— 5 min read
How to Get Started with Landscaping Estimation
Last Updated Oct 12, 2023
For landscaping professionals, accurate estimation is the foundation upon which successful projects are built. Though it's fairly common for new landscaping business owners to focus on marketing and sourcing plants for their business, knowing how to prepare a proper landscaping estimate is vital to keeping your business operating in the black. Here's a quick overview of how to get started.
Table of contents
6 Simple Steps for a Successful Landscaping Estimate
1. See if the project is a good fit for your experience.
Before you invest too much time into the project, figure out whether that project is a good fit for your company. What areas of landscape design are you strong or weak in? If the vast majority of your experience is establishing turf grasses in large, open areas, you may want to avoid the tricky arborist project that involves trimming storm-damaged trees. If you want to expand into a new area, include an additional margin covering lost time and labor that may occur.
2. Carefully review the project plans.
Are there existing plans for the project, or just some guidance from a home or property owner? If there are specific plans, you'll want to go over them very carefully to make sure you understand all the elements that are involved in getting the project off the ground.
3. Calulate materials.
What materials will you need? How much seed, sod, bedding plants or focal landscaping elements will be needed to get the job done? Will you need to add irrigation or drainage features to make the landscaping design work? What about soil stabilization while the plants become established?
Start by determining square footage for general turf grass establishment and mulch needs, then add in any bedding plants, long-term landscaping plants and any other features that need to be included. If the project will require renting or hiring in specialized equipment such as a stump grinder or cherry picker, you'll also need to include that expense.
4. Calculate labor.
How much labor will the project require? Depending on the project, you may be able to get a range of skill levels to get the job done. A college student may not require much more than minimum wage to mow lawns or spread grass seed, but a certified arborist will expect a higher wage due to their skill level and education. Don't forget about additional labor expenses such as insurance, motivational rewards, safety equipment or any other costs that are tied to labor.
Will you need to perform grading or any other tasks as part of the project? In many situations, the client may not understand that changes may be needed to improve drainage and plant viability. Though shoveling a few square feet of soil isn't that big of a deal, having to make major changes to slope and adding drainage elements can become a much larger expense.
5. Double-check your work for accuracy.
After you've figured out all of your project costs, either have somebody else look over your calculations or take a break and then come back to them again for another review. Take the time to mentally walk through the layout and consider whether anything has been missed during the takeoff and estimating processes.
6. Factor in your overhead and profit margin.
When your figures have been verified as accurate and complete, be sure that you add in your overhead, which consists of your company's expenses even when work is not actively taking place. This can include staff salaries, liability insurance, payments for equipment, rent or a mortgage, utilities and similar expenses. An easy way to accomplish this is by looking at your overhead expenses over the course of a year and then dividing them into the length of time the project will take. As an example, if you spend a week on a single project, it should include the overhead for 1/52 of your annual expenses.
Don't forget the profit! You started your landscaping company to do more than just scrape by. Adding in a good profit margin allows you to continue investing in your business, whether it's purchasing a cherry picker for tree pruning, a new truck to keep your crew rolling, a new greenhouse to minimize plant acquisition expense or any other investment you need to grow your business. This will also help you coast through the thin times and in the off-season without having to scramble for any available job.
Simplifying Landscaping Estimation with Software
When you're just starting out with landscape estimating, it can be very hard to see the forest for the trees. But much like nursery and landscaping work in the field, having the right tools can make all the difference between getting it done and getting on to the next task or spending all day chipping away at the estimating process for your company. Fortunately, using the right estimating software can make all the difference.
Software allows you to quickly calculate square footage as well as count-based lists for larger elements in the landscape. Access through the cloud makes it possible to touch up your figures in your vehicle between tasks instead of having to go all the way back to your office to make the changes. It has a wide range of tools that work seamlessly together to automate your back-office tasks, making it much easier to spend more time in the field and less time in the office.
Chris is currently Director, Solutions Engineering at Procore. In 2015 he co-founded Esticom, a cloud-based takeoff and estimating application acquired by Procore in 2020. In a past life, he owned and operated a low voltage contracting firm based in Austin, Texas.View profile
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