How to Start a Lawn Care or Landscaping Business
Perhaps you remember your teenage days of mowing your neighbor’s lawn just to make a few bucks. On a good day, you’d have the sun shining down, grass clippings on your shoes and be $20 richer.
While many may not assume landscaping to be the most lucrative of career choices, the reality is there’s a lot of income potential in starting your own landscaping business. Not only is being a business owner incredibly fulfilling, but you can choose your own hours and set your own rates.
Starting a new landscape company isn’t without its obstacles, but your journey to entrepreneurship is made easier when you have the right steps in mind. In this guide, we provide a step-by-step guide on how to go into business for yourself and make money with landscaping.
Why Start a Landscaping Business?
Looking for a career that gives you the freedom to work outside, set your own hours and be your own boss? If so, starting a landscaping business may be the right move for you.
People are drawn to entrepreneurship for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being flexibility and financial independence. With a landscaping enterprise, you can pursue your passion while controlling your financial destiny.
Landscaping can be hard work, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. With landscaping, you can see a project come together right before your eyes, see your clients’ satisfaction with your work and earn a good living.
That said, there are pros and cons to any business ventures, so be sure to weigh your options before you jump into a new venture headfirst.
Pros and Cons to Starting a Lawn Care Business
Owning a lawn care company has its advantages and disadvantages. While most find the payoffs to be worth the costs, it’s still important to consider these for yourself so you can make the right decision for you.
- Ability to set your own hours
- Freedom to work outdoors
- Limitless earning potential
- Opens the door to new opportunities
- The joy of working with satisfied clients
- Have control of your own finances
- Tax-deductions and benefits
- Get involved in your local community
- Requires hard work
- Involves physical labor
- Often involves low seasons
- Impacted by inclement weather
- Requires some marketing know-how
- Some startup costs (e.g., equipment, transportation, etc.)
- The stress of running a business on your own
Industry Snapshot: Is There Money in Landscaping?
While reputable studies are limited, landscaping industry blogs discuss projected trends for 2020 and beyond. One prediction by The Greenery Inc. vice president Bill Davoli tells of a “strong year” for 2020 with “the largest work backlog” landscapers have seen in the past 12 years.
This trend is supported by the fact that the landscaping services industry has grown 3.8% per year on average between 2015 and 2020. This is good news for aspiring new business owners looking to enter into the lawn care industry.
Further, the average salary for landscapers in the U.S. (currently $34,579) has seen an 11% increase from 2019 to 2020. While not the highest of salaries, landscapers can certainly make a livable wage in this industry.
The main takeaway is that landscaping is on the rise and there is great income potential, especially if you run your own business. While being employed by a landscaping firm may hinder your wages, running your own opens the door to near-limitless opportunities.
Types of Landscaping and Green Industry Businesses
Believe it or not, there’s more than one type of landscaping firm and they don’t all offer the same types of services. There’s actually a wide range of services a green industry business might provide.
This is important to note because some of these fields require specialized skills beyond just a green thumb. Fields like landscape architecture or hardscape design might require formal education and/or professional experience.
If you’re starting a new business completely from scratch, consider starting with a general landscaping business that offers traditional landscaping and lawn care services. You can always increase your expertise and offer additional services later on.
In the simplest of definitions, a landscaper is someone who rearranges plants, soil, water and other organic materials to create a landscape that’s pleasing to the eye. Most often, the goal is to arrange a landscape that’s both aesthetically pleasing and practical.
A professional may work to improve upon the existing garden layout or start off with a completely new design. They will often install plants, trees, flowers, rocks, mulch or sod in an arrangement that meets the clients’ specifications.
You don’t need to be an expert designer or know the principles of design in order to create beautiful landscapes. Many new landscapers start off with little to no experience but have a natural eye for detail. They then use design software to put their vision down “on paper.”
Note that most states require landscapers to be licensed in order to conduct business. If you’d like to start a landscaping company, look into your state’s licensing requirements and make sure you know what’s needed.
As the name implies, interior landscaping is landscaping that takes place indoors. Interior landscapers usually provide services to businesses like shopping malls, large office buildings and public indoor spaces.
