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I started my landscaping business with no money in my pocket. I actually started doing jobs on the side while I was working full time which I recommend doing to get an idea for what the work is like and to build a portfolio. However, that money quickly left my hands and I had to either choose to go back to work for my previous employer or start my own business. At least those were the only two options in my mind.
I had always wanted to run my own business, but I had no money to get it up and going. There were tools that I needed to have to complete the job and equipment I thought I needed to have to complete a project. Sure there are somethings that you definitely need to have, but there are also some things you can go without for the starting stages of your business or you can rent until you have enough money to own.
In this post I want to talk about the story of how to start a landscaping business with no money. Everything you need to know to get your business up and running with no money in your pocket.
Starting a Landscaping Business with No Experience or Money
Work for Family and Friends or for Someone Else
Start Getting Leads
Sign Up Some Contracts
I started by working for a hardscape supply company which opened the doors to a lot of possibilities for me. It was not a well paid job, but I took advantage of my time there by learning as much as I could about all of the products and how to install them. I asked questions constantly to the people that worked there and the contractors coming in. I even installed some of the displays to get some hands-on experience.
Some opportunities came up for me to do help with the laying of a driveway. It was great experience and it opened up the doors to my first opportunity on my own. This came when the neighbor provided me with their friend’s contact number who wanted a front walkway done. I met with them a sold them on my first ever project on my own. I hired my friend and completed it in a weekend all while still working my regular job. I made $1,000.00 on this job. I was so excited.
Though this first job laying the driveway was a paid job, it would not hurt to ask your family and friends if they have any work they want done. A small front walkway or garden retaining wall are great starts to get an idea for estimating and installing. Sure you will likely not be working for great money doing these types of jobs, but they are a start and especially if it is work in the front of the house you will get more eyes on what you are doing while you are doing it. People will start to ask and you can maybe get some leads to start your business.
Education is your number one priority because once you start your business you have a reputation to uphold. You do not want to be going back and having to fix mistakes because those will cost you time and money. Start here with our hardscape construction guide. It is a great way to familiarize yourself with interlock and retaining wall installations.
My education was through reading similar resources and working with the products first-hand. If you do not have anyone that wants some work done at their house perhaps you could work for a little bit at a hardscaping supplier like I did or even work for another contractor. The benefits to this method is that you will create contacts that you can later use when you start your business. As long as you are clear about your intentions and you do not try to screw anyone over, they will more than likely try to help you out when you start your own business.
Which brings me to my next point.
The great thing about working for a hardscape supplier was that I was creating a network and I did not even know it. This network would later help me out when I began my own business. Starting with the hardscape supplier, I had created a reputation for myself of being a great employee that really knew about the product and installation. I could help customers and contractors alike make decisions and choices.
This did not go unnoticed. As soon as I began my own company, and even beforehand, the people I worked with were extremely supportive of me and even helped by providing referrals to me based on work that my start-up business could handle. This was the greatest benefit for me when starting my new business. I did not have to spend money on marketing, though I did experiment with it. I already had qualified leads coming in every week and it was more than I could handle.
On top of that, once word spread that I had started my own company other contractors reached out to me asking if they could sub-contract some work to me or if I would be willing to join their crew on days that I did not have any work lined up. Fortunately for me I always had work lined up so I did not have to go working for someone else. Also, I made a couple of good connections and still continue to do sub-contract work for some contractors I had met during my time working at the hardscape supplier.
It really goes to show that if you are a smart and hard-worker, people will take notice and this will help you in the future. Whether you are working at a low paying job or are well on your way in your career, making sure that you are somebody that other people want to be around really helps grow your network.
In my case leads were free. Which made it very easy for me to start my business with no money. This will not be the case for most people starting out. You will really have to hustle to get these leads if you want them for free. But there are ways to invest your time to get these leads.
