The excavation industry in the United States brought in $118.7 billion in 2023 and is expected to grow over the next several years. With infrastructure projects on the rise and continued development driving demand, it’s an opportune time to learn how to start an excavation company.
It’s important to develop a business plan and understand all costs before leaping. For those willing to put in the effort, excavation companies have the potential for steady business and profitability. Establishing relationships with general contractors and cultivating a professional reputation will be key.
This guide will walk you through how to start excavation company business planning. Topics include market research, competitive analysis, registering an EIN, obtaining business insurance, and more.
1. Conduct Excavation Market Research
Market research is an important step in developing a business plan for your own excavation company. It offers insight into important business knowledge such as your target market, trends in services and products, and local competitors.
Some details you’ll learn through market research as you start an excavating company include:
- The top segment within excavation by market share is utility system construction, making up 40.5% of industry revenue.
- As cities expand and upgrade their utility networks, this creates significant demand.
- In terms of regional opportunity, the states with the largest excavation markets currently are California, Texas, Florida, and New York.
- The fastest market growth over the next five years is forecasted in Tennessee, South Carolina, Washington, and Colorado.
- When deciding where to establish an excavation startup geographically, assessing state-level infrastructure budgets and development trends is crucial.
- A key success factor for a new excavation company is having strong relationships with general contractors to get contract bids.
- Having the necessary equipment is also crucial, especially when working capital to take on multiple jobs.
- Joining a local building contractor association can help build a network.
- Focusing on operational efficiency and reliability will be paramount, as nearly 40% of industry revenue is already concentrated among just 50 large companies.
For those new entrants able to establish themselves, the growth opportunities in excavation are immense. This is a multi-billion dollar industry waiting to be unearthed.
2. Analyze the Competition
When starting an excavation company, conducting competitive analysis is crucial to position yourself in the local marketplace. This includes assessing both the on-the-ground competitors who bid for the same contracts as well as evaluating your online presence compared to rivals.
To analyze brick-and-mortar competition, identify excavation businesses operating in your geographic target market. Search local business directories and association listings to build a list. Estimate the competitor’s fleet size, equipment, staff count, and, annual revenue to the extent possible based on what you can observe externally.
Drive by competitor offices/storage yards. Are they centrally located for ease of dispatch? How modern is their machinery, does it give them an efficiency advantage? How many jobs are their crews concurrently working, is there ample business to go around? Document strengths, weaknesses, and differentiators.
Online, search “excavation near me” and map out listing rankings. Who leads for search visibility and website traffic? Assess site quality, client references and portfolio, social media followers, and reviews. Sign up for email lists to learn about their offerings and marketing messages.
Ongoing competitive monitoring lets you keep updated on market share shifts, new player entreaties, M&A moves, or competitive threats so you can constantly refine strategy. But most crucially, competitive analysis illuminates market positioning opportunities to win business in your locale.
3. Costs to Start an Excavation Business
Starting an excavating business requires significant upfront capital investment, with major costs around procuring equipment, leasing commercial property, hiring staff, permitting/licensing, and working capital. The total overhead costs for a successful business often land between $500,000 to $1 million.
The largest start-up cost comes from excavation equipment like:
- Hydraulic excavators ($150k)
- Dump trucks ($80k)
- Backhoes ($70k)
- Compact loaders ($40k)
While you may operate solo at first, plan to hire:
- Heavy equipment operators ($45k salary)
- Drivers ($35k salary + commercial license sponsorship)
- Office admin ($30k salary) quickly
Other common costs include:
- Leasing an acre of commercially zoned land would likely start around $24k/year at $2k per month.
- Constructing office space and storage facilities requires permitting/construction costs of $100k.
- Registering your excavation company legal formation documents cost $500.
- Commercial auto insurance for the fleet will run around $150 per vehicle per month. Liability insurance is critical and costs $20k/year.
- Any required operating permits/licenses vary by state and locality.
