A landscaper is different from other people. A landscaper combines heavy manual labor with intense creativity to accommodate jobs that always require hard physical work and can vary dramatically from one project to another. It takes a special kind of person to start a landscaping business, but if you are that person, you should have no problem getting started with the advice contained in this article.
1. Define What Your Business Will Offer
When you had the idea to start a landscaping company, you most likely envisioned exactly what services you will offer your clients, but your vision of what your company will do may be somewhat nebulous. You will of course need to settle on your specific services. Consider the following list of services typically provided by a landscaping company:
- Lawn care / maintenance
- Chemical application services & management
- Residential or commercial landscape design
- Residential or commercial landscape construction
- Garden maintenance
2. Name Your Company
It’s easy to write off the naming of your business because, after all, how important could the name possibly be? It’s not deadly-serious, but you also shouldn’t overlook the appeal and attraction that a well-crafted company name can inspire. That doesn’t mean you should over-analyze it and approach it scientifically. Often, the best company names are the ones that are just simple, memorable, and appropriate.
You may even consider just using your name, e.g., John’s Lawn Care, or something concise that has a nice ring to it like On Point Landscapers, for example. It’s up to you what is the most fitting for your business, but in general, you want to avoid anything very extravagant.
3. Choose a Legal Structure
Choosing your legal structure is one of the first things you should do as a new business owner of any kind, and there are a few types that are usually a better fit for a landscaping contractor, although they will vary of course, depending on your circumstances.
In the beginning, you’re probably going to want to register as an LLC (Limited Liability Company). Small businesses commonly utilize this business structure because you can enjoy benefits of a corporation with less tax and protect your personal assets in the event of lawsuits or bankruptcy because it designates your business as a separate entity, which protections a sole proprietorship does not provide.
Sole proprietorships are not recommended because there is basically no distinction between you as a person and your business. You will be personally and solely responsible for all profits and losses, as well as any legal consequences.
For a full list and description of all business legal structures, the SBA (Small Business Administration) has a great source of information found here:
4. Compose a Business Plan
Every business needs a business plan, and it’s especially necessary if you are seeking outside investors to fund your business because it’s one of the first things they are going to ask you for.
Even if you’re self-funding, you really need to have a business plan put together so that you know for yourself exactly how you’re going to make a profit, what’s your break-even point, and so on.
5. Obtain Licenses & Permits
Yes, you can easily run your business “under the table”, which is what a lot of landscaping businesses and other construction businesses do, but you’re taking a serious risk if you take that route. It’s much better to just comply entirely with all federal, state, and local requirements so that you never have to worry about being shut down if the right person happens to catch on.
So do yourself a favor and do it right. As far as the federal government is concerned, you just need to pay them the taxes they are owed and there aren’t many specific regulations they’ve mandated for landscapers.
The licensing you need to have in order are the ones required by your home state. There’s a great resource provided by the American Society of Landscape Architects where you can select your state and find information on what licenses you need, which you can check out here:
6. Determine Whether the Business is Viable
You also have to make absolutely sure that your business can be profitable, and this includes a few factors. As landscaping and lawn maintenance are dependent on working within a physical region or multiple regions, location is all-important.
Make sure that wherever your company is based is a location where clients are plentiful and accessible by your trucks within a reasonable distance. You’ll discover very quickly once you get started how far you can venture out and still make a profit, so that’s an essential point to consider.
Then you’ll need to do your homework (yes, homework) and find out for sure that there is enough of a demand for your service in the area where you are based. Without researching your market first, you will have no idea whether you’ll have enough customers to stay in business.
Do you need help? You almost certainly will in this kind of business because the work is physically and mentally taxing, and it probably won’t be long before it’s completely impossible for you to do it all by yourself.
You also can’t be two places at once, so the advantage of another person who can take another truck out to service other clients simultaneously is going to be huge as your business grows.
8. Know the Whole Cost
Figure out the cost of starting and running your business. Figure it out to the smallest detail that you possibly can. This is one of the simplest principles of running a business and probably the most neglected because business owners think they know how much it’s going to cost and then find out that the amount they projected was way off the mark or that there are multiple expenses they didn’t think of.
Take a minute to examine this list of a few main expenses you’ll have with a landscaping business:
- Equipment, tools, machinery, etc.
- Vendors, service providers needed for a contract
- Utilities for an office
- Employee wages
- Government taxes
- Licenses & permits
- Certification for chemical handling
- Business insurance
- Insurance for vehicles
- Fuel for vehicles, machinery
- Replacement parts for machinery
- Replacement tools
…and you will probably have additional expenses beyond what is on that list. It’s important to know absolutely everything you will have to spend money on before you open your business and do your best to predict these costs over time.
9. Sell Products to Supplement the Service
If you find yourself in a time where you need additional revenue to maintain the business, you can try venturing out a little and add product sales, as well. You know when you go in to get a haircut, and you see that the place also sells a bunch of hair care products, too? That’s a business that is providing a service which also sells tangible products to augment revenue.
You can do the exact same thing, and many of your competitors will probably not be doing it, so there is an added appeal of exclusivity. You might sell products like lawn fertilizer, gardening tools, or anything the client might need to take care of what you built for them—or really, anything that seems related to your service.
When you’re starting your landscaping business, probably the most important thing you can do is to do everything properly, and take care of all the legal requirements for your business because there is a tendency with startup construction companies to operate under the table.
That might work perfectly for a while or even a long time, but you always run the risk of being shut down or overwhelmed with penalty costs that will eventually put you out of business. Chances are, you’re good at this trade; so you should give yourself a foundation that allows you to succeed and grow indefinitely.
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.