How to start a landscaping business
If you’ve been thinking about starting a landscaping business or mowing company, you’re in the right place. We’ve put together a starter guide to get your business off the ground.
Here’s what we’re going to cover in this guide:
- Creating a landscaping business plan
- Basic equipment required for a landscaping, gardening, or mowing business
- Figuring out the cost of running a landscaping business
- Starting a landscaping business legally, with state registration, and landscaping licensure (if you need it!)
- Getting insurance for your landscaping company
- Hiring employees for your lawn care business
- Marketing your landscaping business in your community
Okay! Let’s dive in.
1. First, create a landscaping business plan.
Figure out your major goals and objectives.
Always start with a plan. When you’re getting your business off the ground, it’s essential to figure out your primary goals and objectives—and how you’ll get there. And, although it might seem daunting to write up a landscaping business plan, in reality, it just means answering a bunch of common-sense questions.
Here are some questions you’ll need to answer first.
Why are you starting a landscaping business?
Before you invest significant money and resources into your new business, you’ll need to take a good look at why you’re starting your own landscaping business in the first place. Getting a business going can be stressful, and if you’re not clear why you’re in the game, it can be easy to quit when the going gets tough.
So, to avoid a premature exit, take a second right now to write down why you want to start a business. The reasons could range from “Because I’ve always wanted to be my own boss” to “Because I want to work outdoors” to pragmatic considerations, such as “I’m starting this business because I need flexibility for my kids.”
If a reason gets you motivated, it counts. (And if you aren’t particularly motivated by any of your reasons, well—it’s better to know that now.)
After you’ve defined the “why,” you’ll need to define practical expectations for your landscaping business. Your answers to the following questions will dictate a lot about how you build and advertise your company:
- Is your landscaping business intended to provide supplemental part-time income? Or are you hoping to make a full-time income?
- Do you plan to stay a one-person business, or would you like to grow your business to include a team?
- When will you work on this business (and what will you give up to make that time available)?
It can be challenging to work through these questions, but now is the time to figure out precisely what kind of business you’re trying to build. Without a vision, you won’t know what steps to take—or even what success looks like when you achieve it. So take the time now to read 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start a Business and get your big picture in place for the long haul. It’s worth it.
What kind of landscaping services will you provide?
This is an important question. There are many kinds of landscaping services—from mowing and yard maintenance all the way to high-end corporate landscape design—and you’ll need to know exactly what it is that you’ll offer so you can market yourself effectively to prospective customers. To do that, you’ll need to consider three major factors:
1. Your landscaping experience
First, consider what you’re already capable of doing. If you already have a lot of landscaping experience, a landscaping degree, or a landscaping license, you can consider taking on more involved landscaping design jobs.
But if you’re a newcomer to the landscaping industry—and your main skill is cutting a perfect lawn—you definitely don’t want to initially advertise more services than you can handle.
2. The landscaping market in your area
Take a look at your competition by doing a Google search to see who’s already doing landscaping or yard maintenance in your area. What services are they offering? What are their pricing structures? And—most importantly—how could you design your business to fill a gap in the local marketplace?
For example, suppose you’ve got a lot of landscape design experience, but there’s a shortage of mowing services in your area. In that case, you might give your business a head start on cash flow by selling your yard maintenance services first, then branching out into design as your reputation grows.
3. Your target customers
Once you have a sense of what landscaping services you’d like to offer, you should solidify which customers you’re going to target (at least in the beginning).
Will you market your services to suburban homeowners? Or do you hope to pick up multi-property contracts with corporate landlords? (Whichever you choose, now is an excellent time to start putting together a list of potential clients.)
Write down exactly who you’re after—and who you’re not after. It’ll make a big difference.
How much will you charge for landscaping services?
The best way to figure out what you should charge for your services is to do the research—figure out what other landscaping companies are charging for similar services in your area. Then think carefully about your launch pricing. While you may want to offer lower prices to get your business off the ground, you don’t want to underprice yourself either—if your prices are too low, potential customers might be concerned that you don’t do quality work.
