Few careers are as rewarding as a landscaping business.
Whether you’re mowing the perfect lawn or turning a dreary backyard into a personal paradise, you can use your imagination, work with nature, see your clients’ smiling faces, and bask in the satisfaction of a job well done.
It doesn’t end there—starting a landscaping business is also financially rewarding.
The current U.S. gardening market size is $115.6 billion and growing! Plus, the landscaping industry has emerged as the leading profit maker.
But what makes landscaping businesses so profitable? How do you start a landscaping business? And how do you price your first job?
All important questions and, as someone who has owned a landscape construction business in Ireland, Spain, and the U.S. for over 20 years, I’m the person to answer them!
Landscaping businesses fall into several categories; some design and build for residential or commercial properties, others maintain.
They range from architecturally-created installations with hardwood decks, patios, pergolas, ponds, swimming pools, water features, and lighting to lawn care and general maintenance.
A landscaping business can be one guy with a mower, leaf blower, and trailer. Or it could consist of a team of professional installers with a full range of services and big toys, such as excavators.
The landscaping business has variety, so it’s an industry anyone with a strong work ethic and a good pair of hands can enter. You can start small and grow organically with demand or go full in.
Here are some ways to enter the landscape business:
You don’t need to start a complete landscape design and construction business to succeed.
Choosing one service like lawn care can reduce start-up costs and establish yourself as a go-to person for that profession in your local area.
There’s a big difference between commercial and residential landscaping. In my opinion, residential’s the more attractive option, especially when you’re new.
Here’s why: With residential landscaping, you deal with clients, make recommendations, and control the quality and result. You have lower up-front costs as you’ll make a deposit at the start of a job to cover the price of materials.
Every residential landscaping job’s different in style and size, which keeps it interesting and gives you more creative freedom.
Commercial landscaping, however, involves working on a plan provided by another company. You’ll never meet clients, and you can’t make changes even if the project’s wrong.
You also have higher up-front costs as you’ll provide all materials and only receive payment upon completion.
Commercial landscaping has advantages since projects are usually larger and run for longer. And if you provide maintenance like lawn care, you only need a few clients to establish a regular income.
Landscaping is a profitable industry growing yearly and statistics back that up.
Payscale data shows that landscape business owners can earn an annual salary ranging from $25,302 to $147,577. That’s quite a range!
An IBIS World Landscaping Services Industry Report shows that the industry is worth $115.6 billion.
However, what you’ll earn depends on your location, which service you offer, how hard you work, and how well you run your business.
The answer depends on which sector you choose and whether you have suitable transport.
For example, a garden maintenance or lawn care landscape business could start for under $10,000. Heck, if you have an old SUV, buy a secondhand trailer, mower, and some hand tools, you could begin your business for $1,000.
In contrast, starting a landscape construction business could cost as much as $60,000 to $100,000.
It depends on what type of landscaping you do, the equipment you need, and whether you buy, rent, or lease.
I’ll break down equipment costs and buying options later, but first, let’s talk about profit.
The recent Herring Group landscape industry benchmark report shows that the average net profit of a well-run landscape company is 10-12%.
This means a small landscape company earning $50,000 gross would have a net profit of roughly $5,000 to $7,000 per year after expenses, such as your wage, self-employment tax, income tax, insurance, and business running costs.
Let’s look at it on a weekly profit basis.
Based on the average industry employee wage, even a small landscape business could earn $1,200 to $1,500 profit per week.
Take tree stump removal as an example. The average cost is $300 per stump with 2 people plus machinery removing 2 stumps a day. That’s $3,000 per week minus labor and expenses.
National landscape employee wages are around $20 per hour or $800 per week, leaving $2,200 to cover your wage and running costs.
You can increase that by choosing an in-demand service and providing quality work that encourages word-of-mouth marketing (more on that in just a minute).
But remember, it could take 3 to 5 years to build your business, so be patient and enjoy the journey.
Next, let’s look at how to start your landscaping business.
When you start a landscaping business, take it one step at a time.
First, choose what type of landscaping you’ll do, decide on the exact services you’ll offer, work out what equipment you’ll need, and if you require funding.
Regarding funding, you’ll need a business plan.
Along with passion, motivation, physical strength, and a positive state of mind, you’ll need a business plan, especially if you require funding.
Business plans often scare the fertilizer out of new business owners but don’t worry, it’s easier than you think!
A one-page business plan that outlines essential factors like your services, target audience, competitors, financial forecasts, business structure, goals, and timeline is more than adequate.
Your business plan validates your business idea and provides you with a blueprint to work with.
In gardening, there’s a saying: “Spend a cent on the plant and a dollar on the soil.”
Your business plan is the soil, and your business is the flower waiting to bloom.
Your target market is those who want and will pay for your landscaping service.
You can find and understand them in 2 ways:
The first approach isn’t so much about profit. The 2nd approach is about identifying an area in high demand and then building your landscaping business around it.
When you combine them both, you’ll love your work and get paid well.
