How to Start a Landscaping Business
Landscaping is a hardy business, and perennially in demand — puns intended. Residential and commercial properties need outdoor maintenance and beautification in every season. Landscaping is also strenuous, all-weather work.
If you enjoy doing physical work and don't mind being out in the elements, landscaping could be your vocation. You might even decide to start your own company.
This guide walks you through the necessary steps for forming a landscaping business.
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Step 1. Research the Landscaping Businesses in Your Local Surroundings
Thinking about opening a landscaping business? The first thing to know is this: landscaping is local. An aspiring landscaping business owner must know and appreciate the territory.
First, landowners (your prospective clients) strive to match or complement the character of the town where they live. To a community, landscape contractors must do more than show up with a lawn mower, sprinkler, and shears.
Consider: What are the community's expectations and ideals? How can your new company meet them — or raise the bar?
Second, planting zones are area-specific. A landscaping pro must know what to plant, when to plant it, when to seed, and when to cut. It all depends on local soil quality and weather patterns.
Moreover, landscaping evolves at different rates in different places. Many of today's property owners want organic or natural outdoor maintenance and beautification. These customers rely on their landscapers to know how nature best flourishes in their region.
Understanding the local environment also means identifying potential customers. Are they apartment management companies? Owners of freestanding homes, townhomes, or condos? Government agencies? Restaurants? Other businesses and organizations? Having identified your target clientele, it is time to delve into their markets. By examining the websites, social media, and publications that inform your clientele, you can design a locally appropriate business plan.
Step 2. Name Your Landscaping Business
You can name your new landscaping business using your own name or another name with significance to your mission. When you think of an appropriate business name, run an internet search. Steer clear of a name any other landscaping firm uses in your area. Take care to create no confusion over the identity and ownership of your business.
Be sure the internet domain name and social media account names you want are free. Check the Secretary of State's website for your state. If you know that your landscaping business is the only one to claim the name in your area, you are ready to register your business name with the state. You have then claimed it for your website, business cards, and marketing materials.
Some business owners decide to go further and trademark their business names or slogans with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), then register the trademark with the state. The whole process takes several months, but businesses do it to protect valuable intellectual property.
Step 3. Register Your Landscaping Business
A small business needs a legal structure. For instance, it could be a sole proprietorship, a partnership, or an S corporation. Many of today's small business owners form limited liability companies (LLCs).
Why is the LLC business type so frequently chosen by entrepreneurs? Like corporations, limited liability companies provide some protection for the business owner against personal liability in the face of legal actions. However, an LLC does not have to adhere to all the formalities of an incorporated business. The owner of an LLC can opt for "pass-through" taxation and pay tax by way of an individual tax return.
While an LLC is not a corporation, it is a business. Its owner will set up accounts, handle funds, and possibly hire people. Its name should correlate with an Employer Identification Number (EIN), issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The process of obtaining an EIN is simple and speedy.
Check your state law to find out if creating your business is a one-and-done task, or if you need to file further documentation in future years. Your lawyer or accountant can also advise you on these requirements, and can tell you more about taxes and your choice of business types.
You might also need state and local business licensing. If you are a specialist, such as a landscape architect, you'll undergo a special licensing process. See, for example, Pennsylvania's provision on licensing for landscape architects. (While regular landscape design does not require a special degree, a landscape architect is typically a licensed architect with special training in designing public parks, cemeteries, and other developments.)
Step 4. Connect With Small Business Advisers
The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers resources to boost local small business startups. Its Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) initiative connects entrepreneurs with free counselors who can advise on every stage of planning and executing a business concept. Mentors are available for in-person meetings or Zoom calls.
Because SCORE assigns counselors to advise nearby business creators, these counselors understand the local economy. They can likely assess a new startup's potential successes and strains in the local setting.
You can also find counselors supportive of LGBTQ-owned businesses, Native-owned, minority-owned, woman-owned, and veteran-owned businesses.
How can you prepare for your first meeting with your small business adviser? Draft a business plan. Your counselors will go over the plan with you and make suggestions. In preparation, set aside time to create a business plan.
Step 5. Create a Business Plan
A written plan is the foundation of a business. Every new company needs a business plan. It enables the founder(s), advisers, and lenders to visualize the way a business will operate and flourish.
Commonly included elements in a business plan are:
- Introduction. This is an overview of the business. Be sure to note how your business meets a need in the local landscaping services market.
