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How to Start an Outfitting Business
Countless Americans love the great outdoors — hiking, hunting, fishing, camping, boating, horseback riding and more. Outfitters provide gear and guidance for all sorts of excursions, and often provide accommodations and meals for their guests. The US hunting industry is worth nearly $900 million and expected to grow over the next five years. You could turn your passion for the outdoors into an outfitting business and grab a share of that market while helping others have wonderful adventures and make memories that will last a lifetime.
But before you break out the ammo, you’ll need to understand the processes involved in starting and running a business. Luckily, this step-by-step guide will outfit you with all you need to know to hit the trail and build a successful outfitter.
$71,550 - $434,100
Time to build
3 – 12 months
$180,000 - $450,000 p.a.
$54,000 - $135,000 p.a.
Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You
Pros and cons
Starting an outfitting business has pros and cons to consider before deciding if it’s right for you.
- Share Your Passion – Bring people joy and memories
- Great Lifestyle – Do what you love every day
- Good Living – Outfitting services are pricey
- High Startup Costs – Land and equipment are expensive
- Regulatory Headaches – Several licenses and permits required
Outfitting industry trends
Industry size and growth
- Industry size and past growth – The U.S. hunting and trapping industry was worth $890 million in 2021 after modest growth the previous five years.https://www.ibisworld.com/united-states/market-research-reports/hunting-trapping-industry/
- Growth forecast – The U.S. hunting and trapping industry is projected to grow at a slow rate for the next five years.
- Number of businesses – In 2021, 15,723 hunting and trapping businesses were operating in the U.S.
- Number of people employed – In 2021, the U.S. hunting and trapping industry employed 17,278 people.
Trends and challenges
Trends in the outfitting industry include:
- More and more young people are adopting hunting as a sport of choice, changing the landscape of the target market for outfitting businesses.
- Consumer preferences for local, organic, and free-range foods are driving the growth of the outfitting market. People are hunting and fishing and taking their prizes home to stock their freezers.
Challenges in the outfitting industry include:
- Private lands for hunting are becoming scarce, dramatically driving up prices.
- Hunting license prices have sharply increased, particularly in western states, causing some people to abandon the sport.
- Most popular states – The most popular states for hunters are Alaska, Colorado, and Montana.https://www.forbes.com/sites/chrisdorsey/2022/01/04/ranking-americas-10-best-hunting-states/?sh=2e3f9e323404
- Least popular states – The least popular states for hunters are New York, New Jersey, and Vermont.https://www.wideopenspaces.com/top-10-worst-deer-hunting-states/
What kind of people work in outfitting?
- Gender – 38.6% of outfitters are female, while 61.4% are male.https://www.zippia.com/outfitter-jobs/demographics/
- Average level of education – The average outfitter has a bachelor’s degree.
- Average age – The average outfitter in the US is 41.3 years old.
How much does it cost to start an outfitting business?
Startup costs for an outfitting business range from $70,000 if you plan to take your guests camping to $430,000 or more if you plan to build a lodge.
In either case, you’ll need to lease private land for your business and make sure it allows outfitter permits. You’ll probably need at least 600 acres, although the average size of leased hunting land is about 900 acres. National forest lands can no longer be leased for outfitting, but you could purchase an existing outfitting business on protected land.
You can take relevant courses at an outfitters school near you. Your state may have certain educational requirements to get an outfitter’s license.
You’ll need a handful of items to successfully launch your outfitting business, including:
- Hunting and fishing equipment
- Tents, other camping gear
- Kitchen equipment for the lodge
- Furniture and other items for the lodge
How much can you earn from an outfitting business?
Prices for outfitting excursions range from $2,000 to $10,000 per person and the trips generally last three to five days. After food, labor, and overhead, your profit margin should be about 30%. These calculations assume a per-person price of $6,000 for each excursion.
In your first year or two, you could do six excursions per year for five people, bringing in $180,000 in annual revenue. This would mean $54,000 in profit, assuming that 30% margin. As you build a reputation, you might do 15 five-person outings per year. With annual revenue of $450,000, you’d make a handsome profit of $135,000.
What barriers to entry are there?
There are a few barriers to entry for an outfitting business. Your biggest challenges will be:
- The startup costs to lease the land and build a lodge
- Meeting the licensing and permitting requirements of your state
Step 2: Hone Your Idea
Now that you know what’s involved in starting an outfitting business, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market.
Why? Identify an opportunity
Research outfitting businesses in your area to examine their services, price points, and customer reviews. You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe the local market is missing a big game outfitting business or a fishing outfitter.
You might consider targeting a niche market by specializing in a certain aspect of your industry, such as an outfitting camp for trail riding, deer hunting, canoeing or fishing by kayak. This could jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing and attract clients right away.
What? Determine your products or services
Your services will entail giving guided hunting or fishing tours, providing lodging or camping facilities, and providing meals for your guests. You could also offer game cleaning.
