How to Start a Lawn Care Business
Do Business the Right Way
Starting a lawn care business requires more than enjoying outdoor work, but a love for the outdoors is a great place to start. If you also take pride in helping others beautify their lawns, you’re halfway there! So get ready to jump into this business, shovel, mower, and rake in tow.
Below, we’ve done the legwork for you to provide a free guide to starting a home-based lawn care business today.
Not interested in starting a lawn care business? Visit our generic Start A Business Guide.
What Does a Lawn Care Business Do?
In its most simple form, a lawn care business will offer services such as mowing and treating lawns. But, as your business grows and your skills develop (or if you already have a wealth of lawn-related knowledge) your lawn care business might expand to include landscaping, architecture, and design services.
In the beginning, unless you have a degree in something like landscape architecture or have many years of landscaping experience, you’ll want to start small. This is especially true if you’re going to be a one-person operation. While you can do landscaping that requires extensive excavation on your own, it’s tough. Make sure you don’t promise services you can’t adequately deliver.
So, then, where to start? Most lawn care businesses offer some variation of services like mowing, weeding, gardening, fertilizing, chemical application (usually herbicides or pesticides), and tree trimming.
A true landscaping business, on the other hand, would take this further. They would likely offer the same services as a lawn care business, in addition to services like paving walkways, designing and building patios, laying sod, designing and planting new gardens, and perhaps even installing sprinkler systems or contracting with irrigators to do that work.
Essentially, a lawn care business can be as simple as mowing lawns or as complex as ripping up a lawn to install a sustainable landscape that uses only native plants and is water conscious. Obviously, these are very different directions that require very different knowledge bases—it’s up you to decide where you fall right now, and where you’d like to be in the future.
Steps to Starting a Lawn Care Business
Create a Business Plan for Your Lawn Care Business
Before you get started, you’ll need an idea of what resources you’ll need—and how to monetize your business in a practical way. We’ve answered the biggest questions about clients, costs, and profits below.
Who is the target audience?
The target audience for your lawn care business is…anyone with a lawn. You’ll want to decide if you’re going to go after residential or commercial property owners, but other than that, where there’s a lawn, there’s a mower. (That’s how the saying goes, right?)
Keep in mind, however, that not everyone with a lawn will have the disposable income required to pay someone else to maintain it. When it comes to narrowing your focus, you may want to spend the bulk of your time in more affluent or up-and-coming neighborhoods.
How do I get clients?
You will find lawn care clients online, through your community, and via some good, old fashioned door-knocking. Posting on social media through both your personal and professional accounts will be a good way to get your name out there in the beginning. You might be surprised how many of your friends and acquaintances are ready and willing to pass their lawn care off to someone else. Before you start this process, make sure you have a website that, at a minimum, details your experience and the cost of your services.
Lawn care is one of the few services remaining where knocking on doors can actually be a viable way to find clients and network. And, since more people are working from home these days, it’s likely that quite a few people will actually answer their doors. Since you’ll be there with your gear and tools, you could even get to work right then if they wanted you to. But if not, leave behind a business card and the next time they need a mower, maybe they’ll call you.
Once you land some clients, your goal should be to keep them. A client who hires you to mow their lawn one time is much less valuable than a client that returns to you three summers in a row. In order to make sure your clients book you for multiple projects and return year after year, a high level of customer service is a must. Make sure you communicate clearly, complete work as planned, and only make promises you can keep.
How does a lawn care business make money?
A lawn care business makes money by providing maintenance services to people or businesses with lawns. Usually, clients book services for an ongoing length of time. A homeowner might have you mow their lawn once a week from May to September, with monthly rounds of chemical application, for example.
When and how often clients pay you will depend on the scale of the projects and work you’re doing for them. If you mow for them four times a month, you might bill them monthly, after the work is complete. But if you’re doing more of a landscaping project—maybe paving their front walkway and laying down sod—you will probably want to collect some of the money upfront, along with the cost of the materials. Remember, you’re a growing business, and you don’t need to absorb all of the initial costs yourself. However you decide to collect payment, get the agreement in writing.
- Contracts: A contract is a good idea not only to keep payments on track, but also to decrease your liability and set reasonable expectations. Though you’ll definitely want to have the contract reviewed by an attorney (consider creating templates that you can tailor to specific projects), be sure to include information about the parties involved; scope of the work; timeline of deliverables; fees and expenses; early termination and mediation.
How much money will it take to get started?
Starting a lawn care business can cost many thousands of dollars if you don’t already have equipment. Of absolute necessity is a reliable truck. You should plan on spending at least $10,000 for a used truck if you don’t already have one. Depending on how much gear you need to haul, a trailer might also be needed. New utility trailers cost around $1,500.
