How to start a successful landscaping business in 8 steps

If you’re an experienced gardener and want to be your own boss, it sounds like you could be ready to start a landscaping business. After all, you probably know people in your area looking for someone to take care of their mowing and weeding at a competitive price.

You may even have the basic tools you need to get started like a lawnmower, trimmer, and leaf blower. So you won’t need to invest too much of your earnings upfront. 

So, what’s holding you back? Running your own business is fulfilling, but getting started can be daunting. 

That’s why you need a step-by-step action plan. In this article, we’ll explore:

  • Why it’s a great time to start a landscaping business
  • Types of landscaping businesses
  • Eight easy steps to get started 

Why start a landscaping business

If you have an entrepreneurial spirit and an affinity for gardening or landscaping, starting a small lawn care business is a great way to generate a solid income while pursuing your passion. And depending on your business offerings, you don’t necessarily need formal credentials or specific training to get started. 

If you think there’s no demand for landscaping businesses in your area, think again. It’s a growing field: The market size of the landscaping industry increased by 12.7% in 2022. 

If you need more convincing, consider this: While plenty of people know how to handle a lawnmower or plant a small garden, they don’t always have the time or in-depth knowledge to take care of the unknown plants and species in their backyards, which can lead to compromised soil and dead vegetation. They need a skilled expert, which is where you come in.

The different types of landscaping businesses

You may already know what landscaping services you’re going to offer, but how will your operation fit within the overall industry? Let’s look at a few common landscaping businesses to get a better understanding of the market:

  • Landscaping — Generally, landscapers can design, build, and maintain outdoor landscapes. Typically landscapers help with layout, seeding and sod installation, but they can also be tasked with basic mowing, trimming, and pruning.. Landscapers should have some knowledge of how to manage weeds, pests, and invasive plants. While formal education isn’t usually a requirement, continuous learning can help you provide better services and increase your customer base.
  • Grounds maintenance — Also called groundskeeping or gardening, grounds maintenance involves upkeep but not design. You may be asked to maintain business properties, golf courses, college campuses, and even private residences. A groundskeeper offers many of the same services as landscapers and may eventually branch out into planning and layout after more experience. That’s why it’s a great place to start if you’re not sure what solutions you’ll offer in the beginning. 
  • Landscape architecture — This type of specialization requires more technical expertise and knowledge of design software for planning and mapping out a landscaping project. Landscape architects often have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in landscape architecture. 
  • Landscape contracting — Similar to landscape architects, contractors may design outdoor layouts according to their client’s wishes. They’re also responsible for the installation of greenery as well as bigger projects like garden structures, pathways, and water features. 

Now we know what the main types of landscaping businesses are, let’s look at how to set up your own company.

Take these 8 simple steps to start your own landscaping business

While the strategy and planning phase may not seem as exciting as getting out there and serving your clients, this is some of the most important work you’ll do for your business if you want to make it a sustainable source of income. Let’s look at the eight steps you should follow to get you from idea to reality.

1. Understand local demand and your target audience

Many hopeful entrepreneurs don’t take the leap because they assume people see landscaping as a luxury service or worry their local market is already saturated. But if you just Google “lawn care near me,” you’ll quickly identify the current supply and demand in your area.

If local landscapers offer basic services like lawn mowing and maintenance, you may be able to fill the gap with yard cleaning and leaf disposal – or pruning or mulching. 

The other key is to read reviews from customers. What complaints do they have about lawn care services they’ve used? Maybe the professional they hired was competent but always took too long to provide quotes for custom services. Or they didn’t know how to handle certain kinds of plant species or trees and neglected to tell the client.

This is crucial for your messaging and brand. You’ll need to highlight what sets you apart from local competitors on your website and in your marketing materials.

2. Get crystal clear on your offerings

It’s tempting to make client connections first and customize your services based on what they need. But it’s best to get specific about your services at the beginning before marketing. 

Here’s why:

  • It will be easier for people to find you online when you have the right keywords.
  • You won’t have to offer services outside of the scope of your abilities because you’ve established expectations from the start.
  • You can set more competitive prices upfront and avoid awkward negotiations with your client.
  • You’re more likely to get positive reviews and create a solid local reputation.

