If you’re an arborist thinking about starting your own tree service business or are just genuinely curious about how to start one, there’s a huge opportunity.
Running your own tree service business is a good career. It’s more profitable than being an employee with trustworthy, professional tree care services in high demand in nearly every region in the world.
You’re also your own boss and can set your own standards, build a team you can rely on, and achieve your own goals.
But being a skilled arborist isn’t enough to start a tree cutting business.
You also need to understand business management, customer service, and how to price for profit. You need a plan, guidance, and the right tools to succeed.
You need a “How to Start a Tree Service Business” ten-point checklist.
How to Start a Tree Service Business: Your 10-Point Checklist
1. Cover the Tree Care Business Basics
The first few things you need to know before you start is how much capital you need, the amount of money you can make, and whether you need a license.
In this section, we’ll answer a few basics:
- How much capital do you need to start a tree care business?
- How much does a tree trimming business make?
- Do tree services need to be licensed?
How much capital do you need to start a tree care business?
The exact amount of capital you need will depend on the services you offer, the type of equipment you need for those services, whether you buy that equipment used or new, and how many employees you have.
That said, you can expect to invest $10,000 to $50,000 to get your business off the ground.
How much does a tree trimming business make?
Revenue and profits depend entirely on the size of the operation and how well owners manage costs and price services. If they can keep costs down and price smartly (discussed later), they can make healthy profits.
But, just to give you an idea of what you can make, let’s look at how much profit Steve Hulsey of Tree Tutor, made from four different jobs (yes, these are actual jobs he did):
- Job one: Roughly $115/hour for a larger twelve-hour job or $1400 total profit
- Job two: Roughly $185/hour for a two-hour trim or $375
- Job three: $530/hour for a one-hour job
- Job four: Just over $220/hour for an eight-hour job or $1775
Do tree services need to be licensed?
To become an arborist, you don’t need a tree services license, just experience on the job.
But if you want to legally operate a tree care business, you’ll need a business license (more on that later).
2. Learn the Ropes
With a firm grip on the business basics, it’s time to learn the ropes. Having practical experience in the industry by first working for someone else is undoubtedly a plus. It will give you a head start and help you avoid any costly mistakes. However, it’s not a necessity.
If your background lies in business or marketing, you can hire well-trained arborists who can do the dirty work for you.
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Getting certified is also optional. But, in a highly competitive industry that’s dangerous and often unregulated, becoming a qualified arborist will set you apart from other professionals and help you book more work.
This is precisely what Matt and Tracy Logan from Logan Tree Experts did when they started their business. Matt is now a Board Certified Master Arborist, which is the highest certification level an arborist can achieve. Tracy is a certified arborist and tree health care specialist.
GET CONNECTED: Meet other tree care industry experts at GIE+EXPO
How do you become a certified arborist?
Visit the International Society of Arboriculture (ISAs) website and start by first applying for eligibility.
3. Analyze the Market and Define Your Service Offerings
It’s important for you to carefully define what services you’ll provide and what the market demands are. You’ll get more jobs that you can (and want to) do and can even work with other tree care companies to fill in any gaps (and vice versa) rather than compete.
For example, if you only offer stump grinding, you can subcontract other services like pruning to another company that specializes in that.
In addition to stump grinding and pruning, you can provide tree cutting or removal, tree planting, tree bracing, tree storm damage repairs, risk assessments, treatments for parasites, and tree consulting services.
Just remember you don’t have to offer all these services to be profitable. Choose those that you’re interested in and have a demand to begin with.
4. Price Your Services for Profit
Once you’ve narrowed down your services list, it’s time to price for profit. If you’ve already worked as an arborist for another business, you’ll have a solid idea of the income, prices, profits, and costs in your area.
Use this information to guide your pricing decisions, and ensure that your prices cover your costs and allow you to break even.
But don’t solely rely on competitors and market data to drive your pricing decisions. Instead, use a pricing strategy that works for you, such as project, value-based, or tiered pricing. Also, factor profit goals into your calculations.
NEED HELP? Use this handy margin calculator.
5. Choose a Tree Service Business Name and Logo
Choose a name that’s practical and professional. It will be on your quotes, estimates, marketing, and uniform, after all. Take your time during this process, but don’t agonize over choosing a name as this only becomes an obstacle to starting your business.
Next, create your logo. Your logo should be memorable, recognizable, and easy to replicate on your website, business cards, uniform, and van. Logan Tree Experts, for instance, was named after their founders, and their logo embodies all these characteristics.
