Start a Landscaping Business

Every year, thousands of landscaping/grass-cutting businesses are started across this country by entrepreneurs just like you. Much of the appeal lies in the fact that this is one of the most lucrative, and in-demand businesses out there. That, and the fact that you can be up and running in no time. If you enjoy making good money while getting exercise and working outdoors, this business just can’t be beat.

While some landscape companies only handle basic chores such as grass cutting, weed control, leaf removal, and snow removal, other companies have gone a few steps further. It’s not uncommon to find landscapers that will now provide any outdoor maintenance service you require – plus, many now provide in-house design services. It’s basically one stop shopping for your lawn and garden.

Imagine using one company to design your dream garden, install that interlock sidewalk, install a koi pond, build a new gazebo, and handle all the usual lawn cutting tasks. Not to mention providing consultation services and design.

Is the landscape service business for you?

Well, if you love to work outside and don’t mind long hard hours of physical work in all kinds of weather conditions, then this could be exactly what you’re looking for.

However, before you go out and spend any money on equipment, there are a few things you need to know about this business.

The first question you should ask yourself is: Will I be starting a grass cutting service or a landscaping service? Contrary to popular belief, they are not the same, and there are services one might provide that the other does not.

Grass cutting/lawn maintenance

A lawn maintenance service handles all aspects of lawn care, including mowing, trimming, seeding, fertilizing, pest control, weed control, aeration, de-thatching, and so forth. At the low end of the scale is the simple grass cutting service (mowing, trimming). At the other end of the scale is the company that will provide a full service including all the items mentioned above.

If you decide to start a full service lawn care business, it’s a very good idea to get some experience first (assuming you have none, and you are starting from scratch). Try working for a lawn care company for a few seasons, or consult someone that has experience in the field. If you’re really lucky, you might be able to hire a fully trained employee for a reasonable wage. It’s easier than you think to damage someone’s grass if you don’t know what you’re doing. Remember, you are the expert that people are calling on to professionally maintain their lawn.

Lastly, check with your supplier and your municipality to determine what (if any) permits or certifications are needed for the application of all the herbicides and pesticides you will be using.

You should also be aware of all municipal bylaws regarding the use of pesticides. As of this writing, many cities and towns are implementing total bans on the use of lawn chemicals. It is imperative that you investigate this further, as it will have a direct impact on your business and bottom line.

Landscape service

A landscape company generally offers a full-blown lawn and garden service – and then some. As well as providing all the services of a lawn maintenance company, a landscape service can offer services such as, planting and maintaining trees/plants/shrubs, installing interlock, retaining walls, installing ponds, and building small structures such as gazebos. As well, many companies now offer landscape design.

Landscape companies are professionals that are highly skilled and knowledgeable in practically every area of lawn and garden care. They are also experts in selecting, installing and maintaining grass, shrubs, plants and other landscaping components.

To start a landscaping service, you should be well trained and experienced in all areas of landscaping. In many cases, people call you to correct problems and rely on your expertise to get the job done in a professional manner. Many landscapers have also gone to school for extensive formal training in landscape technique and design.

Start-up costs

Starting a lawn maintenance/landscape service requires heavy duty equipment. Ideally, you will want to have:

A large riding mower

A small mower

One or two line trimmers

An edger

A blower

Hedge trimmer

An assortment of miscellaneous equipment (rakes, shovels, hand tools, pruning shears, and the like).

Don’t forget the truck, trailer, and supplies. Also, be prepared to buy or rent any specialty equipment you will need from time to time.

Add to all this, the usual items needed to run a business (bus phone, fax, stationary) and marketing expenses (yellow pages, newspaper ads, website, flyers, etc).

The reality is that there is a significant initial investment required to buy the equipment to do a professional job quickly and efficiently. Professional equipment will start paying for itself from day one, and over time, you will be making much more money. Also, customers expect that you will have the standard landscaper tools and equipment to do the job. If you show up with anything less, your credibility can suffer.

Starting a landscaping business can require an initial investment of $5,000 (for the most basic setup) to $15,000 (for a more elaborate system). You could even be faced with spending more, depending on what areas you get into and what type of equipment you buy.

Fortunately, your equipment should last for years if properly maintained, and you won’t be hit with this cost every year.

Employees

There are very few one-man landscaping companies around. The work is hard and jobs must be completed in a timely manner. In order to succeed in this highly competitive business, you will likely be faced with the reality of hiring employees sooner, rather than later.

Next to your initial start-up investment, this will be your biggest expense. How efficiently you manage your staff and schedule your jobs will directly affect your revenue.

Start off by hiring a helper and then scale that out according to how busy you get. If you expand to the point where you need separate crews, be sure that you have someone in charge that you can trust – otherwise, your hard-earned money could be going down the drain.

You must take this seriously because your employees can literally make or break your business. Advertise in the paper and conduct formal interviews with as many prospects as you can. Using information from resumes – eliminate those that are obviously not qualified and then conduct interviews for the rest. After that, you should be left with a handful of applicants from which anyone would make a good employee. Next, conduct a final interview of your best prospects and choose wisely.

While you obviously want someone who has a good work ethic, experience, and positive attitude, you also want someone who will remain loyal to you – This is often difficult, if not impossible, to determine.

