I think you’ll agree with me when I say:
“Starting your own company is the key to making big bucks in the landscaping industry.”
But isn’t that too complicated?
Like most things, it’s a matter of opinion. If you know how to work a landscaping or lawn maintenance job, the ONLY thing separating you from making some real money is…
…a little bit of common sense business knowledge. That’s it.
In this post, I’ll be breaking down the basic components of running a landscaping business, so that you can distinguish yourself from the competition. There’s a lot of info to digest here, so make sure to get comfortable before we get started.
Pros of Starting a Landscaping business
It’s no secret that there are a ton of perks to running your own landscaping or lawn care business. That’s why anyone who’s spent a season in the field has probably considered it. The beauty of being your own boss is pretty obvious:
- You get to decide how long your commute is.
Is the job too far? Forget it. Is it in the neighbourhood over? Perfect.
- You decide when you work.
Pick your own start and end time, plus work as many or as few days per week as you want.
- You can enjoy the outdoors every day.
Are you the kind of person who hates spending every day doing the same thing in the same building? As a landscaper, you’ll have the opportunity to travel around your community and serve people who will be sure to appreciate your work.
Cost of Starting a Landscaping Business
Let’s get right into it:
How much does it cost to start up a landscaping business?
Less than you think. A lot less. In fact, most new landscaping and lawn care business owners can cover their start-up expenses with nothing but their own personal credit card. Feel free to look into business loans if you want but you probably won’t need one to be honest.
If you ask most landscapers, they’ve had their tools for years. Don’t worry about buying anything brand new, but make sure what you buy is high quality and reliable. There’s no bigger pain than having to end a day of work unexpectedly because a tool broke down.
Also, if you’re overwhelmed at the idea of having an office, don’t be. A commercial office is overkill for most people. In fact, in the early days my office consisted of a binder full of paper work, a laptop and whatever flat surface I happened to be working on.
Is Starting a Business For You?
Now this all sounds nice, but it has to be more complicated than that, right?
Starting a landscaping and lawn care company is a lot of work, but it’s simple at its core.
First of all, you need to be able to do the work. This is a no-brainer. This means mowing lawns, trimming shrubs, pruning plants and trees, along with whatever other specialty services you offer. I think it’s safe to assume that if you’re reading this, you’ve got the skills needed for the job, including being in good enough physical shape to handle the day-to-day grind.
You also need to be willing to learn the business side of the landscaping industry, including managing finances, advertising efforts and client relationships.
The last and most important piece of the puzzle is being self-motivated, and going into business with other self-motivated individuals. Having a partner who shares your vision is irreplaceable.
Do you know someone like this? Share this article with them so you can learn more together.
Unless you have an awesome family member or friend willing to lend you all their equipment for free, you’ll have to make do with what you’ve got.
Don’t worry about all the things you don’t have- you can gradually buy tools as your work demands you to (after your first few jobs you’ll have a pretty good idea of which tools you’ll be needing for the season). We recommend you always check out yard sales and local classified ads before buying brand new tools, since these are great ways to spot bargains.
The things you’ll be needing will largely be decided by the services you offer, but here are the ones essential to most landscapers and lawn care specialists:
If you plan on offering lawn care services, a reliable lawn mower is crucial. A push mower is a must because it can be used on hills and lawns requiring a more precise trim. A riding mower is much faster and is a worthwhile investment if you maintain several large properties.
You’ll definitely need an edger to fix up a lawn’s edges and corners- especially near fences.
People love their power tools, but good quality gardening tools like shovels, rakes and weed pullers are nice to have when working in gardens.
If you’ve never used a leaf blower, they’re great for cleaning up job sites (especially landscaping sites). Plus they’re fun to use.
You’re going to want a basic selection of fertilizers for the mid spring and late fall.
Safety gear like gloves, hearing protection and safety goggles are a must when working with power tools and machinery. Don’t forget to wear pants and long sleeves when sawing through stones!
You’ll need vehicles to get your team and gear from point A to point B. Consider buying a trailer if you plan on moving machinery or lots of raw materials.
Make sure you have the proper insurance for your business and all your equipment.
- You’ll want to avoid making a list of tools to buy on day 1. Instead, buy tools as you need them.
- Only buy a tool if an old one needs replacing or if buying it will help you work faster.
Who will you be dealing with?
Honestly, you’ll be dealing with people of all ages and occupations, with needs that are just as varied. As you may have already noticed, a good chunk of landscaping and lawn care customers belong to the aging population of baby boomers. These people tend to be either too busy or just not interested in maintaining their properties. They do however enjoy having an elegant, well maintained home, and tend to be very appreciative of the people who can provide them with that.
