If you love working outdoors and getting your hands dirty, landscaping might be the perfect career choice for you. On the other hand, learning how to start a landscaping business has many steps you’ll need to consider before diving in.
In order to start a landscaping business you need to gain knowledge, register your business, create a plan for paperwork, set rates, create a budget, get licensed and insured, and define the scope of your business offerings.
If you decide to take the plunge, evaluate whether you have the skills, tools, and interpersonal skills to turn your landscaping interests into income.
What Is Landscaping?
First off, let’s define the term. Landscaping involves everything from grading untouched land to building structures and planting trees and flowers.
Obviously that’s a wide range of skill sets and the overarching category of jobs means there are myriad ways you can build a business within the field.
Workers who mow lawns and pull weeds are landscapers. Crews that build retaining walls, install swimming pools and construct gazebos are landscapers. Professionals who design a plan for placement of trees, shrubs, and flowers are landscapers.
Some areas of landscaping overlap with other fields of work. For example, a gardening center can provide designs for plant placement, contractors often build structures or hire subcontractors for certain jobs, and decking companies may also build pergolas overhead.
It’s up to you to decide what the scope of your offerings will be, and much of that will be guided by where your skills lie in the considerations below.
1. Learn Landscaping Basics
If you’re a boss with a lawn mower and edger, you’re well on your way to providing quality lawn care services. However, there’s always more to learn and you should invest in becoming a master of your craft.
In this example, you’ll need to understand how grass responds to the climate in a certain area, how different types of grass are affected by rain and drought, what weeds to watch out for, and how to maintain a lawn mower.
If you’re truly just getting started you’ll want to watch videos on mowing techniques and lawn care, find a mentor, and/or take a class. These are also all good tools as you advance your knowledge in each area of landscaping work.
If you plan to work on a golf course or major resort, you’ll benefit from a four-year college degree in golf course maintenance or landscaping. You may need engineering or architectural expertise for some jobs.
Similarly, you could benefit from botany and other science classes when it comes to understanding how soil works, the needs of plants, and chemical use.
Depending on the requirements where you live, you may also need to take classes and earn certification in order to use pesticides or drive heavy machinery.
While we’re talking about industry knowledge, make sure maintenance is on your list. Taking care of your tools and machinery is essential to the long-term success of your business.
In order to make tools and equipment work efficiently and last as long as possible, they will require regular care. Make sure you understand how to properly clean and protect hand tools as well as how to make repairs to power tools like mowers, trenchers, edgers, and leaf blowers.
You may also need to maintain and repair tractors and other large equipment.
2. Identify Your Investment Needs
Expenses add up when starting any type of business. While you can get away with a handful of tools in the beginning, if you want to grow your business you’ll need to invest in it. Plan for startup costs to begin between $5,000-$10,000.
Obviously you’ll need a lawn mower. You may need more than one and you’ll likely need a riding lawn mower too. When considering costs for large ticket items, evaluate the pros and cons of getting a loan versus buying a less expensive used item you may have to spend more time repairing.
Only you can decide what’s right for you. On the one hand, a loan is an obligation you may not be able to repay. On the other hand, if you don’t have the time or expertise to make repairs on dated equipment, you’ll be out of work.
Of course, if you’re jumping into major landscaping tasks such as clearing land, grading, mounding, dealing with slopes, and building retaining walls, you’ll have a much higher investment up front.
You’ll also need to decide if you’re going to be a one-person show or if you’ll have employees. If the latter, you’ll have different responsibilities and associated costs, such as the type of business organization you use, insurance related to employees, payroll expenses, and more.
Going back to the most basic level of starting a landscaping business, expect to buy, borrow, or rent mowers, power edger, leaf blower, hand tools, chemicals, lawn bags, garbage cans, yard carts, rakes, shovels, gloves, masks, ear protection, hedge trimmers, branch trimmers, gas cans, work boots, and rain gear.
You’ll also need to pay for licensing, insurance, and registering your business.
Perhaps one of the larger expenses will be a vehicle. A truck is an obvious choice with all the gear you’ll need to move from one jobsite to another. Factor in the cost of the truck, insurance, registration, maintenance, and fuel.
Other common business expenses should be on the plan too. There will likely be some level of advertising, even if it’s just printing flyers or placing a Facebook ad. Also expect to pay for disposal costs once the truck is full of yard waste.
3. Decide on Pricing
With all of the economic factors considered, you need to figure out whether you can make any money for your efforts. Like any business, you’ll have expenses. Don’t glaze over that part of the process. Be as precise as possible in your estimations.