Interior landscaping services can include general care and maintenance, plant selection and interior landscape design. Their services often overlap with those of traditional interior design.
While you don’t need professional experience in order to get into interior landscaping, it’s best that you have an eye for design, shape and texture. This will help you to know which interiorscapes are functional and pleasing to the eye.
A gardener or groundskeeper is typically tasked with caring for the plants or otherwise maintaining the existing landscape. The main difference between gardeners/groundskeepers and landscapers is that gardeners/groundskeepers don’t do design work.
This type of green industry professional may also be responsible for mowing lawns, laying down fertilizer, applying pesticides, cleaning up leaves and debris, composting organic materials and more. At a minimum, they need to understand the basics of horticulture in order to know how to tend to various plant varieties.
This is the most technically oriented of the green industry professions, as it requires an understanding of design and knowledge of how to use design software. For these reasons, landscape designers and architects usually have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in landscape architecture.
These professionals often work alongside architects to plan projects and design both interior and exterior landscapes. They may be hired to design scapes like public parks or common areas for shopping centers, apartment buildings or college campuses.
Being that this field requires more experience and education than the others, it usually has the highest income potential. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for landscape architects was $69,360 per year in 2019. This field is projected to grow by four percent from 2018 to 2028.
8 Steps to Starting a Successful Landscaping Firm
By now you know what landscaping businesses do—it’s time to dig into how to get your business started.
While there is no “right” way to launch your new landscaping business, we have compiled the fundamental steps to get started. We encourage you to pave your own path while using these steps as your guide.
1. Decide on Your Services
Lawn care services can essentially be divided into two categories: landscaping and lawn maintenance.
Many lawn care businesses offer services in both categories, but many only offer one other the other. It’s worth reviewing these so you can decide which services you’d like to offer in your new business.
- Design the layout (“landscape”) for a home or business
- Update existing landscaping for a client
- Improve “curb appeal” for houses that are going on the market
- Landscape design services for business that don’t have their own landscaper on staff
- Optional: “Hardscape” designs for rock sculptures, waterfalls, etc.
- Sod installation
- Mowing lawn services/weed eating
- Trimming shrubs and hedges
- Applying fertilizer
- Planting/plant care
- Bug and pest treatments
- Irrigation system maintenance and repair
- Lawn aeration
You might decide to offer some or all of these services, it just depends on your target market and what your prospective customers are looking for. It’s a good idea to start small with just a few services and then branch out if you experience a demand for additional services.
2. Buy or Rent Equipment
Once you know what services you want to provide, you can create a list of the equipment and tools that you need.
Here is the recommended equipment for starting a landscaping business:
- Clippers/pruning shears
- Leaf blower
- Lawn aerator
- Fertilizing equipment
- Hedge trimmer
- Gardening gloves
- Ear and eye protection
- Landscape business accounting software (for invoicing)
- Optional: landscape design software
If you’re just starting out, it may be difficult to scrape together all the funds needed to get this new equipment. Again, know that you can start small by offering a select number of services and then expand once you have more revenue coming in.
3. Define Your Target Market
What kinds of clients do you want to work with? What kinds of people or business owners would be most interested in your services? What areas are you going to serve? It’s important to know the answers to these questions.
While it may seem like there’s the most earning potential in casting a wide net, there’s also far more competition if you’re up against a larger pool of lawn care companies. That’s why it’s in your best interest to hone in on your target market and brand your new company accordingly.
By “niching down,” as it’s called, you narrow down your competition and are better able to target a specific clientele. This makes it easier to market to your ideal clients and get their business with targeted messaging.
4. Establish Your Prices
As stated previously, the average salary for landscapers in the U.S. is $34,579 per year, which comes to about $16.62 per hour. However, hourly and per-project rates can vary widely depending on location, experience level and services offered.
To set your rates, your best bet is to look at what your competitors are charging. Consider their experience level, but still, try to set your rates close to theirs in order to be competitive. Your goal down the road is to get more experience and raise your rates accordingly.
Also, consider how much effort and labor goes into your services. What’s the minimum hourly rate you’re comfortable charging? Don’t forget to plan for expenses and taxes.
