How to start an arborist business

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Deciding to open your own arborist business can be daunting, but with the right information, it's more than possible to get a profitable business up and running. We've compiled a few of the essential things you need to know as a new business owner that will help make the whole process run smoothly.

What is an arborist business?

An arborist business is a tree care service provided by specialists in the study and management of horticulture. An arborist helps maintain the health and safety of individual plants and trees. They can also help with planting, transplanting, pruning, installing lightning protection and removing vegetation deemed hazardous or invasive.

The steps to starting an arborist business

Working in a competitive field of business requires a comprehensive business plan. From competitive analysis to loan options, you must secure every step of your business set-up to safeguard against possible setbacks.

  1. Competitive analysis. Before setting up, it's important to inform yourself of the competing market share, customer lists, the territory, market positioning, years in the business and possible competitive vulnerabilities. Analysis should help your business develop effective positioning strategies that could help differentiate your company in an already established and crowded marketplace. A business plan should also include first-year and long-range sales, and profit projections, including an outline of anticipated staffing, equipment and office space needs.
  2. Business structure. Operating as a Sole Trader or Partnership can be cost-effective and straightforward. However, if external investors are involved, consider registering your business as a Company to better protect yourself against future liabilities.
  3. Legal requirements. Look into the operating permits, insurances and certifications that your state requires. Although an arborist does not require a licence, each state has a minimum qualification that needs to be met by a practising arborist. It is important to contact your local council regarding regulations for tree removal.
  4. Insurance. An arborist's work can sometimes be dangerous, so to protect your company and the people you employ, you must have insurance. Important policies to consider are Workers Compensation Insurance and Public Liability Insurance. People feel more at ease working with an arborist they know is insured.
  5. Loan options. If you need to purchase new machinery and safety equipment, you can consider getting a loan. When considering the amount you need, calculate what you can afford to repay. Depending on your needs, you can choose to get a small business loan, an equipment loan or a personal loan. If you choose to complete a traineeship, you may also qualify for government funding.
  6. Brand name and logo. Once you are all set, register your business name with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). You can create a memorable brand logo with a graphic designer's help or use graphic design tools and services to make your logo.

arborist assessing the height of a tree

Skills needed to start an arborist business

As a tree doctor, you'll need to have extensive knowledge of different types of plants and trees so you can correctly diagnose and nurture them back to good health.

Before you start writing out a business plan for your new venture, it's important to think carefully about the services you want to offer. This will help you to hone the skills and acquire the equipment and qualifications you'll need to have before opening.

Arborist services can provide all or just some of the following services:

  • Consultation and advice
  • Tree felling and removing
  • Tree lopping and pruning
  • Palm cleaning and removal
  • Emergency tree services
  • Stump grinding
  • Forest mulching

Starting a small business by yourself also requires a good deal of self-motivation, determination and hard work. You'll need to know how to deal with all of the behinds-the-scenes stuff, such as finances and marketing.

Courses or qualifications to start an arborist business

You don't need a graduate degree to become an arborist, but it can help develop your knowledge further. Saying this, most arborists start their career at a young age. Once you've gained your basic entry requirements for Year 10, you can enrol in a traineeship in horticulture/arboriculture.. For supervisory roles, it's recommended that you have a minimum qualification of Certificate III in Horticulture (Arboriculture).

Here are some of the topics that will be covered in your course:

  • Tree maintenance
  • Safe tree felling
  • Complex tree climbing
  • Installing cabling and bracing
  • Using chemicals
  • Working safely at heights
  • Working safely around power sources
  • Basic lifesaving skills

It will take you between 18 and 24 months to complete the traineeship and it will cost around $8,000 to complete. You may be eligible for government funding, in which case you can get some or all of this course for free.


