Don’t let a lawn care customer go long without paying.

For many new lawn care business owners, there is this tendency to be a wishful thinker. If a lawn care customer owes you for one month’s worth of work already, you might find that you try to justify in your head if you keep working, they will eventually pay you. You may also be afraid to stop work, because as a new business owner, you most likely need all the money you can get. This behavior takes you into a dangerous area where you most likely will get burned. If you find yourself dealing with a few situations like this in a row, it may push you to a breaking point where you throw your hands up in the air and simply give up. Here is a story that deals with a difficult customer from the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum. Use this story to help gain foresight and know you don’t want to repeat this same situation in your business.

A lawn care business owner wrote “I have a lawn care customer that signed up for annual service with monthly billing in March. He owns a large cornor lot with a lot of plant beds, shrubs, & trees. Our agreement was $100/mo to include mowing, line trim, edge, blow off, & then trimming & pruning of all bushes & trees under 15′ in height. Weed control was not included as the client handled that himself. In mid June the client was going away for a couple months & asked me if he left out some spray & a sprayer could I spray the weeds for him? He said I could charge him extra if need be. I said no, I would spray for him and that there would be no charge, it’s not a big deal.

Between June 25th & Sept 25th in addition to our regular work I treated the beds with his supplied chemical & sprayer on 5 or 6 occasions. After using the gallon he had mixed I noticed it wasn’t working very well. When I went to mix gallon #2 I found the label on the bottle of concentrate was not legible as it was left outside. I called the client by phone & explained that it wasn’t working very well & that I didn’t know the proper mix for this off-brand product. He wasn’t sure what the mix rate was off hand either & said ‘I just mix some in.’ So I did, but it didn’t kill anything. Next I tried again and up’d the dosage & still nothing. So slowly the weeds overtake the beds despite the spray (Mind you I’ve called him about this already).

The client returns to town around the week of Oct. 1st. He comments then that the weeds are out of control & I said ‘I know, that’s why I called you, It wasn’t working!’ So he spends time out in the yard & pulls all the weeds. There were times I was there mowing, trimming & pruning while he was outside & he said nothing to any effect that he was mad at me. In December I call the client because he owes for the months of October & November ($200). He now feels that I am responsible for the fact that the weeds got out of hand & he’s pissed. He want’s to cancel our agreement on the lawn & bushes (because of weed control that wasn’t included. I sprayed them for a couple months with his stuff as a courtesy). The kicker to this all is the client refuses to pay the $200 he rightfully owes for the services rendered (that were actually in our agreement!) during the months of Oct. & Nov. He states he spent 5 full days & his cousin helped for 3 days pulling the weeds & that he feels this labor more than eats up the $200 in question.

I feel like it was a courtesy to spray, I didn’t charge him & on top of it he was NOTIFIED that it WASN’T WORKING. He feels that despite the lack of charge, I agreed to ‘take care of the weeds’ & had I not agreed he’d have found someone who would have to done it in his absence. But since I said I’d spray that it’s all my responsibility & that I should have pulled all the weeds or had my men do it.

The bottom line to me seems that the spray didn’t work for me, He says it works. I don’t know how thick he mixes it because I still don’t even know what the proper mix is!? The label was destroyed, & when I called he didn’t know either? It was not a product I am familiar with. ( I don’t even carry weed killer as I am not certified, though legally- if a customer supplies both chemical & application equipment it falls under a ‘yardman exemption’ & I can apply weed killer that way). I suppose I could have tracked down who sells that crap, got in the car, gone to the place & read a label on their bottle but hell? This was a courtesy thing after all.

The whole situation is frustrating as hell I can tell you that. The part that makes it suck even more is that during the last month (which he is refusing to pay for) I spent hours & hours there doing a full fall clean up & trimmed everything on the property! (which is included in the monthly rate but still that’s assuming that I’ll get paid). So everything is freshly trimmed for the winter & so he’s gonna try to skip out of paying me for October, & November on top of canceling a $100/month agreement going into the slower months….. agh! I bet he’ll probably let the place go completely neglected til march & then hire some other poor schmuck for next season.”

Another lawn care business owner suggested “it sounds like you are at one of those crossroads where you wonder if it is worth attempting to salvage this customer or just dump him and spend your time gaining other clients.

Here is what I have done in situations like this. Tell him your position once more just like you told us above and let him know that you truly feel like you handled the application of the chemical to the best of your ability. Let him know that you continued to maintain his lawn according to your contract and that you feel you should be paid in full for the duration of the contract.

Now comes the hard part. Once you feel he has a balanced viewpoint on the situation, trust him with control of the outcome. Ask his ideas for an equitable solution.

I think he is just frustrated, maybe at the weeds or maybe at something else in his life. He just wants to blame someone for it. Maybe he left the lid off the chemical and it rained and diluted the solution. Maybe it was old or never worked in the first place and he’s embarrassed to admit it.

Anyway, lay it out to him and ask him what he thinks is truly fair to both parties. My bet is that you will be able to salvage this business relationship. If not, live and learn from it and never repeat it again.”

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The GopherHaul Lawn Care Business Show Episode Guide.
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