Once you’ve figured out a menu of services and prices, it’s a good idea to get a second opinion. If you have a friend or family member who currently hires a landscaper and is in the demographic you’re trying to reach, show them your cost structure and ask for feedback.
2. Next, plan your landscaping equipment needs
Landscaping is an industry that requires a lot of specialized equipment, and you’ll want to have a clear idea of what tools you’ll need to make your business launch a success. What equipment will you need to purchase to serve your first client? Make a list of your must-haves (as well as a wish list).
Here are the essential pieces of equipment needed to start a landscaping or lawn care company. (Make sure to budget for quality, too. It’s important.)
1. A truck and a trailer: You’ll need transportation to and from your worksite. If you don’t already have access to a heavy-duty truck, you’ll need to set aside money to purchase one.
2. A riding lawnmower: For maximum efficiency, you’ll want a commercial, zero-turn model.
3. A push mower: A standard push mower makes for a great tool for narrow places where a riding lawn mower cannot reach.
4. A set of good quality landscaping tools: Think hoses, shovels, and other miscellaneous tools you’ll need on the job.
5. A lawn trimmer: Also known as a weed whacker, weed trimmer, string trimmer, or line trimmer, this is a standard landscaping tool you’ll need.
6. Lawn edger: Especially important for commercial clients.
7. A leaf blower: A landscaping business standard, for sure. And not just in autumn, as they come in handy for removing grass clippings in walkways.
8. Lawn spreader: Also called a lawn seeder, this wheelbarrow-like item spreads seeds and fertilizer throughout a lawn.
9. Lawn sprayer: A much-needed tool to provide fertilizer and other liquid landscape-care additives.
10. Safety equipment: Equipment like noise-cancelling headphones, gloves, steel-toed boots, and safety goggles.
After adjusting this list to fit your needs, be sure to look up price ranges for every piece of equipment you included. You can start your research at national equipment vendors like Site One and Horizon Online, but don’t forget to call your local landscaping supply stores. You’ll want to know them anyway, and it’s not too early to start forming a relationship. (Be sure to support your local landscaping supply with your dollars as much as you can, too. They’ll have your back in a pinch, and you need them to stay in business.)
3. Get your finances in order.
Now, let’s crunch the numbers. It’s time to talk about what it will cost to get your landscaping business off the ground.
How much does it cost to start a landscaping business?
Anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $20,000 or more, depending on what resources you already have. But the real question here is actually what it will cost you to start your landscaping business. And the answer depends a lot on where you are, what your experience level is, and—again—what equipment you already have at your disposal.
To figure out your startup costs, you’ll need the list of equipment—as well as your best estimate of what it will cost to purchase all of it.
Then, you’ll need to add in the following costs:
1. Business insurance
You’re going to need general liability coverage as well as a few other common business policies. (We’ll discuss this in-depth later, but in the meantime, you can get a 60-second estimate on what you might pay for landscaping business insurance.)
2. Incorporation & licensure fees
If you’re starting a brand-new business, you’ll likely need to pay a few fees to make things official with the state. (Also, check to see if your state requires a license to operate a landscaping business. If it does, you’ll need to budget for those costs, too.)
3. Technology, website, and software costs
If you don’t have a computer to use for your business, you’ll need to get one. You’ll also need to plan on the costs of a website and any software you’ll use to manage your business (such as QuickBooks or YardBook).
4. Any other costs you can think of
Be as thorough as possible in imagining what you might spend to start your business. Do you plan to get custom-made t-shirts? Do you want to set aside $500 to advertise online? Make sure all of those costs make it into your budget.
Now that you have a projected cost, it’s time to get serious about securing funds. Some people start businesses with their own money (or with a loan from friends or family), but you can also consider getting a small business loan guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (find information about small business loans here) or even a non-SBA loan from a local bank.
Whatever you decide, make sure your business plan accounts for the time it will take to get your funds in order and make any necessary purchases. (It’s pretty hard to mow lawns without a lawnmower.)
4. Next, get your paperwork in order
Now that you’ve made some high-level decisions and have a plan in place, it’s time to finalize your business name, file your paperwork, and make things official. Let’s go through that process step by step.
