Starting a lawn care and landscaping business can be difficult if you don't know what you're doing. There are many pitfalls you need to be aware of and avoid if you are going to run a successful and most importantly profitable gardening business.
In this guide, I'm going to take you through the exact steps my brother and I took to build our own successful lawn care business from scratch with zero experience of running a business.
We were both employed at the time and had the skills required for lawn care and gardening…but what we didn't know was how to get the business started and what plans, tools, and systems we needed in place to ensure our venture would work. W
hat follows is a story and how-to guide of our journey, so you can avoid and learn from the mistakes we made along the way and create your own profitable business.
How To Start a Lawn Care Business Legally
Self Employed or LLC?
The quick and easy way to get started is to simply register as self-employed and start cutting lawns in the neighborhood. You can easily drum up business by visiting people you know in your local area, but growing beyond that point and competing against existing people/businesses will require more.
Registering an LLC
Arguably the best way to go and the way I would start ANY new business would be to register an LLC. If you want to be taken seriously and reap the many other benefits companies have over a self-employed gardener then this is the way to go. This gives you the most protection against anything unforeseen that could happen in this world of lawsuits we live in.
There are also huge tax advantages to operating as an LLC as many of the tools you use to build and grow your business will be recorded as a business expense, which will reduce your tax liability come time to do your tax returns.
When it comes to hiring your first employee then an LLC is a must. You have a duty of care to anyone who works under you and adding a layer of protection via an LLC and employer insurance is a no-brainer. Your employees will be working with machinery and tools that could, if not used correctly cause serious injury. Therefore, having the correct set-up and insurance is crucial.
Customer booking and payment software is a must if you want to avoid the dreaded manual work of managing a ton of paperwork. Typically referred to a CRM software (customer relationship management), these tools not only free up your time, but they also automate much of the tedious work that's involved with making bookings and appointments, cancellations, taking payments, refunds and invoicing etc. What's more, many of these CRM tools allow your customers to make and manage their own bookings via the systems itself, so you no longer have to man the phones all day whilst you're trying to get some actual work done.
Sending emails is the best way we've found to grow our business by ensuring our customers come back to us time and time again. The way we do it is by using cheap software that will run you around $29 per month to send out automated emails each day/week/month to our existing and potential customers with offers, updates, and information about their garden.
We allow them to book an appointment and pay for their lawn care by clicking on a link within the email. This saves us time are we're not on the phone, making bookings and taking payments manually. Meaning we have more time to work on our actual business, performing the services we offer.
This automation alone has driven more business than all of the other strategies we've tried…combined. My recommended email marketing and automation software is Aweber for a number of reasons:
- It's cheap to get started, at just $29 /month
- They offer a free 30-day trial
- Their interface is simple and user-friendly
- It does much of what the high-end products do which cost upwards of $300 per month
Later in the guide, I will cover ‘Upselling' which is where you simply offer services to existing customers to get them to spend more with your business, which results in a larger profit. We did this using Aweber to great effect, so much so that each email a customer receives from us introduces a new/potential service they may need. Which results in a lot of extra business for us over the year.
Paid Traffic Friends, Family, and word of mouth can only get you so far when it comes to growing your lawn care business. Eventually, you will need to dip into your profits and spend a little in order to drive new business and hopefully repeat customers. Google Ads Google is where we started after we had our first few customers (thanks Mom!). It is where I recommend all of my coaching clients to start and I suggest the same for you too. Why? If you looking to get lawn care customers fast, Google is what people use to find businesses and services. They use very specific search terms or ‘keywords' to locate what they are looking for and then they call the phone number. Having your business show at the top of the Google search results can be done in 2-ways.
- SEO or Search Engine Optimization
- Paid Advertising with Google Ads
Today I'm going to briefly cover these two options, however, if you would like more information on how to run a successful SEO or Paid Traffic campaign in Google you can subscribe to my free newsletter where I provide free training on how you can do this yourself and save money.
SEO or Search Engine Optimization
SEO is a whole new skill in itself, with an entire industry dedicated to ‘ranking' sites in Google, which means having them show in the top 10, preferably the top 3 for the specific search terms or ‘keywords' people type into the Google search box.
If you're going to build the website yourself or do your own SEO then my free lawn care business newsletter is a must. I break down the steps into an easy-to-follow format to help you navigate through the often complicated world of Search Engine Optimization.
Facebook The main difference between advertising on Google and advertising on Facebook is the mindset of your potential customer. Think about it, when you're browsing your Facebook feed what are you seeing?
Updates from your friends and colleagues, maybe some cute cat videos or memes. Facebook users are in an ‘Entertainment' mindset…they don't go log-in to find a lawn expert.
