Book Review: Design, Grow, Sell

Design Grow Sell is one of a series produced by Country Living magazine which describe how to start a business from home. They also have a corresponding Kitchen Table Talent website designed to support and encourage those who have (or are thinking of starting) any small business.

Many people dream about starting their own gardening business. This book aims to show how it can be done. Having just filed the first tax return for my freelance writing income, does this book tell me the things I wish I'd known when I started out? The answer is well yes, ...partly.

  • It's easy to read and relatively short compared with most books I've read of this kind
  • Inspirational - there's a positive 'can do' message. It's definitely one for those who want to take their daydreams about starting a small business a step further
  • It focuses on how to start a gardening business, so it puts what can be a dry subject into an understandable context
  • Real people and case studies from a cross-section of horticulture are featured. This shows some of the breadth the industry has to offer. 
  • It features those reaping a business success, so the message is a positive one
  • There's a good list of further references, resources and websites etc., though with some surprising omissions (see Further Reading below)
I did pick up some useful tips, though I'm itching to add some of my own (see below).

  • It needs a section on how to decide whether a starting a business is for you - a long, hard look at the positives and negatives
  • The book needs to beef up the practicalities of running a business. It's great for inspiring someone to start, but having started they will soon leave behind what this book can teach them. For example there seems to be an assumption the financial side of things can be taken care of by an accountant. That's true, but many people starting out don't have this luxury. Some information on basic accounts, business planning and tax (with examples - just some simple spreadsheets will do) would be really helpful. These are the business aspects which many people (including me) struggle with. 
  • The potential income where given tends to be at the top end of the scale. This may raise expectations too high. There is inevitably some down time associated with most gardening businesses (e.g travelling to/from clients, professional development, wrestling with accounts etc.) and this needs to be factored into the potential income equation.
  • A summary of key points from each chapter would be useful (like the Conclusion section at the end) as quite a lot of the really useful tips tend to get lost in the narrative.
  • A detailed profile of each person (with a picture) and their business would be of interest.
  • Some of the terms used aren't explained e.g. social enterprise. A Glossary would be useful.
  • An Appendix 'To Do' checklist would be helpful e.g. the tasks associated with business registration
  • It needs a bit more colour and pictures/illustration to enforce the positive messages.

Overall verdict:

Design Grow Sell is a positive, 'can do' book which will encourage dreamers to make a start on turning those dreams into a reality. However, I think it needs more practical details to be a definitive small business start-up guide for the gardening industry. NB Elizabeth's also reviewed this book and given it more of a positive thumbs up than I have. She spends quite a lot of her time advising small businesses in her area, so I value her conclusions.

Further Reading, Training and Networking:

Work from Home Wisdom - Judy Helminsley's book (and website/blog) are a mine of information for anyone starting or running a home business. It's realistic account, which looks at the pluses and minuses and covers lots of the gaps found in other books, such as diet and exercise and keeping self-motivated.

Start and Run a Gardening Business - Paul Powers' book is now in its third edition. It covers much of the practicalities I thought were missing from Design, Grow, Sell. It focuses mainly on the garden maintenance kind of business and is very thorough and realistic in its approach. I read the first or second edition ages ago and it helped me realise that this kind of garden business wasn't for me. I think my ideal book would be a cross between this, Judy's book and Design, Grow, Sell.

So You Want to Start a Nursery - I haven't read this book, so I can't vouch for it, but it is another one which specialises in the gardening business side of things. If this is more of your potential line of work, you might also like to consider esteemed nurserywoman Derry Watkins' 2 day course on Growing Plants for Sale in October.

The FT Guide to Small Business Start Up 2013 - I have a much earlier edition and I found it invaluable for understanding the legal and taxation side of things. A new edition is brought out every year, so it's probably worth waiting for the next one which will include details of the imminent 2013 budget.

HMRC has lots of online training available for business start-ups. And do register your business with them ASAP after you've started trading, even if you remain employed elsewhere in the meantime. If you don't within the time parameters set by them you can incur a penalty. I actually found HMRC really helpful when I set myself up and not scary at all!  The Starting Your Own Business e-learning guide takes you through all of this and more.

