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How to Start a Landscaping Business
Thanks in part to the real estate boom, the landscaping industry is seeing solid growth and is in need of committed professionals.
Warmer climates require tending year-round, while colder areas may need special treatment. Designing, building, and maintaining a yard is hard yet rewarding work. If you enjoy improving a front yard’s architecture, building a blooming garden, and the scents of freshly cut grass, then landscaping may be the right fit.
If you want to know how to start a landscaping business, step by step, then read on – this guide is just for you!
Time to build
Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You
Pros and Cons
Ask yourself, what are the downsides and upsides of launching a landscaping company? A viable business idea should offer more advantages than disadvantages.
Below are some pros and cons of landscaping:
- Simple model – Well-defined business model centered on lawn design and care
- Constant demand – Landscaping and lawn care are always in need
- Your choice – Choose your clients and your projects
- Heavy competition – Diverse array of firms competing for market share
- High costs – Expensive lawn care equipment and tools required
- Hard work – Long days and hard labor out in the sun!
Market analyst IBISWorld values the 2021 US landscaping industry at nearly $115 billion, expecting 5.3% growth for the year.https://www.ibisworld.com/industry-statistics/market-size/landscaping-services-united-states/ The landscaping market has grown 5% annually since 2016 and market advisory Research and Markets expects growth to remain at 4.5% through 2025.https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200904005341/en/U.S.-Landscaping-Market-Growth-Trends-Forecast-2020-2025—ResearchAndMarkets.com
Areas for growth in landscaping include lawn, tree, and garden installation, maintenance, and care for residential homes and complexes, as well as commercial properties. Real estate construction growth in the past decade has afforded the landscaping industry a steady supply of clients and work. The rise in the number of millennial households has meant increased demand for landscaping maintenance and health-conscious gardening.
In 2019, the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) launched an apprenticeship program in collaboration with the US Department of Labor.https://www.landscapeprofessionals.org/apprenticeship The goal is to train more workers to fill labor shortages in the landscaping market. Landscaping mostly requires skilled labor, and this program helps ensure adequate skills development. As their work is key to its success, a new landscaping enterprise must compensate workers appropriately, or struggle with high turnover.
How much does it cost to start a landscaping business?
Startup costs for a landscaping firm range from about $7,500 and $20,000, according to Step by Step Research, with an average of about $15,000 in investment. The primary costs are a truck and trailer, plus equipment including mowers, trimmers, and wheelbarrows.
The table below shows a detailed cost breakdown.
|Startup Costs||Ballpark Range||Average|
|Trimmer / Edger||$150-$300||$225|
|Landscaping equipment (shovels, wheel barrow, tillers, chainsaws, handhelds, etc.)||$400-$600||$500|
|Licenses and Permits||$110-$130||$120|
Source: Step By Step Research
How much can you earn from a landscaping business?
Your earnings as a landscaping business will depend on the type of work you do and its seasonality.
Landscaper salaries vary depending on location but tend to range from $23,000 to $54,000, according to advisory site Career Explorer.https://www.careerexplorer.com/careers/landscaper/salary/ Industry profit margins usually range from 8% to 12%, which means revenue of $500,000 to $1 million would lead to $50,000-$100,000 in profit. If your average landscaping job nets you $500 and your firm does four jobs per week, or 200 per year, then you should see an annual profit of $120,000, assuming a 10% margin. Your earnings will ultimately depend on the price and complexity of your jobs, combined with their frequency.
What barriers to entry are there?
Barriers to entry for a landscaping business are moderately high. Significant challenges for new entrants include:
- Knowledge – Clients expect expertise and experience
- Equipment costs – Pricey tools and machinery required
- Seasonality – Less work in colder months limits income
- Hiring workers – Shortage of experienced laborers
Step 2: Hone Your Idea
Why? Identify an opportunity
An aspiring landscaper should know what separates landscaping from simple lawn care. The latter is mainly about lawn mowing, but also includes weeding, pruning, fertilization and other maintenance services. The former, on the other hand, goes much further. Landscaping refers mainly to the designing and building out of lawns, gardens, and other outdoor areas, and can include the addition of rock paths, vegetable gardens, sculptures, fountains, and other fixtures, as well as fencing and ground contouring. You could say the landscaper builds the lawn care specialist’s place of work.
