Last Updated on May 25, 2020
If you’ve worked as a tree trimmer for years, you’re already familiar with the intricacies of safely working on trees. While working for a company can bring in a steady paycheck, if you have an entrepreneurial spirit and want to maximize your earnings, it might be time to start a business of your own. Starting a tree trimming business has its challenges, but it can also be a highly profitable opportunity. Be sure to familiarize yourself with everything that would be involved with your transition from employee to business owner as you plan out your next career move.
Tree trimming businesses typically offer a variety of services, and they may focus on residential or commercial properties, or both. Common services include tree pruning, the removal of dead or inconvenience trees, as well as stump grinding and stump removal. Some businesses combine these tree trimming services with tree transplant or insect control services. Some may also venture into additional landscaping services to help build a customer base and increase profits.
The tree trimming industry has experienced recent growth. According to IBIS World, from 2014 to 2019, the tree trimming industry experienced 6.4% annual growth. During that time the number of businesses increased to 181,394 and the number of employees also grew to 284,760. In 2019, the industry was expected to bring in $24 billion in revenue.
This growth is due to multiple factors. An increase in residential and commercial construction means increased demand for tree trimming and removal. During that time period, per capita disposable income also increased, meaning homeowners had more money to hire a professional to maintain the trees around their home, as opposed to attempting the tree removal and maintenance themselves.
Multiple trends currently affect the tree trimming industry. According to Jobber Academy, one of those trends is an increased awareness of environmental preservation and the overall importance of the environment. More homeowners are seeking to preserve trees and create outdoor spaces their families can enjoy, and tree trimming businesses can help them to fulfill those goals.
Now, more than ever before, tree trimming businesses need to make sure that their businesses can be found in the locations where potential customers are looking for those services. Businesses need to have an active online presence across multiple platforms. A Facebook page and a Google My Business page are a must. Staying active in local Facebook community groups and on the Nextdoor app is also important.
The increased focus on immigration regulation has meant that many tree trimming businesses have lost employees, adding to the ongoing challenge of recruiting and keeping on staff in a business that is largely seasonal. Tree trimming businesses increasingly need to find ways to offer employees value, whether that’s in the form of bonuses and pay raises, or a supportive work environment that allows employees to access specialized training.
Tree trimming businesses market to property owners who need services like tree trimming, tree removal, or tree maintenance. The target market for this business is property owners who have the disposable income to purchase these services, and who would rather hire a professional than attempt the tree trimming or removal themselves, whether for convenience or safety benefits.
Skills, experience, and education useful in running a tree trimming business
Starting a tree trimming business doesn’t require a business degree, but certain skills and experiences can increase the business’ chance of success.
Tree removal experience. Knowledge and experience in tree removal is essential. Ideally, a business owner will have worked for another tree trimming business before starting their own.
Arborist knowledge. Knowledge of tree health and care is also important in this industry, especially if a business is offering maintenance and care services.
Safety training. Tree trimming and removal are highly dangerous activities, so a business owner should have previous experience in safety training, and they should design and implement safety training programs for employees.
Management skills. When evaluating potential employees and hiring, training, and managing staff, previous management experience and skills will be valuable.
Customer service skills. A business owner will also benefit from customer service skills. Good phone etiquette, the ability to understand customer concerns, and punctuality will all improve a business’ reputation and can encourage customers to become repeat clients.
Marketing talents. Most customers only need tree trimming or tree removal services occasionally, so it’s important for business owners to take an active role in marketing the business on an ongoing basis.
Costs to Start a Tree Trimming Business
The cost of starting a tree trimming business will vary depending on the business’ size and the services that it will offer. If an owner already has access to a suitable business truck and trailer, the cost of starting the business will be substantially lower. With access to vehicles, expect to spend about $10,000 to start up a smaller business. If vehicles and trailers need to be purchased, the cost can be as great as $100,000 or more.
Common startup costs for a tree trimming business
- Basic equipment like chainsaws
- Safety equipment
- Specialty equipment like stump grinders and wood chippers
- Truck and trailer
Steps to Starting a Tree trimming business
Step 1. Write your Business Plan
After coming up with the idea, the next step in starting your business should be to write a business plan. Not only will a bank require you to have a business plan, but multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business.
Step 2. Form a Business Entity
A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business entities to choose from which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation and LLC. Each type of entity has its own pros and cons such as liability exposure, costs and administrative requirements.
Related: Comparison of Business Entities
Step 3. Select your Location
While tree trimming businesses are largely mobile, renting a garage space for vehicles and equipment may be necessary, especially as a business grows to include multiple vehicles. Rental costs will vary depending on the location and size of the space. If operating out of your home, be sure to check zoning laws before starting.