Of course, a truck and trailer are just getting you to job sites. They’re not actually helping you do the job you’ve been hired for. To successfully complete lawn care projects, at a minimum, you will need a mower (at least $200), shovels, rakes, gloves, buckets, and protective gear. As your business grows, your list of necessary equipment might grow, too. Make sure you factor equipment purchases into your rates, and that you don’t buy more than you can afford.
If you’re worried about upfront costs or aren’t sure if a certain tool is necessary, look into equipment rentals in your area. If you’re renting a tool for a specific project, you might even be able to pass that cost off to your client. In terms of keeping costs low, consider buying used gear as well.
How much do lawn care businesses make each year?
The most common salary for a lawn care or landscaping business owner falls between $50,000 and $99,999, according to Lawn & Landscape Market Leadership’s 2020 Census. However, 18 percent of census respondents make $30,000-$49,999, and 19 percent make less than $30,000. At the high end, business owners in this industry are reported to make $200,000 and up. (All of these numbers relate to take-home pay for owners, not to business revenue.)
How much should I charge?
The going rate for your services will depend primarily depend on your location and the complexity of the project. To mow smaller lawns, hourly rates generally hover between $25 and $60. For larger lawns or fields, some professionals charge by the acre instead, charging between $150 and $200 for the first acre, and perhaps offering deals as the acreage increases. You can even factor travel and prep time into your prices. And if a client hires you to regularly mow their lawn, you might offer them a discounted rate when they book all at once.
Of course, your lawn care business will likely offer more than just mowing services. You’ll have separate prices for edging, fertilizing, weeding, and chemical application. Putting costs of various services and packages on your website is a great idea so that clients understand the range of what you can offer them.
When setting your prices, first take stock of what others in the area charge for similar services. Then, consider your overhead. How much do you need to make to break even? What would earn you a livable wage? Once you have all those numbers in front of you, it will be much easier to determine your rates.
Can I operate year-round?
Unless you live in a place where it’s usually sunny and winter is a dream, your lawn care business might be a partial-year endeavor. In most regions, the busy season will be April through October. With this in mind, lawn care is a great business if you have a different winter job. If you don’t, and want to keep making money through your lawn care business in the off-season, consider offering snow blowing or snow plowing services.
Snow blowers come in a range of prices and abilities, but you should plan on spending at least $500 to buy one. Snow plow attachments for trucks tend to cost between $1,000 and $2,000.
Select a Name for Your Lawn Care Business
Have a great name idea? Before you start marketing and branding your business, you’ll need to ensure your name is available. Most states prohibit or restrict businesses from adopting names that are already in use. Even if it’s legally allowed, a copycat name puts your business at risk of a lawsuit.
See if your business name is available in your state with our Free Business Name Search.
Trademarks and Domain Names
Plan to trademark your business name? You can see if the trademark is available on a website like Trademarkia. It’s also a good idea to see if the domain name is available, which you can do on websites like Network Solutions and GoDaddy. Even if you don’t plan on putting together a website right away, you can buy the domain name to make sure no one takes it in the meantime.
Choose a Business Structure
Should you form an LLC? A sole proprietorship? Your choice of business structure will affect many aspects of your business, from liability to taxes.
Sole Proprietorships & General Partnerships
If you don’t file any paperwork to legally form a different kind of business—you have a sole proprietorship or general partnership. Essentially, these are “default” business structures. A sole proprietorship has one owner, and a partnership has multiple owners.
These structures have a few initial benefits. They’re easy, fast and cheap to start and maintain. However, the limitations and risks of these business structures quickly become more apparent as your business grows. In both of these business types, you are your business, legally speaking. Your company’s legal business name is YOUR name—so you’ll need a DBA to operate under any other name. Any business debt is YOUR personal debt. If anyone sues your business, they are suing YOU personally.
LLCs & Corporations
Limited liability companies (LLCs) and corporations are business entities formed at the state level. The entity is legally separate from its owners, meaning the owners are not personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business. As a separate entity, the business also has multiple tax election options. For example, both LLCs and corporations can choose to be taxed as S-corps if they meet the requirements.
LLCs and corporations are not quite as simple and inexpensive as default structures. LLCs and corporations come with formal requirements like state reports. They also have more fees than default structures, such as formation and annual report fees. However, the benefits of an LLC or corporation—especially liability protection and tax flexibility—are significant.
Legally Form Your Lawn Care Business
If you opt for a sole proprietorship or general partnership, there’s no formal paperwork to file to legally create your entity—you just start selling your product or service. However, you will not have any liability protections or tax flexibility.
LLCs and corporations are formed by filing paperwork with a state agency, typically the Secretary of State. To start an LLC, you file articles of organization. To start a corporation, you file articles of incorporation. In most states, you can file these forms online or download a paper form from the state’s website.