Pick a name for your landscaping business
You might have been considering various names for your business all along, but now’s the time to look closely at your choices and make a strategic decision about what you’ll call your new landscaping company. Here are a few guidelines to consider:
Pick a business name that’s clear about what you offer
If you run a mowing company, make sure that’s clear in the name you choose. You might even consider including the name of the service you provide, so there’s no doubt about what you do. Joey’s Mowing Service is crystal clear. Joey’s Short Cuts is not (although it wouldn’t be a bad name for a barbershop).
Putting the name of the service into your business name also has another benefit: When potential customers search online for landscaping services, they’ll have a better chance of finding your business.
Pick a name that appeals to your target market
Think about what kind of customer you’re trying to attract and name your business accordingly. Joey Scissorhands Mowing Service might make a suburban homeowner laugh—but it probably won’t impress a commercial client.
Pick a name that’s available
To make sure your business name is available, ask yourself these three questions:
1. Is it available in your area?
If you’re thinking about calling your business Joey’s Mowing Service, make sure to check the local area to be sure there aren’t any other landscaping businesses with a similar name. You definitely don’t want to be mistaken for Joe’s Mowing Service around the corner.
2. Is it available online?
Nearly every business has a website these days, and you’ll want to have one, too. That way, you show up in internet searches. Use a site like namecheap.com to see what URLs are available—and don’t be surprised (or discouraged) if joeysmowingservice.com isn’t available. You can always pick a different top level domain (like .net or .us) or add a location to find an available URL. Think: joeysmowingservice.net or joeysmowingLA.com.
3. Is it officially available?
Finally, check the official record to make sure no one else in your state has claimed your name yet. (Every state’s website is a little different, but you should be able to find your state’s online name check tool by Googling “business name check” + state name.)
Register your landscaping business with your state
Now that you’ve picked a name, you’re ready to make things official by registering your business name with your state and local governments. The process for registration varies by state, so you’ll need to look at your Secretary of State’s website to see what you’ll need to do for your landscaping business.
Another option: Use a service like LegalZoom, which charges a fee to do all the legal work of incorporation automatically.
Do you need a gardening license or landscape license?
In some states, you’ll need a landscaping license (sometimes called a gardening license) to operate your business legally (check to see what your state requirements are here). Each state’s licensure process is a little different, but here’s a quick overview of how to get a license in a few example states:
How to obtain a landscaping business license
In California, you’ll need to get experience (usually 4 years) and take some tests before you get your C-27 Landscaping Contractor license. You’ll also need to take a test to get your Maintenance Gardener Pest Control Certification. (It’s important to know, too, that you may not need any landscaping license if your business only specializes in minor maintenance or mowing lawns. Be sure to check local laws to see what applies to you.)
On the other hand, if you live in Georgia, you only need a state landscaping license if you’re going to apply general-use or restricted-use pesticides. The Georgia Department of Agriculture grants that license, and while you’ll need to take an exam to get it, it’s good for five years.
Many other states operate like Georgia, too. For example, Connecticut, Kentucky, Iowa, Kansas, and Illinois are all states that don’t require landscaping licenses unless you’re going to apply pesticides. (And, if you need to use pesticides, they all require exams before they license you—to be sure you know what you’re doing!)
For more information on each state’s rules, check out this handy article on landscaping licensure requirements.
5. Landscaping insurance (Yes, your business needs to be insured!)
Even if your landscaping venture is starting small, you still need to protect yourself and your business with the right business insurance. Without the right policy, you could be one accident away from an expensive liability lawsuit (which, frankly, could shut a small business down).
Here’s the landscaping insurance you need for your business
Here are a few of the policies you’ll likely need for your landscaping business (tap any of the titles to get more details about each coverage):
This coverage protects you and your landscaping business if someone makes a legal claim against you for property damage or bodily injury. (Imagine you ran your mower into the side of someone’s $300,000 sports car. That’s what liability coverage is for—and yes, you need it.)
Business property coverage is actually two coverages sold as one: business property insurance covers your office building, if you own it, while business personal property insurance covers the items owned by your business. (If you don’t own a building, you can just purchase business personal property insurance.)
