Early on in her career Ellen Covner, like many other professional women, noticed that working with men could be a very mixed experience. She also learned that group and workplace dynamics often had a style and language all their own that did not promote cooperation, creativity and “drive.” She came to realize that as important as it was to be self-supporting and have a good income, money was not a sufficient motivator to stay in a “good job.” After 20+ years practicing health law in major hospitals and law firms, she was ready for new challenges. She wanted a change that would renew her creativity and joy in her work. The call of the outdoors beckoned and enticed her to focus on promoting environments that nourish people and their properties.
A Circuitous Route to Career Bliss
Moving from a secure and high powered career in law to the world of an entrepreneur was no easy task. Ellen discussed the transition with friends, family, and her husband, all of whom supported her in this daring new career move. She phased into landscaping keeping her hand in the legal world part-time, at first. Ellen worked on friends’ properties and eventually got referrals from them and a local nursery.
Building and stewarding client relationships is something that Ellen did regularly as an attorney and this skill transferred well into her new business. She enjoyed the immediate connection with new clients and the process of developing a landscape plan to make them happier in their home environment.
Ellen thrives on creating gardens and landscapes that capture her clients’ wishes – whether it’s recovering the beauty of an overgrown or ailing landscape or developing the possibilities of an empty space transforming it from a detriment to an asset with a little attention. She creates themed gardens to respond to a client’s interest, such as honoring a loved one, having a serene place to sit or meditate, or having an herb garden that provides outdoor interest and fragrance as well as bringing extra delight to cooking. She is a listener who partners with her clients to give them a way of reaching their goals whether they understand the green world or not.
The Weeds in a Workplace Garden
As her own boss, Ellen is thriving in an autonomous work environment where she can set high standards of excellence and have the freedom to create new services and products for clients. As an owner of a new business she admits the lack of security and endless demands on her time can be worrisome. But recognizing that she is now responsible for her success and is not held back by being an employee for someone else has proven tremendously liberating.
She encourages other women to think about what they really like to do and not be deterred by the fear of not being able to make a living. Ellen suggests that career changers “…try it on and figure it out. There is a wonderful opportunity for trial and error and you can always change your mind. When you have created your new career the money will come.”
Growing the Business
This budding entrepreneur (pun intended!) admits that watching expenses is always a concern. Her strategy is to keep overhead down and continue to build her clientele with excellent referrals and services that distinguish her from other landscape companies. Ellen learned early on that record keeping was a necessity and utilizes a variety of tools to manage her books, foster client communications, and facilitate marketing and networking.
Since gardening in Pennsylvania where Ellen lives and works is seasonal she keeps busy in the winter months by taking classes and learning new techniques that will enhance her services to clients. She enrolled in the three year certificate in horticulture program at the Barnes Foundation. “It is always fun to learn more and discover new possibilities in landscaping.” Ellen also speaks to garden clubs and other groups giving presentations and demonstrations. She likes to plan new projects with clients so they can start in the spring and she has launched a series of winter-proof indoor themed gardens that make wonderful presents for all occasions.
Marketing is always an important part of growing the business, no matter what the season. Ellen hired a marketing expert and recently launched a website that has given her a much needed online presence. She uses business cards with her new logo to network and posts lawn signs at job locations to capitalize on curb appeal and drive-by prospective clients who see her work. She offers a free consultation as a way for her and a potential client to get to know one another and discuss the client’s goals.
In 2010 the Wynnewood Business Association launched a recognition program for Women in Excellence and Ellen is the first recipient of its Women’s Excellence in Business Award. She is very grateful for this award and sees it as a sign of growth as well as an incentive to continue to move forward with her company.
Ellen has been landscaping since she was a child. She started her first garden with her Mom in Connecticut and carries many of those techniques with her today. Gardening has also been a therapeutic outlet for Ellen who found that immersing herself in it was a new way to create life when her marriage died. Gardening was cathartic and healthy way for her to rebuild and renew her life.
Likewise Ellen enjoys bringing diseased plants back to good health or moving an ailing plant to a better location in the landscape so they may provide renewed pleasure. Almost no specimens are beyond rehabilitation and with Ellen’s expert knowledge and tender loving care, most plants come back to thrive in time.
2010 marks 4 years for Ellen’s business as a Limited Liability Company (LLC). She has steadily grown her clientele and works with a foreman and a crew who reflect the values of her company. She has built a collegial team that enjoys working together and loves what they do.
Using her lawyerly skills in problem solving, contracts, and project management, Ellen has built a business she loves. Since she traded in her corporate business suits for jeans, a sun hat and waterproof boots, Ellen enjoys wearing skirts and dresses when she is not at work. But there is nothing better for this lawyer turned landscaper than digging in the earth and creating custom gardens that bring delight to the senses.
“Be as you wish to seem.” Aristotle
Ellen’s Advice and Action Steps:
- Take the time to figure out what you really love to do. Test-drive many things and know that you can always change your mind. You are not defined by your current occupation but have a diversity of talents and abilities within you.
- Never give up – what you are meant to do is out there somewhere waiting for you to discover it.
- Rally your support network (friends, family, additional resources) because you will need to lean on them during your transition.
- Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself – it can be very liberating.
Custom Gardens, LLC www.customgardensllc.com