How to Start and Run a Landscape & Garden Maintenance Business

Own your business, own your job, own your life.

Statistics show that nine out of every ten new businesses fail.
Most of these businesses fail within the first year. The rest
don’t make it past their third anniversary. Given such dismal
odds, why would you want to start a landscaping or
interiorscaping business?

First of all, because the odds are better than you think.
Landscaping and interiorscaping are service businesses. A
service business is the easiest business to start and be
successful. The “statistics” usually do not include small
service businesses. So, one would hope, your odds are better
than you think.

There are other reasons that make starting a service business
easier than others. You can start out with low capital
investment. You can run your business with low overhead. If
you manage your business properly, slow periods will not
cause financial hardship.

The reason for most business failures is that they cannot
survive slow periods or cash crunches. Other types of
businesses have large overheads that require a constant influx
of money. Such expenses as employees, rent, loan payments, etc.
You can design your business to survive these problems.

These guidelines for starting your own service business are for
those who have little or no money to start with. If you have
plenty of money (start-up capital) then you can follow these
guidelines much easier than the rest of us. So before we get
started, remember we are assuming that you have no start-up
capital, but are willing to work hard and take a few risks.

First, you need to know what you are doing in your new field. A
little business knowledge would not hurt either. But you
probably do not have time to go back to school. Also, I would
imagine you are interested in getting started right away. So,
visit your local book store.

If you know nothing about gardening and landscaping pick up a
couple of books that cover the basics. A good book for everyone
is Sunset’s Western Garden Book. Not only does it cover all the
basics and more, it also has a complete encyclopedia of plants,
trees, shrubs, and flowers. Each description tells you what the
plant is, how to plant it, care for it, requirements, etc.

If you lack a business background buy some good books on
business basics. There are many books on running a small
business. Remember, most gardeners, landscapers, or
interiorscapers that fail do so, not because they did not know
their trade, but because they did not understand how to manage
their business. In fact, it is almost more important to
understand good business techniques than it is to know about

After you have purchased your small library set aside at least
one hour a day (morning, evening, lunch-hour, anytime) to study
them. Give yourself as much time as you can to read and study.
Be sure to divide your time equally between your business and
trade books.

Now, I presume you are currently working at another job to
support yourself and possibly a family. Rule Number One: DO NOT
JOB! Start your business part-time. You need your income to
survive while you build your new business. Your new business
will take time to develop to the point where it will support you.

If you have debts (credit cards, auto loans, etc.) try to get
them paid off or paid down as much as possible before you start
your new business. There will be rough times ahead and you want
the decks cleared for heavy weather. In other words, when cash
gets tight you do not want to lose your car or be hauled into

Acquire the basics you need to get started.

Gardener: A truck or trailer to carry your equipment and debris
(although some enterprising people have even started without
this). A lawnmower, rake, broom, and other small hand tools.
Buy your equipment used if necessary, but shop carefully.

Landscaper: Basically you need hand tools and a truck or trailer.
To start with most other tools you can rent.

Interiorscaper: A car or truck is necessary, watering cans, and
assorted small hand tools.

From the basic requirements start it would seem that
interiorscaping requires the smallest capital outlay. This is
correct, but starting an interiorscape business is more
difficult in other ways. It requires a better understanding of
the trade. Indoor plants are much more difficult to maintain.
Also, acquiring accounts is not as easy as outdoor work.
Most, if not all, interiorscape accounts will be commercial,
as opposed to the residential work of gardeners.

For gardeners and landscapers, a truck or trailer is a must, but
as I mentioned earlier it is possible to start without one for
some work. If you are doing maintenance you may be able to get
accounts that will allow you to use their equipment and not
require you to haul away debris. You will be expected to work
very inexpensively, though. If you can get a truck do so.

For both gardeners and landscapers, another source of income is
from clean-ups. This is simply a one-time job of cleaning up an
overgrown landscape. These jobs are hard work but can be quite

In every business, you have to contend with the government.
Service businesses are no different. Before you get started
investigate what is required in your area. Most likely you will
need a business license from your city. The state may require a contractor’s license or certification for landscape contractors.
Most likely your state will require a pest control license if you
intend to apply pesticides. Check out all the city, state, and
federal rules before you start.