There are obviously other groups of people looking for landscape professionals (And they’re looking for these services online!). These customers include…
- People who don’t have the know-how to create their own projects.
- Landlords or new homeowners looking to replace pre-existing features.
- Homeowners about to sell their homes.
- Builders who are subcontracting the landscaping portion of their properties.
Lawn Maintenance Customers:
- Homeowners who leave their home on a regular basis.
- People no longer interested in doing their own maintenance (ex: retired people).
- People with multiple homes.
- Owners of large properties (golf courses, camp grounds, etc.).
- Rental property or condo owners.
- Municipal and government buildings, schools and universities, other public areas
Here’s a bit of advice: In the beginning you should be willing to do as much lawn work as you can handle, even if you consider yourself more of a landscaper.
The key is thinking long term. The sheer volume of customers that you service mean you’re bound to have return customers.
I’m sure some of you are wondering:
“How much money can I really earn doing this?”
The answer is: it depends. One thing is certain though, and that’s that you’ll definitely make several times more running a modest business than remaining an employee forever.
Over the years I’ve asked dozens of landscape business owners how much they earned at different stages of their business, and I found out the following:
they earned between $10,000 and $50,000 their first year, and at least $100,000 by their third year. These businesses ranged from purely landscaping based to purely lawn care based.
Lawn Care Basics
First off, you need to be aware that unless you live somewhere that is warm year round, lawn care and landscaping businesses don’t run during the winter.
What does this mean for you as a business owner?
Unless you offer different services during the winter (like snow removal, indoor landscaping, etc.) you’re in for a several month long unpaid vacation. We recommend you put a large emphasis on gaining new customers in the spring so that you can peak in the summer and have a productive season.
By the time fall rolls around, you’ll want to be finishing up landscaping jobs, winterizing properties, raking leaves and finalising all payment collecting.
Tip: If you plan on taking the winter off, make sure you have enough money saved up.
On a weekly basis the average lawn care business handles between 25 and 35 residential clients. You’ll want to offer 3 main services to your customers: lawn mowing, fertilisation and the application of chemicals. As a new business you’ll want to emphasise lawn mowing and fertilization since chemical applications generally require certifications and is potentially hazardous if done incorrectly.
Newer business owners tend to focus mainly on lawn mowing and then add other services as they purchase more equipment and gain experience.
When it comes to lawn maintenance there are a few basics: trimming, mowing and edging. Usually trimming is offered in addition to a mowing, since it can be quite time consuming. When a property calls for mowing and trimming, it’s best to send out two people to the job site. While one person mows, the other trims. If you’re alone, you’ll have to give yourself a lot more time to finish each property. Luckily, not every lawn needs to be edged after every mowing. Sometimes a hand mower is all you’ll need for a minor touch up.
It’s crucial to your business that your equipment be respectfully treated and carefully maintained. You should clean your lawn mower blades every day and make sure to sharpen them with a grinding wheel on a regular basis. You’ll want to pay attention to your oil and air filters to maintain engine performance. Oil also needs to be changed at least once or twice a month to protect the mowers.
I don’t think I can overstate the importance of taking proper precautions while working. It’s essential that you wear safety goggles and ear protection. Also, make sure you only top up your mower with gas once it’s had a chance to cool off completely. Since mower blades spin incredibly fast, never let anything near the discharge chute or lift the mower off the ground in any way while it’s running. On top of the obvious damage the blades could inflict, they can also slingshot projectiles in every direction and do even more harm.
The next piece of the puzzle when providing lawn care services is giving your clients an accurate estimate. Although everyone has their own system for doing this, sadly no system is perfect and you’ll have to resort to a little bit of estimating. The majority of business owners I’ve met just guess how long the lawn will take to mow and then multiply that by an hourly rate. What makes this method a little bit sloppy sometimes is the fact that thing like structures and terrain formations can seriously slow you down. For example, a 5,000 square foot backyard might take you 50 minutes with a lawn mower. If that same backyard had a few gardens, a swing set and a shed to navigate, that estimation might not be so accurate.
The solution is to price based on the size of the lawn. It seems more professional to your customers since it’s less random, and you can compensate for weird formations and structures by including an extra 10 or 20 percent in your final estimate.
Determining Your Prices
Before you’ve made an estimate, you need to settle on a standard cost per square foot. Since there’s a lot of competition in this industry, it’s important to make sure you’re not overpricing yourself
You can easily figure out the market tendencies by measuring your own lots dimensions and calling a few competitors for estimates. After doing this, ask your friends and family try the same thing with their properties so that you can get a gist of different company’s price structures. Once you have an idea of the market in your community, it’ll be easier to price yourself. This strategy works perfectly if your local neighbourhoods have a lot of similarly sized lots.