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Equipment and software needed to start an arborist business

When you open an arborist business, one of the most significant investments you'll need to pay for is for the equipment. As well as safety equipment, you'll also need the right tools to allow you to do the job. These include:

  • Harness with gear loops and leg loops
  • Gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Helmet
  • Hearing protection
  • Chainsaw
  • Ropes
  • Hitches
  • Rope wrench
  • Tree and branch-taming cables
  • Cherry picker

You'll also need a good-sized ute or similar vehicle to carry everything around with you.

How to structure your arborist business

Choosing the right structure for your business is extremely important. It determines who makes critical decisions for the business, who's liable for its debts and what taxes you need to pay.

As an arborist business, you'll more than likely want to consider registering as a Sole Trader, Partnership or Company. Here's a quick overview of what each structure can offer you:

Sole Trader

As an individual trading on your own, you'll be personally responsible for any decisions and debts your business may find itself in. It's a relatively easy and low-cost business to set up – all you need is an Australian Business Number (ABN).


A Partnership consists of two or more people who have come together to open a business. Each individual will hold equal responsibility for the business, including any decision making and financial gains or losses.

Proprietary Company

Companies are a separate legal entity from its directors. They are usually more costly to set up and have complicated internal structures with many different stakeholders. For this reason, no one person is responsible for a Company's finances or actions.

It can be hard to get your head around all of the legal stuff, but it's a must if you want to keep yourself and your customers protected. You can find plenty of legal help and advice online, along with templates and examples to get you started.

Here's a list of some of the types of legal documents you might need for your arborist business:

  • Partnership Agreement. If you're registering your business as a Partnership, you'll need to draft up a contract between all parties involved. This will set out the roles and responsibilities for each person and prevent disputes later down the line.
  • Service Agreement. Presenting each client with a Service Agreement will help to outline exactly what services you're providing and how much for.
  • Employment Agreement. At one point or another, you'll be onboarding a new employee. It's a legal requirement to have an Employment Agreement that outlines the employee's roles and remuneration.
  • Non-Disclosure Agreement. If you have any tricks of the trade that you don't want an employee to disclose, you'll need them to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement before they start working for you.

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How to market your arborist business

If you need a helping hand in attracting customers to your business, invest in a few extra marketing tools. If you haven't already, it's important to create a business website and set up pages on social media channels like Facebook and Instagram.

More recently, online job marketplaces have been gaining in popularity. These platforms connect locals who need a job done with skilled professionals. You can either create a profile, post your business's services or respond to potential customers' job posts. A few websites you might want to check out include Airtasker, hipages and Oneflare.

How much should I charge my customers?

Working as an arborist covers lots of different tasks, including felling trees and providing consultation and advice. All of these services are likely to be priced differently depending on the complexity of the job and the equipment you need to use.

Arborists typically charge an hourly rate between $35 and $150. Rates for specific services also vary, but typically fall in the following ranges:

  • Stump grinding: $110 to $335 depending on the size of the stump
  • Tree pruning: $40 to $55 an hour depending on the ease of access
  • Stump removal: $60 to $220 per hour

Consultation work is typically done on a fixed-price basis and depends on how many trees you include in your report. The going rate for advice and a written-up report is around $300 to $500 for a single tree.

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Frequently asked questions

How much does an arborist business make?

As an arborist, your revenue and profits depend on how you price your services and how large your company is. A key factor in making good profits is pricing your services smartly. Look at similar companies in your local area to guide your pricing decisions.

How much is insurance for a tree company?

The work you do as an arborist can be risky to yourself and your surroundings. Hence, it is essential to have insurance in place. It is the standard to have Public Liability Insurance and Workers Compensation Insurance for all of your employees. Depending on your business's size, your insurance can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars a year to the tens of thousands.

How do I get more tree work?

If you're struggling to get more customers, it's worth looking at your marketing strategies. Although word of mouth from your previous clients may get you some work, you can't rely on them entirely. Instead, consider setting up an online presence by creating a website and using social media to connect to people in your local area. You can also consider listing on online directories for people to find you.

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