Giving away free fall leaf cleanups turned into a disaster.

Promotional ideas that may seem like a good idea initially can look terrible when you take a moment to think about them. In this discussion from the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum we see one entrepreneur who decided to offer a free fall leaf cleanup to customers who signed up for his lawn mowing service. On one side it seemed to work by bringing him a lot of customers but on the flip side, it seemed the more customers he brought in, the more money he lost. This idea might have worked better if he had charged more for his lawn care services and gotten his customers to sign an annual mowing contract that spread all the property payments across 12 months. The way he did it though really seemed to stress him out. Here is a great story to learn from.

One lawn care business owner wrote “this year I decided to give away free leaf cleanups in order to gain more lawn care customers. There were a few catches to the offer. Customers had to have no remaining balance by the end of the season. They had to have hired me from May 1st - October 16th to receive the free fall cleanup. If they were a month late in hiring me, not a huge deal - I’d still offer it to them. If they were a week late in paying me, they lost the offer.

The idea came from a family member who thought of, ‘Give fall cleanups for free, it will gain you customers.’ I debated him all last winter that the outcome would be very displeasing. So being a close family member, this got me to snap and just do it. I was kind of hoping it’d backfire miserably so I could shove it in his face and say ’see what good your advice is?’

Basically, what I learned what happens when you give away fall cleanups, is you have no real income but you end up spending, spending, spending… It takes a lot of gas to do cleanups.

At the time he suggested this to me, my choices were simple:

1. Don’t offer fall cleanups = no profit, no loss.

2. Charge for Fall Cleanups = Profit.

3. Discount and offer fall cleanups = Minor profit, more satisfied customers.

4. Give away free fall cleanups.

Sure at the time I guess I did think that option #4 looked somewhat appealing and would do the trick to getting me a lot of customers but looking back, I can’t actually say it got me BUSINESS as I made no money - it did get me customers though.

Unfortunately and very obviously it did me no good. The idea was outright stupid and risky. I got TOO many customers to handle and customers. These customers are now more than likely to be disappointed than anything because it is going to take too long to clean up their yards for free.

The real lesson I learned is, never offer anything for free: it kills you. A free one time service, is expected the second time. It’s a good way to get on a customers bad side, I can hear them now saying ‘you did it last year, now you want to charge me?’ - something I really don’t like putting up with.

Now that I am stuck with all these lawns to clean up, I just don’t know how I am gong to handle them all. Customers all want their free leaf removal service done immediately and it has been nothing short of complex. It’s difficult to get these jobs done when each customer wants first priority over the several other jobs, yet it’s totally understood and pretty much expected.

I am seriously short on time, and I might actually run into a problem where few customers may actually not receive my end of season service. Knowing this, what is the right way to keep this business functioning? I have several ideas;

1. Complete work for customers who have respected the ‘set’ payment due date, with no remaining balances to pay off.

2. Complete the smaller jobs first, keeping the ‘majority’ of customers satisfied.

3. Complete the bigger jobs first, once they are out of the way I can quickly complete the smaller jobs.

4. Follow my lawn maintenance route, keeping everything seemingly organized.

5. Complete jobs for the more aggressive customers, granted the other customers will be understanding with me. Higher chance to have re-occurring customers.

6. Complete jobs for my most honest and peaceful customers, as they should be treated the same way as they have treated me – and may feel betrayed if put off until the last moment.

7. Complete jobs furthest from my starting point and end on jobs closer to my starting point. These jobs will be closer, which makes them easier to get to with time restrictions and the weather becoming worse with every passing day.

Leaf Removal jobs can take anywhere between 25min- 2:30hrs, and knowing how much time I have to spare before dark or predicted rain is crucial. I have to be able to choose which properties I work on during each day in order for me to avoid getting stuck. Meaning, I may only be able to complete 3 big jobs and one small job, which is a little less than 8 hours of work (not including travel time or unloading/loading of the trailer!).

Now with rain, I’d usually stick to doing several small jobs – so I don’t get stuck in the middle of one big job and not being able to complete it.  So understand, lawn maintenance in general doesn’t consume that much time during the day, 25-40 minutes is usually the maximum amount of time it takes per property to maintain. Though, ‘leaf removal’ is a completely different service which requires a very different strategy. Unfortunately, customers expect the same consistent service on which they have experienced previously.”

A second lawn care business owner said “do the best you can and write this off as a lesson learned. If you can’t make money on a service then don’t do it. When we offer discounts or free service for a specific function then it tends to become an expectation from the customer. So I avoid it at all costs.”

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