Having said that, most landscapers also provide lawn care services, given predictable client demand, and some even make that central to their business. As the business owner, you will decide which services your landscaping firm will offer clients. Given the intense market competition, it might be wise to specialize in a few service areas. Research the most in-demand services in your area, for residential and commercial landscapes, and structure your business model around the top options. You may also want to research the profit margins for landscape design and installation versus maintenance and lawn care. Whatever services you choose, it’s generally wise to experiment with pricing structures, starting low first to offer clients a discount and build a reputation.
The increase in US real estate values and residential construction in recent years means higher budgets for landscapers installing fixtures or performing lawn, tree, and garden care. Opportunities abound as new homeowners look to build out their lawns and perhaps add productive fruit and vegetable gardens. An aspiring landscaper should understand that they will likely have more creative freedom when working with households rather than commercial properties.
The type of landscaping work you stress will dictate your equipment and expertise needs, each of which will require investments of time, energy, and money.
What? Determine your products or services
Some of the most common service niches in the landscaping industry include:
- Landscape architecture – Design and installation with custom features like walls, gardens, driveways; generally requires relevant degree
- Lawn care and maintenance – Mowing, watering, trimming, pruning
- Fertilization, weeding, pest control – Fertilizing, weeding, edging; applying pesticides requires permits & training
- Sod and lawn installation – More labor-intensive work, could mean more pay and include maintenance
How much should you charge for landscaping services?
Service advisory Home Advisor puts average prices for landscaping services as follows:
|Lawn Mowing Costs||$50 - $220|
|Tree Trimming Costs||$75 - $1,500|
|Mulching Cost||$100 - $300|
|Tree Removal Costs||$200 - $2,000|
|Pea Gravel Installation Price||$300 - $400|
|Lawn Seeding Cost||$425 - $1,550|
|Landscape Curbing Cost||$750 - $1,850|
|Lawn Grading Cost||$1,000 - $3,000|
|Water Fountain Installation||$1,000 - $4,700|
|Sod Installation Cost||$1,050 - $2,800|
|Pond Installation Costs||$1,300 - $5,600|
|Landscaping Installation cost (from scratch)||$1,400 - $5,700+|
|Sprinkler System Installation Cost||$1,750 - $3,550|
|Landscape Designer Fees||$2,000 - $7,000|
|Misting System Install Costs||$2,050 - $3,400|
|Artificial Turf Installation Cost||$2,800 - $6,700|
Home Advisor also sets out three tiers for pricing the work of landscapers:
|Landscaping Cost Per Square Foot||Cost per square foot|
|Basic Services (thatching, aerating, flower planting and other basic annual maintenance services)||$4-$6 per square foot.|
|Intermediate (more detailed work, like installing landscape curbing, flower beds or raised gardens)||$6-$10 per square foot.|
|Full Tear Out and Remodel (complete exterior design, demolition of the lawn, tress and any structures, regrading and installing all new sod, fencing, plants, trees and shrubs)||$10-$40 per square foot.|
Most U.S. lawn care operators pay their workers $15 to $40 per hour, depending on the intensity of the work, location, and required expertise.https://www.salary.com/research/salary/posting/landscape-contractor-hourly-wages If you intend to do more installation than maintenance, this will make each job more time-consuming, locking up your laborers for longer periods of time. Of course, you’ll also be able to charge more for installation services.
Gaining a solid understanding of the various factors involved is key to building an effective pricing model for and balancing equipment and labor costs to achieve your desired profit margin.
Who? Identify your target market
Will your landscaping firm primarily service residential homes or commercial properties — or both? Where you focus your team’s efforts should be determined by a combination of the capabilities of your equipment and labor force, your desired margins, and your personal preferences.
Residential properties may allow for more custom work (such as working with the homeowner to develop an appealing landscape design), while commercial work often involves larger spaces and more labor, which means higher revenues from fewer jobs. Residential landscaping is likely to offer more opportunities, especially for a new landscaper.
Industry analysts generally see three advantages in switching from residential to commercial landscaping work: fewer accounts; higher level of professionalism; and consistent budgets.
Doing residential and commercial work may mean expanding your staff to meet demand.
Where? Choose your business premises
In the early stages, you may want to operate your business from home to cut costs. But as your business grows and operations intensify, you will likely hire more workers and maybe move to an office and rent a storage facility. Find commercial space to rent in your area on Loopnet, Craigslist, Crexi, and Commercial Cafe.