Then calculate how many hours you plan to work. Is this a side hustle or a full-time gig? How many clients can you serve in a day? How much money do you need to make to cover expenses and meet your financial goals?
Your location and the climate where you live will be major factors in your earning potential.
For the southern states, you may be able to run a bustling business year-round. Some areas may be more lucrative during winter rather than the intolerably hot days of summer where little gets accomplished.
In the north, you may only have reliable customers for 12-20 weeks out of the year. Summer days may require work from sunup to sundown, while there will be many months with no work at all.
Once you’ve asked all those questions, do some research on what your competitors in the area are charging. You don’t want to price yourself out of the market, especially when you’re trying to get established. However, you don’t want to come in so low that you anger customers when you raise rates later.
Find the balance between what customers are willing to pay and what your value is for the service you provide. For reference, most landscapers charge between $30-$60 per hour.
4. System For Billing
With the scope of your business coming into view, it’s time to take care of some office details. After all, your business goes beyond the work you perform in yards.
Decide whether you will do your own bookkeeping or if you will have a partner or spouse handle that task. You may also hire out services that can bill customers, collect payments, and keep track of purchases.
Regardless of how you go about it, you need to put a system in place. How will you bill customers? Will you leave a paper bill and take a carbon copy or will you use computer software?
What about receiving payments? What method will you use to show they paid and provide a receipt to customers? You’ll need to monitor employee payroll and all requirements for tax preparation as well.
5. Open Bank Accounts
When you are a small, independent contractor, you may not need to set up a separate bank account. However, it won’t be long before you see the many benefits of keeping your personal and business accounts separate.
If you acquire an EIN from the government, use it when setting up business accounts. In addition to a checking account, you’ll probably want a credit card for expenses.
6. Find Customers
Here’s where the real work begins. Find clients through social media, print advertising, or blanketing neighborhoods with flyers.
Talk with friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. Reach out to the church, schools, small businesses, senior centers, and realtors in your town.
Once you get a customer or two, ask for referrals. Offer a discount if they have a friend who hires you.
Positive word of mouth is the best advertising there is, so the best thing you can do is to provide flawless work, efficient communication, and courtesy. Always underpromise and overdeliver. Exceed expectations by showing up on time, working quickly, and cleaning up any debris.
7. Develop Add-on Services
Once you’ve mastered your core services, provide add-on services your customers need. For example, if you mow and edge lawns, offer weeding services for an additional fee. Consider what lawn care should be included, such as fertilizing once or twice each year. Then offer dethatching and aerating services for a small fee.
For businesses that are larger scale, your add-ons might be tree trimming, tree removal, stump removal, building retaining walls, or flower bed design.
Another prime example of an add-on service is irrigation planning and installation. Whether you’re developing the landscaping from a wild stage or you walk into the project underway, knowing how to add irrigation offers a huge benefit to homeowners.
While the customer may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of adding an underground sprinkler system, your knowledge and expertise will put them at ease. Although trenching and installation may make a short-term mess, in the end, you’ll be able to back up your promises of low upkeep for the lawn.
An add-on like irrigation installation is a natural transition from other services you provide. The benefits to you as a business are that you don’t need to find additional customers in order to find more work and you’re adding to the depth of your services, which means more reasons for your customer to maintain their relationship with your company.
8. Side Step
Another way to grow your business is to offer it to a different type of customer. Don’t get stuck thinking you can only work with homeowners. Instead, approach the city about mowing lawns at parks, the library, concert venues, fire, and police stations, schools, etc.
Also look at commercial business. Who mows and maintains green spaces around movie theaters, malls, grocery stores, bowling alleys, tire centers, and other stores? It can be you.
9. Level Up
While your initial goal is to simply launch your business, it won’t be long before you’re considering leveling up. There are always ways you can grow your business to offer more services, employ more people, or make more money.
The process of leveling up is basically the same as starting a business. Look at the services you already offer and expand from there. This might mean bringing in experts from other professions, such as heavy equipment operators, or learning the trade yourself.
Revisit the potential for profit. Also research the competition. The best way to level up your business is to fill a void in the market. If no one else is offering landscape design or stump removal, focus your efforts there.
Figure out what you know and what you don’t know.
With information about the services you’ll offer and the going rates in the area, set your pricing.
Then take classes, acquire training, or practice skills until you’re confident. Earn any required certifications or licenses, double check your insurance coverage, and invest in additional equipment and tools. Add the details to your billing software so you don’t get hung up when it’s time to send invoices.
Consider a unique offering in our article Landscaping With Lasers and review 10 Landscaping Mistakes To Avoid.