With that in mind, consider which of the following landscaping services you’ll highlight in your marketing materials and online presence:

  • Lawn mowing
  • Weeding and weed eating, which involves chemically treating, pulling, or cutting weeds to prevent overgrowth
  • Shrub and hedge trimming
  • Tree care
  • Seeding
  • Sod installation, which involves placing layers of grass and roots so they can attach to the soil
  • Plant care and gardening
  • Pest management
  • Irrigation installation and maintenance, which involves setting up sprinklers and drip lines for ongoing watering

Make sure to distinguish them from more specialized landscaping services, which include:

  • Lawn and garden design
  • Irrigation system design
  • Lighting design and installation
  • Drainage planning and design
  • Building and installation of garden structures, walls, pathways, and water fixtures

3. Research the equipment you need

If you don’t own them yet, it’s worth investing in your own lawnmower, hedge trimmer, weed wacker, and leaf blower. However, you can also rent equipment to test before you buy. You’ll also need a large transport van, truck, or trailer to haul your supplies and materials to different worksites.

Here’s a breakdown of equipment prices to help you estimate your initial overhead costs:

  • Heavy equipment
    • Truck — $30,000 to $50,000
    • Lawnmower — $300 to $1500
    • Trimmer — $150 to $250
    • Leaf blower — $100 to $400
    • Wheelbarrow — $40 to $180
    • Lawn aerator — $80 to $300
    • Spreader — $50 to $200
  • Hand tools
    • Shovel — $15 to $35
    • Rake — $10 to $30
    • Shears — $10 to $30
    • Hoe — $15 to $35
  • Safety equipment
    • Goggles — $5 to $15
    • Gloves — $10 to $15
    • Noise-cancelling headphones — $50 – $90
    • Protective boots — $75 to $90
  • Miscellaneous extras
    • Soil testing kit — $15 to $40
    • Sprayer — $30 to $200

4. Take care of licensing, insurance, and paperwork

Many landscaping businesses feature their licensing and insurance directly on their Google My Business listing. Doing so makes it easier for customers to see this information and feel confident before they visit the website. That’s why you shouldn’t wait until you get your first client to get your paperwork in order.

Pro tip: Every state has different regulations for landscapers. Many states require a commercial license for the use of pesticides, and 16 states currently require landscapers to have a landscaping license.

Also note that some states are stricter than others. In California, for example, you need at least one to four years of experience and must pass a trade exam before you can operate your own business.

It may seem overwhelming if you live in a more restrictive state, but it’s feasible as long as you don’t skip any of the following steps:

  • Register your business with the state. You can operate as a sole proprietor, but it’s better to set up a limited liability corporation (LLC) to keep your personal finances separate and protected in case of bankruptcy or lawsuits. 
  • Pass your state’s licensure or certification exam (if required in your state).
  • Obtain a contractor license surety bond, which is required by most states. The size of the bond will determine its cost, but it shouldn’t be more than a few hundred dollars. This guarantees to the state and the client that you’ll do good work in the time you contractually agreed to accomplish it.
  • Get your business’s tax identification number (TIN) for free through the IRS

5. Recruit and build a great team

While you might start out as a one-person operation, you’ll soon need to hire a team as your business starts to grow. If you’re worried about how you will recruit experienced lawn care staff, just ask yourself: What specific tasks will you need them to handle? What can you offer new employees that other landscaping businesses can’t? 

With those questions in mind, here are some best practices to remember at this stage:

  • Mention on-the-job training in your description. This will help widen your candidate pool and allow you to instill good work habits in your new employees.
  • Offer competitive pay for your area. Local job listings should give you a good idea of the average wage range in your town or city.
  • Highlight opportunities for advancement. This is a perk that small businesses are well-positioned to offer and emphasize because they have more advanced positions to fill.
  • Include extra benefits like paid time off (PTO), health insurance, or retirement savings accounts. Many similarly-sized businesses in your area may not offer any of these benefits.
  • Don’t neglect to mention safety. Jobseekers will want to know that you take their well-being seriously and offer plenty of rest breaks, safety equipment, and protective measures at every job site.
  • Use a platform like Homebase, which makes it easy to build schedules for your team in minutes. You can also set up user profiles for team members with information on their availability. At the same time, Homebase’s time tracking tool lets you track hours, overtime, and breaks. You can set alerts to remind your teams to clock in and out, and it then creates automatic timesheets to help you pay accurate wages. 