Whether you’re forming an LLC or corporation, your articles will require certain basic information about your business, such as your company’s:
- business address
- registered agent and office
- business purpose
- members/managers or directors/officers’ names and addresses
- number and type of authorized shares (for stock corporations)
You’ll also need the signature of someone authorized to sign on behalf of the business, along with the state’s filing fee. Fees vary by state but are typically between $100 and $200. If you hire Northwest to form your LLC or corporation, we complete and submit your formation paperwork on your behalf for just $100 plus state fees.
Create Internal Policies and Procedures
It’s important to put your company’s internal policies and procedures in a written document, especially if you’re starting your business with others. Partnerships have partnership agreements. LLCs have operating agreements. Corporations have bylaws.
These documents look a bit different for each kind of business, but they serve the same general purpose. They ensure there’s a clear path forward for any major issue that may arise, from changes in ownership to closing the business. LLCs and corporations also typically need an operating agreement or bylaws in order to open a bank account.
Get an EIN and Register for Taxes
Nearly all LLCs and corporations will need to request a federal employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS. If you file corporate income taxes, have employees, or file certain franchise taxes, you must have an EIN. An EIN is also a common requirement for opening a business bank account. Most businesses can request an EIN by filling out the IRS’s online form.
Your EIN is for federal taxes—but you’ll likely have state and local tax obligations as well. You will most likely need to set up an account with the state’s Department of Revenue, and you may need to apply for a state tax ID or a sales tax license as well.
Learn more about how to Get an EIN for your business.
Open a Bank Account
A business bank account keeps your personal finances separate from your business finances. For LLCs and corporations, keeping separate finances is essential for maintaining liability protection. To open an account, LLCs and corporations typically need to bring to the bank a copy of their articles, their operating agreement or bylaws, and their EIN.
Obtain Required Licenses and Permits
Many businesses will need a business license to operate. Licensing information—as well as any zoning requirements or other permits—can usually be found on the city or county website.
Lawn care businesses sometimes need to obtain specific licenses; landscaping businesses often do. The specifics vary by state and municipality, but in most cases, if you are strictly offering lawn care services (mowing, edging, fertilizing), you won’t need a license. However, if you will be altering the terrain (planting flowers, trimming trees, laying sod, paving walkways) chances go up that you’ll need a license. Sometimes, you must take an exam ahead of licensure, too. Make sure to check at both the state and local level, as some states might not have licensing requirements, but municipalities within that state may.
Most states, even if they don’t require lawn care or landscaping licensing, do require a license before you can offer chemical or pesticide application. In many cases, you must pass an exam prior to receiving this license, so make sure you study up and plan ahead.
Next Steps for Your Lawn Care Business
After your business is up and running, there are a few additional steps you may want to take as you grow:
- Get online: With your domain name, you can create a business website. You can hire a professional or use a website-builder like Wix or WordPress. You may also want to invest in online ads through a program like Google Ads.
- Hire employees: Hiring employees requires quite a few steps. You’ll need to collect W-4s and I-9s from employees, report the new hires to the state, set up withholding, pay for unemployment insurance, distribute any required documents and notices to employees, and display wage and safety info in the workplace. Employer.gov is a good place to start, followed by your state’s tax or labor office.
- Get business insurance: While LLCs and corporations protect you from personal liability, you don’t want your business to go bankrupt in the face of an accident, injury or other disaster. At minimum, it’s a good idea to look into general liability insurance. Since you’ll be using a truck to haul your equipment to job sites, you’ll also want to look into commercial auto insurance. For your small lawn care business, you will likely pay less than $1,500 a year for coverage, according to Insureon.
How Do I Know if a Lawn Care Business is Right for Me?
What’s it really like to work in a lawn care business?
Working in a lawn care business means spending the bulk of your time outside doing manual labor. But, as the business owner, a lot of your time will be spent networking and marketing, too. As your business grows roots, more and more of your clients will become repeat customers, and you’ll be able to spend less time searching for work and more time doing the outside work you love.
What does it take to succeed in the world of lawn care?
To succeed in the world of lawn care, you need to be communicative, organized, and handy. Before you embark on this journey, make sure you’re ready to do more than just mow—you need to be willing to market, network, and problem solve.
When you’re first starting, you also need to be a creative thinker. This skill will always serve you well, but will be especially important in the beginning. How will you keep costs low? How will you complete big projects with minimal help? How can you keep many clients happy at a time?
As a lawn care business owner, you will need to wear many hats in order to find success. It’s a career path that will take as much as you can give to it, but will reward you at many steps along the way. If you’re ready to work with both people and the land, then you’re ready to sow the seeds of your lawn care business.
Ready to Form an LLC or Corporation?
Northwest Registered Agent is here to help with all your small business ideas and needs. Answer a few simple questions about your business, and we’ll prepare and submit your formation paperwork to the state. We also provide your new business registered agent service, free business forms and guides, and much more.