How much should you charge for outfitting?
Prices will depend on the desirability of your location, the type of wildlife, and what accommodations and services you provide. Prices range from $2,000 to $10,000 for a three to five-day excursion. After all your costs, you should aim for a profit margin of about 30%.
Once you know your costs, you can use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price points. Remember, the prices you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.
Who? Identify your target market
Your target market will be anyone interested in hunting and fishing and may include younger people who are becoming more interested in outdoor sports. You should spread out your marketing to include sites like TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook.
Where? Choose your business premises
When choosing a commercial space, you may want to follow these rules of thumb:
- 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
- Name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
- Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
- Including keywords, such as “outfitting” or “hunting outfitter”, boosts SEO
- Name should allow for expansion, for ex: “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. Just type in a few keywords and hit “generate” and you’ll have dozens of suggestions at your fingertips.
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 using our Domain Name Search tool. 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. Your business name is one of the key differentiators that sets your business apart. Once you pick your company name, and start with the branding, it is hard to change the business name. Therefore, it’s important to carefully consider your choice before you start a business entity.
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 offerings 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, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist at Fiverr to create a top-notch 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’re planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to outfitting businesses.
If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state.
Choose your business structure
Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your outfitting business will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely.
Here are the main options:
- Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
- General Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
- 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.
- C Corp – 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. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation.
- S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just need to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using ZenBusiness’s online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have.
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’re 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.
- Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
- Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
- Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.
Bank and SBA loans are probably the best option, other than friends and family, for funding an outfitting business. You might also try crowdfunding if you have an innovative concept.
Step 8: Apply for Licenses/Permits
Starting an outfitting business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments.
You’ll need to obtain an outfitter’s license from your state and a hunting license. You’ll also need to have your land permitted for an outfitting business.
Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits 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 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 county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more.
You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements, but 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 ensure you’re fully compliant.
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.
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 outfitting 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 preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.
Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account.
Step 10: Get Business Insurance
Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be 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 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, Wix, 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.
Some of your business will come from the casual passerby or online visitors, but you should still invest in digital 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, link it to your social media accounts and vice versa. Social media is a great tool for 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 under 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. Make sure that you optimize calls to action on your website. Experiment with text, color, size, and position of calls to action such as “Book Now”. This can sharply increase purchases.
- Google and Yelp: For businesses that rely on local clientele, getting listed on Yelp and Google My Business can be crucial to generating awareness and customers.
Focus on USPs
Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the 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 outfitting business 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.
Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your outfitting business could be:
- Catch the lunkers! Great fishing on national forest lands
- Trophy game hunting on more than 1200 beautiful acres
- Get back to nature and learn to live off the land
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 a trophy for the largest game.
- Signage – Put up eye-catching signage on your land and website
- Post a video – Post a video about your outfitting business. Use humor and maybe it will go viral!
- Email marketing/newsletter – Send regular emails to customers and prospects. Make them personal.
- Start a blog – Start a blog and post regularly. Change up your content and share on multiple sites.
- Paid ads on social media – Choose sites that will reach your target market and do targeted ads.
- Pay–per-click marketing – Use Google AdWords to perform better in searches. Research your keywords first.
- Influencer marketing – Pay people with large social media followings to promote your outfitting business. You can find micro-influencers with smaller followings and lower rates.
- Do a webinar – Share your outfitting expertise online with a video seminar
You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running an outfitting business, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in outfitting for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections.
The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in outfitting. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership.
- Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero.
- If you’re 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.
Step 12: Build Your Team
If you’re starting out small, you may not need any employees. But as your business grows, you will likely need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for an outfitting business include:
- Hunting and Fishing Guides – provide guide services
- Lodge Cooks – prepare meals for guests
- Lodge Housekeepers – clean lodge rooms
- General Manager – scheduling, ordering, accounting
- Marketing Lead – SEO strategies, social media
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, Facebook, or Jobs.com. 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!
Outfitting offers adventure for people of all ages, and you could make a great living doing what you love every day while giving customers outdoor memories to treasure. You’ll need to find land to lease or buy, but as long as you’re passionate about sharing your love of the great outdoors, you’ve got a great chance to build a thriving outfitting business.
You’ve outfitted yourself with business knowledge, so now it’s time to hit the entrepreneurial trail and become a big-time outfitter.
Outfitting Business FAQs
Startup costs for an outfitting business range from $70,000 if you plan to take your guests camping to $430,000 or more if you plan to build a lodge.
An outfitting business can be extremely profitable. You need to have a great location and know your land well so that you can offer outstanding excursions for your guests.
You’ll need to obtain an outfitter’s license from your state and a hunting license. You’ll also need to have your land permitted for an outfitting business. You may also need other business licenses and permits at the state and local levels. Check with your local governments for requirements or visit MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance page.
Prices will depend on the desirability of your location, the type of wildlife, and what accommodations and services you provide. Prices range from $2,000 to $10,000 for a three-five-day excursion.