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How to Run a Landscaping Business in the USA

This article provides valuable insights on running a landscaping business, including regulatory laws, equipment, recruitment and financing options.

The US landscaping services market has rebounded strongly from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and is a sector where small, independent operators flourish.

Worth $114.6 billion, the market grew 5.3% between 2020 and 2021, according to market research firm IBISWorld.

If you’re wondering how to start a landscaping business with no experience, then it’s wise to first obtain relevant landscaping qualifications and get some industry experience before starting one from scratch.

With the right skills, business acumen and strategy, you can join the huge proportion of independent operators in this sector.

Drafting your business plan

Fundamental to achieving this goal is your business plan, which sets out a vision for the business and how you intend to realize it, given the economic context in which it operates.

This blueprint should start with an executive summary, around 1-2 pages long, that summarizes the document’s contents.

What is your landscaping business to be? Set out your services, such as mowing, weeding and trimming, arborist services, and landscape architect services like creating decks, ponds and walkways, and whether it will serve commercial or residential properties, or both.

How much will or does your landscaping business make? Detail any history and projections of landscaping business profit.

Also set out day-to-day operational processes and recruitment and training plans.

Establish your areas of competitive advantage and weakness and your landscaping business ideas for exploiting or mitigating them.

These findings can help you set achievable milestones like revenue or market share targets, plus the plans that will help you hit them – such as acquiring a nursery and garden center – and how these will be funded.

Conducting market research

Ongoing scrutiny of local competitors, local demographics, wider industry trends and forecasts will inform how your business plan evolves over time.

For instance, 2020 research from The National Association of Landscape Professionals revealed that residential services were currently performing better than commercial services.

Further research could help answer the following related question: is this a long-term trend, is there a gap in the residential market locally, and how viable is a shift to this market segment for your business?

Other useful annual reports are Lawn & Landscape Magazine’s State of the Industry Report and Landscape Management’s Industry Pulse Survey.

Securing equipment and tools for your landscaping business

Your equipment collection will grow over time beyond your core essentials like ladders, lawnmowers and wheelbarrows.

In the meantime, it’s often more cost-effective to hire equipment you use infrequently.

After all: buy cheap, buy twice. The short-term savings from buying the cheapest tools might be surpassed by costs associated with repair, comparatively short lifespans, and jobs taking longer to complete.

Buying secondhand and using equipment loans are alternative ways to obtain quality tools inexpensively.

Investing in premises

Other than storage space, most small landscaping firms don’t need premises, which frees up funds for investing in vans, equipment and people.

When you’re big enough to justify investing in premises, it’s important not to overspend on floor-space, furnishings and location – especially when so much back-office work can now be done remotely.

Staff recruitment and retention

A strategy for recruitment and retention is vital given 88% of landscaping and lawn care businesses profess to finding it ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ difficult to find good employees.

From employee referral programs to offering unusual and compelling perks, think creatively about finding and attracting new talent.

Pay employees competitively and provide on-the-job training and other opportunities for advancement, which incentivizes hard work as well as loyalty.

Contractors are particularly useful for one-off projects for which you lack relevant skills in house.

Marketing your landscaping business

The nature of the landscaping sector is such that word of mouth and positive online reviews can generate plenty of business for competent providers.

However, there are many inexpensive ways in which you can proactively strengthen your brand and win new business.

This includes signing up for review platforms like Google My Business, Yelp and Angi, and asking customers for testimonials and online reviews in person, over the phone and via email.

You could also reward customers for referring work to you, perhaps with discounts on future jobs.

Licensing and Covid-19 restrictions

Licensing restrictions vary by state. For instance, landscaping contractors require no state license to operate in Alaska, but need a C-27 Landscaping Contractor license to work in California.

General liability insurance is a must wherever you work. Worker’s compensation insurance is required in Alaska, California and Hawaii.

Performed outdoors with no need for close contact with customers, the landscape industry has been classified as ‘lower risk’ by The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in relation to Covid-19. This means businesses are largely able to operate while taking fairly non-disruptive precautions.

Working with applicable regulations

Landscaping can be dangerous if safety protocols aren’t implemented. Physical labor, use of electrical equipment, loud noise generated by power tools, and pesticides and chemicals are among the hazards that can result in accidents and injuries.

Guidance from OSHA can help you formulate, clearly communicate and strictly enforce easy-to-follow safety procedures that ensure you comply with federal health and safety laws.

Raising finance

Regular small business loans are an effective way to raise substantial funds, but you typically need collateral, a strong credit score, and to submit a business plan and extensive documentation.

You can get more favorable terms from SBA-backed loans, but at the cost of stricter criteria and a longer, more convoluted process.

Business credit cards are useful for purchasing the materials required for a project in advance of being paid by the customer, especially given they are interest free if you pay the bill on time and in full. You can also finance large purchases inexpensively if your credit rating is good enough to secure a card with a lengthy interest-free period.

Other funding sources include equipment loans sourced from banks, the manufacturer or leasing firms, and merchant cash advances, where you effectively sell future sales at a discount to rapidly improve current cash flow.

Exit Strategy: Deciding to sell

Having an exit strategy in place is particularly important given the work’s physicality. Unless you can afford to step back from a landscaping role, then injuries, illness and advancing age can suddenly necessitate advertising your landscaping business for sale much sooner than expected.

When you sell a business in this sector, you’ll need to consider multiple factors. Here are some of them:

  • Decide a potential exit date and your reasons for selling
  • Value your business and establish a roadmap for bolstering strengths and mitigating risks to increase its value between now and a likely sale
  • Get the business due diligence-ready – tidying up books and records, back-office systems and other things buyers scrutinize when negotiating a business sale
  • Consider how you might structure a deal, how this might affect tax liabilities, and how to make a deal work for potential buyers – whether that’s family members, employees or competitors
  • Many landscaping companies rely on their owner’s relationships and craftsmanship, so gradually equip your business and its employees to perform effectively without you

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