Lessons I learned from my previously failed business.

As a business owner, you can learn something from all sorts of industries. A little advice from here and a little from there can add up to a lot of useful day to day knowledge for successful operations. In this discussion from a member of the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum, we hear lessons that cover a lot of the mistakes an entrepreneur had while running his previous photography business. He hopes by going through these in his past business, he will better be able to deal with them in his new company.

One lawn care business owner wrote “I had thought of starting a lawn care business for a long time, and in an effort to put my son through college, I decided to start one up. If all goes well, we can ramp up the services to chemical applications, etc…. , and continue until retirement or ?

Hopefully I can glean some information from this site, and at the same time, contribute something back. I have a lot of years in maintaining equipment, so I may have a little insight into that aspect.

Right now, all I have is an old lawn tractor that may, or may not, run for long. It needs the carb rebuilt, etc…. and a consumer grade push mower. My plans are to acquire a used commercial mower over the winter, probably a walk behind.

I ran a photography business several years ago and I was never able to really make any money at it. I tried to ‘give people breaks’ on prices to try to get my name out. That was ABSOLUTELY the wrong approach. When I tried to bring prices up, people did a back flip. They heard I was cheap and that is why they called me. So, then I was stuck in a price range and could not gain income

This time around my plan is to set a minimum, something like $xx / 1,000 sq. ft. or per 1/4 acre, or whatever, and add to that price if the property is difficult, ie: lots of trees or hills, etc……, and then stick to the price and walk away if the potential customer wants to pay less. Maybe offer a coupon or 1 free cutting for signing a contract.

Here are lessons I learned from my previous business that I will apply to my new business:

1. Set prices, and STICK TO THEM! Doing work for low prices to try to get your name out is a Big mistake. You can’t raise your prices later. Maybe you can give a small discount after a certain amount of time, but generally keep to your price structure.

2. Don’t throw good money after bad. I tried to do ALL of my own printing. I should have let a printing company do the printing while I was out drumming up more business.

3. Manage my time better and don’t spend time on needless work. If the camera shutter (or mower blades) are not moving, no money is being made. Maybe let a professional do your books or whatever so you can be out working.

4. Business is: %80 business and %20 product.

5. Listen to others who have been there before you!! Don’t try to re-invent the wheel. Don’t think ‘I will do it this way and show those people they don’t know what they are talking about”. It NEVER works that way. People generally love to give advice…….listen to them.

I am no expert, but these are some of the bruises I got my first time around.

From my experience, it is all about management. Management of time, money, and resources.

  • Marketing/Sales: So……..how do you get the phone to ring? Each year, a plan needs to be made on how to get the word out to potential customers, etc. Then, how are you going to pay for the advertising and marketing? A plan needs to be made on how much to spend on marketing. Meanwhile, some research needs to be done to find out what the market is like in your area and what are customers looking for. Some companies hire people to do nothing but sell their products or services.
  • Time management: The phone is starting to ring and you are signing contracts. Now, you need to figure out how to manage time in such a way that you can efficiently do the work without backtracking and wasting time driving to jobs. Maybe you have a few employees. You need to manage their time, hire and fire as necessary.

Also, someone needs to field the phone calls when they come in. This can be a full time job for if you are busy.

A lot of small business owners tell me that they spend a LOT of time trying to get money from customers. I just spoke to someone who had to travel 4 hours to pick up a big check from a university ($38,000) ……….and it was 3 months over due!! In 3 months, he probably spent 50-75 hours trying to get his money. That’s 50-75 hours he could have spent drumming up new business.

When I photographed weddings, the bill had to be paid before the wedding, which is pretty standard for that business. Not all businesses can operate that way, though.

In construction, often times companies required 10% down, and so much as the job progressed. I suppose one could require payment or at least a partial payment, before the work started. Then, you just don’t show up until some type of payment is made first. I don’t know how this industry works yet, but that could be an option.

  • Record Keeping: So you have the work and you are getting busy. Are you keeping records daily? Do you know what things you are doing that are costing too much money, and what things are making you money? Are you keeping mileage logs and logging your expenses for tax time? By the way……did you spend much time researching you contract to make sure it is solid? Do you have employees? You need to make sure all their taxes and insurance stuff is taken care of.
  • Money management: This one could go on for a while. Once the money starts coming in, what do you do with it? How much do you save, how much do you re-invest in the business, how much do you pay yourself, etc…. It has to be budgeted so that you have money for repairs and new equipment when the need arises. Do you do your own repairs or hire a shop to do them for you? (this falls under time management also). Do you sharpen your own blades, or do you have Bob’s Sharpening Shop do the work for you? Do you invest in the new mower or keep fixing the one you have? A budget study needs to be done on that one.

Do you put down chemicals? There are a lot of regulations and paperwork for that type of work.

Notice I haven’t said ANYTHING yet about cutting grass or removing snow.

The point is, this stuff all takes a lot of time and effort and a sharp pencil. If you go out and mow grass for a day, how much time and effort does it take to manage that day? Is the day over when you park the truck in the barn at night?

These are just a few of the high points that I did not listen to when I started my first business. The list could go on for a while.”

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