The easiest way is to post ads on local classified websites or Facebook Marketplace should you live in the United States (currently Canada does not support services postings in Facebook Marketplace). This is completely free and new leads will come through fairly often if you keep your ads up-to-date.
My experience with these types of clients have been not the greatest, but it is an excellent start to getting your name out there. These are clients that are generally looking for the lowest price possible to get the job done as they resorted to searching through the classified ads. The best leads come from referrals.
Another way would be going door-to-door as long as your area permits this. Always double check if you would need to obtain a permit for this. I did this when I first started with limited success. When the snow began to melt leading into my first season I went out to areas that I thought would be interested in repair work based on what their front yard looked like or areas that I thought would be interested in getting some new work done. It is a great way to get your feet wet in speaking with potential clients and all it requires is your time.
Before you start this, you may want to get some business cards or other marketing materials printed so you have something to hand out.
Honesty is everything when conducting a business. You should let your customers know your experience and your price point should reflect that experience when you are first starting out. Showing some photos of your work that you have done for others is a great way to ease their concern if you have limited experience in the industry.
If you are signing up contracts, but have yet to invest any money into tools or equipment, that is fine. Likely the customer is not going to ask what tools you have as long as you let them know your knowledge of the installation and your process. Keep the customer at ease and you are going to sell the job.
Getting some contracts signed is important because you will want to collect a certain percentage of deposit to be able to cover the materials and a little extra. You will want to include this in the contract and discuss it with your customer beforehand. They should understand your payment structure. In my case I ask for up to 50% at the signing of the contract. This generally depends on a few things including: the cost of the material and how I feel about the customer. For the majority of my customers I collect anywhere from 25% to 40% of the quoted price when the contract is signed. If I priced the job correctly, materials will cost anywhere from 15% to 33% of the quoted price. This leaves me with some money upfront to cover other expenses.
If you are starting out, it also leaves you with some money to purchase the tools you need to start your business. My first paid job when I started my business was for a customer that had all of the materials already on site, I just had to show up and lay. It worked out great because I still asked for 50% of the quoted price upfront and that provided me with the money to buy the tools I needed to complete the job. When the final 50% came in I went out and bought more tools!
If materials are going to cost more than what you are collecting when the contract is signed, you have a couple options. You can create a credit account with your hardscape supplier or use a credit card. Now, this is not me condoning the use of credit and getting in trouble because you are not good with money. Remember that you are starting a business and you will want to use credit appropriately. Credit can be a good thing. It helps free up cash flow and when you are first starting you will want that extra cash flow.
These credit accounts and cards will likely have 30 day terms. That means you will want to plan for your job to be done and have the money collected AND deposited into your account within 30 days in order to pay off that credit. Remember that just because a job is done does not mean that you are going to get paid right away. Include the final payment date on your contract. Also, note the processing time for checks or however you are getting paid to show up in your bank account. Take all of these into consideration if you are deciding to use credit to pay for your materials.
Continue Doing Business
This is the start of your business. Make sure you go through the motions of registering your business and researching what other processes you need to go through to make your business legitimate. You will also want to look into both business liability and auto insurance, plus any other insurance that would apply to your business. Open a bank account and apply for a credit card if you have not already done so.
While you are starting out you can rent equipment like plate compactors and saws that are more expensive to get the job done. Once you have done enough jobs you can then use your money to purchase the necessary equipment that makes sense for you to have.
Make sure those leads continue to come in. You may want to begin spending some of your money on marketing to get some more qualified leads. Make sure to continue to network. Go out to other hardscape suppliers, shake some hands and introduce your business to them. Ask them if they have any contractor referral programs and see how you can get in on that action. These are great places to get referrals from as they send you qualified leads. However, it can be difficult getting them to trust you right away. It may take you some time and some sales of yours for them to see you consistently in their yard to finally start sending some leads your way.
Above all, do not stop doing what you are doing. There are going to be some ups and some downs. It is how you handle these challenges that makes you a successful or unsuccessful hardscaping business owner.