Actually starting a lawn care business is but a small step in a grand adventure. Immediately as soon as you open the doors, you are going to start having to deal with conflict. Conflict from customers, staff members, equipment and the list goes on and on. If everyday you are operating your business, you can device a system to handle such conflicts, you will pave a roadway ahead to a better tomorrow.
A new lawn care business owner found himself dealing with a conflict he needed help with when he wrote on the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum “I just started my business this year and have nothing but per cut customers. I have one client that called me last week and told me that her yard didn’t need cutting because we haven’t had much rain. Well I said okay, I’ll be there next Monday. When that Monday arrived and I got to her house she then told me the lawn was brown and it didn’t need to be mowed. Then she proceeded to bitch me out about how the old clippings were right up next the the sidewalk and it looked bad. I already mow the lawn for cheaper than I should. It is about a $35 or $40 dollar job, and charging her 30 for mow, trim, blow, and biweekly edging. She has complained on more than just one separate occasion.
I make sure that her lawn is spotless every time I cut. I don’t want to lose her business, but I am feeling like I want to drop her. This is why I am considering next season to incorporate, not written contracts, but verbal agreements with monthly billing, biweekly and weekly mowing options. I would also include a customer welcome letter stating information about my services and expectations from each party.
Does anyone think that if I am not doing contracts that maybe I should require first time customers to pay upfront rather than wait a month to get paid and not get paid? Has anyone had a bad experience with that? I want to run my company painless, efficient, and simple as possible.”
One lawn care business owner said “in my experience, per-cut customers should pay at the time of service. There should be no monthly billing for per-cut customers. Also, their rates are higher since they often let their grass get out of control before ‘letting you’ cut their lawn.
Don’t let your lawn care customers push you around. Spending your time and gasoline to travel to her lawn only to have her tell you to come back later is nonsense. If she wants to cancel, she needs to give you due notice otherwise she needs to pay a minimum service fee.”
A second lawn care business owner shared “we all have customers that are a pain in the butt. It kind of hurts when we do very good work yet they still take advantage. I have been fortunate and have only had two problem customers out of the 213 jobs we have done so far this year.
One was a rock wall. In short the client did everything including calling the city building inspector out. Everyone said the wall was perfect. The building inspector called me and said that is one hell of a couple. They were refusing to pay so I had my lawyer give them a call. After that, I had the check within the hour. My lawyer is a very close friend but man I would not want to be on the other side of the fence from him. He is known in my area for being ruthless!
Next was an excavation job. I did some of the work and the staff did the rest of it. It was a two week job. The client who is a junior high school principal, kept having the guys do little things that were not in the contract. I allowed a couple, then went to meet with him. He pissed the wrong guy off when he told me, look you have been here almost two weeks, if you won’t include the extras then payment will be delayed. I said are you sure you want to go that route and he said yes. I called the chairman of the school board, who is a long time friend. When we finished the contract the check was miraculously ready. Nothing was ever said.
For all others I charge 50% up front and the balance due on the day we say we are finished and the customer confirms everything is finished. Lawn care invoices are emailed the night before the job. We expect the check to be ready for the staff when they arrive or we have their credit card on file.
The amount of receivables I have are zip!
Some people just like to complain. If you can afford it just walk or simply say Sir/Madam, it may be time for us to go over your expectations. Customer satisfaction is very important to me however you seem to have issues every time I am here. Let’s come to an agreement today to avoid this then decide to keep or walk on the client.”
You really have things together over there. I think a lot of times many of our members find themselves in a difficult stage of trying to grow and make everyone happy and then getting to the point where they realize they can’t make EVERYONE happy and learn how to deal with such situations.
When you reflect back, do you feel you implemented certain policies after dealing with certain problem customers and these new policies helped you grow?
If so, could you give us some advice on that?
“I don’t want to sound pompus as I am not, I am the type that will give the shirt off my back, if anyone tries to take advantage of me, company or staff, we have an issue and I do not fool around.
When I bid a job, I go at it knowing we will get it. Something I was taught many years ago at it that it is all mindset. Probably the greatest thing for my company is that we started debt free. I was able to get the equipment I needed without going into debt. My company now has a couple of loans, though they are mainly to build credit, but it’s less than 10% of the capital assets.
With this in mind and not having to draw a salary, I can weed out the potential clients that will be an issue and I do not let clients take advantage of us. As we all know some will laugh behind your back. If I even sense a client may be of this sort, I quote the job in such a way that we are too high or I will simply say, we would really like to be able to take this on however we do not have the manpower at this time, thank you for contacting us.
Years ago when I started and didn’t really have a lot of customers, I would take on small home renovation jobs. I would basically take whatever I could get my hands on. Clients would at times walk all over me as I was hungry and needed the money.
Aside from learning a lot of hands on education dealing with people, the big difference between then and now is I am not hungry and if we don’t get a job so be it. It is no sweat. I often wonder if people can somehow sense this and behave differently because of it. We have some amazing clients. Many will tip the employees, which I allow. I went to a job site yesterday and the owner had a table set up for the crew. On the table he had ice tea, cookies and fruit. I laughed as I sat there in the truck. Here are four guys cutting, chipping and splitting wood and next to them is this nice table of refreshments set up in the driveway. This was a four day job and the owner gave the employees $25.00 each, for their work last night when they finished. I love clients like this, not the money part but those that appreciate what we do. When I see the customers react this way I can tell they felt we went above and beyond what the job called for, in their eyes. What happens then is they tell their friends and we get more work.
For example I am sending a two person pressure washing crew to this customer’s house at 8 this morning to do her driveway. It is something we never discussed, it’s a small token of our appreciation.
I have had many clients from hell over the years and it’s tough, some days I didn’t even want to go to work. We have to remember we are better than them. Don’t let them get to you. Take the high road and hang your head high. Sometimes they realize what jerks they are and change. This doesn’t happen often, but man when it does, walk away it’s not worth the stress.”