Laila Suidan, Owner of Down To Earth Landscapes, (206) 552-9151
Laila Suidan graduated from the eight-week Business Development Training in the fall of 2010 and has participated in a number of other Ventures offerings, including the Financial Management Training, 1-on-1 business coaching, and other advanced workshops.
Laila is an ecological landscaper, landscape designer, and small-tree arborist (particularly fruit trees). Down to Earth Landscapes focuses on helping people enjoy their yards more while improving the health of their plants and their home’s outdoor ecosystem. She primarily serves Seattle-area homeowners, and her most in-demand services are seasonal tree pruning, landscape maintenance, and consultation visits for design, teaching, and plant problem diagnosis.
How is your business going?
It’s been going great! I’ve been very busy with interesting work, and have started hiring sporadic employees, with the goal of moving to regularly-scheduled part-time help next year. I’ve been building my capacity to take on larger renovation, design, and installation jobs, which is a necessary step to meet my financial goals. This year I’ve broken even in supporting my personal expenses from my business, and next year I plan to start a savings cushion! I’ve been receiving some notable professional recognition (invitations to teach, advise, and consult for other organizations and businesses) that really helps to support my confidence in taking steps into new realms – in particular, more teaching, consultation, and project management. I’ve also reached a generally relaxed, confident, and comfortable state with bidding and client management, which makes everything I do more enjoyable.
What keeps you motivated in moving your business forward?
I love being the executive decider of how I’m going to move forward professionally. If I’m not making enough money to support myself, it’s my job to figure out how to change my pricing, projects, or management approach to fix that. If I know I don’t want to rely exclusively on my muscles to support my work for the next ten years, it’s my job to develop new service lines that use my other talents. I love knowing that I never, ever will have to feel bored or stagnant in my job, that I can and will always learn more, try new things, and continually shift approaches to keep my love of my work alive and vibrant.
What were you doing before you began this business?
Although I’d held a steady stream of part-time jobs in landscaping, food garden management, and environmental restoration since the late 90s, my main job for the five years before I committed to my business was in an alternative public high school in Seattle, running the career and college center and setting up student internships. While I loved working with the students and in an educational environment, I didn’t love the feeling of not being able to control my work conditions. The district cut my position and then re-established it several times before I woke up and realized that I needed to leave for good and do something different, something that I could have more agency over, and something that would be more enjoyable and less taxing each day.
How did you decide on your particular line of business?
I’d been working with plants on and off for years, with particular loves for edible and native plants. I realized that if I studied and worked in ornamentally-based horticulture, I’d have so much more appreciation for the ecosystems that have been established and cultivated in every front and back yard in the city, and also be able to enrich those environments by integrating more edible, native, and useful plants into them.
What have been some unexpected challenges in getting your business off the ground?
Straight off I ran into some lifetime personal struggles, in particular perfectionism, procrastination, and lack of confidence in asking for what I needed monetarily. I hadn’t expected how much running a business would work like therapy – suddenly the stakes were high, because if I didn’t deal with these patterns, I wasn’t going to get paid.
I also was really surprised to learn how much overhead time running a business took me – I hadn’t originally accounted for that in my financial models! I actually hadn’t really thought about “running a business” at all – I simply wanted to be self-employed, to own my own labor, to have clients. So I went through a long growth curve and struggle of figuring out what was really needed to do my job well, and of coming to terms with and learning to value myself as a businessperson.
Has anything else been a surprise?
It’s been wonderful to experience how much my general self-confidence has improved through the experience of having to be my own professional representative with every client. Also, the empowerment of controlling my own labor has been really freeing after years spent working within large, hierarchical organizations.
How did you first hear about Ventures?
I was first recommended to Ventures by a long-time Ventrues participant at a social justice fundraising car-wash that we were both helping with. I mulled over the idea of contacting Ventures, until subsequently two others – a coworker/friend, and my neighbor, another landscaper – strongly recommended that I reach out and get involved. Three strong recommendations were hard to ignore, so I called the office and started in with Ventures the following quarter.
What have you found most valuable about your involvement with our program?
It’s been incredibly helpful for me to be in an environment where I’m supported and seen as a businessperson, and where I can share community with others also developing this within themselves and their lives. Before starting in with Ventures, I was getting really tired of taxing all of my non-self-employed friends for feedback on pricing, client approach, and business development.
I’ve participated in so many Ventures. programs that have been incredibly helpful. The Business Accelerator program gave me access to weekly one-on-one mentorship where we could focus in on specific challenges I was facing. The Financial Management Training gave me financial literacy information, knowledge, and understanding that I wish I’d received in high school about how to organize and plan for my personal and business finances. It helped me to feel that my financial challenges were all approachable and solvable, and that I could make and reach whatever financial goals I set my mind to – an incredible sense of empowerment over the previously frightening world of money. I’d never created a budget before that class, which is hard to believe!
Would you recommend this program to other entrepreneurs starting out?
I recommend Ventures to most other people I know who are starting self-employment, or who have been running a small business for a bit but still have more to learn and more progress to be made. Before starting with C.A.S.H., I found that though I could go to plenty of industry workshops to improve the content and quality of my services, it was really hard to come by hard, tough support and advice for the business-running aspects of my work. I know that many other small-scale entrepreneurs, like me, aren’t natural business-people, and haven’t grown up surrounded by examples of others who are managing to support themselves well independently. I send friends to Ventures because I want our work on our businesses to be sustainable and successful and to meet our financial needs, and because I want us all to have resources to support us in our hard work.
Why is it important for community to have this kind of support and resources for small business entrepreneurs?
Many of my friends are creative people with many talents and the initiative to try to do things differently and better in this world. Many also have experienced disrespect and discrimination in jobs as well as lack of access to well-paying work. Successful self-employment can be a way for us to get on our own feet and then be able to support the rest of our communities better (emotionally, economically, and intellectually) from a strong and grounded standpoint.
What’s been the key to your success so far?
I’ve been successful because I LOVE and am great at my work, because I’ve gotten a lot of support and mentorship from Ventures in setting up my business structure and practices well, and because I have relationships with a bunch of others in my field who support me and who have sent me clients and offered me opportunities to both learn and to lead. I also have to thank the many teachers, friends, co-workers and mentors who’ve helped me to learn about nature’s patterns over my lifetime – this has really informed my approach with my profession today.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In five years I see my role in my business focusing more on sharing of my professional expertise through teaching and consulting, and also regularly exercising my artistic muscles through more frequent design projects. Financially, I’d like to be regularly putting aside significant amounts of money for retirement, and saving for or spending more on housing – likely housing that I’d own. Personally, I also want to have a really regular established practice of writing and to have a good bit of writing published!
What words of advice would you give other entrepreneurs?
I advise other entrepreneurs to charge enough, to make sure they’re asking for enough and working towards getting their needs met, and also to make sure to nurture and value themselves as business people.
Any final thoughts to share?
Thanks so much for providing so much support and encouragement! I don’t know where I’d be at this point without the assistance I’ve gotten from all of the wonderful people and programs at Ventures.