How to Start and Run a Landscape &
Garden Maintenance Business
by Jack Stone
Copyright © 2003 by ProGardenBiz
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 most easy 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 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) than 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,
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
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 QUIT YOUR JOB! Start your business part-time.
You need your income to
survive on 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 court.
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 lawn mower, rake, broom, and other small
hand tools. Buy your equipment used if necessary, but
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 to 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 in 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
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 week-ends, 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
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 effective.
*Newspaper classified ads. Very effective. Try to use
a small direct mail weekly that allows you 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 business 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 ads.
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 attract as customers
(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. You money will be much
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 hair style. 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, 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, know exactly why and where you are
making money or losing money then you should have no trouble.
About the Author
Jack Stone is a Contributing Editor for ProGardenBiz Magazine,
an online magazine for professional gardeners and landscape
contractors. Visit ProGardenBiz to find out how you can
get a free subscription, start-up guidance, business ideas
and inspiration at http://www.progardenbiz.com.
A Dozen Tips for Producing
Low Allergy Gardens
by Thomas Leo Ogren
What we plant often has a direct effect on our own health
and the health of those near us. A pollen-producing male
tree in our own yard will easily expose us to ten times
more pollen than would a similar tree growing just down
the block. This can be compared to second-hand smoke.
It is possible to inhale some smoke from a person smoking
a block or two away from you, but it is hardly the same
as someone smoking right next to you. It is the same with
plants. If your own yard is full of allergenic plants,
then you will be exposed most.