This is actually a bundle of coverages, and includes general liability insurance, business interruption coverage, and property insurance. It’s a one-stop shop for most of the coverages you’ll need for your landscaping business.
If you hire anyone to help you with your landscaping business, there’s a very good chance you’re legally required to purchase workers’ comp insurance. (If you don’t, there are usually severe financial penalties. Not to mention potential lawsuits.)
You can’t operate your landscaping business without your equipment, so this coverage can really help you out in the case of an unexpected breakdown. It’ll pay out for a repair or a replacement if your equipment fails for a covered reason.
6. Get your hiring documents together
Now we need to talk about hiring. First off, know that you might be able to start your company with just one employee—you. But if you think you’ll need a team right away, you’ll need to take some time to prepare for the landscaping business hiring process. To get you started, here’s a quick checklist of to-dos:
- Get your Employer Identification Number (often shortened to EIN).
- If your state and city require it, get your local tax ID numbers (learn more about this here).
- Figure out how you plan to hire—will you hire independent contractors or employees?
- Print out some W-4 forms (for employees) or W-9 forms (for independent contractors)—everyone you hire will need to fill one of these forms out.
- If you plan to hire any full-time or part-time employees, get acquainted with this Forms for New Employees list from the U.S. Department of Labor.
- Google your state + “hiring forms” to find out which additional forms your state requires—each state has its own set of rules. (Starting a landscaping company in California? We’ve put everything together for you in How to Hire Your First Employee in California.)
One more thing: If you plan on hiring employees to help you run your business, there’s a good chance you’ll need workers’ comp to stay legal. Get a 60-second rate estimate at our workers’ comp calculator here. (Don’t procrastinate, either. In most states, you’ll need workers’ comp on the day that your first employee starts.)
7. Make a marketing plan for your landscaping business
It’s time to get some customers. Finally! To do that efficiently, you need to consider who you’re trying to attract (remember your business plan?) and then figure out the best way to reach them. This is one of the most crucial steps in starting a landscaping company (and then staying in business!). Here are some possibilities.
How to market your landscaping business
This is one of the best ways to get started. When you’re ready to start taking work, put the word out in your personal network. (Be sure to ask for testimonials after those initial jobs are done, too.)
If you’re willing to do the research (and you definitely should do the research), social media ads can be a good way to reach potential customers. Don’t limit yourself to Facebook, either—niche social media sites like NextDoor and Houzz can provide high-quality leads.
(By the way, if you plan to have a social media presence, now’s the time to set it up.)
If Google can’t find your landscaping business, your customers can’t either. So sign up with Google My Business and take the time to set up your search profile—it’ll pay big dividends. It’s best practice to set up a LinkedIn profile, too, if you don’t have one already.
Business cards, brochures, and door hangers
It’s a bit old school, but putting your services on paper can be an effective part of a launch strategy.
This strategy takes a while to get going, but when it starts working, it really works. Once you have a handful of happy customers, ask them candidly to recommend you to their friends, family, and online communities. Link to Yelp and Facebook on your website. You can even offer your best customers a referral discount for any new customer they send your way. (Good customers tend to know other good customers.)
Any other tips for running a successful landscaping business?
Yep. If you want to run a profitable landscaping business, you’ll need to pay attention to what’s happening in the world of landscaping and stay up to date on industry conversations. So if you haven’t already, now is a great time to dive into landscaping periodicals and online message boards.
To start, bookmark the Landscape Management blog. Subscribe to Lawn and Landscape Magazine (it’s free). Ask other landscapers questions at the Contractor Talk landscapers forum. (And you might also want to put a landscaping convention on your calendar. They’re great places to pick up new tricks and learn what’s coming next in the industry.)
Finally, while owning your own company is rewarding—there’s nothing quite like it!—you should prepare yourself for the challenges it brings. Take a second to read 4 Ways to Stay Sane as an Entrepreneur, and then make a proactive plan to ensure your new landscaping business serves your life—not the other way around.
Hey, we hope that was helpful. Remember that we’re here to answer any landscaping insurance questions you might have—and we can get you an estimate on your workers' comp rate in less time than it takes to make a cup of coffee. Everything is online and easy with Huckleberry.