The signs of summer are here: rising temperatures, blooming flowers and thousands of lawns that need mowing, edging and trimming. It’s a great time of year to think about starting a small business focused on landscaping.
A Global Industry Analysts report says the landscape market will top $80 billion in the United States this year. This includes residential customers, private businesses and local governments that need lawn and landscaping help. If you want to start a business in this growing industry, here are some tips from existing business owners on how to get started.
1. Get hands-on experience
Even if you’ve been mowing lawns since you were a teen, you’ll need a good deal of know-how to turn a hobby into a full-fledged company, says Shayne Newman, president of YardApes Inc., a lawn care company based in New Milford, Connecticut, that has been in business for 25 years.
Consider taking a few horticulture classes at a local college and learn about the plants that grow in your area, he says. There’s a lot to know about landscaping, from lawn care, fertilization and weed maintenance to hardscapes, patios and gardening. “You should expect your customers to ask questions about their yards, and you should be able to answer them,” Newman says.
Jeremy Thorne says the best thing he did in college, before starting ThorneCare Landscape Solutions LLC in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, was to get a job at another landscaping company. “Working for someone else helped me understand how to make a business successful. I learned a lot about landscaping, but I also learned how to be structured and organized, and how to manage employees and contractors,” he says.
2. Join a landscape trade association
Associations can help you learn how to hire the right contractors, get the skills needed for difficult lawn care jobs and hear firsthand from other business owners about what works and doesn’t work in their companies, Newman says.
Large trade associations such as the National Association of Landscape Professionals also offer certification programs, says Newman, who sits on the board of directors of NALP. One of its most prestigious certifications is the Landscape Industry Certified Manager designation, which you can earn by showing skill in operations, horticulture, human resources, corporate finance and other related categories, he says.
Thorne adds that another benefit of joining a trade association is that it’s easier to find experienced mentors. “These are people who have million-dollar companies, but they don’t mind helping somebody who’s a one-person business,” he says.
3. Create a year-round budget
One of the hardest parts of starting a landscaping business is finding ways to pay for mowers and other heavy equipment, Newman says. To understand how much money you’ll have and how much you’ll spend at different times of the year, it’s important to make a budget.
“Landscaping is very seasonal. You end up spending a lot of money to buy the materials, and do the job, then you have to invoice the client. The client pays you a few weeks later, but there could be a lag,” Newman says.
Because of this, there may be times when you need to apply for a small-business loan or line of credit. “Having a line of credit can help you pay your operating expenses until you receive the funds from your client,” Newman says.
“The reality is, you won’t be able to fund your business with 100% bank loans. You’ll still need to have some of your own savings, so you don’t overextend yourself.”
— Shayne Newman, president of YardApes Inc.
If you’re going to apply for a small-business loan or line of credit, make sure your budget has a plan to pay back the loan or LOC, even during slow times of the year, and know that you’ll probably have to also put up your own money, he says.
“The reality is, you won’t be able to fund your business with 100% bank loans. You’ll still need to have some of your own savings, so you don’t overextend yourself,” Newman says.
One option Thorne uses to save money is to rent landscaping equipment instead of buying. “When you rent, you know you’re paying only when you have work lined up, and you’re not stuck with an ongoing monthly payment that you can’t afford,” he says.
Renting also helps with budgeting because at the end of the season, you can see how often you used certain tools and then plan for next season, Thorne says. If you use a piece of equipment a lot, you’ll know that you can eventually justify buying it, he says.
4. Apply for the right licenses and permits
Check with your local government agencies and landscape trade associations to help determine what you need to legally get started, says Zack Kline, owner of A.I.R. Lawn Care in Rockville, Maryland. At a minimum, you’ll need to decide on your business structure (i.e. sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation) as well as obtain a general business license, and you’ll also need to be properly insured.
“You may need general liability insurance and workers’ comp, and you may also need to buy pesticide licenses or licenses for tree work,” Kline says. Be sure to get all your legal paperwork in order before you start any jobs, he says.
5. Create a marketing plan that gives your business an edge
When Kline was planning his company, he decided A.I.R. Lawn Care would have a green focus and offer eco-friendly services. For example, he uses battery-powered equipment instead of machinery that requires large amounts of gasoline.
“I did research and found that not a lot of businesses were doing things this way, but I’ve found that many customers appreciate it,” he says.
Once you’re open for business, let your friends and neighbors know and ask for referrals, Thorne says. He’s been busy this season, and all his work has come from word of mouth, he says.
“I volunteer in the community, and that gets my name out there. I also let suppliers and nurseries know about my company, and they also send work my way,” Thorne says.
Photo via iStock.