Drive, cycle, or run every street in your community. Look for other landscaping companies; note their names (you’ll use them later) and which services they offer.
Look at the houses and gardens to see recurring natural features such as large lawns, trees, water, or a lack of it, and identify areas that need landscaping services.
Is your area affluent, middle, or working class? Perhaps it’s a mix? Are there new or old properties?
Split your community into segments, look for ones that need landscaping services, and you’ll find your audience.
Your landscape service often dictates your target market, so let’s look at that next.
Choosing what service you’ll offer is your most crucial decision. It determines your equipment requirements, set-up and running costs, and how hard you’ll work.
Before you decide, consider the following factors:
What are you capable of? Do you have any landscape skills and experience, and how physically fit are you?
What are your competitors doing? Go online and research local business listings and look at your competitors’ services. Is there a common trend? Can you find an under-serviced area?
Don’t be afraid to start small. You could begin with one service that enables you to expand to others when you’re ready.
For example, your goal could be to provide full garden designs and installations, but it might be easier to begin by offering a lawn or tree pruning service. Then expand as your reputation grows.
Before starting a landscape business, you need to choose a business structure.
Your business structure determines how you’ll pay taxes, your level of personal liability, and your start-up and running costs. Most new small businesses choose one of the following 3 options:
I began my business as a sole proprietorship. It’s a simple choice when starting a landscape business alone and if you need to reduce costs and begin work immediately.
There’s no paperwork or fees involved and you become a sole proprietor when you start a business without registering it with your state.
The drawbacks are as a sole proprietor you’re responsible in all cases of litigation or debt, which puts your assets at risk, and it’s challenging to open a business bank account and get small business loans.
A general partnership structure works similar to a sole proprietorship, except there’s more than one owner. Partners share profits, are liable for the business’s debts, and file a different tax form come payment time.
As my business grew, the natural transition was changing from a sole proprietorship to an LLC.
An LLC is a hybrid of a corporation and a sole proprietorship, which means you get protection and avail of the simple pass-through tax structure.
The corporation part provides limited liability protection, securing your assets from debt and litigation. The sole proprietor part means you pay taxes as a separate entity and file it on your income return, avoiding double taxation.
You form an LLC by filing an article of organization with your secretary of state’s office.
Every new landscape business owner has difficulty knowing what to charge for their services.
They often underprice because of a lack of experience or trying to attract clients. If you price that way, you won’t make a profit.
Every region has standard prices for landscape services, which most of your competitors charge. So look at their rates before you establish your pricing structure.
But even when you have general prices, bidding for design and construction installation projects takes practice.
Steps to take:
Itemizing each section of a job makes pricing easier for you and shows your clients where their money’s going. That reassures and allows them to adjust without you having to reprice the entire job.
Clients are often unsure about what they want, are open to suggestions, and appreciate advice and recommendations. Don’t be afraid to think big.
There’s a learning curve to pricing, like estimating project length, materials quantities, and person-hours.
Take your time, measure everything twice, and give yourself an extra percentage on materials to ensure you don’t run short.
And don’t stress about it because the longer you do it, the more efficient you’ll get.
A landscape business is one of those industries where you’ll need an extra workforce. It’s a physical trade and additional work needs extra hands.
I was only operating for 2 months when I brought on my first employee, rising to 8 as my business grew.
To scale a landscape business effectively, choose your team based on the demographic requirements you want to cater to and the business scale you’ve envisioned.
For example, I began with hard landscaping, laying terraces, building natural stone and sleeper retaining walls, and installing decks and water features. Plants and lawns were missing.
It made sense to employ a qualified horticulturist to provide the complete package, and in doing so, my profits grew.
The takeaway is to pick employees that bring value to your business. That way, everyone will be an asset.
Landscaping is a high-risk industry because of its tools and proximity to the public.
You’ll need a license and insurance cover to protect your business against unforeseen accidents.
Most landscape businesses need the following standard insurance policies:
General liability insurance protects your business against client injury and customer property damage. And, if you’re taking on commercial projects, you’ll need it to qualify for contracts.
Any business with employees must have workers’ compensation insurance to cover their medical expenses should they get injured.
Equipment insurance covers damage or loss to your equipment while doing business.
A diamond tip bench saw can cost $2,000 and a ride-on mower $10,000—equipment insurance is worth every cent.
You don’t need a specific landscape industry license to start your landscaping business. You will, however, require a business license and possibly permits.
What you’ll need depends on your state; your county clerk’s office can tell you what you need to operate your business.
Most states implement a pesticide charter you must follow if you’re using pesticides.
It’s best to build your brand the moment you start your landscaping business, and you can begin by advertising on your truck and trailer. It’s free transit marketing and a great way to let your community know you’re open for business.
First, design a professional landscaping logo that grabs your target audience’s attention, tells them what you do, and sticks in their memory.
And once you have your logo design in place, use it on the following marketing materials.
Landscaping is a visual industry and traditional advertising techniques work brilliantly.
Get yourself business cards and put them everywhere; create brochures and flyers with beautiful pictures showing what you do and deliver them throughout your community.
