How to Start Your Own Landscaping Business
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Landscaping is big business. The industry generates annual revenues of $82 billion and is growing at a rate of 4.8 percent every year, according to the National Association of Landscape Professionals. It includes more than 500,000 businesses, employing approximately 1 million people.
That might be enough to convince some would-be landscapers to start their own ventures. And with plenty of small business software and a wealth of information available online, starting a small business of any kind is easier than ever. But landscaping, in particular, is one business that’s pretty easy to establish because the equipment and expertise you need to start out — at least in certain parts of the industry — are not terribly taxing.
Read on to learn how to start a landscaping business and everything the process entails.
Starting a landscaping business: the importance of market research
Anyone starting a landscaper business should take time to learn about the local market before launching: You might be able to zero in on specialty areas that are less competitive. Market research also will help you discover how saturated the industry is in your area, helping you to set realistic expectations, according to Jessi Bloom, founder of NW Bloom Ecological Services in Woodinville, Wash.
“In some regions the landscaping market is oversaturated,” Bloom said. “Anyone with a truck and a shovel can become a landscaper. It’s highly competitive.”
Search for local businesses online and drive around to identify landscaping trucks in the area. Look who is advertising in the areas you plan to serve, said Bloom. Make sure you identify your actual competition because landscaping services vary. If you plan to specialize in lawn mowing, for example, look for companies that offer this service. Don’t bother checking out high-end landscape design companies because they won’t be your competition, Bloom said.
“Be mindful of which services you want to provide or offer because the spectrum is mow-and-blow companies all the way up to design-build and specialty services,” he said.
Landscaping business startup costs
The cost of starting a landscaping business depends on your vision. For instance, a business focused on yard maintenance has different needs than a full-service landscape design-build company. How you manage your business’s growth is also a strategic decision. You can take on loans to buy more equipment and grow faster, or you can grow only when you have the money in pocket.
“For me personally, it was me and a pickup truck, and over time I slowly grew to add on more,” said Bloom. “I grew organically, in that as I made more money I could buy more equipment or hire more people. That was my approach.”
Any landscaping company, no matter how small, will come with start-up costs. Here are some to consider:
Equipment and supplies. The costs of starting a landscaping company are focused on equipment, machinery and landscaping supplies.
To start, Bloom recommends having a truck, a mower and some basic tools at the very least. As you expand, you might want to invest in a trailer, a larger array of tools and supplies and other machines to help with your work. You’ll need to replace some of your equipment regularly when it gets damaged or worn out, so you should calculate those costs into your budget.
You’ll also supplies, such as seedlings and plants, mulch, wood chips, fertilizers and more, for your landscaping business. Research how much it costs to buy these items so you can price your services correctly, Bloom said.
Learn about equipment financing.
Workers. As you get more and bigger jobs, you might need to hire people to help with the work. Workers can be contractors you hire on a freelance basis or full-time employees once you’re in a more stable position. Make sure you know when a worker is legally an employee instead of a contractor so you don’t run afoul of the law. Hiring involves the cost of the labor, of course, but there are other costs to consider if you are employing people full-time, such as benefits and sick pay.
Other costs. Depending on the type of services you offer, you might need a contractor’s license, which requires bonding and insurance. You also need to consider storage and office space. Some landscapers operate out of their homes, but if that’s not an option, you’ll need to account for the costs of office space, storage facilities and secure parking for your truck and trailer.
Fuel is also one of the bigger costs, so don’t forget to factor gas into your costs. Likewise, keep track of any expenses related to truck and machinery maintenance and repair.
Renting vs. leasing vs. buying
Depending on your needs and the type of equipment you use, it can make sense to rent or lease instead of buying.
Bloom recommends buying “materials that you’re going to destroy” such as wheelbarrows, shovels, rakes and spades. If you anticipate an infrequent need for a certain type of machine — such as once or twice a year — then renting might be a better option.
For trucks and other equipment you use every day, do a budget analysis, Bloom said. Generally, you should consider leasing in these cases. “Trucks will get a lot of wear and tear, and at a certain point they’ll require a lot of repair and maintenance costs,” Bloom said.
Once your business reaches a certain size, you might want to buy all your own equipment, aside from very large machines or those you use infrequently. But when you’re just starting out and growing from small to mid-sized, you should consider purchasing only the tools and equipment you use every day.
One option for starting and funding a business is setting up a franchise of a landscaping business. For example, Waco, Texas-based Grounds Guys operates on a franchise model. Setting up a territory with the company can cost anywhere from $75,000 to $200,000. Going this route is more expensive upfront than starting small with your own truck and shovel and growing organically. But it is a way to get a larger venture up and running quickly, thanks to a much more substantial initial investment.
Keys to success
There are elements that can help landscapers get established and grow their businesses? Review them carefully:
Manage expectations. “If you want customer satisfaction they need to know what they’re going to get as an end result,” Bloom said. “And everybody in the landscape world has a different idea of what a beautiful landscape is.”
Managing expectations requires good customer service and the ability to communicate. For instance, take a customer who knows little about gardening, but wants a picture-perfect garden in her yard. She will be less likely to call you in a panic over a leaf with hole if you already told her that she should expect some insect damaged, Bloom said.
Targeted marketing. Find the right customer base so you’re not trying to sell expensive lawn-care packages to homeowners who want you to mow their lawns. It’s important to recognize that the requirements of each job will vary — sometimes wildly — even within your client base.
“No two jobs are going to be alike,” Bloom said. “And work is very seasonal [and] weather-dependent, and clients have different opinions or ideas of what their project should be. So you have to enter into each one with an open mind.”
Be prepared. Be ready for unexpected events, such as poor weather, sick employees, unavailable materials or broken equipment. Having a good attitude and various backup plans will help you immensely during these times, Bloom said.
The bottom line
Landscaping is a good business option for an outdoors-oriented entrepreneur with a baseline set of skills and funds. If you grow your landscaping business organically, you won’t need a large amount of money to get started. And the expanding industry means that opportunity is around every corner. Happy growing!