NB self-employed people have to complete a tax return every year, even if their income falls below the tax threshold. An additional tip I had from the tax man: consider paying Class 2 National Insurance contributions to keep your state pension contributions going - it's much cheaper (and spread over a longer period) than if you elect to pay the bill the DSS send you for plugging any contribution gap.

Sadly Business Link and its useful local advice and training is no more (another victim of the government cuts), but it lives on in a website form packed with information which also has links to business training and networking events. Also look out for local business [breakfast] clubs, local Chamber of Commerce events etc. Update: Anon in the comments tells me that Outset have taken over where Business Link left off :)

Georgie Newberry at Common Farm Flowers has found her local branch of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) very helpful. She also has thoroughly engaged with social media (Facebook and Twitter in particular) to build her business. She describes them and her blog as her 'shop window' and says she wouldn't have a business if it wasn't for them. NB Georgie runs Social Media 4 Business and Flower Farming for Beginners courses at her flower farm in Somerset.

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher and I don't stand to gain from an affiliate link (there aren't any!) in this post.


  1. As you know I toy frequently with the idea of setting up a nursery but I know the reality if that the income I would derive would be sufficient to cover my mortgage and other costs so for me this aspiration is a long term plan and something maybe to supplement my income.

    I did have my own business some years ago doing inventories in the property rental market and I remember going to an excellent talk for potential new business which must have been run by something like the Chamber of Commerce. There is information and advice out there for small businesses but I think its hard to locate plus it helps, as you say, to have financial experience or contacts. I'm lucky to have some accountancy qualifications so tax etc dont scare me.

    My biggest issue is whether to go for an online nursery or to do plant fairs. I favour the former but am still pondering the packaging and payments issues. I might get the Nursery book you mention above - it might help crystalise some thoughts

  2. Hi Helen - I had you in mind when I wrote this post :)

    Your talk could have been Chamber of Commerce or Business Link. The latter used to do really good talks and courses and also used to offer free one hour business start-up advice clinics. I believe they were disbanded just when they were needed the most.

    As you say, finding the advice can be hard, that's why I decided to put quite a long resource list at the end of the review based on what I've found to be really helpful & from talking to a few people :)

  3. Interesting review VP and a very useful list of resources. From your list I found Derry Watkins course very useful.
    I shall have a look at Judy Helminsley's blog/website - as I have not come across that before.

  4. This is a really helpful post and thanks for the review and suggestions. I've been thinking about having a plant nursery on and off for years, but not sure if it is right for me. Aiming to try getting work, even if voluntary, at a specialist nursery near Sheffield once we move to see first if I even want to work in that environment, before I think about having a business. I've already contacted Derry Watkins about the 'grow your plants for sale' course and she got back to me very quickly. Will follow up the books. too. The points raised in your review (particularly the practicalities and costs) and the links/further reading you provide are just what I need at this very moment - thanks VP!

  5. Karen - I've found Judy's website really useful, enjoy. I was thinking of you when I wrote about Derry's course - it was so lovely having you to stay :)

    Gwenfar - that's a really good idea. Not only will you get a really good idea of whether it's for you, you'll also build up lots of contacts - especially important seeing you're moving to a completely new part of the country. Good luck with the move and your musings - I look forward to hearing how you get on :)

  6. I was really interested to see your review of the Country Living, 'Design, Grow, Sell'. I'm a subscriber to the magazine and used think that everything on it's pages was perfect but I think I'm becoming slightly disillusioned with it, it's view of reality doesn't really match mine anymore. It was lovely to see some of their work being given an honest and fair review.

  7. Hi Hannah - thanks. Honest and fair reviews are what I'm about :)

  8. Hello,
    Eerything that was done by Business-links is now done by Outset. Just took a business start-up course with them. Highly recommended.

  9. Hi Anon - thanks for that, I'll update the post with that info :) For anyone reading this, here's the link to Outset.


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