As we all know, you don’t want to be the most expensive nor the cheapest in your town. A good rule of thumb is to price your services towards the upper end of the spectrum. It’s your responsibility to justify that price by setting yourself apart from the competition.
I’ve met owners charging anywhere from 15$ to 90$ for a lawn mowing service. I’ve met others that charge on an hourly rate or even monthly basis. They all had two things in common: they measured the dimensions of the property and then took a moment to inspect it for challenges.
Basics of Landscaping
There’s really no typical landscaper. Over the years, I’ve met landscapers of all sorts of backgrounds with all sorts of personalities and they all had one thing in common: an active disposition and a real appreciation for seeing ideas come to life. You have to be that way in this line of work.
How else could you love unpredictable weather and hard work?
It’s the reason we’re passionate about tools and know the names of every plant, shrub, tree and stone we come across. It’s also the reason we view every job as a puzzle to solve instead of as work.
Does this sound like you?
Then keep reading.
What is a landscaper?
There’s more than one way you can break into the landscaping industry. You could service exclusively residences, exclusively commercial properties or a combination of both. Depending on which approach you take, you may need a formal education.
The major groups of landscapers are…
Gardeners: Often referred to as groundskeepers, these landscapers are generally in charge of maintaining a properties clean look. They work in areas like gardens, sheds or greenhouses. The major difference between gardeners and landscapers is that they stay away from the design work and focus instead of tending to existing areas. They tend to have a large amount of knowledge of plant, grass and tree varieties. This is because they have a different set of responsibilities, such as: pesticide application, lawn mowing and seasonal preparations (like fall cleanups).
Indoor landscapers: People have made fortunes running exclusively indoor plant caring services in public places like schools and shopping malls. Interior landscapers usually work on a contract basis and not only maintain and care for the plants, but also advise the owners on plant choices and layouts. They’re often in charge of installing and removing holiday decorations, and are essentially interior designers in some ways.
Classic landscapers: Classic landscapers are what most of us think of when we think of landscaping. They’re responsible for installing and maintaining natural products that range from plants to decorative stones. They usually possess an an artistic disposition and often have lawn care skills in their repertoire. In addition, landscapers often offer small side services like root removal or fence repairs to stay occupied.
Day to Day Business Operations
While it’s true that every business has a different set of demands, there are a couple things you can expect to do no matter which specific industry you belong to. These things are: Estimating jobs and setting prices.
Job Price Estimation
Whether you’re simply trimming a few shrubs or renovating an entire yard, you can expect people to ask you to give an exact price for the job. Essentially, it’s your job to be the professional and properly estimate the price of the job before even starting it. This isn’t always so easy though since a small judgement error can cost you both time and money.
- Use a software package to help you make estimates.
I hope you’re starting to see why it’s so important to have a good strategy for offering estimates.
It’s your job to figure out the cost of completing the job, so you can add it to the profit you’d like to make. When figuring out the cost, you need to consider everything: materials, labor, equipment, etc.
The estimate should also contain a breakdown of the services offered and anything else job related. If you weren’t already aware, your estimates should be offered completely free, since that’s what everyone else in the lawn care and landscaping industry does.
Setting Your Prices
Obviously, to be able to provide a client with an estimate, you have to decide how much you’ll be charging for different services.
Luckily, it’s pretty simple.
Pick an hourly rate for the crew that will be completing the job, but don’t share it! It’s what we call the cost of labor (which includes the cost of your labour as well!) and is just a benchmark figure to help you with your price setting.
There are more than a few good ways to determine your rates. First of all, you can ask your friends and family to contact the competition and ask for an estimate. By getting an idea of which services your competitors offer and how much they charge for them, you’ll be able to price yourself appropriately.
Secondly, you can combine the costs of the materials you’ll be using along with the cost of labor and then just slap on a profit margin at the end.
Finally, you can settle on a rate by deciding how much money you want to make that year. If for example you’d like to make 75,000$ during your first year of business, start by figuring out how much you need to earn per month. Take your target monthly revenue and divide it by the hours your team(s) will work. By keeping this hourly rate in mind, taking into account the costs of business (materials, transportation, etc.), and adding in a profit margin, you’ll have a great idea of how to price your estimates.
At the end of the day, you just need to cover your personal expenses and your business’ bills. When you can cover these costs and are still making more and more money, you’ll know your services are properly priced.
