Caitlin Sykes

Your Business editor of the NZ Herald

Small Business: Going it alone - Trish Bartleet

Trish Bartleet operates a landscape design business for residential and commercial properties.

Trish Bartleet, landscape designer.
Trish Bartleet, landscape designer.

Can you tell me a bit about your business and how long you've been going it alone?

I operate a landscape design business providing landscape plans for small- and large-scale residential and commercial properties. My work comes from word of mouth and I work with architects, interior designers and landscape contractors who personally recommend me to their clients.

I've been in business for 29 years and have always operated from my home on my own. I've had occasion over the years to use other designers on a casual contract basis and I've always enjoyed those relationships but I do prefer to not have the responsibility of employees.

What do you like about it just being you in the business?

I love the freedom of my work. I can choose the hours and times I work and balance my days between indoor and outdoor time. When my children were young I often worked in the evenings and even now they are older I can work in the evenings if I want to take some time off during the day or if I have to meet a certain deadline.

Having no employees means you have complete freedom. It also means I have full control over the design and the decisions, which I prefer.

What are some of the lows of going it alone?

You have to be very self-motivated, although clients and contractors do tend to motivate you because they're always keen to get things moving. To keep that motivation up I try to stick to basic routines, work at achieving a set number of chargeable hours a week - that kind of thing - and I also have deadlines that are set by clients and contractors.

It can also be quite lonely working on your own and even though you're working with clients and contractors I've found it's good to spend time with your peers. I belong to the Garden Design Society of New Zealand, which has lots of social and educational events, and I also go to open lectures on architecture and landscaping at Unitec. My husband is an architect and I often go into his office and share in their resources and partake in their Friday night drinks, too.

Are there any resources or other sources of advice, information or support you've found particularly useful for going it alone?

The way I work has changed so much over 29 years. The internet has opened up a whole world of resources that were much harder to access before. I now find that I can access design, materials and plant information more easily - but you still have to do some leg work. You do need to physically see samples of products and I spend quite a lot of time at garden centres and visiting gardens seeing how the plants are actually performing in various situations.

Talking to other designers and architects is also really useful and stimulating and I use magazines and books for information and stimulation.

I also go to a landscape design conference in Melbourne every two years, which brings in designers from around the world, which is invaluable and they run landscape tours at the same time, which are fantastic.

What key piece of advice would you have for others wanting to make the most out of going it alone in business?

The key piece of advice I would give is to always respond to queries or phone calls as quickly as you can and be responsive to clients' needs. I've had a lot of clients that have mentioned that they tried another designer but they never heard back from them. I also try and be really responsive to the client and listen to their requests for their garden. I make notes at the first briefing and I always refer back to them before I present the design to make sure I have responded to all their desires.

Coming up in Small Business: What are the main considerations if you're looking at taking on staff for the first time? How do you go about figuring out what kind of person you need, where do you find them, and what's the right selection process? If you've got a good story to tell about how to build a team, get in touch: nzhsmallbusiness@gmail.com

- NZ Herald

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