There is a constant desire and drive by new entrepreneurs to go out and explore. The boundary of how far they are willing to explore seems to forever be pushed further forwards. If you find yourself doing this with your own lawn care business, here is a cautionary tale from someone who has been there about the downside to exploring the unknown, on a customer’s dime. In this story, from the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum, we hear how one project mess up had cost a landscaper $10,000.
One lawn care business owner wrote “I think the best thing a landscape company can do is offer a complete package. On the other hand I see some companies offering landscape design, irrigation repairs, fertilization and so fourth and not knowing what they are doing and getting it all wrong giving the industry a black eye. My company’s name mentions nothing of lawn service. I do offer it as a service but I have found when mentioning lawn service as my main business, people look at us like we are just another company mowing grass with limited knowledge and this ticks me off because then I have to work twice as hard to show them we are not like the others. I have to explain we are landscape certified, irrigation licensed, and certified & bonded. We won’t and don’t offer a service that we’re not professionally licensed for or know about.
My advise to start ups is simple. Do not offer a service that you know nothing about. The customer’s property should not be your classroom. You, the business owner, need to learn the differences in fertilizers, plants and for goodness sake, use commercial parts if you are tinkering with someone’s irrigation. The big box stores are not the place to buy irrigation parts. When you get the urge to take that one job because you think you know how to do it, be careful. It just might be the one that puts a major dent in your pocket. Instead, it can be better to network yourself with other companies and share the wealth. Consider letting those that know how to do the job, do the job.
Here is where I learned that lesson. When I got my start, years back, it was by buying an already established landscape company, which came with 2 bobcat machines. With them, I figured I would start offering grading. I knew how to run the machines because of planting tree’s and ripping out stuff but grading was a totally new thing. I thought to myself, how hard could it be? Well after my first grading job was done, it failed the C/O because it wasn’t within the 2″ perimeter that’s required. I got canned by the contractor and lost about $10 grand because of it. So I learned not to offer a service I know nothing about. Since then I’ve learned how to grade and have even bought a laser level.
The next lesson I focused on was building up my customer base, with not just any customers. I wanted commercial customers so that I didn’t have to compete with every start up mowing business out there. With a lot of trial and error, I learned the best way to approach commercial property maintenance accounts. Having two key characteristics, persistence and lots of patience, really pays off here. These are the steps I follow.
- Create your company portfolio (Pictures, letters, insurance and so on).
- Grab a phone book or google the management companies in your area of business.
- Go and visit the one’s on your list and hand out your portfolio and ask to be put on there bidding list.
- Make sure that each manager get’s a portfolio and you get their business card.
- Wait a couple of weeks and either email them or call them asking if there are any properties available that you can bid on. Don’t over push or sell yourself.
- Do not, I repeat, do not guess on pricing (get your surveyor’s wheel out and measure) you’ll be surprised to know that when guessing a property, even though you might be close on your man hours, you’ll lose money on your fert, mulch etc.
There are a few other things but I found this method was the most personal and cost effective process for our company. The bidding process is like filing a job application and like a job application, most of the time (more than not), it gets filed under TB (Trash Bin) and you are forgotten. I’ve got management companies calling me out of the wood work now and all I did was introduce my company and myself to them years ago, letting them know that I’m here when they need me. Heck I’ve got a management company that only calls me to bail them out when other landscape companies mess up. I’ve even gone as far as walking properties with property managers and pointing out what I see wrong in order to help them (managers), manage the landscape companies that are dropping the ball.
- If you are dealing with a management company never say ‘I Don’t Know’. Instead tell them it’s noted and you’ll email them a reply or get back to them.
- It is important to get the property manager to rely on you as much as possible. My goal is to do there job for them. I have a few managers that instead of a weekly visit, they go to the property they are managing once a month or longer to inspect the property. I manage the property and they’ve come to rely on me to do it. When you have a bid out these properties, the managers will be the first one’s telling the board members that you’re the best thing since slice bread.
- It is important to get to know the board members if you are in a community with board members. Property management companies come and go but most of the time board members stay longer and have the final say.
- Return calls ASAP even if it’s just to tell them that you are busy and will call them back later.
- Give back to the community. I have budgeted (20) 3-gallon plants per year that if need be I use it. When I bill them, I let them know it’s at no charge.
I don’t waste my time giving out unsolicited commercial property bids. For me it’s a tacky way of trying to generate business. It saves you the time of measuring out a property just to have it tossed in the trash. Also what if you come in at a higher price? For me there’s too much negative in doing it that way.”