Related: Choosing a business location
Step 4. Apply for Business Licenses and Permits
Most states don’t require tree trimming businesses to obtain a specific license in order to do tree work, though a handful of states require a contractor’s license. Additionally, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has some requirements for tree trimming businesses such as first aid training and wearing of personal protection equipment.
Last, a common registration for tree trimming businesses would be the Employer Identification Number if the business has employees.
Step 5. Find Financing
Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing, but getting the funding to start a tree trimming business is another. While the cost to start is relatively small, obtaining funding to start a tree trimming business can be difficult. In order to get a loan, the borrower(s) will need to have good credit and be able invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs.
Step 6. Get your Marketing Plan in Place
Tree trimming businesses rely on ongoing marketing to bring in new customers. Common marketing activities include maintaining a social media presence, online paid advertising, print advertising, and even the use of direct mail. Marketing costs will vary depending on the type of activity performed.
Step 7. Get Insurance
Tree trimming businesses need multiple types of insurance policies to be fully covered:
- General liability insurance helps to protect the business in case customers or their property are injured or damaged as a result of the tree trimmer’s work. This policy usually covers expenses like legal fees or medical bills.
- Commercial property insurance protects the tree trimming business against potential damage to its equipment, like in the event of a fire. If operating the business out of your home, be sure to review your homeowner’s policy to see if it covers the contents of your business.
- Commercial auto insurance covers the business’ vehicles and trailers, offering protection if the vehicles are involved in a car accident. Most personal auto insurance policies do not cover commercial activity, so be sure to check before operating your personal vehicle for business.
- Workman’s comp insurance is a must in this high-risk industry, and it helps to cover expenses like medical bills or lost wages if any employees are ever injured while on the job.
Insurance policy cost will vary according to factors like the value of a business’ equipment and the number of employees on staff. To get the most accurate idea of what insurance will cost, it’s best to request quotes from multiple insurance providers. When comparing the quotes, pay attention to important variables like coverage limits and exclusions, premiums, and deductibles.
Step 8. Hiring Employees
Even a small business will need multiple employees for safety and practicality. According to Recruiter, tree trimmers or tree pruners make an average salary ranging from $24,000 to $36,000. Experience and education often affect salary range, especially since a highly experienced trimmer will require less training and can start working sooner than an inexperienced hire.
In addition to budgeting for employee salaries, a business will also need to play for other employee-related expenses, like workman’s comp insurance, training costs, paid time off, and potentially health insurance and retirement contributions.
Having access to a pool of temporary employees is important as there will be times where an additional worker is needed to complete big jobs.
Related: Hiring your first employee
Amazon has a few books that go into detail on starting and running a tree trimming business:
- Tree Service Client Data Log Book
- Progressive Business Plan for a Tree Trimming and Removal Service (Free on Amazon Kindle Unlimited)
- Growing Weeders Into Leaders: Leadership Lessons from the Ground Up
How much can you potentially make owning a tree trimming business?
The profit of a tree trimming business will depend on factors like the services the business offers, how long it’s been operating, and even how large the business is. According to PayScale, operations managers in the tree services industry make an average of $62,000 per year. In most cases, operations managers also own the business, indicating that tree services businesses can be highly profitable.
Things to consider before starting a tree trimming business
The tree trimming industry is highly competitive, and detailed planning is important in ensuring a business’ success. Tree Views suggests that business owners invest plenty of time in creating a quality business plan. Not only will this business plan be important in validating that the business is practical, but it can also help to secure funding from lenders.
When creating a business plan, thoroughly research local competitors and perform a competitive analysis. This analysis should focus not just on competitors, their services, and their prices, but also on factors like market share, trade territory, the years that a competitor has been in business, and the ways that those businesses are potentially valuable. Maybe you’ll discover that businesses have limited services in an important area, like providing tree care using eco-friendly products. If you can find areas where services are limited or competitors are weak, you can design your business to take advantage of those areas and bring in new customers as a result. Don’t forget to read reviews of competitors on sites like Yelp to get a sense of what customers feel are the business’ strengths and shortcomings.
Understanding the seasonality of the business is important in order to budget properly or provide counter-cyclical services to keep income coming in and employees paid throughout the year.
It’s also essential to make a focus on safety a daily part of the business’ activities. Implementing quality training programs for both new and current employees can help everyone to work together as a team to spot safety risks and potentially prevent accidents. By developing a workplace culture of safety, business owners can help to protect their staff and themselves during every day on the job.