How to get a landscaping business license
Starting a landscaping business can be a thrilling experience. But it can also be time-consuming, nerve-racking, and cause you to second-guess everything you thought you knew.
Still, it’s a good industry to get into—the landscaping services industry’s market size has grown an average of 2.5% per year between 2016 and 2021.
Before you take any customers, you need a landscaping business license. So, how do you get a landscaping license?
You’re in luck! Here’s what you need to conduct business as a landscaping contractor, from education and experience to setting up your company and submitting your application.
What is a business license?
A business license is pretty much what it sounds like: A license to conduct business. But it can be confusing to sift through federal, state, and local licensure requirements.
At its most basic level, a business license is a government document that certifies a business is safe for the public.
The downside is that no central source of information exists for all required licenses.
Most states require a business license for any work that could earn you money. It’s optional and only needed for certain types of work in some states.
For instance, you won’t usually need a license to sell t-shirts for your band when you play gigs. However, landscaping is one industry that requires business licensure.
It makes sense if you think about it—a defective t-shirt isn’t nearly as big a deal as improper landscaping that could cause water to leak into someone’s basement and ruin their belongings.
How much does a landscaping business license cost?
Great question. Every business will have some start-up expenses. But, like most things in life, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to how much it costs to get a landscaping license.
For instance, if you’re getting a California business license, your costs could range from $50 to $100. A few factors can influence your start-up costs:
- Where you live
- What you do
- State or federal registration fees
- Whether you DIY or hire a lawyer to help navigate licensing and permits
To get your business off the ground, you must also consider the cost of buying landscaping equipment, renting office space, setting up the phone, internet, and other utilities, paying for landscaping advertising and marketing, and other miscellaneous expenses.
7 steps to get your landscaping business license
So, you’ve decided to start a landscaping business. How exciting! The first step is to figure out how to get a landscaping license. It can be lengthy and frustrating, but persistence can pay off. Here are 7 essential steps.
1. Check with your state licensing department
The first step is to confirm what licensing you need in your state. Here’s a handy list to check your state requirements.
Before starting your research, consider what landscaping services you want to offer. The National Association of Landscape Professionals has a guide to careers in the landscaping industry that can be helpful.
It’s an essential first step because licensure laws can vary. You’ll likely run into different requirements to provide basic lawn mowing and landscape maintenance vs. landscape design, irrigation systems, walkways, and driveways.
Depending on where you live, you may have a few hoops to jump through. Your area may have years of experience requirements or license exam requirements. Plus, some states require multiple licenses, while others require just one.
For example, getting your landscaping business license in Oregon involves 2 licenses: Landscape Construction Professional License and Landscape Contracting Business License.
Here’s a useful state-by-state guide to getting a small business license.
2. Set up the business entity
You may need a business entity before filing for a landscaping contractor license. A business entity is a fancy way to describe the type or structure of a company. If you’re working on your own, you likely won’t need a business entity—you can simply do business under your legal name.
But just about anything can happen in the landscaping business. Creating an entity separates you personally from the company. It can give you personal liability protection, legal benefits, and tax benefits, too. States recognize several business entities, but these are the most common:
- Sole proprietorship: The most straightforward way to start a landscaping business, a sole proprietorship rarely requires you to register with your state. It’s the default entity if you start a business and you’re the only owner.
- Partnership: Partnerships allow you to go into business with one or more other people. You’d manage the business together and share the profits.
- Corporation: A more complicated approach to setting up your landscaping business, a corporation is entirely separate from its owners. You might think of it as a “legal person” because a corporation can enter contracts, borrow money, and pay taxes.
- Limited liability company (LLC): An LLC is easier to set up than a corporation and can offer additional benefits over being a sole proprietor.
Besides setting up your business structure, you may want to file a DBA—or “doing business as.” Some states call it a Certificate of Assumed Name. Basically, it lets you do business under a different name.
For example, let’s say Hayden started doing lawn care for private gardens as a sole proprietor. They operate their business under their own name but are looking to expand under a new brand. They can file a DBA to name the company Hayden’s Horticulture and Landscaping.
3. Create a Federal and State Tax ID Number
If hearing the word “tax” sets you on edge, you can take a deep breath. Getting a federal and state tax ID number, also called an Employer Identification Number (EIN), is easier than you think.
So, what is an EIN? An EIN is a specific number assigned to your business. It’s like a personal Social Security Number—having an EIN lets your small business pay state and federal taxes. It’s also helpful when opening a business bank account, and you’ll need it to apply for business licenses and permits.
The IRS has an easy-to-use tool to apply for an EIN online, and you get your number immediately.
Some states require a separate state tax ID number. Check with your state’s laws or local SBA office if you’re unsure whether you need one.
4. Get the right landscaping business insurance
In some areas, you may need to show proof of business insurance when applying for your license. How can you do that? Well, it’s as easy as presenting a Certificate of Insurance when you submit your business license application.
Because there isn’t a “landscaping insurance policy” covering everything, you may need more than one type of policy. Here are the most common types of landscaping insurance coverage:
- General liability insurance
- Workers’ compensation insurance
- Commercial auto insurance
- Business property insurance
- Business Owner’s Policy (can encompass all of the above, except for workers’ comp)
Even if your landscaping company is small, you must still protect yourself and your business with the right insurance. A single lawsuit could be enough to shut down your business.
Luckily, it only takes about 5 minutes to apply for small business insurance, and a policy is more affordable than you might think.
5. Get bonded
As a landscape contractor, you may need to get bonded. A surety (pronounced “shoo-ruh-tee”) bond is a type of guarantee. It ensures the company will live up to the contract and legal obligations.
You might look to your local insurance agent to get a landscape contractor license bond. But many people get it from an actual surety bond company.
6. Submit your business application
Finally! The step you’ve been waiting for—it’s time to fill out and submit your business application and licensing fee.
Make sure you double—and triple!—check the details. And read the instructions carefully, so you’re sure to include the required documentation (EIN, Certificate of Insurance).
You may need to apply and pay the application fee in person at the county courthouse or county clerk’s office. If you aren’t sure, reach out to the Small Business Association.
7. Renew as needed
Usually, getting a business license isn’t a “set it and forget it” type of transaction. Many business licenses have an expiration date. Depending on where you live, you may need to renew your business license every year.
When you get your landscaping license, check the expiration date and note how long it will be valid. Even better, set a reminder on your calendar to make sure you renew it in time.
Landscaper licensing requirements by state
When you get a landscape contractor license, you’re taking a huge step forward for your business—and you can finally get around to hiring landscaping employees to help you out. This guide includes the steps you’ll typically take to get your business license.
But keep in mind that it’s primarily a legal process, and license requirements can depend on the laws and regulations in your state or local area.
If you aren’t sure what your contractor's state license board requires, your local Chamber of Commerce can help. You can also contact your local Small Business Association for state-specific guidelines.
And remember that states can require you to have business insurance before issuing your landscaping license. But we’ve got you covered. In minutes, you can insure your small business online with Huckleberry and print your Certificate of Insurance instantly.