Dealing with lawn care employee competition.

As your lawn care business grows, you will invariably take on employees. Along with employees comes new challenges that you will need to manage. There are a lot of issues you won’t see coming until they happen, but there are others you can try and nip in the bud to avoid the issue in the first place. Here is one example of that from the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum on how you should handle an employee who wants to take on their own clients.

One lawn care business owner wrote “a while back, I gave my lawn care employee a used mower so he could cut his grass. Later his friends neighbor found out that he was a landscaper and asked him to cut her lawn. He offered to do it with the mower I gave him on a weekly basis and ended up getting the job. When I found out about it, I was mad. I taught him how to mow, how long to cut the grass, how often, and how to bid jobs. He still currently works for me.

The part that really bugs me is that we are all a team. I find work for us all. We knock on doors etc. But then he finds work for just him just seems like he is competing against me.

I am now thinking of using a non compete agreement. I know he is there to make money for himself but if your employees are not there to build the company then what are they there for, just to be simple grunts? I pay myself as I am an employee and invest the rest back into the company.

What would you do if a lawn care employee did this on a street that you already work on. Would you keep them on? I feel he should have referred the customer to me. Where is his sense of loyalty to the company? What’s keeping him from knocking on the door of my clients and doing the work for less than I do it?

I am licensed, bonded and insured. I currently employee four people including myself. We all wear uniforms and drive company trucks. I am trained in horticulture and so are my guys. We are not hacks that simply walk off the street and mow grass. He knows my costs to operate because I am training him to be a supervisor and to bid jobs. I don’t want to run the whole company forever, as I feel it will soon be too big to manage on my own. But this has got me second guessing myself.”

A second lawn care business owner said “unless you told him up front not to do that type of thing then I can’t really see being mad. Let him keep that one but explain to him why he can’t do it anymore. Putting together some type of employee handbook/checklist together and making him sign off on it is not a bad idea. If he told you about it I bet he didn’t think you would have a problem with it.

At some point we are all training our future competition, non compete clause or not. With our larger projects I sometimes sub-contract out work to those I know and trust. If they are approached for a bid in one of my neighborhoods ( I say my because it’s usually new construction where we are the only ones working for the builder) then they will refer to us to bid it. We will, at our choice, let the sub-contractor bid the work but they must bid it just like we would.

Aside from that I have no issue with anyone doing side jobs on their own time If it’s someplace I have not put an effort into establishing our company or one of our existing customers.

For customer referrals I offer $5 off for the season for referrals up to 2 referrals, I keep this in mind when bidding on a property I know came from a referral. I also network with other lawn care business owners and people in similar trades where we basically give each other about 5% of the job or first months service after the work has been paid for.

For an employee incentive program I would consider $10 after the first month of lawn service and up to 5% share for a job they referred to us. On good jobs where we come out better than we thought I pay a little bonus anyhow and this seems to help with motivation as they know on a bigger job if they finish sooner and do better they may simply make more money than they would dragging it out.”

A third landscaper added “my view is non-compete contracts are not worth the paper they are printed on unless you are dealing directly with a lawn care employee that stole a bonafide customer away.

I have been in this business long enough to know that as a landscape laborer, your income is limited and has a low ceiling. If your laborer needs to make extra income his choices are either work over time, get a second job, or find a better paying job.

If he is a good worker that you want to keep around but can not afford to pay him more or give him over time, then the next best alternative is to give him some side work with jobs you can’t be bothered with.

The ground rules have to be, he does it on his own time and it does not get between his responsibility working for you. You also need to make it clear that you are referring him so you will not be responsible or connected to anything he does in any way shape or form. If the job leads to a larger job then it comes right back to your company. If the employee doesn’t follow this agreement then he will be fired.

Anytime you hire someone it is a given that you are going to invest a lot of time and money into them. When they feel they know it all, they will go off to start their own business and just walk away.

I have had a bunch of guys over the years who I taught everything they know, leave me and start their own businesses in my area. I compete with them often and I keep in touch. I have a working relationship still with these guys and there are lines that they will not cross to keep the peace.

I must have taught them well because their businesses are all doing outstanding and each have at least 5 full time employees of their own.

As for the mower issue, if you gave the mower to your employee then it is his mower and what ever he does with it after the fact is his business.”

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Lawn Care Business Books And Software.
How To Get Lawn Care Customers Vol. 2
The landscaping and lawn care business plan startup guide
A rebellious teenagers guide to starting a landscaping & lawn care business
The GopherHaul Lawn Care Business Show Episode Guide.
Stop Lowballing! A Lawn Care Business Owner\'s Guide To Success