This is what makes your demographic targetting so important when running Facebook Ads. I must warn you, setting up and running a successful Facebook Ad campaign can be difficult. I took me months to figure it out but once I did I knew I could spend $1 to make $3 on the other end. How many dollars would you spend if you had this formula figured out?
Pricing your services is something that people either find easy or extremely challenging. Knowing how much to charge to mow a lawn, for example, can be as simple as hiring a few local companies to mow your own lawn and see what they charge or you can simply ask them over the phone. Once you've done that a few times you will have a good idea of what the competitors are charging and more importantly what your potential customers are willing to pay.
Discounting and Deals
Whilst offering discounts and deals can be a wise business move, it's not always the right one. Initially, I would recommend you decide on a price based on your research and see how your potential clients react. If each lead/call you have resulted in a sale, you've likely priced too low…or you're an extremely good salesman!
If on the other hand, you go zero sales, you have the opposite problem…you're services are priced too high. We went for a middle of the road approach and made our initial prices ‘about average' and that worked to get some initial traction. Then when we wanted to guarantee future business we simply offered all past and existing customers a small discount on block-bookings.
So if they require our services every week, 2-weeks or once per month, they could save money by booking upfront, and also save time from having to call us out each time.
Upselling Additional Services
Let's imagine you already have your business up and running and you've got 5 happy customers who have had a simple law cutting service from you. It's autumn and the leaves are falling and you have an idea.
All those leaves are going to rot and spoil the lovely work I've done on those gardens…I should contact my customers and offer to clear up the leaf litter on my next visit.
From our experience, at least 2 of those 5 customers will say yes, they will be glad you've contacted them and they can cross off an item from their to-do list, happy that you will take that work off their hands. Now just imagine all of the other services you can offer, each one adding a few extra dollars into your pocket:
- Gutter clearing
- Pond clearing
- Hedge trimming
- Landscaping & Design
- Relaying pathways
- Relaying lawn/grass
- Artificial grass installation
There are hundreds of things people have on their ‘To Do' list, many of which they will happily pay an expert like yourself to come and do it for them. They upsides for you, apart from the extra revenue, is that you will already be visiting their property for the standard lawn care service, so you won't have additional fuel costs.
Your marketing spend was practically zero since you used your email automation software or a quick phone call to make the offer. Each time you visit you can offer an ‘upsell' of some sort and over the space of a year, your revenue numbers can grow 100,% 300%, 1,000%+.
Landscape Design Software
If you're considering offering landscaping services and design is a part of your offering, then good design software is an absolute must. We have written a complete guide to the top free and paid landscape design software tools available, however, my recommendation for you is SmartDraw.
The video below gives an overview of what it does.
My brother is the design expert and he's tried them all and he swears by this piece of software and won't use anything else.
The Pros and Cons of Starting a Lawn Care Business
As with any business, there are upsides and downsides. I'm going to make the assumption that you've got at least some experience cutting lawns and gardening, even if it's just your own! So let's look at some of the pros and cons of lawn care businesses.
- You get to work outside all day – this could be considered a pro if it's spring/summer or you live in a warm climate. For those in colder environments and in winter, this could possibly be a con.
- Highly Scaleable – as we looked at earlier, you can sell many different services once you have a client on board by simply doing a good job and waiting until something obvious is needed, then make the offer.
- Repeat business – people don't change lawn companies once they've found someone who turns up on time and does a good job. They are simply looking to save time and as long as you give them that…you're golden.
- Employees – you can hire entry-level employees to do lower-level tasks whilst you train them up. This means you can pay lower wages initially to scale your business.
- Seasonal – If you already have a job or business, you can always offer your lawn care services during the spring and summer months.
- Seasonal – We've got ‘seasonal' twice on purpose. The fact that when winter comes grass grows more slowly and there will be fewer lawns to cut. Which is when you offer you ‘other' services.
- Expensive tools – A high-end lawnmower will set you back a few thousand, especially if you opt for a ride-on mower. Rakes, leaf blowers, etc will also set you back a few hundred, so having enough start-up capital is a must.
- Competition – Since a lawn care business is fairly simple to get started, there may be competition in your area. I suggest you hire the competition, see what they do and how they work and make your service better.
Starting A Lawn Care Business FAQ's
Do you need a license to start a lawn care business?
If you're just mowing lawns in your local area, most municipalities will not require you to have a permit. However, you should always check with your local or state authority to ensure you have the latest rules. If starting as a business (LLC) then most likely you will need a permit and related business license in order to start trading.
How much does it cost to start this business?
Business startup costs can vary depending on the tools you choose and if you set up a business entity or not. You should budget from a minimum of $2,000 up to $7,500 that should be enough to get the basics in place.
How much does a typical lawn service owner make?
Typically, lawn care businesses make anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000 in their first year. Pricing your services and not underselling yourself is important and a mistake many new business owners make.