If you can afford it, you should get insurance before you start.
If you can not afford it when you first start your business
(remember, some activities, in some states, require insurance)
then plan on getting it as soon as possible. It is for your
own protection. One lawsuit could ruin all your hard work.

Arrange your work hours so that you have time to start your
part-time business. You can start on weekends, but an ideal
schedule would be to have two or three weekdays off and work
nights so that you can put in some hours on the other days.

By now you should have the time, equipment, and the knowledge
(or working on that by studying). Now you need the work. To get
this you need to advertise. How and where you advertise depends
on your budget and your market.

For gardeners and landscapers, I would recommend that you start
with residential work and add commercial work later. For
interiorscapers, the work is almost all commercial.

To acquire residential work there are several ways. They are
presented below in order of cost and are rated for

*Word-of-mouth. Recommendations. Cheapest and best,
but requires that you already have done some work.
*Door-to-door. Cheap, but ineffective and time-consuming.
If you have no alternatives then pick new areas with new homes
and upper-income areas.
*Flyers. More costly than door-to-door, but no more
*Newspaper classified ads. Very effective. Try to use a
small direct mail weekly that allows you to target specific zip
code zones. Weekly direct mail publications with names like
Pennysaver, Advisor, etc. are your best bet. Your money will
be better spent than in the large city daily.
*Yellow pages. Very Expensive. Not a good place to put
limited dollars when just getting started, but effective at
later stages of your business growth.

Most successful service businesses that are growing get most of
their leads (prospective customers) from word-of-mouth and
newspaper ads. A classified in a direct-mailed weekly can be
as low as $30.00 per zip code zone. I would recommend the type
of weekly that consists mainly of classified ads and display

To acquire commercial work is completely different. This
requires print advertising in local business magazines or
upscale monthly magazines that reach the upper-income people
in your city. It also requires direct mail campaigns to the
businesses you are trying to attract customers and direct
(door-to-door) solicitation. An ad in the Yellow Pages is
a must for attracting commercial work.

If you advertise in the Yellow Pages use the phone company
Yellow Pages and not an imitation. Your money will be much
better spent.

Once you start advertising you will not immediately get work.
First, you must bid on the job, that is give the prospective
customer a summary of what you intend to do and what it will
cost. This is the part that will make or break you.

The lowest price does not always get the job. In fact, we don’t
recommend trying to get work by price alone. Charge what you
are worth, what you what, and what quality work will pay in your
market. Let the competition work for less. The person that gets
the job is usually the person who gives the most professional
presentation. This means knowing what you are doing. Being able
to estimate the time and materials necessary for the job.
Presenting yourself and your service in a professional way.

Always be on time for a bid. Never miss a bid (if something does
come up, call and change the appointment). I won more jobs
because nobody else showed up then you would care to know about.
Just being there is half the battle.

Dress neatly. Wear a uniform, if possible. Sears sells uniform
shirts and pants in many different colors. It does not have to
have your company name on it to look like a uniform (although
that is a nice touch). Be conservative in your appearance and

Remember, even in your own business you are not
completely your own boss — the customer is. Often the job goes
to the person the customer felt most comfortable about.

Look professional. Carry a clipboard to take notes. Have some
sort of pre-printed estimate sheet to provide to the customer.
Use a brochure (if you can afford it) to describe your services.
Have business cards.

If you have done all this, then do not sell yourself short.
Charge an appropriate rate. Don’t worry about those who will
not pay your price. You only need those who will.

From here on in it is simply a matter of acquiring the work and
doing it. Do an excellent job and you will have more work then
you can handle. As the work fills up your available work hours
start considering your move to leave your present job. Perhaps
find a part-time job to fill the gap. Eventually, you will have
no need for an outside job. Your business will provide for all
your needs.

As your business grows you can grow with it. Move carefully and
do not overextend yourself. Keep your overhead low. Only spend
money when it is an investment that will return profits.
Eventually, you may hire employees, and salespeople, rent an office,
etc., but by that time you should be making enough money to
afford it.

Once you have started and are moving successfully forward, your
next problem will be growth and how you handle it. Rapid growth
has killed many businesses. But if you keep a close eye on your
books, watch which jobs are profitable and which are not, and know
exactly why and where you are making money or losing money then
you should have no trouble.

Good Luck!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Article by Jack Stone
Copyright © 2003 by ProGardenBiz

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