You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple step guide to starting your solar panel business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
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 are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How long it will take you to break even?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening a solar panel business?
There will be a significant investment required in order to obtain your first shipments of panels to be installed in a home or business. If you are looking at franchise opportunities, they require a minimum payment of between $100,000 to $350,000 just to gain access to their assigned region. Without a franchise, expecting to invest up to $500,000 will enable you to initially market, hire a crew, and perform the first round of installations over the course of one year.
Read our solar panel business purchasing guide to learn about the materials and equipment you'll need to start a solar panel business, how much to budget, and where to make purchases.
What are the ongoing expenses for a solar panel business?
You will be responsible for payroll, ordering panels from a distributor for each job, marketing, and paying the energy company on behalf of leased customer accounts. You will likely have an office space, delivery vehicles, and ongoing training to maintain licenses. You will need significant business insurance coverage as well.
Who is the target market?
With ever evolving solar technologies, solar energy is now available to most homeowners with a clear roof line. Homeowner Associations sometimes collaborate for entire neighborhood solar installations. Businesses small and large are adding solar to their energy programs and may be ready to invest in sizable rooftop or field farms.
How does a solar panel business make money?
Whether you work with a franchise or wholesaler, your installation business makes money through the successful installation of solar units. Some leasing programs generate regular income by charging their customers a monthly bill, which includes the cost of the panel installation and any extra power the customers are using from the grid. Otherwise, the customer pays a retail rate upfront for their panels and appropriate labor costs for connecting their panels to their home and the power grid.
How much can you charge customers?
A residential installation can be priced anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000, depending on the size and type of panels installed. Leases with a zero dollar down payment can run anywhere between $25 - $200 monthly depending on the type of client and the size of the installation.
How much profit can a solar panel business make?
When you operate a leased solar panel business, your profit will depend entirely on the number of panels that you have installed. A typical return is about 6% per year, but this requires a long-term investment strategy as the company owner. For companies that only install panels for customers who pay all at once, you can see profits of $5,000 to $10,000 per job. However, this requires a steady stream of new contracts. If you’re working with a large industrial contract, you can see a profit in the hundreds of thousands for a year-long job.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Your largest costs will be purchasing the panels from the distributor and your payroll. You can control supply costs by purchasing large lots of panels and using them for multiple jobs, lowering your per unit cost.
Another way to increase profits is to reach out to other solar panel contractors to offer assistance as a sub-contractor. This way you can form strong professional relationships in your area, and also take on larger projects than your team might otherwise come across.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your solar panel business is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC's, and DBA's.
You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.
For most small businesses forming an LLC is a great option, but if you still want to weigh all your options check our our article, What Structure Should I Choose for My Business?
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!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
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
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
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.
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 solar panel 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.
There may be relevant regulations regarding solar power in local areas. Certain areas may prohibit the installation of solar panels for one reason or another so be sure to check with the relevant agencies before doing any work.
For more information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
A solar panel installation business would need to create a services agreement, which should outline the parameters of installation, the price, and the expectations of the client. This is especially important with regards to ensuring the panels will provide enough energy for the home or business. Here is an example service agreement.
Recommended: Rocket Lawyer makes it easy to create a professional service agreement for your solar panel installation business when you sign up for their premium membership. For $39.95 per month, members receive access to hundreds of legal agreements and on call attorneys to get complimentary legal advice.
Certificate of Occupancy
A solar panel business is often run out of an office. 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 office space:
- 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 solar panel 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 office space:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for you business’ location to ensure your solar panel business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
STEP 7: Get Business Insurance
Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
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.
How to promote & market a solar panel business
Attend home shows as a vendor, purchase on-air and print ads, and join your local chamber of commerce to get your name out in the community. Ask at the city hall what requirements they have in order to consider your company for municipal projects.
Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.
How to keep customers coming back
Solar panels are a highly visible product. Consider installing panels on a home or business in a high-traffic area for free or at a promotional rate. Your reputation will grow with each job completed on-budget and on-time. You could also consider donating a panel to local park or school as a goodwill gesture.
Make sure you or someone on your team knows the ins and outs of government incentives and tax cuts for people who choose to install residential solar panels. This will help potential customers place greater faith in your company’s expertise in the industry, and it will also help them feel better about investing in your products.
STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence
A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Start A Solar Panel Business In Your State
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
A motivated individual with excellent business skills, knowledge of electrical contract work, a background in construction, and an eager marketing plan can make a success out of this rapidly expanding industry.
What happens during a typical day at a solar panel business?
As owner, your day’s activities will vary depending on what jobs you have lined up. Typical duties might include:
- Installing solar panels, back-up battery systems, and connections to main power grid
- Contacting potential customers for initial survey
- Working with customers to find grants, rebates, and special financing available to those entering the solar program
- Calculating the amount of potential solar energy a particular location could generate with a variety of products
- Scheduling installation crews and delivery of panels to site
- Conducting a final survey and checklist of a completed installation
- Maintaining proper accounting and payroll procedures
- Hiring staff for a multitude of responsibilities
- Developing potential commercial and municipal customers for large installations and projects
- Providing maintenance and repair for existing solar panels, possibly including previous customers
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful solar panel business?
The successful solar panel business owner will have solid understanding of marketing and use it to the greatest effect, generating new contracts for their new company and brand. They will have shrewd personnel skills, taking the time to hire reputable technicians with all the proper licensing and training. Good managerial skills will keep the crews busy, completing jobs on time as promised, while keeping payroll expenses under control. They must also work to stay current with changing technologies, as solar is still a developing industry.
What is the growth potential for a solar panel business?
As more people, cities, and states turn to renewable energy sources, the solar panel industry is seeing a healthy growth of 15% annually, according to IBISWorld.com. With ongoing technological improvements and reducing costs of materials, solar power is becoming more affordable and appealing to both residential and commercial clients.
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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.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a solar panel business?
You must hit the ground running as soon as you find your first customer. Before that, take the time to develop your knowledge of the entire solar industry, emerging technologies, and installation options. Research the various government rebates and work with a financing institution to provide payment options for your clients. You will need to be able to offer something unique to your clients that other companies cannot provide. Make sure your company is properly insured, as accidents will happen that can pose hazards to your crews and your customer's property.
How and when to build a team
As soon as your business loan is in place, you must start building your sales, survey, installation, and maintenance team. Unless you are an experienced installer, it is wise to include an industry expert as one of your first team members who can help guide you in building the best staff. You may require an executive assistant as your schedule gets crowded with meetings, marketing, and social events.
Read our solar panel business hiring guide to learn about the different roles a solar panel business typically fills, how much to budget for employee salaries, and how to build your team exactly how you want it.