When choosing a commercial space, you may want to follow these rules of thumb:
- Central location accessible via public transport
- Ventilated and spacious, with good natural light
- Flexible lease that can be extended as your business grows
- Ready-to-use space with no major renovations or repairs needed
Step 3: Brainstorm a Business Name
Your business name is your business identity, so choose one that encapsulates your objectives, services, and mission in just a few words. You probably want a name that’s short and easy to remember, since much of your business, and your initial business in particular, will come from word-of-mouth referrals.
Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:
- Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
- Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better
- The name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
- Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
- Including keywords, such as “landscaping” or “lawns”, boosts SEO
- Choose a name that allows for expansion: “Jim’s Bakery” over “Jim’s Cookies”
- Avoid location-based names that might hinder future expansion
- Use online tools like the Step by Step business name generator
Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names at a web cataloging site such as NameChk. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these.
Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead with domain registration and social media account creation. And if you’ve exhausted all your creative juices but still don’t have a business name, don’t stress! Instead, check out our business name generator. Just type in a few keywords and hit “generate” and you’ll have dozens of suggestions at your fingertips.
Step 4: Create a Business Plan
Every business needs a plan. This will function as a guidebook to take your startup through the launch process and maintain focus on your key goals. A business plan also enables potential partners and investors to better understand your company and its vision:
- Executive Summary: Brief overview of the entire business plan; should be written after the plan is complete.
- Business Overview: Overview of the company, vision, mission, ownership, and corporate goals.
- Product and Services: Describe your shop’s services in detail.
- Market Analysis: Assess market trends such as variations in demand and prospects for growth, and do a SWOT analysis.
- Competitive Analysis: Analyze main competitors, assessing their strengths and weaknesses, and create a list of the advantages of your services.
- Sales and Marketing: Examine your companies’ unique selling propositions (USPs) and develop sales, marketing, and promotional strategies.
- Management Team: Overview of management team, detailing their roles and professional background, along with a corporate hierarchy.
- Operations Plan: Your company’s operational plan includes procurement, office location, key assets and equipment, and other logistical details.
- Financial Plan: Three years of financial planning, including startup costs, break-even analysis, profit and loss estimates, cash flow, and balance sheet.
- Appendix: Include any additional financial or business-related documents.
If you’ve never created a business plan yourself before, it can be an intimidating task. Consider hiring an experienced business plan writer on Fiverr to create a professional business plan for you.
Step 5: Register Your Business
Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.
Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business!
Choose where to register your company
Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you are planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states offer real advantages when it comes to landscaping.
If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business!
Choose your business structure
Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your landscaping firm will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely.
Here are the four main options:
- Sole proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner: you get to keep all the profits, but you’re personally liable for all debts.
- Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses.
- Corporation – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly.
- Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts.
We recommend that most new business owners form an LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can quickly and cheaply form an LLC using ZenBusiness’s online LLC formation service (it can take as little as 5 minutes). They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your Articles of Organization and be on hand to answer any questions you have about the company formation process.
Step 6: Register for Taxes
The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN.
Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.
The IRS website also offers a tax-payers checklist, and taxes can be filed online. It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you are completing them correctly.
Step 7: Fund your Business
Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:
- Bank loans: This is the most common method, but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
- SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
- Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
- Venture capital: Offer potential investors an ownership stake in exchange for funds, keeping in mind that you would be sacrificing some control over your business.
- Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund an entrepreneur’s vision.
- Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings, the sale of property or other assets, and support from family and friends.
Step 8: Apply for Licenses/Permits
Starting a landscaping business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments.
Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as, health license and permit from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits.
You may also need state-level licenses and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and country governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more about your local requirements for a landscaping business. You could also use the SBA’s guide to identify your state’s requirements.
The National Association of Landscaping Professionals (NALP) offers a handy guide to upgrade your landscaping business through education, certifications, and membership. If you plan on spraying pesticides, you will likely require additional certifications. The U.S. EPA website includes a guide on how to get certified as a pesticide applicator.
This is not a step to be taken lightly, as failing to comply with legal requirements can result in hefty penalties. If you feel overwhelmed by this step or don’t know how to begin, it might be a good idea to hire a professional to help you check all the legal boxes.
For peace of mind and to save time, we recommend using MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance Package. They will research the exact forms you need for your business and state, and provide them to you to make sure you’re fully compliant.
