Women In Business: Sue Dilworth

June sees the sixth of our ‘Women In Business’ series, focusing on Sue Dilworth from Bagshot. Sue Dilworth, otherwise known as The Garden Fairy, is a horticultural consultant offering people advice and support with their planting needs in their gardens. This includes maintenance of current planting and advice on what to plant where. There is also an element of design to her work, and she works with a local landscaper if people want hard landscaping projects which she can project manage if needed.

RFS Blog - Sue Dilworth
Sue Dilworth – The Garden Fairy

Sue’s degree was in education and English language/literature but her passion had always been gardening. “Before I started my teaching degree, I did explore horticulture and design, but I needed to support 2 young children at the time, so teaching was the best fit for me 18 years ago.”

In 2018, Sue moved from teaching to educational recruitment with REED Specialist Recruitment which she loved, however the pandemic made her reassess her priorities and she realised that if she was going to follow her heart and set up her gardening business, The Garden Fairy, then that was the time!

What does a usual day look like for Sue?

Sue starts her day by checking emails and telephone messages from potential new clients. “I try to respond within 24 hours – I know that I get frustrated if people don’t get back to me promptly.”

“When I have my client list for the day, I schedule first consultation calls with them (I offer a free 30-minute telephone consultation) and then call through any scheduled consultations for that day. I will type up notes as I am speaking with people to make sure I don’t miss anything and then I follow up with an email to thank them for their time and to summarise the next steps. If I have been on a client visit, I will make sure I type up the notes and create a consultation feedback document to email to clients within 2-3 working days.”

“Sometimes clients ask me to plant up the new schemes for them and others prefer a guide to do it for themselves so often I will be hands on in terms of the garden. I have ‘Free agent’ set up with my business banking so this enables me to create invoices and keep track of my finances easily to ensure clients can pay quickly and efficiently. I will also go through my existing client list and try to check in with them every 2-3 weeks to make sure everything is okay – this often prompts further business.”

Sue ensures that she has a work/life balance by fitting as much of her business as possible into Monday to Friday but is flexible when she needs to be. She also blocks out parts of her week for regular catch ups with friends such has her walking group on Thursday mornings!

Sue Dilworth - The Garden Fairy gardening
Sue Dilworth preparing tulips for the Spring.

It has become apparent after speaking with a selection of Women In Business, that other individuals knew the importance of believing in themselves and being determined to succeed.

You have to be realistic and look at starting a new business through a long-term lens. No matter how fabulous your idea, it will take time, so you need to budget financially and emotionally for that. Some days you feel like you are not making any progress but at the end of the day it is up to you to make things happened and take hold of every opportunity. I have recently had the opportunity to work with a church youth group to develop part of the church garden as a community project and this has already started to open doors for me in terms of new business and taking my business in a new direction working with young people again.

Women in Business

When asked if Sue had drawn professional inspiration from other women, she mentioned Arit Anderson, a garden designer and TV presenter who came to horticulture later in life at the age of 44. She knew that she did not want to be working in fashion retail in her fifties and found gardening relaxing after a day in the office – something Sue could really relate to.

“Her positive attitude towards her new career and the way she went for it was great. I also empathise with her belief is “that my value is exactly the fact that I am a late starter. I understand how it feels when you don’t even know where to begin. And I have also proved that you can succeed if you are prepared to have a go.”

Everyone has different motivations and drivers for going into business. “I think number one is that you have to have a passion – you won’t get very far if you don’t love what you do. Also, link up with and talk to like-minded women – it is very empowering to hear others responding to your ideas and telling you that you can succeed. Being relentlessly positive is a must.” Sue learnt very early on in setting up her business that she needed to value herself and her skills and build a realistic pricing structure for her services. “One of my first clients was great and told me directly that I need to be charging far more for my services!”

Sue Dilworth - The Garden Fairy container plants
The Garden Fairy – Sue Dilworth

Sue’s key piece of advice…

My advice would be to make sure you get organised quickly. Create a business plan from your idea and look at the different ways it might work for you. Be open minded and listen to people with more experience – sometimes there are little gems of advice that are really useful. Get your admin sorted out – business banking, Companies House, register for VAT if necessary – then you can focus on getting up and running. Marketing is key – find someone you trust and who believes in you – this will keep you going when things are slow at the start.

What does the future look like for Sue? She is working on building up a client base for her subscription service and would also like to link her horticultural experience to education and work with schools using gardening as therapy and help children develop their understanding about environmental issues.

If you are interested in finding out more about how Sue could help you in your garden, please visit her website.

If you would like to feature in our Women in Business Series, then please get in touch.

Read our other Women in Business interviews here: Cat Archer Underwood, Suzanne Bungard, Lizzie Smith, Dipalee Jukes, Terrie Hounsome, Sophie Oliver.

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