- Working Capital Have access to at least $100k in working capital to cover costs of taking on jobs before client payment comes in.
In total, plan for roughly $750k to $1 million in start-up costs when founding the business. Be ready for significant ongoing monthly and annual costs to sustain operations as well.
- Staff payroll must be met consistently, plan on $25k each month.
- Fuel is likely one of the largest monthly costs, budget of $5k+ for the fleet and equipment as projects ramp up.
- Set aside 30% of revenue to cover tax obligations.
- Establish a marketing budget for regular advertising outreach; SEO services, print/digital ads, and event sponsorships are all options.
- It’s imperative to save up throughout the year for eventual equipment replacements every 5-7 years due to wear and tear.
- Think excavators, loaders, and drill rigs costing $300k when renewal time comes.
Careful financial planning and cost control will be vital to succeed long-term in the excavation sector. For those able to secure start-up financing and reliably cover ongoing overhead through corporate or consumer construction project work, the excavation field offers major profit potential, especially since excavators are often used for gardening and lawn care, or rather, preparing the land based on what the customer wants.
4. Form a Legal Business Entity
When establishing an excavation company, the legal entity you form matters greatly in terms of liability protection, taxation rules, and ease of management. While sole proprietorships and partnerships offer simplicity, incorporating as an LLC or corporation better shields personal assets.
A sole proprietorship represents the simplest framework—you and the business are one entity. However, you assume unlimited personal liability for debts and legal claims. The excavation industry’s hazardous nature makes this an extremely risky proposition without further protection. Any property or wages may be seized to cover court judgments.
A partnership lets multiple owners divide management duties and pool capital and resources together under a shared business name. You remain jointly responsible for all collective business liabilities though. Disagreements can fracture partnerships if contracts don’t dictate dissolution terms. Unless you have full trust in partners, avoid this model.
Limited Liability Company (LLC)
LLCs limit owner liability and combine pass-through taxation rules with operational flexibility. Only your investment into the LLC capital is at risk from creditors/lawsuits. Personal assets stay protected. LLCs also avoid corporate double taxation and convoluted governance requirements. Most excavators wisely structure as LLCs.
Incorporating creates the highest liability shielding but involves more recordkeeping and regulations. Corporations can sell stock and deduct more business expenses but experience ‘double taxation’ on profits. Unless expecting external investment or pursuing a public listing eventually, LLCs deliver better small excavator protections.
5. Register Your Business For Taxes
Forming an LLC or corporation requires a business owner to obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS for tax and identification purposes when hiring employees. An EIN functions like a business’s Social Security Number.
As an excavation company, you must set up an EIN even if you start as a sole proprietor to comply with licensing and permit paperwork. Applying for an EIN is free and straightforward through the IRS website.
The online EIN Assistant walks you through each step including establishing your business legal structure, designating responsible parties, selecting your filing reason (hiring employees, banking purposes, etc.), and providing basic contact information.
The only prerequisite is having a valid Social Security Number or existing EIN if applying on behalf of a business entity. Sole proprietors and single-member LLCs provide their personal SSN otherwise the LLC or corporation’s existing EIN is entered.
Once submitted, an EIN assignment confirmation displays on-screen that you may print directly for your records. EIN approval is immediate in most cases with numbers issued while you wait.
On the state taxation side, excavators must research their state’s sales tax regulations to understand collection rules and permitting obligations. Registering for a Sales Tax ID is mandatory for charging sales tax to clients based on the goods/services provided and location.
Expect new filings for sales tax reporting and remittances on a monthly or quarterly basis. Costs are minimal, no fee to obtain Sales Tax IDs. Failing to adhere puts necessary operating licenses at risk so stay compliant.
6. Setup Your Accounting
For excavators, diligent financial recordkeeping and accounting from day one is imperative. With large equipment investments and costly overhead needs, before client revenue materializes, budget discipline matters. Tracking every expenditure and payment using dedicated business banking/cards separates personal and corporate finances cleanly.