Have t-shirts and caps printed with your business name and logo, and wear them throughout the day, even when you’re not working.
And of course, you’re going to need a website. If you don’t have web development skills, my advice is to outsource your website design and hire a developer on job sites like Freelance, Upwork, or Fiverr.
Social media is a powerful and fun way to create community awareness of your new landscaping business.
Start a Facebook business page, put your logo and business name on it, and then reach out and contact local groups interested in gardening and landscaping.
Create an Instagram profile, fill it with images of your work, and write helpful information that encourages people to like and share your posts.
People love before and after shots; it enables them to envision themselves in a similar garden. Use this to your advantage and display them on your website, Instagram, and Facebook page.
Once you decide on your landscaping services, you’ll know what equipment you’ll need.
Many new landscaping businesses can’t afford to buy all new tools upfront. You have 2 options:
I found it’s better to invest in high-quality equipment, rent when necessary, and build up your tool locker over time.
Here are some tools you might need.
Your most valuable tools often cost the least amount of money. I’m talking about hand tools, such as shovels, pickaxes, rakes, pitchforks, brushes, buckets, and wheelbarrows.
When buying, choose fiberglass handles when possible since they last longer.
Next comes power tools, including chainsaws, compactors, trimmers, and mowers. Blowers, cultivators, SDS drills, and cordless screwdrivers. The list goes on.
The cost of larger equipment might surprise you; for instance, a new ride-on mower can cost $10,000, and a one-ton mini excavator $15,000.
My advice when purchasing larger equipment is to search on eBay and Craigslist for secondhand deals. Visit auction sites like Richie Bros auctioneers for excavators and Municibid for mowers and other hand-held power tools.
You need a tough truck that won’t let you down when you start a landscaping business.
You have 3 options: Buy new, secondhand, or finance.
A new truck is an enormous investment; here are some ballpark figures:
And those are all base models.
Buying secondhand can save you a ton of cash, but it comes with risks as you don’t know the truck’s history.
Financing your truck is another option when you first start your landscaping business, then buying new at a more reasonable time.
You can finance trucks and other landscape machinery from companies like Navitas credit.
Trailers come in all shapes and sizes and fulfill many roles.
3 of the most common landscape trailers are:
After your truck, your trailer is your most important piece of equipment.
Whether you’re hauling materials or stowing equipment, you need one that’s up for the job. And the same with trucks, you can buy new, secondhand, or lease.
Landscape businesses serve their local community, so traditional and digital marketing strategies make sense when seeking potential clients.
Get your branding in place, print your business cards and flyers, build your website, and create your Google My Business listing.
If you’re thinking, “Do I need all of that to start my landscaping business?”
The answer’s yes, just look at these statistics:
You could start your landscaping business while your website’s under construction, but don’t wait to get your Google My Business account because that’s where your first clients could find you.
And it’s free, easy to create, connects to Google Maps, and provides written and visual information about your business, including reviews.
Once you’re ready, reach out to the following businesses as all can provide a steady flow of potential local clients:
A local chamber of commerce is a network of local businesses working within a specific niche or industry.
It exists to help businesses expand in the area through recommendations, networking opportunities, and increased business exposure.
Most local chamber of commerce organizations charge a membership fee; rates vary but are usually a few hundred dollars per year.
For small, local companies like landscape contractors, referrals are essential when growing their business. You can join up with other landscape businesses that offer different services and promote one another.
It’s well-proven that we trust recommendations and referrals from people or businesses we already know far more than advertisements.
Customer referrals are also a great way to facilitate word-of-mouth marketing.
Word of mouth is the ultimate form of advertising. When a happy customer recommends your landscape business to a friend, family member, or neighbor, you already have one foot in the door.
Here’s how to get word of mouth marketing:
But word of mouth marketing takes time to build.
So, while you wait for those glowing testimonials and referrals, get out and meet your ideal clients by knocking on doors and introducing yourself and your business.
Deliver flyers offering seasonal discounts and one-time offers to increase brand awareness.
The key is to get noticed. Keep pushing, trying, and reaching out.
It’s the best way to grow.
Starting a landscaping business is perhaps the most rewarding career anyone can embark on, but it requires commitment and effort. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Remember, consistent, high-quality work builds a successful landscaping business. Before you know it, you’ll have more work than you can handle.
I’d wish you good luck, but follow this advice, work hard, believe in yourself, and odds are you won’t need it.
This portion of our website is for informational purposes only. Tailor Brands is not a law firm, and none of the information on this website constitutes or is intended to convey legal advice. All statements, opinions, recommendations, and conclusions are solely the expression of the author and provided on an as-is basis. Accordingly, Tailor Brands is not responsible for the information and/or its accuracy or completeness.
Terry is a serial entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience building businesses across multiple industries – construction, real estate, e-commerce, hotelier, and now digital media. When not working, Terry likes to kick back and relax with family, explore Taoism’s mysteries, or savor the taste of fine Italian red wine.