A cemetery provides services for those who have passed away. Their primary purpose is to provide a plot of ground for burial, but an owner can certainly take on more responsibility for the benefit of their clients. They may assist in arranging funerals, provide cremation, or supply necessary items for loved ones (e.g., caskets, urns, etc.)
Learn how to start your own Cemetery Business and whether it is the right fit for you.
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Start a cemetery business by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Cemetery Business
- Form your Cemetery Business into a Legal Entity
- Register your Cemetery Business for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Cemetery Business
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Cemetery Business
- Get Cemetery Business Insurance
- Define your Cemetery Business Brand
- Create your Cemetery Business Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
We have put together this simple guide to starting your cemetery business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Exploring your options? Check out other small business ideas.
STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What will you name your business?
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Cemetery Business Name Generator
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
What are the costs involved in opening a cemetery business?
Costs vary widely based on where a person chooses to operate. Between the land, supplies, and staff salaries though, owners will need to make quite an investment to get off the ground.
What are the ongoing expenses for a cemetery business?
Cemetery owners need to keep up with not just staff salaries, but also the costs of maintaining the land and organizing the activities of burial. Maintaining licenses, researching new products, and advertising are all general costs that owners will handle on a regular basis.
Who is the target market?
The main market for your cemetery business will be family members or friends of people who have recently passed away. Although funeral and burial arrangements are most often organized by family members of the deceased, some of your customers will include people who would like to ensure that their burial plans are in order before they pass away.
How does a cemetery business make money?
Cemeteries make money by charging people for the plot of land, headstone, casket, and transportation.
How much can you charge customers?
It’s not unusual for a person to pay up to $12,000 for a single plot in a heavily populated place like San Francisco, but the average cost is about $1,000 for the actual ground. Transportation to the graveyard costs about $750, cremation is $1,100 and the average headstone is $1,750. Check the price in your area to get a sense of what people are willing to pay before setting your own menu of services.
How much profit can a cemetery business make?
The average profits in death can range significantly, especially considering some owners will take advantage of grieving customers who aren't in a position to price-shop. Owners can (and have) charged hundreds of dollars to ‘seal’ a casket by putting a $10 (or less) ring around it. But it’s difficult to ascertain the margins of profit owners, especially considering it can take so long to recoup the initial costs. Still, it's clear that there is money to be made from death. The average salary for a higher-up in a cemetery is about $76,000.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Cemeteries may want to get a little more creative when it comes to testing out new services and products for the community. For example, there are companies that will preserve the tattoos of the deceased, or who can anchor a casket so it can never be washed out to sea. It's these types of interesting services or partnerships that can both boost publicity and profitability at the same time.
Want a more guided approach? Access TRUiC's free Small Business Startup Guide - a step-by-step course for turning your business idea into reality. Get started today!
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your cemetery business is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from BILL and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a cemetery business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
Certificate of Occupancy
A cemetery business is generally run out of a piece of land. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a cemetery business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your cemetery business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
FInd out what types of insurance your Cemetery Business needs and how much it will cost you by reading our guide Business Insurance for Cemetery Business.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a cemetery business
Owners may want to find a unique angle when it comes to their cemetery, such as a long-term way of tracing a family’s roots. Some cemeteries choose to celebrate death by opening their grounds with a big party where the whole community is invited. It gives owners a chance to not only meet the residents and answer their questions, but also to shed some of the stigma of death (for both themselves and their customers.) Cemetery owners can also consider running more somber ads on TV, the internet, or in print, but these may be easy to block out by the average person considering the content.
How to keep customers coming back
What’s nice about a cemetery is that most families won’t just bury a single person there, which means owners have repeat customers built into their business. As long as owner can manage to show compassion while also (seemingly) effortlessly taking care of the details, it's usually enough to keep people coming back. However, cemetery owners will still want to keep up with the trends and new customer demands to stay relevant in the modern world.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2023 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
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Is this Business Right For You?
Cemeteries are not a very joyful business, so an owner will need to be able to separate work from home life. They should be comfortable dealing with those who are grieving and understanding of how to insert themselves during a difficult time without becoming too much of a distraction.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a cemetery business?
Cemeteries follow a fairly stringent routine when it comes to working with clients. While each business will be slightly different, a typical day will usually involve meeting with clients, making arrangements based on their wishes, providing the services, and maintaining the grounds of the cemetery. It may also include general advertising or administrative tasks such as billing and budgeting.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful cemetery business?
People should have some experience with death to really get ahead. Whether working in hospice or as a gravedigger, they should have an idea of how people respond to death, and what it is they're looking for when it comes to formally saying goodbye.
What is the growth potential for a cemetery business?
This is not a popular business for fairly obvious reasons, meaning it's a good opportunity for those who can handle it. Established competing cemeteries may run out of land faster than they realize and may not have the option of expanding. Or other cemeteries may have owners or staff that are callous or greedy with their customers, which can all translate to excellent growth potential for a newcomer.
Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a cemetery business?
Only start a cemetery if you know it’s the business for you. No matter how much you may understand on a cognitive level that death is a part of life, it’s never going to be easy to work with parents who have lost a young child. It’s absolutely pivotal to maintain a healthy balance if you choose this field. The average person will either be swallowed up in the grief or block out their emotions completely. Neither of these will help you grow your business.
You also want to consider a strategy for how to compete with the primary cemetery in your area. Most people will want to keep their families in the same location, which can make it difficult to get started. But the future of cemeteries isn’t necessarily determined by its past. Some business owners are gaining traction by promoting ‘green’ cemeteries that can actually improve the environment. It’s these types of ideas that can make your customers start rethinking death in a very different light.
If you do know that you can handle the pressure and the competition for the long-term, it’s time to really map out a business plan. This is important for all new endeavors, but especially for a cemetery. You need to know the competition, acknowledge the hurdles, and figure out how you’ll be able to successfully prepare your budget. Most cemeteries take about a decade to start turning a profit, so it helps to be prepared for the long haul.
How and when to build a team
You will need to build a team immediately to take care of the details of the business. From soil removal to casket brands, look for employees who understand the business of death as well as its emotional counterpart.