Last week I headed North for a day of talks on keeping business profitable. The Society of Garden Designers runs regular if somewhat oddly topic-ed half and one day seminars as CPD (continuous professional development) for it’s members.

This talk was led by Paul Hensey whom I had never met in person but had traded tweets with on  a number of occasions and had heard much about from various sources.

Sometimes it’s a bit of a hike to get to DDD’s (Designer Development Days) not because they’re not run nearby but often because those closer to, sell out too fast and only run once 🙁 still, yomping up the M6 in my little curtesy car (MOT time!) gave me a chance to drop in on great friends for an evening of catching up and watching the stream of young things arrive at the ‘Alternate Prom Party,  After Party, Party’  being hosted by their daughter…enlightening indeed.

Venue was a small hotel off the M6 as venues go it was rather lovely, quiet, beautiful grounds, ok food though pricey (£7 for effectively a sandwich and crisps!!) and very pleasant helpful staff (The Moat House, Stafford)

Not sure what to expect after the lively introductions and ensuing discussion surrounding the SGD and it’s adjudication process (Mr H is the chair of adjudications) I was initially slightly put off by the spread sheet maze that ended up being the main bulk of the day’s content. Of course as an Ex-business consultant I am very familiar with multilevel, all singing, all dancing, referencing to the Nth degree, graph creating, stats generating excel spreadsheets built by Excel Diva (is there a male equivalent  of Diva?). The Diva are, and don’t they know it, above the general populace in Excel manipulation. I thought having changed career entirely I had escaped all that. WRONG.

In fact I have elements of the timesheet in place and of course annual cash flow spread sheets get a monthly visit on end of month accounts day but one that can analyse my utilisation and work out what I SHOULD be setting my hourly rate at? now THAT’s impressive. Mr H indicated it had taken him a couple of hours to complete the ‘nuts and bolts’ of it, clearly a bit of a closet Excel Whiz himself…. It has gone through several iterations including one by several not so closet Excel Wizards.  Our copy arrived a few days post course and I’ve spent far more time this week than I should have filling in and fiddling with it. I’ll be attempting to make it work out where I ‘waste’ the most time in the design element of running the business…indeed according to the stats we should be looking at spending about 40-50% of our time actually doing fee paying work anymore and we’ll be doing too much or missing a thing or two in running the business. Who knew?

Being a Garden Designer and running a small business is as much about the business side as it is about the creative and planty side, if not more so. Delivering excellence and value for money on the creative side can only be helped by ensuring accuracy and excellence on the business side too.

In a month or so I’ll have my first stats on what I spend my time doing… I suspect coffee and dog walking to feature much higher than they should!

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Sculpture at Trentham, fabulous gardens a stones throw from the course venue

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