- Mission statement. A good mission statement is strong and succinct. For inspiration, consider the mission statement of Designscapes Colorado:
"At Designscapes Colorado, our mission is simple: to offer high-quality, competitively priced residential and commercial landscapes and maintenance. We use only premium grade materials to deliver custom design and maintenance services that surpass expectations. We view ourselves as partners with our clients, our employees, our community, and our environment."
- Financial plan. To calculate the startup costs, wage structure, and financing needs of your business, a helpful starting point is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Check, too, for local resources that publish information and support small businesses in your city or county. Your plan for landscaping business finances should set forth the source and the amount of initial funding; a projected two-year balance sheet; and a proposed monthly operating budget for the first year.
- Organizational structure. Will your company have a permanent staff? Or will you hire people as and when needed? Human resources, business software choices, and IRS compliance all depend on a personnel plan that recruits people with the right skills. Explain the formula you will apply to compensate the owner and any other key figures. Accounting software is a necessary tool. If applicable, it can also handle wage payment and payroll data. Even if you are personally operating your business in every aspect, your written plan can help you integrate employees if you scale up later.
- Operational structure. Explain how you will manage your landscaping business and render your services day-to-day. List the equipment and landscaping tools and the inventory you'll need and its pricing. Discuss any lease arrangements and any other legal agreements pertaining to your new landscaping business. Your local car and home insurer can make insurance recommendations for the new business. General liability insurance and worker's compensation insurance helps to cover costs of mistakes and injuries.
- Marketing plan. Review the local lawn care business market. Identify your customer base, and lay out a pricing plan. What is your total addressable market? Where are your potential customers located? How often will they need landscaping services? Explain how you plan to win these new customers. Outline your proposed advertising and marketing scheme. Be sure to account for the risks to your business, and lay out backup scenarios in case anything fails to go as planned.
- Concluding statement. Review what you have laid out. Briefly and professionally, restate your business needs and how your research shows your new landscaping business is likely to flourish with funding. Back up your statements with facts and past successes, if relevant. You can expressly state a call for funding here.
- Supporting references. A solid business plan requires research. It must refer to expert knowledge and data when making predictions or describing the market. Printouts of your business plan will not show hyperlinks. Therefore, include a list of references with their sources and dates.
Once you finish your business plan, have your advisers go through it with you. Make revisions where needed. After the business is up and running, review your business plan regularly. A business plan should evolve with the business.
Step 6. Fund Your Business
What working capital does a landscaping business need? Typically, the business must purchase equipment and products. Vehicles and lawnmowers are other common purchases. Some landscapers decide to acquire office buildings and storage space. Business licensing, building occupancy and signage permits, business cards, and insurance are all necessary expenditures.
Check the Small Business Administration for funding options, such as the SBA 7(a) loans, microloans, and other popular options. Note that you could also look into SBA CAPLines, which are revolving or non-revolving credit lines for small businesses.
You may also want to seek out city or neighborhood grants.
Web-based accounts such as Venmo and PayPal help customers pay for your services easily, bringing in a flow of usable cash. You can also check your local banks and credit unions for interest-bearing business checking accounts. After establishing a checking account, order checks and a debit card. You'll have options for applying for a credit account from your bank's partners, PayPal, and other sources. By using credit accounts, your business can form a credit profile.
Step 7. Keep Abreast of Trends and Information
Today, many property owners seek expertise in organic and native gardening. They look for landscape architecture experts. Or they hope to find professionals who can help plan stormwater and climate-related issues. A landscaper has numerous opportunities to learn and make professional progress.
As you gather in-depth knowledge of your craft, you'll be able to offer yourself as a speaker for gardening and local business groups. Learning, and teaching what you know, is a satisfying way to contribute to the community around you.
Network with lawn care industry people, real estate agents, contractors, arboretum owners, zoning boards, and local business meetup groups. Their members have vital knowledge and contacts. Keep an updated profile on LinkedIn and other social media hubs for business, and stay in touch with other professionals.
If you spot a need, you might offer to donate landscaping and gardening work to the local post office, library, farmer's market, or school. Professional signage noting your donation can increase your business name recognition. It can also cultivate a sense of goodwill in the community.
Tools and Advice To Guide You Through the Process
To obtain further assistance as you create your business, consider using this business formation tool. It's an online guide to forming a legally compliant business, step by step. If you need legal advice, connect with a business organizations attorney.
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