6. Decide what software you need to manage your business

Web and app-based tools aren’t only for large companies and franchises anymore. There are plenty of small business apps designed to make your life as a business owner easier. Common solutions for landscapers might include:

  • Accounting and invoicing software — Tools like QuickBooks and Xero let you create and send invoices, track finances and expenses, and keep your books balanced.
  • Marketing and social media software — Use options like Hootsuite, Buffer, or Mailchimp to schedule social media posts, automate marketing campaigns, and track follower engagement.
  • Estimating and quoting software — Jobber and Service Autopilot can help you generate accurate pricing estimates for potential customers and projects. 
  • Project management software — Tools like Trello and make it easy to organize projects and track them from start to finish, ensuring no smaller tasks are forgotten.
  • Team management software — We may be biased, but an all-in-one solution like Homebase is your best option for managing a small team. Not only can you use our platform to track time and schedule employees, but Homebase also lets you communicate with your staff,  hire and onboard new team members, and even automate payroll. It’s a great option for any small business owner that employs hourly, wage-earning employees.

7. Plan your finances and pricing

Creating a financial plan allows you to identify opportunities for profit and adjust your pricing strategy as the market fluctuates and your business expands. The process isn’t as complicated as it sounds if you follow these steps:

  • Figure out your startup costs — As your initial investment, these are expenses associated with equipment, materials, licenses, paperwork, and software. 
  • Develop a budget — A budget allows you to track expenses like employee wages, maintenance, fuel, marketing, and other ongoing costs. While some expenses like marketing tools may be fixed, fuel and employee wages will vary, so give yourself a wide margin to work with. As you gain more experience managing expenses, you can use Homebase’s labor costing tool for more accurate forecasting.
  • Do market research — Find out what your similarly-sized competitors offer in terms of pricing and services. This, along with your experience and quality of service, will help you narrow down your hourly rates and project prices.
  • Decide on pricing — Will you charge by the hour or project or both, depending on the customer’s need? Whatever you choose, aim for a profit margin between 10% and 12%, and if you get anywhere close to that range, you’ll be doing much better than the current industry average.
  • Consider additional creative pricing strategies — Seasons change, as will the demand for your business throughout the year. You may want to consider seasonal business ideas to expand your services in the autumn and winter months. For example, you could offer leaf cleanup at the end of fall or garden weatherizing services at the beginning of winter.
  • Create a system for tracking your finances —  Decide how often you’ll review your revenue, expenses, and profit margins. It’s also worth talking to a financial advisor who can offer additional insights into taxes and long-term pricing strategies.

8. Put together your marketing strategy

Word of mouth is still powerful, but in today’s world you need a solid marketing plan to drive customers to your landscaping business. Start by reflecting on what you want potential clients to find when they Google “landscaping near me.” Take it from there with these strategies:

  • Build a professional-looking website — Choose a user-friendly design template to start and be as specific as possible about your services and leave no possible questions unanswered. Make sure you mention the county, city, or town you plan to serve so that it’s optimized for search engines. 
  • List your business locally — Claim your business on Google My Business so you’ll appear in an online search. Just type your business name and city into Google, and your business name and unclaimed information will appear on the right side of the page. Click the Maps option under the search bar to find your business, then click the red pin marking your business, which will show you your business information again. Finally, click the Claim this business button.
  • Create social media accounts — Use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to showcase what you do for clients. This is where you’ll build a following and offer seasonal promotions and deals.
  • Get online reviews — Ask happy customers to leave reviews on Google and Facebook, which is going to help boost your local reputation.
  • Deck out your vehicle — It’s common for landscapers to use their transport van or truck for free advertising. Make sure you list your services and contact details clearly for people to read as you drive by.
  • Attend local events — Trade shows and home and garden expos are a great way to network, get your name out there, and even recruit new employees.
  • Use direct mail — Branded flyers and postcards are an effective, low-cost way to let your community know you’re open for business.
  • Review your marketing efforts regularly — Marketing can be a big expense, so make sure it’s bringing in the return on investment you need it to. As you grow, you can always venture into social media advertising and blogging to expand your online reach.

Plant the seeds of landscaping success with Homebase

Starting your own landscaping venture is a terrific way to put your green thumb to use and gain valuable business and leadership skills. And, depending on your state, the barrier to entry is relatively low as long as you’re willing to identify your goals, create a strategy, and stick with it. 

Our steps are just a guide, and not all of our tips may be right for you. Ultimately, your success will depend on your budget, time, experience, and resources.

Still, you’re not alone, and Homebase is here to help. It only takes a few minutes to set up an account, and once you do, you’ll have access to free time tracking, scheduling, and communication tools for up to 20 employees. That way, you can rest easy knowing you’ve got the perfect tool to use once your business is up and running.

Remember: This is not legal advice. If you have questions about your particular situation, please consult a lawyer, CPA, or other appropriate professional advisor or agency.

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