13 tips that helped me go from the corporate world to lawn care.

Sometimes you wake up in the morning and decide you need to make a change in your life and in your career. If the change you want to make is one of switching from the corporate world to that of being a lawn care business owner, there are a bunch of things you will need to know. In this discussion from the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum, one business owner shares with us his tips that got him through the early tough transitional time. It’s not easy to scale up your lawn care business from part time to full time status, these tips can help make the process smoother.

He wrote “I bought a small existing lawn care business with a handful of accounts a few years back, and have just been building it up from there. The plan was to do this on the side while I was still at my full time job, but as luck would have it, I got laid off. This small lawn care business then ended up being my families sole source of income. That was a little stressful since I only started with ten accounts. I have to say though, I am much happier being out of Corporate America. My friends thought I had lost my mind when I told them I was going to do lawn care. Four months later, all they can say is how much more content I seem.

In my area, there is just as a lot of competition in the lawn care business. Heck, you see a lawn care rig just about at every stop light. But if you do a great job you will be amazed at how fast your business can grow. To help fuel more growth, I have teamed up with a lawn and shrub treatment guy that has more horticulture knowledge than myself. I consult with him on any new lawns I acquire. He tells me issues that I might miss such as lawn being over watered, fungus, etc. I follow his advice and strive to make my lawns the best on on the block. In return for his help I give him business by getting him the fertilization and insecticide contract, and now he is starting to return the favor by sending me lawn accounts.

As I have been operating my business I have learned a lot of what NOT to do. I also learned a lot of things to do which I try to apply everyday. One of the things I learned was to get started in your business with a few customers, that is why I bought an existing lawn care company. That was WAY important, because the connections I made through those initial customers lead to a lot more jobs from others.

Here are some more do’s and dont’s.

1. Don’t ever give up. There will be times that you will want to but you have to work through them.

2. Don’t spread yourself too thin. One person can only do so much. This was a hard one for me to learn. I tried to run a business and mantain a full time job - that was a disaster in the second year when the biz really started cranking and I did not have the infrastructure in place to support it. I ended up in the hospital from the stress and lack of sleep.

3. Don’t scalp a lawn - EVER

4. Don’t be afraid to price a job to where it is worth doing the job. I have a tendancy to underestimat the time to do a job because I think it will make the customer happier.

5. If you are new, find a friend in the business to help you with areas that you are not strong in.

My wife is an accountant, so I am lucky in that regard. I am ok at sales, web design, and search engine optomization, so I do that. I have a business relationship with a pest control person who helps me diagnose whats wrong with a lawn. My whole mission is to have healthy, happy lawns. It is not as easy as I originally thought.

6. Don’t be afraid to venture out into areas that are outside your comfort realm.

7. Don’t ever forget how important your customers are - golden rule in my book

8. Don’t start without proper licensing.

9. Don’t work for free. Profit is not a bad word.

10. Don’t forget to check if the lawn is wet.

11. Don’t wait too long if you suspect something is wrong with a lawn.

12. Don’t let your overhead get out of control. The more it cost to run the biz, the less profit you will make. You have to find the balance but don’t skimp out on good equipment and proper maintenance.

13. Don’t expect someone elses methods to work for you. You need to develop your own style, communication, scheduling, customer interaction, estimating, everything.

When it comes to making the transition from full time job to full time lawn care business owner my suggestion is to save as much money as you can before you jump ship on your day job. But you MUST jump ship eventually, or you will kill yourself trying to keep up with both.

At a minimum, 6 months or a years worth of salary set back to get you by as you grow the business (of course, the amount of money you will need depends on a lot of variables). It can be done the hard way (no cushion set back), but it is really, really scary. I still worry about making the bills each month. I am also so much happier now, it is amazing.

If you are personable and half way decent at sales, you will be amazed at how quickly it will grow when you don’t have a ‘real job’ getting in the way.

My other suggestion would be to make sure that you are cut out to run your own business, or have support in your weak areas. If you are not comfortable pitching your service to anyone and everyone you bump into, you are going to have problems. I pitch everywhere I go - stores, restaraunts, you name it. There are many opportunities to network with others and get referrals as you meet and talk with people.

Be smart about your professional networking. I pick tree trimmers, pest control companies, and pool services. They have customers that might not be happy with their current lawn service. If someone is scalping lawns and not letting the customer know about a grub infestation, I will eventually get that account.

When buying an existing lawn care business:

1) Make sure most of the accounts will transfer.
2) Expect some clients to not transfer to you.
3) Try to meet some of the clients, and check the yards out that you will be doing. It will also clue you in if there was something wrong with the service prior to you purchasing it.
4) There might be some unhappy customers that you will have to win over.
5) Of course, make sure the equipment is good. Under warranty is even better.

I met with as many customers as I could before the sale. I also ran the business for a month before we sent out letters announcing the sale. The previous owner had some medical problems that forced the sale. I didn’t have him sign a non compete due to his failing health but otherwise I would have. Years later, he is still referring customers to me. If it had been any other scenario, I probably would have used a non compete contract.

How did the customers take to me? I only lost one customer, who was about to cancel their service anyways. The rest of them have been fine with the change and became the seeds to my business growth.”

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