Step 9: Open a Business Bank Account
Before you start making money you’ll need a place to keep it, and that requires opening a bank account.
Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your landscaping business as a sole proprietorship. Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your bank to learn about their specific rates and features.
Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to consider your options to choose the best plan that works for you. Once you choose your bank, you’ll need to bring your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and any other legal documentation that proves your business is registered.
Step 10: Get Business Insurance
Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet is vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.
Here are some types of insurance to consider:
- General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
- Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
- Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
- Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
- Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
- Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
- Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
- Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of any of the above insurance types.
Step 11: Prepare to Launch
As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business.
Develop your website
Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism. They are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. These are steps that help pages rank higher in the results of top search engines like Google.
You can create your own website using services like WordPress, Webflow, or Squarespace. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.
Essential software and tools
Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks. We examine several of them below.
Some of your business will come from the casual passerby or website visitors, nevertheless you should invest in marketing! Getting the word out is especially important for new businesses, as it’ll boost customer and brand awareness.
Once your website is up and running, make sure you link to your social media accounts and vice versa. Social media is a particularly good way of promoting your business because you can create engaging posts that advertise your products:
- Facebook: Great platform for paid advertising, allows you to target specific demographics, like men over age 50 in the Cleveland area.
- Instagram: Same benefits as Facebook but with different target audiences.
- Website: SEO will help your website appear closer to the top in relevant search results, a crucial element for increasing sales.
- Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero.
- If you are unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial.
You’ll need several items to successfully launch a landscaping business, including specialty equipment. Here’s a list to get you started:
- Gardening tools: $10-$50 each
- Push mower: $200-$1,000
- Riding mower: $1,000-$5,000
- Leaf blower: $100-$500
- Lawn spreader: $100-$500
- Sprayer (for fertilizer, pesticides, etc.): $50-$200
- Trimmer: $50-$300
- Edger: $80-$350
- Water saw: $500-$4,000
- Plate compactor: $300-$5,000
- Trailer: $1,500-$5,000
- Heavy-duty truck: $10,000-$50,000
- Portable generator: $500-$2,000
Step 12: Build Your Team
You may not need to hire any employees if you are starting out small from your home. But as your business grows, you will need to hire employees for various job roles. The potential employees for a landscaping business might include:
- Landscape Designer
- Sod specialist
- Sprinkler specialist
At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need.
Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn or Facebook. You can also use free classified sites like Jobs and AngelList. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent.
Step 13: Start Making Money!
Focus on USPs
Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the unique characteristics of a product or service that sets it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your landscaping firm meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire.
Potential signature USPs for your landscaping business include:
- Speedy services delivery
- Comprehensive package of services
- Lawn installation specialist
- “Interiorscaping” — landscaping inside offices and commercial properties
Take advantage of your website, social media presence and real-life activities to increase awareness of your offerings and build your brand. Some suggestions include:
- Competitions and giveaways – Generate interest by offering prizes for customers who complete a certain action, such as being the 10th customer on Black Friday.
- Optimize calls to action (CTAs) – Experiment with text, color, size, and position of calls to action such as “Buy Now”. This can sharply increase purchases.
- Signage – Put up eye-catching signage at your store and website
- Flyering – Distribute flyers in your neighborhood and at industry events
- In-Person Sales (IPS) – Offer your products at local markets, trade shows
Build Affiliate Relationships
Affiliate marketing is advertising in which you compensate third parties (i.e. your affiliates) in order to generate traffic to your website. You can develop long-term relationships with these affiliates and generate traffic for each other on an ongoing basis.
Landscaping Business FAQs
Sure! There’s no formal education requirement, and most states do not require a license to service residential or commercial properties. However, doing a good enough job to satisfy clients will require some degree of knowledge, skills, and expertise.
According to market advisor Irrigation and Green Industry, most landscaping businesses fail due to poor pricing of their services. You have to balance pricing your work for competitiveness while also hitting your profit target and not underpaying your workers. New landscapers should remain flexible in their pricing until they’ve achieved enough work to get it right.
The landscaping software website Arborgold provides a handy guide on bidding for jobs, advising landscapers to know your client’s needs, estimate labor and equipment costs, outline a project budget, and follow up.
On average, lawn mowing ranges from $30 to $100 per session, with an average of about $65. Most companies charge a flat rate for grass cutting based on hourly rates or the size of the property.