises. The lockdown meant many people abandoned the gym and took to exercising outside, prompting the founding of outdoor fitness franchises, while existing
Exercise Anywhere, trading as WALX and Nordic Walking UK, says: “As a former director of the Fitness Industry Association I knew that the majority of the population were not engaging with health clubs, especially the over 45s - but they did like walking. I decided to focus on that, which meant developing a new industry to deliver outdoor fitness sessions.”
Now his franchise WALX collaborates with organisations such as local authorities and Age UK to provide walking fitness sessions outside, aimed at people with specific health needs.
WALX offers a lifestyle franchise that allows instructors to lead walking and exercise sessions and those who want to can go on to invest in a management franchise that means managing the service in local areas.
“We’re looking for 300-400 franchisees across the UK, who are attracted by the outdoor aspect, are selfless and want to change lives in local communities but are also business-minded enough to grow what could be described as an outdoor health club,” he says.
Could you make the change?
Not everyone is cut out for working outdoors – but in some cases, they may not realise it. It’s one thing pottering about in the garden on a sunny summer day and another going out on a cold and wet morning in November to change a tyre or put up an estate agent’s For Sale board.
Horticultural recruitment agencies always see an increase in eager candidates in spring, when working in parks and gardens looks idyllic, but many of those who get jobs are gone by the time winter comes round, put off by the bad weather. When it’s your own business, you cannot just leave when it gets cold.
This is where it will help to spend time with existing franchisees – not just a few hours but at least a couple of days – so ask franchisors if you can do this.
It’s not just about the outdoor work
Enjoying outdoor work is not enough when it comes to running a successful business. If you prefer flowers to people or hate business administration, it may pay to think again.
Why we love gardens and green spaces
A YouGov survey for the Horticultural Trades Association in 2020 found:
• 87% of British adults believe gardens and green spaces benefit their state of mind
• 84% believe they benefit their physical health
• 94% believe they benefit the environment
• 94% believe gardens and green spaces make an area a pleasant place to live
• 93% f British adults believe gardens and green spaces help to support wildlife
How the pandemic propelled Mick Perrone into an outdoor franchise
After over 20 years as an account manager in audio-visual distribution, Mick Perrone took on Greensleeves’ Bedford territory six months ago.
“I decided I needed a change. I was frequently up and out early and back late, I had to travel a lot, and just didn’t really have enough spare time to spend with my family,” says Mick.
“When the pandemic hit, I found myself stuck at home doing online meetings and trying to sell visual products over Zoom. It was difficult and demoralising, but being stuck at home made me appreciate things more, like spending time in the garden and with my children.”
Mick decided he needed a better work-life balance and investigated franchising because he knew that changing careers and starting up a business on his own would be a challenge with no previous experience.
“I needed a great support network, which is what I found when I discovered Greensleeves. Franchising also meant I could run my own business and choose hours that suited me. I have a young family, so as franchisee with Greensleeves I can support them and even do the school run,” he says.
Mick had no experience in lawn care but had the basic skills required to operate a business. He says: “The training was excellent and the ongoing support has been equally good. By joining a franchise like Greensleeves I also have access to the encouragement and knowledge of Greensleeves franchise network – something I wouldn’t have had if I started my business on my own.”
From the corporate world to the outdoors with a Countrywide Signs franchise
Duncan Sands and his son David were both keen to shut the door on office life. “After 35 years as a senior manager in the motor trade and, in David’s case, 11 years with business consultancy Deloitte, we’d both had our fill of the corporate world,” says Duncan.
In May 2021 the two launched their Countrywide Signs franchise, erecting and removing estate agents’ signs across Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and part of Cambridge. “Mostly we are working outdoors from a van, and our territory is a mix of urban and rural areas, so some of the time it means driving in lovely countryside – though time spent driving is less profitable than time spend erecting and taking down signs.”
As for the weather, he says: “It’s not so much fun when it’s chucking it down but there’s nothing to be done but get on with it.”
Currently, he and David are working about 10 hours a day, but he says: “It doesn’t feel as pressured as office life because it’s our business and we can set the pace. Changing from corporate careers to this business has been liberating. Now we are outside, doing physical work, which is healthier, and we’re permanently on the move, so it’s more dynamic. While we are working we are also thinking about ways to develop our business.
“You feel more alive, and you can immediately see the rewards of your efforts.”
Walking her way to business success in the outdoors
“There’s something magical about the outdoors this year. People seem to be more in tune with the environment and value nature and the outdoors more,” says Emma White.
Emma, a former biology teacher, is the Leamington and Warwick franchisee with Walx offering innovative walks and outdoor exercise sessions, developed by WALX over the past 14 years.
“I presently deliver around 20 walks and classes per week, accommodating my members that are looking for general fitness and wellbeing. In addition to providing cardiovascular exercise, we include strength, balance and flexibility. We offer a range of walks and classes from Nordic Walking, Total Body walking, tai chi, yoga, and Pilates, to Explorer WALX that are more social and engaging with nature. I also offer specialist classes for people with Parkinson’s.” All are led by suitably qualified instructors and are pre-planned according to the participant’s personal goals.
“As a franchisee, it’s a combination of actively being involved in the delivery and managing the business. A lot of the systems such as online booking are all automated which helps tremendously but I handle enquires from potential clients, discuss their medical conditions, lifestyle, diet and exercise goals and then advise them about which sessions will be most suited to them and the correct techniques to use,” Emma says.
“It’s not just about strolling around the countryside. As well as leading walks and classes, franchisees have to risk assess the routes, terrain and weather, to keep customers safe. I have to ensure the groups are managed correctly, deal with client queries and problems, advise on equipment choices and manage my guides and instructors.”
She also needs to get permission from landowners and farmers to use their land and bear in mind other users, public safety and courtesy.
“You get a lot of support from the franchisor, with help and training to develop your business skills and help you to grow and develop your business,” says Emma.
“It’s hard work but there’s lots of camaraderie among other franchisees and the franchisor is always keen to take on board your ideas about how you can move forward in your business.”
Linda Whitney writes about franchising for the Daily Mail, What Franchise and many other publications.