How to Start a Small Tree Service Business

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In order to thrive, trees require care and expert upkeep. People who provide this care are called arborists. If you love working outdoors, have a desire to run your own business and enjoy doing work that requires physical skills, then being an arborist and running a tree service business might be the perfect occupation for you.

Things You'll Need

  • Business plan
  • Heavy duty truck
  • Tree maintenance tools
  • Safety gear
  • Liability insurance

Review your knowledge and skills. The tree service industry is not one to get into if you do not know an oak from a Japanese maple. Unless you are only offering complete tree removal, you will need to have specialized knowledge of the care and maintenance of trees and how to work on them safely.

Fill in the gaps in your knowledge by taking horticultural classes at your community college or certification courses offered through the Tree Care Industry Association.

Check your competition. If your area is saturated with companies offering tree services, you will either have to decide on a niche to specialize in or offer your services outside of your local area in order to stand out.

Write your business plan. This step is especially important if you plan on looking for outside funding to start your business. Banks and other lending institutions will require you to show them a well-thought-out business proposal. For help writing one, you can contact your local Small Business Administration office.

Register and get the appropriate local and state licenses to legally run your business. At the local level, visit your town hall to inquire about any needed permits. At the state level, most business licenses are issued through your state’s Department of Commerce.

Purchase needed equipment such as a heavy duty truck, safety gear, ladders, chain saws, hand saws, pole saws, clippers, shears and pruners. It is possible to purchase used equipment, but remember, this equipment will be the lifeblood of your business and, in the case of the safety gear, it will be protecting your life.

Purchase liability insurance. Many small businesses balk at this step thinking it is something that can be put off until after the business grows, but all it would take is for one cable or bracing to break or not be put on properly and your business and your personal finances could be wiped out.

Advertise and market your services. The biggest obstacle you will need to overcome when you are starting out is getting customers. Make sure your marketing materials--business cards, sales letters, brochures--emphasize the benefits that a customer would receive by choosing to work with you. Target specific markets such as golf courses, industrial complexes or retirement villages.

Network with other professionals. Joining your chamber of commerce and getting involved with your community will provide you with invaluable contacts and opportunities. You should also become active in online communities and forums specific to the tree service industry. The members of these communities can provide you with expert insight into the problems, pitfalls and joys of running your own business.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you lack the knowledge required, consider working at a tree farm or nursery to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of tree care.
  • If you are planning on also offering tree planting as a part of your service, you will need to get a state sales tax number so that you can purchase from wholesalers. This number prevents you from having to pay sales tax when you purchase the trees--or other landscaping materials--because you will be paying sales tax after you sell the trees to your customers.
  • Don’t forget that you will need a place to dispose of any debris from your tree service.
  • Be prepared to have down times. Unless you live in a climate that has mild weather year-round, your business will slow or stop in the winter months.
  • In some states it may be necessary for your business to be bonded in order to get a business license.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics full-time tree service workers have a higher than average rate of work-related injury and illness.

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