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6. Register and Insure Your Business
This part is not the most fun, but it’s needed if you want to legally run your own tree service business.
- Choose your legal structure: choose between an LLC, corporation, sole proprietorship, or partnership. An LLC is often the go-to business structure because business owners have limited liability if sued.
- Register your business with the local, state, and federal agencies and get the necessary permits and licenses. The requirements vary depending on where you live, so contact your local municipality to clarify.
- Get an identification number from the internal revenue service (IRS).
- Get an accountant and business bank account. Setting up a business account ensures that your personal and business spending is separate.
- Get insurance. The work you do is dangerous, and you’re regularly operating equipment that has huge risks attached. This means accidents do unfortunately happen, so shop around and get quotes for your small business insurance needs from several insurance companies. You’ll need general liability insurance, which provides cover if you accidentally damage a client’s property. Logan Tree Experts, for example, has $2 million liability insurance as well as WSIB insurance. Also, don’t forget about worker’s compensation for all employees.
7. Determine Your Staffing and Equipment Needs
Your equipment and staffing needs will depend entirely on the services you plan to offer and the size of your operation.
In terms of staffing, you may start your operation solo and subcontract jobs from larger tree care businesses. Once you are ready to hire, consider going to local trade schools or even high schools to hire apprentices.
As for the equipment, here’s a list of tools you’ll likely need at some point or the other. Just keep in mind that you don’t have to buy all this equipment at once. You can first book a job, see what tools you need, and then buy it.
Tree Care Equipment and Supplies
- Chain saw
- Logging saw
- Climbing saw
- Pole saw
- Bucket truck
- Brush chippers
- Mini skid steers
- Block trailers
- Bush hogs
- Stump grinder
- Climbing ropes
- Bull ropes
- Eye guards
- Climbing boots
- Ear protector
- Oil can
- Orange cones
Other than all this equipment, you will also need tree services management software.
What Is Tree Service Management Software?
This is the software you’ll use to manage your tree service business. Tree care software, or arborist software, lets you accept online bookings, quote and invoice for tree care jobs, review schedules on an app, track time, schedule your arborists, and much more—all from a single platform.
Tree service management platforms like Jobber save you time, make you look professional, and ensure you run a more efficient and profitable tree trimming business.
8. Market Your Tree Care Business
Most tree care companies rely on word of mouth and referrals to get new business. But if you’re just starting out, you’ll need to get more creative with your marketing.
Not to mention that you need to set up an online presence and do some basic branding to get the word out.
9. Define Your Workflow
By delivering quality work and marketing your business, you’ll get a steady stream of clients. But what do you do when customers call or send emails asking about your services?
The key is to create and implement a repeatable process that generates consistent results and ensures that customers do not slip through the cracks.
- Collect customer information from the initial call
- Create a proposal
- Schedule the job
- Create a work order
- Invoice and collect payment.
Now, you can use pen and paper to stay on top of this process. But things will only get messy, as Matt and Tracy learned.
“The process of setting up site visits and recording names and information was chicken scratch. It wasn’t working,” explains Tracy.
The better approach is to invest in operations software that effortlessly handles everything listed in the above process. This is precisely what Matt and Tracy did after following a recommendation from a friend.
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“We’ve grown so much over the years that I could never handle what we do now the way we used to,” she says. “I spend the majority of my time in Jobber scheduling site visits, or jobs and communicating with clients.”
“Yesterday, we had to modify a work order,” adds Matt. “The guys got the info right on their phones. There were already pictures on the file, so they knew exactly what they were getting into. There are no little pieces of paper saying, ‘We have to fix Mrs. Smith’s petunias.’ Instead of that info getting lost, it goes right into Jobber.”
10. Think About Expansion
By implementing all these steps, you should be ready to start your very own tree cutting business. But before you hit the ground running, start thinking about how big you want your tree care business to be.
With a bigger business comes more paperwork, more time on the phone with clients, and less climbing for yourself.
But it also means you can step away from your business and have the satisfaction of watching it grow on its own. Smaller business keeps you closer to the trees and to your clients.
There’s no right or wrong way.
But the sooner you think about this, the better. It helps you understand what you want out of this business and, ultimately, influences all subsequent decisions you take.
Start Your Own Tree Services Business Today
Starting a tree service business may be an opportunity, but it’s also a big challenge that requires a substantial capital investment.
Make sure you complete the tasks on your checklist, such as learning the ropes, defining your services, registering your business, marketing, and setting up systems.
Then when you’re up and running, optimize your business to remain efficient and profitable by learning from a master arborist.
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