Implementing QuickBooks or a similar accounting platform gives excavators automation and reporting tools to manage billing, expenses, payments, and, more in one integrated hub. Capturing incoming customer payments and matching them to invoices helps keep cash flow predictable. Digital integration enables transactions to feed directly into appropriate categories.
Hire an Accountant
While accounting software empowers self-service tracking, partnering with an accountant delivers high-level business advisory and auditing. Accountants handle tax documentation/filing, detect issues early, optimize deductions, and analyze profit generation quarterly and annually. Expect to invest around $200 per month for basic bookkeeping.
Open a Business Bank Account and Credit Card
As your excavation venture matures, dedicating business-only bank accounts/cards segregates funding pools. When applying for credit cards, issuers consider personal credit, business revenues, and years in business when setting limits. Utilize dedicated cards for larger equipment/inventory purchases to earn points. Keeping finances divisible avoids personal liability for company expenditures as well.
7. Obtain Licenses and Permits
Before an excavation company can begin operating, even launching a website or printing business cards, securing a business license is mandatory. Find federal license information through the U.S. Small Business Administration. The SBA also offers a local search tool for state and city requirements.
No universal federal license exists explicitly for excavators. However, expect to file for a DOT number to track vehicle activity across state lines and confirm readiness to transport hazardous materials if handling fuel/oil.
The excavation business structure requires specialized equipment and a commercial driver’s license, along with standard business licenses. To operate heavy machinery there are also environmental regulations to consider during day to day operations.
Nearly all states require excavators to obtain licenses and documentation governed by contractor oversight boards. For example, in California, CSLB contractor licenses classify specialty trades like graders/excavators under separate codes:
Traditional business license prerequisites involve passing trade exams, documenting experience hours, and bonding/insurance minimums. Renewals happen every 2-4 years.
Lastly, city or county administrator offices will mandate obtaining permits/registrations to operate machinery and execute excavations locally. For instance, rules govern utility coordination, specific zoned work hours, noise allowances, road obstruction, and safety protocols.
Research regional expectations thoroughly and assemble a comprehensive licensing checklist early on. Book exams and allot 6-8 weeks to process applications through the appropriate agencies. Avoid illegal excavation activity without finished documentation.
8. Get Business Insurance
Given the hazardous nature of excavation sites with heavy machinery and crews operating in uncertain soil/environmental conditions, carrying ample general liability insurance is non-negotiable. Without proper liability and commercial policies, a single on-site accident could sink the business.
For instance, if a utility line gets struck causing service disruptions across a neighborhood, the excavator faces major utility company penalties or resident lawsuits without protections. Or if a dump truck flips transporting loads, the driver’s medical bills and vehicle damage repairs could overwhelm slim margins without insurance cushions.
Another example is a site water main breaking which floods nearby properties. Absent umbrella policies leave you liable for any resulting homeowner displacement or rebuild costs.
The coverage process begins by taking detailed equipment/asset inventories and then requesting quotes through providers like Progressive or brokerages that consolidate policy offerings. Expect options like:
- General Liability – protects against third-party bodily injury or property damage claims at the work site. Costs approximately $120 per month per half million dollars of coverage.
- Commercial Auto Insurance – covers vehicle damage/liability costs. Adds 10-20% onto personal policy premiums per added vehicle.
- Workers Compensation – helps pay for employee injuries suffered on the job per state laws. Cost is based on payroll, job duties, and, experience modification rate.
Secure policies before your new business begins work, paying premiums monthly or annually. When accidents strike, prompt insurance claim responses alleviate financial catastrophes for excavators reliant upon heavy machinery investments across high variability job sites.
9. Create an Office Space
Establishing a professional office space as an excavation entrepreneur delivers a reliable base to oversee field operations, meet with clients, and house business assets securely. While home offices minimize costs, consider these alternatives as your activities expand.
