I have the practical skills but don’t have the lawn care business know how.

Sometimes when you get your business started, you have a little business experience from somewhere else or maybe you have a little hands on experiences from a previous job. Other times, you might get started with no experience at all! In this discussion from the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum, we hear from one entrepreneur who was lucky enough to grow up in the business yet he needed a little advice on the business side of things that his father always took care of.

One lawn care business owner wrote “I am in my 20’s and have decided to start my own landscape company. I grew up on a wholesale nursery, went to college and now can’t find a good job. For the past two years I have been helping two friends with their lawn maintenance companies. Long story short, with 30 years in the business between the two of them, they have no clue as to what they are doing. Sure they have nice lawn care equipment and can mow, edge, and blow but their overall lack of knowledge of the horticultural industry really shocked me. To put it matter of factly, you don’t use hedge trimmers or a chainsaw on everything. And that’s just the start of it. But this is about me.

Now I’m at the point where with my knowledge and work ethic, as well as frustration towards them, I have basically forced myself to start my own landscape company. I have access to a vehicle and trailer a few days a week until I build up enough customers to buy my own. Thank god for family. My dad has 35 years in turf grass management and landscape design with a wholesale nursery as a side business, though it more like a second full time job but that’s why he had me, so he says.

Landscape skills with no business knowledge.

Landscape skills with no business knowledge.

I know plenty of potential clients through church, family, and 20+ years of people skills and I am extremely confident in my work. I guess it comes from being micro managed by a pro since I was 5 on the nursery. So I’ve decided this is my future!

I am waiting to market myself outside of close friends and family until I get all the equipment I feel I need but the customers I currently have are already providing steady work on the weekends. I need the hourly m-f gig until I build my clientele. I plan on going full time soon.

I live in a metropolitan area with plenty of competition. Most of the neighborhoods around here have no soliciting signs at the entrances, at least the ones I want to market myself in. I was hoping on using door hangers/mailbox flyers to promote myself but not sure how to do it on those restricted neighborhoods.

I am passionate about the industry and my future and welcome any advice.”

A second lawn care business owner said “as far as I am concerned ‘no solicitation’ does not mean that you can not put a yard sign out for a couple of days or even a week on a client’s lawn to advertise to neighbors and those driving by.

I’d suggest to see if you can get into a HOA meeting and pitch your business or maybe even offer to pay for their newsletter printing in exchange for them letting you to place an ad in their newsletter. You might even want to network with a couple of other trades and you could all go in together and split the cost of the newsletter. If not offer, maybe offer to maintain the common areas for ad space in the newsletter.

Next, get a web site online as that is your cheapest form of advertisement.

Read as much on business operations as you can. Be careful though not to over analyzing things, I know of more than a few growing companies that have not made a web site because they are still analyzing if they need one. For some it has been more than 2 years.

It is very important to KNOW your numbers intimately. In the end, knowing what your costs are going to be determines your pricing.

For instance, you start out with really low prices because you want the work. You forgot to account for wages for your time. Well that may be fine for a 1 man operation but when the need comes to hire someone, you can’t afford it. Rule of thumb is add 40% to whatever the hourly rate is to come close to the actual cost. So if you pay $10 per hour, they are actually costing you $14 per hour.

Out of that lawn mowing you have to pay your worker, business insurance, vehicle insurance, marketing, taxes etc. So this has to go into your costs. Say you budget 10% for marketing, this means that on a $35 mow you subtract $3.50 then you take out 1 hour for labor -$14.00 (I used 1 hour as 1/2 hour x 2 men). Now subtract fuel for the truck and equipment. It is hard to figure out the numbers so you want to use percentages. Like 10% for marketing, 40% for labor, 10% for repairs, 10% maintenance, 20% overhead (indirect costs like your salary if not mowing), and 10% profit. These numbers are an example only so take them with a grain of salt.

If you were to do 10 lawns per day with the numbers I gave you above, that $350 day now looks like $175 and you are not done subtracting yet because you have to still take out the fuel, maintenance, repairs, (vehicle and equipment), book keeping, licensing, and anything else that costs your business money.

Most people that get into business do not have a clue as to the actual cost of doing business. This is where you family can help you sort out the numbers. Make an appointment to sit down with your dad and go over the numbers. Don’t do it at the dinner table, have his full attention.

It’s good to keep the family life and business separate as much as possible. You have to eat Thanksgiving dinner with them.

It sounds like you are lucky to have a very good support structure in place though with your family, don’t be afraid to ask their opinions on large decisions. They may see something that you overlook because they are on the outside. You may miss a cost that you are unaware of and that can destroy a business.

Good luck!”

A third added “I’d say go out and do some work, if you realize you need some particular piece of equipment, buy it, but only then. I started before I purchased anything. I had a storage unit that I’d roll to in my jeep. No trailer because I didn’t need it yet, with my push mower, weed eater, and a broom. After a few weeks of working my guts out and gaining a significant number of clients I was able to justify a few purchases with my wife.

I bought a zero turn mower, a better weed eater, another push mower, and a trailer. I remember this one old man had a one time job for me (he called on one of my door hangers). His driveway drain needed cleaning out. It was pretty deep so I couldn’t reach in and scoop anything out. The only way I knew to do it was with a leaf blower. It was only about a 10 minute ($20) job. I didn’t have a leaf blower yet. I ran to this rental store a few blocks from him and payed $17.00 to rent this leaf blower for 20 minutes to get the job done!

I obviously didn’t make any money on that job. I bought a leaf blower the next morning. I didn’t want to look like a chump by not having simple equipment to do the job so I rented it until I bought it. After that, I performed quite a bit of work for the gentleman throughout the  year. He had a guy that mowed his lawn on a regular basis and had done so for several years. The guy actually showed up one time while I was trimming some hedges. He had a pick up with a push mower in the back of it.

I had told the old man that I wasn’t trying to step on anyone’s toes but if his guy took a vacation, or whatever that I could fill in til he returned. I think he appreciated that approach and would call me every couple weeks or so to do some odd job. (Trim this bush, trim that bush, clean drain, pick up these branches the storm blew down). I honestly think this was a case of him seeing a young guy out there trying to make it and he wanted to help out. It was always small jobs that he didn’t want to pay much for but he always tipped me $20 extra each time I was there.  My point with all this is be enthusiastic and go for it. More jobs will come.”

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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