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How to Start and Run a Landscape & Garden Maintenance Business Article 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 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 odds are better than you think. Landscaping and interiorscaping are service businesses. A service business is 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 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) than you can follow these guidelines much easier than 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 basics. A good book for everyone is Sunset's Western Garden Book. Not only does it cover all basics and more, it also has a complete encyclopedia of plants, trees, shrubs, and flowers. Each description tells you what 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 plants.
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 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 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 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 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 basic requirements to start it would seem that interiorscaping requires smallest capital outlay. This is correct, but starting an interiorscape business is more difficult in other ways. It requires a better understanding of 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 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 profitable.
In every business you have to contend with 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 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.