Loyalty speaks volumes. The last thing you need is to train someone and have them quit to start their own competing company. Having the ability to read people is a real gift that few of us possess. Use your best judgement, and try to get a feel for each applicant’s personality during the interview process.

One last word about hiring employees: Make sure that you do things legitimately. Don’t hire under the table. Don’t call an employee a contractor. Abide by all employment standards concerning hours worked, vacation time, sick time, breaks, lunch. Use a payroll system/service to collect deductions and worker’s comp. With everything else you’ve got to worry about, why take the risk?

Marketing

Ok, so you’ve purchased all your equipment, set up your record keeping and registered your business with the various government agencies – Now to get some customers!

Initially, you will be paying a significant amount of money to get your first jobs. Naturally, after a few seasons, the word will spread about your fantastic service and most of your business will be repeat customers and referrals. Nothing compares to the power of referrals. Ultimately, this is what will build your company.

Print up a few thousand flyers and distribute them in some of the more affluent neighbourhoods. Many of these people will already have a service, but there will be the odd one that still cuts their own grass. The people that call will either be dissatisfied with their current landscaper, or they no longer wish to do their own.

Put an ad in the local newspaper classified. Don’t spend money on a display ad yet. Do some testing with a classified ad for a week and see what results you get.

Get a website. It doesn’t have to be complicated – just a page or two explaining your services with your phone number and perhaps a few pictures of your work. Look to Ebay for good designers offering websites at bargain basement rates. If you don’t know anything about websites, try to find someone that will build and host it for one price. Always register the domain name yourself so that you maintain control.

Include your website URL in every bit of correspondence including business cards, estimate sheets, invoices, letterhead, and envelopes. This is at least as important as your phone number.

Create an email address using the website’s URL (you@your-website-url)

Pay a small fee to have your site listed on the search engines. Google Adwords is custom made for this. It features “geo targeting” so your ad will only be shown locally.

Create a free ad on Craigslist or Kijiji. These are two of the biggest classified ads sites on the internet and they are completely free. Don’t overlook the marketing power of this method. Also, place a premium ad on USFreeAds for a small fee – the traffic will be worth it.

Avoid taking out a Yellow Pages ad until you have the cash flow to justify it. While this method can generate some serious business, it is also quite expensive.

Competition

The lawn maintenance/ landscaping field is very competitive if all you are offering is basic services. Competition is stiff because the only barrier to entrance is the ability to come up with a few thousand dollars for some used equipment. Alternatively, if you offer specialized landscaping services, you will find that the competition drops off significantly. Of course, providing those specialized services takes knowledge, training, and expertise.

You will also find that because there is so much competition for basic services, some companies attempt to dominate the market by lowering their prices and undercutting everyone else. These “low-ballers” decrease the profit margin for the entire industry and that makes life difficult for everyone. Fortunately, they quickly go out of business because they just aren’t making enough to get by. Sadly, by this time, the damage is already done.

So how do you compete with all the other lawn-care companies out there selling the same services as you are?

In two words: Customer service. Treat your customer fairly – exceed their expectations – respond quickly to concerns – offer them more value for their money – and you will be so far ahead of everyone else, you’ll be turning down work. Well, maybe not quite, but you get the idea.

How much can you make?

People are willing to pay good money to have their lawns and gardens professionally maintained.

The successful business owner will run his/her business in the most efficient manner possible in order to maintain a healthy bottom line. That means scheduling properly and managing your employees and equipment properly.

The most profitable business model (and one that many strive for) is contract maintenance. This means that the homeowner takes out a contract with you for landscape services. You agree to perform whatever job was agreed to on a weekly or monthly basis. The customer is usually billed monthly.

Contracts are like money in the bank because they guarantee a set amount of revenue every month. Once you have a good number of contracts, you will be able to schedule them on the same day. For example, you might be able to cut the grass of several homes that are adjacent to each other – now that’s efficiency, and that’s how you make serious money!

As far as actual revenue goes, you can expect to earn between $30,000 and $60,000 per year as a one or two man operation working from home. Keep in mind that the potential to expand and scale your business (and profit) is huge. There are many large landscapers that started from a home-based operation.

Next Steps

If you are serious about getting into the landscape business, one of the best ways to start is to pick up jobs on the weekend while you gain skills and expertise. Try doing some work for family members and friends just to get your feet wet. Spend one season learning how to run the business while you keep your schedule light. The last thing you want to do is to run into problems and major delays while you have a full schedule.

At this time, you should also try to get a feel for what your competition is charging. You need to have a good idea of prices in your area before you go around giving estimates.

Try to buy only the equipment and supplies you absolutely need. Look around and see what you can buy used. Either way, you will still need a few thousand dollars to start off. Once you get some money coming in, buy what you need and slowly build up your inventory.

To keep you going in the off-season, consider adding additional services, such as gutter cleaning, residential Christmas lighting, and snow removal. Keep in mind that these services aren’t for everyone as gutter cleaning can be very dangerous and snow removal requires extra equipment (not to mention having to work in sub-zero temps).

The good news is that, if you have a profitable business, you should be able to make enough in 9 months to last throughout the year. Of course, the idea of having 3 months off to travel or pursue other interests and hobbies isn’t too hard to take.

Start a Professional Landscaping Business