Most landscaping companies send clients estimates for landscaping services and then agree upon the final cost. You might then decide to take a deposit, get paid upfront or collect payment upon completion of the project.
Once you’re ready to get paid for your work, you can send landscaping invoices to your clients either in person, via mail or over email. If you’d like to send automated invoices and take credit card payments online, then it’s best to use professional accounting software.
5. Secure Reliable Transportation
Since you’ll likely be lugging heavy landscaping equipment around, you’ll want to have a reliable means of transportation. For most landscapers, this might mean they get a truck that can easily haul heavy, dirty and cumbersome equipment.
A dependable vehicle will likely be your most costly expense but it will be highly beneficial to your business. See this as an investment for the long-haul which will help you get more landscaping jobs.
6. Apply for a Business License
Landscaper licensing requirements vary by state, so be sure to check with your local business licensing office for details on how you can get your business license.
The cost for a landscaping business license can be anywhere from $15 to $200 per year. You’ll also need an employer identification number (EIN) to be able to set up your business bank account and get business tax deductions.
7. Brand Your Company
Remember how we said to hone in on your target market? Here’s where niching down comes into play. The aim here is to establish a strong brand identity and set your new business apart from other competitors in your niche.
Here are a few things to have in place in order to establish a strong brand for your landscape business:
- Choose a business name: Come up with a unique name for your small business that will stand out to your target clients. Do a Google search and a business name lookup to make sure it’s not already taken in your area.
- Write your mission statement: What does your business do and why does it do it? Having a mission statement will keep you focused on your higher-level goal of serving your clients—and it will tell prospective clients what your business is all about.
- Define your unique selling proposition (USP): Your USP is the defining characteristic that distinguishes you from your competitors. Do you focus on luxury landscapes? Have the best customer service? Have a diverse team of designers? Try to define what makes your company unique.
- Refine your brand messaging: Your brand messaging will be used throughout your marketing materials to draw in potential customers. What do you want your business to say? How will your USP be communicated to your target audience?
- Invest in an attractive logo: Professional logos can range anywhere from $25 to $1,000, depending on the quality and complexity. You can do a search for graphic designers near you to create a unique logo for your business.
- Build a professional website: Having a professional website will really put your business on the map and work to attract clients online. You can create a simple website on sites like WordPress using a free template or opt for a custom design by hiring a website designer.
Don’t underestimate the power of great branding. Defining your USP, having a professional website, and honing in on your brand messaging could make all the difference when it comes to outshining your competitors in your local market.
8. Market Your Small Business
Now the fun part: landing your first landscaping clients!
To attract potential clients, you’ll need to market your new business and get it in front of your target audience. There are quite a few ways to market your business both online and offline.
Here are some of the best marketing strategies for your new, small business:
- Social media: Market your new business on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and more by posting content that’s relevant to your target audience. This might include sharing informative articles from your blog or posting photos of your beautiful landscapes.
- Search engine optimization (SEO): SEO is used to drive organic traffic from search engines (namely, Google) to your website. By following SEO best practices, you can rank for the target keywords your potential clients are searching for to find businesses like yours.
- Networking: Building relationships online and in your local community can open the door to loads of new job opportunities. Consider joining niche Facebook groups and attending local events to meet people who might be interested in your services, or at least can help you grow your small business.
- Paid ads: You can run paid ads on Google, Facebook and other social media platforms to attract potential new clients. Doing this effectively takes some practice, so you might consider hiring a professional so you don’t blow your advertising budget.
- Referrals: Networking is one way to generate referral business, but you can also generate new referrals just by doing good work. Always try to deliver the best service possible so your clients keep coming back and sending new business your way.
Start and Grow Your Small Business
Now you have the building blocks for starting your own company. While these steps will have you headed in the right direction, part of the joy is in the journey. Don’t be afraid to follow your own passions and deviate from the beaten path.
Overall, the success of your new lawn care business depends on you delivering high-quality work to your clients. Keep your clients happy with amazing landscape designs and reliable maintenance services, and they’re likely to work with you for years to come.