As projects ramp up, joining a WeWork-style shared workspace grants meeting room availability for last-minute contractor discussions and lets you rub elbows with other biz owners. Dedicated monthly memberships averaging $300 enable a professional office environment without long leases. Some light storage space supplements on-site containers.
Some excavators opt to purchase stand-alone buildings to combine lobbies to meet clients with warehouse space for machinery, tools, and materials storage out back. Owning the entire property allows maximum flexibility but requires extensive permitting/renovations of vacant spaces. Expect around $2 million for purchase and adaptions on top of recurring taxes, maintenance, and utilities.
Renting modest office suites within business complexes centralizes you amidst other construction industry companies while accessing shared conference rooms and reception capacity starting at around $1,000 monthly. Negotiate warehouse allowances for safe overnight storage of selected equipment.
10. Source Your Equipment
Launching an excavation company requires attaining an arsenal of heavy equipment like hydraulic excavators, bulldozers, backhoes, loaders, and dump trucks. While buying new machinery costs over $100k per unit, alternatives like purchasing budget-used inventory, short-term rental, or flexible leasing keep initial investments lower.
Every excavator covets brand-new Caterpillar or John Deere equipment boasting the latest comfort/tech features and durable wear life spanning 5,000 engine hours before major repairs. Yet compact excavators still demand $150k while 50-ton haul trucks approach $500k, making this premium route cost-prohibitive for most startups.
Purchasing used equipment reduces the upfront capital needed significantly. Search online classifieds or sites like MachineryTrader or CommercialTruckTrader to locate discounted recent-model gear within 10 years old or under 3,000 hours ideally. For example, owning a prior generation CAT 336 excavator for $75,000 cuts the price in half over new while meeting your medium-sized digging specs.
Many excavators rent machinery short-term from companies like United Rentals when commencing new large-scale commercial jobs before buying their own. Renting for single-week periods when needed aids in completing specialized tasks like demolition without consuming yearly budgets. Just ensure rental equipment meets safety/performance needs.
Leasing agreements through CAT, Deere, or, credentialed resellers guarantee properly maintained newer models as the lessee during multi-year contracts spanning a prescribed annual usage in return for competitive monthly payments. Think $2,500 each month over a 5 year5-year lease on a $125k excavator.
11. Establish Your Brand Assets
A successful excavation contractor should cultivate a professional brand identity to strengthen marketability and memorability. Beyond incorporating a business name, dedicated efforts toward branding enhance a business’ authority in the field.
Get a Business Phone Number
Centralizing communications is vital to establishing a main business phone line through providers like RingCentral. Choose local area code numbers with memorable digits clients can quickly recall and set up call routing to cell devices after hours to never miss time-sensitive inquiries.
Design a Logo
Make sure truck signage, equipment etchings, company uniforms, and marketing materials embed a distinctive yet straightforward logo. Consider clean, recognizable icons like arrows or shovels over intricate designs. Graphic resources on Looka help craft crisp vector logos matching within seconds. Display the logo prominently on the job site, advertisements, and social channels.
Print Business Cards
Business card distribution enables quick contact sharing when coordinating site walks with developers. Order cards affordably from Vistaprint to share in person once introductions commence. Provide front office staff supplies to pass along when fielding bid requests to spur callbacks. A dozen customer hand-offs can yield 5 viable leads.
Get a Domain Name
Meanwhile securing standalone website real estate builds credibility through showcasing past projects and skills. Reserve domain names incorporating keywords like “CityExcavation” or the owner’s name via registrars like Namecheap for under $20 yearly.
Design a Website
A website is necessary for field-based businesses. Online site builders such as Wix offer the ability to self-build responsive pages. You can also hire web developers through Fiverr starting at around $500. Optimize sites for mobile visibility and lead contact forms.
12. Join Associations and Groups
While excavating demands hands-on work running equipment on gritty job sites, building connections fosters shared wisdom. Join professional organizations to gain invaluable insight into commercial construction. Never underestimate the profit impact peer groups and associations can provide.