The Daily Grind
As your business grows, your daily routine will change. In the beginning you’ll be spending most of your time in the front lines, doubling as the foreman or working in close connection with him.
Once you get the ball rolling however and have employees that can take care of those things, a new set of responsibilities will come knocking…
Administrative work: It’s up to you to stay in touch with suppliers, employees and clients by phone and email. The financial aspects of running a business can be daunting to some people, and there’s no shame in hiring an accountant.
Customer service: This includes scheduling appointments when a customer would like an estimate.
Purchasing: You have to keep track of which supplies you have and which supplies you’re going to need. These supplies include anything- from fuel, to tools all the way to office supplies.
Personnel Management: When your business has grown to the point of needing extra employees, it’s up to you to either hire them or put someone in charge of hiring them. People will also come to you asking for a different work schedule, time off or for you to solve a conflict.
Weathering The Storm
For all of the upsides there are to working outside, there are downsides as well. Even during your busiest time of the year, you might not have a choice but to put down your tools when faced with a rainstorm that will halt excavation or winds that will prevent you from pruning. When job sites are wet, there is rarely much to do. This is an excellent time to catch up on paperwork, make phone calls and respond to emails. Make sure you let your client know as soon as possible if the job completion will be delayed- no one likes to be told at the last minute that their project won’t be completed on time. That’s why I have to recommend working 5 days a week- so you can have the weekend to make up for missed days or simply relax if everything went according to plan.
In some places, snow is actually a welcome shift in weather. For some business owners, the snow plowing services that they offer make up a significant portion of their income. I recommend you consider it if you already have trucks, since all you’ll need to get started is a snowblade.
If you’ve maintained good relationships with your customers, you may want to think outside the box and offer some more personal services, such as: sidewalk shovelling, Christmas light installation and removal, etc.
- At the end of the season, tell your customers which services they will need in order to winterize their property.
- Make sure to mention your snow removal services in all your promotional materials and on your websites.
- It’s a good idea to email your customers or send them a flyer periodically to offer them services at a loyalty discount.
Keeping Your employees
If you’ve spent any time in the landscaping industry, you’ll know that people switch companies all the time- sometimes for a raise of less than a dollar. Unless you’re willing to find, interview and train new employees on a regular basis, you need to pay your employees above minimum wage. Employee retention is crucial to having a good efficient crew and is way more important in the long run than saving a few dollars by underpaying your employees.
A good rule of thumb is to start your new employees at $2 above minimum wage, leaving room for future raises if the opportunity comes up.
- A good rule of thumb is to pay employees 2 dollars above minimum wage
- Employees will lose enthusiasm if an increase in responsibilities is not accompanied by a raise.
- Find a way to keep your best employees as they quite often will possess skills that you don’t. Those skills could attract more customers.
Growing Your Company
Advertise: When you’re just getting started, you’ll be relying on advertising methods that are free or relatively cheap. A good way to get your name out there in the early stages is to take advantage of your social media networks. By creating a Facebook page, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, etc., you begin to establish an online presence and create opportunities for yourself.
- Get your customers to review your services on websites like www.homestars.com, homeadvisor.com, and www.trustedpros.ca.
Join business organizations: There are all sorts of business organizations, ranging from local groups to nationwide trade organizations. Local groups provide you with networking opportunities and will connect you with other business that need your services or can you provide you with services. Trade organizations will help you stay on the cutting edge of your industry and avoid falling behind the competition.
Add a new niche: By expanding the services you offer, you expand your potential client base. Continuing to educate yourself or hiring key employees who bring new skills to the table will allow your business to evolve.
Expand your Knowledge: Like we just mentioned previously, getting a formal landscaping education will give you the confidence and knowledge to take on bigger projects and contracts. There is such a thing as a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture (BLA) as well as a masters degree in landscape architecture (MLA).
Interested in getting a landscaping degree? If you’d like to study in the US or even online, check out the American Society of Landscape Architects website for additional information.
Develop processes to maintain quality: Ask any business owner what the toughest part of running a company is and they’ll tell you the same thing…
Developing a systematic process to accomplish daily tasks.
This means that as a business owner, you’ll have to take a back step from the landscaping work and focus on the business side of things. You’ll need to rely on your employees to maintain the quality of your companies work.
This step is what separates the amateurs from the pros. How good you are at assigning your employees the responsibilities will be crucial to growing your business.
Starting a landscaping and lawn care business isn’t easy- if it were, every landscaper would do it. The increased flexibility of being a business owner, as well as the increased potential financial gains are what will keep you pushing when times get tough.