Getting acquainted with the local AGC (Associated General Contractors) chapter gives excavators visibility and solidarity alongside regional builders sharing inside scoops on upcoming public/private project RFPs. Attend association trade events and sit in on safety/skills talks to exchange insights with earthmoving peers.
Beyond non-profit gatherings, keep tabs on smaller developer meetups, tradeshows, or networking happy hours through Eventbrite and Meetup. Shake hands with civil engineers, real estate investors, and, subcontractors who can funnel work your way while conveying firsthand technical capabilities in person over the din of bids cluttering inboxes.
Facebook Groups offer free access to online networking opportunities with newcomers and experienced excavators. Check out Septic & Excavation Growth Network, Mini Excavator Work – Bid/Quote/Estimate/Bill U.S.A, and Mini Excavator to get started.
13. How to Market an Excavation Business
Implementing continual marketing outreach ensures a fledgling excavator builds recognition and cements a thriving project pipeline as infrastructure investments expand. Taking the initiative to broadcast your specialized capabilities fosters visibility. Blend digital promotion and community networking to sustain robust new customer acquisition.
Tap into your inner circle first when seeking word-of-mouth endorsements. Offer customers a 5% credit on their next job for each verified lead their advocacy provides. Testimonials carry immense weight as well. Recording video reviews from commercial developers praising an excavator’s work ethic and adaptation inspires confidence during bidding.
Digital Marketing Ideas
- Launch Google/Facebook paid ads focused on relevant keywords like “commercial excavation” geo-targeted to your region and city to attract contractors seeking reliable partners. Expect to invest 10-15% of revenue into continually testing conversion-driven campaigns.
- Start an instructional YouTube channel documenting equipment operations, safety protocols, and project walkthroughs positioning your expertise. Useful “how to” videos lead curious searchers to further explore your offerings.
- Create an email newsletter with industry news, company highlights, and client testimonials to build loyalty among existing relationships while adding new subscribers monthly.
- Write blog posts about equipment comparisons and dig site planning tips to bolster organic search visibility and funnel visitors to contact your sales team.
Traditional Marketing Ideas
- Design full-page ads in regional contractors association publications and the local newspaper’s industry section to make others aware of your services during peak construction season.
- Print tri-fold brochures showcasing recent excavation projects and credentials for handshake distribution at industry trade events, conventions, and networking happy hours.
- Erect a large sign next to high-traffic roads bordering current job sites to capture public attention.
- Sponsor relevant chamber of commerce, and economic development events to interface with decision-makers behind regional expansion initiatives right as they commence.
The most successful excavators interweave digital promotion, print publicity, and face-to-face gatherings to nurture awareness. Then consistent delivery on promises cements referrals cascading the firm ahead of rivals.
14. Focus on the Customer
Never undersell the profit impact positive customer service wields through glowing word-of-mouth referrals. How you make commercial developers and city planners feel during project executions sparks immense influence.
Some ways to improve customer focus in excavation services include:
- Consider a situation where unforeseen bedrock requires jackhammering before standard trenching can proceed, delaying completion.
- Proactively communicating with the general contractor about the hiccup and allotting extended hours for your crew to still get infrastructure piping laid on a budget will be remembered.
- The general contractor has to coordinate around an excavator who grows silent or passes blame during such wrenches to sever relationships immediately.
- Being responsive to homebuilders needing emergency utility locates as concrete trucks are en route builds goodwill during tense moments.
- Going above and beyond shows you have their back. The respect forged in the field pays forward exponentially.
- One pleased site supervisor sharing your work ethic with their inner circle could cascade into six-figure contracts as colleagues seek reliable partners.
- Failing to manage client expectations carefully or skipping daily progress syncs can halt word-of-mouth referrals instantly, forcing greater dependence on thin-margin bid competitions.
Make attentiveness and accountability central pillars of your excavation outfit to inspire word-of-mouth marketing. Your machinery may drill soil but relationships with decision makers anchor fiscal stability in your excavating business.