Sometimes, the first time you try an idea out, it just doesn’t work and that is it. No second attempt and no second chances for improvement. Then, some times you take some time to think about what went wrong and recharge your batteries to go out and try it again while applying the lessons you learned. For some, it is then when you are able to find success. Such is the case with this one entrepreneur who shared with us the business lessons he learned from his first trial run on the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum.
He wrote “about 3 years ago I was doing some lawn care residential work out of my Ford Focus towing a tiny trailer! I had about 7 or so lawn care customers, all through advertising on Craigslist. The set up was pretty funny. I was happy I was able to take what I had and make it work for me. I’m kicking myself now for not taking any pictures of it though. It was a pretty funny sight to see: my 33″ mower would just barely fit on the trailer! Where I am at now with my business, I’m just about done with my 4′x8′ trailer. The lessons I learned during that time have helped me to grow.
I stopped service at the end of that first summer, mostly because it was my first time mowing lawns and I did it all wrong. Even though I only had a handful of clients, they were spread out all over. Two of them ended up not paying for a couple of services and it really got me down. Frustrated, I started doing the math and found I could earn more working at a fast food restaurant rather than bust my tail in the heat (and not get paid by a couple of deadbeats).
I got rid of my 33″ w/b and all I had was a 21″ push mower. I kept my trimmer, edger, and back pack leaf blower. All that equipment is paid for so I won’t be sweating trying to raise money to buy new stuff. This time around, I need to resist the urge to take on every customer who calls. It may take longer to get clients in a close group but I totally think it’s worth it. I simply can’t say ‘yes’ to someone out of the way just so I can make an extra buck. Sure, if I flyer the area of 1 client I service, that can turn into 2, then 3, and so on.
I have learned a lot of lessons from my experience and here are some of the top ones.
- Lesson #1 - If a customer ’skips’ a payment, trust your gut feeling. If they don’t pay you for a $30 lawn service job and you keep servicing the lawn weekly, the chances of collecting $90 or $120 will be tougher.
- Lesson #2 - When you’re starting out, you’ll take just about any lawn to get some money rolling in. Think hard about how far you’re willing to travel for that 1 lawn. You might get 2 more lawns in the neighborhood but there is no guarantee on that. After a month of driving xx miles to that 1 lawn (and burning a lot of gas) you will eventually start to find a way to drop them. The customer doesn’t care if you’re driving 1 mile or 20; they know the market price for their lawn so adding a fuel surcharge is almost out of the question.
- Lesson #3 - If you have 2 (or more) lawns in the same neighborhood, try to service them on the same day. I had 2 houses, 1 across the street from the other, and they were both bi-weekly. As you can guess, 1 lawn was on the 1st week and the other lawn was on the 2nd week. I was wasting a lot of time and gas going to their neighborhood every week to do 1 lawn instead of every 2 weeks and doing 2 lawns.
- Lesson #4 - Equipment/supplies: you might think that you have enough gas and don’t need to fill up the cans. Or, you have your 50:1 mix but don’t have any more oil. Trust me, you better fill up your gas cans and get another bottle of oil mix! Also, if you think you just loaded your string trimmer with line and you’re ‘good to go’ for another week, think again! Take more line! Take a small toolkit, gloves, ear plugs, etc.
- Lesson #5 - Keep a good eye on your equipment! When you go in the backyard and you can’t see your stuff you better have it locked down. Gas cans and rakes are cheap enough and easy to replace. My trimmer and edger cost me a lot of money (and the thieves know this). There are actually guys out there that drive around all day long acquiring commercial lawn equipment by stealing it from lawn care businesses!
- Lesson # 6 - The customer is your boss. I always address my clients as Ms. [last name] and Mr. [last name] in my conversations and emails. If they say you left a part of the driveway with clippings, apologize and give them $5 off the next service (or whatever you decide is fair). At the worst, they’ll drop you if they think you messed up again but at least you made $$$ (minus the small discount). Best case, you’re building trust and rapport and you’ll be banking more $$$ as a result of that little discount.
- Lesson #7 - Don’t say ‘yes’ to everything. I took 1 guy that was WAY out of my normal area and he kept asking me if I would pull weeds, trim bushes, etc. I thought I was going over there for a cut, trim, edge, blow and to make a long story short I ended up being 2 hours late to my regular full-time job because this guy kept me doing ’stuff.’ It’s my fault for not taking control but it’s hard to say ‘no’ since you’re already there and you’ll earn $$$. I can’t even imagine what would have happened if I had 4 more lawns to do that day!
- Lesson #8 - If you’re a solo operator (like I was), you’re not going to finish a lawn in the same amount of time as 3 guys working a lawn. That was one thing that really got me down too. Let’s say you can get a small lawn for $35/week. It takes you 20 minutes to get there (start the stopwatch when you grab your keys). 30 to 45 minutes to do the lawn and back home inside the house is another 20 minutes (stop the stopwatch when everything is put away and you sit down). That’s 1 hour 10 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes for $35, or about $23/hour. You’ll be surprised how much time you actually spend doing someone’s lawn if you use a stopwatch. Even easier, how long does it take you to run down to the hardware store to pick something up? Even though you may think you’re only gone 15 minutes, it’s more like 30. Now imagine hooking up a trailer, making sure you have everything, blah blah blah…
That’s all I can remember right now and it’s not in any particular order. These are my own experiences and, as they say, the best lesson learned is the one learned the hard way! I certainly learned some hard lessons but I am glad I did. I am now better for it and growing because of it.
Sure if I would have stuck with my business the first time around, I would probably have grown a lot bigger than I am now, but then again, if I didn’t take that time off to reflect on those business lessons, my business might not have survived for long and I might have been turned off to ever starting a business again.
I hope you can benefit from these lessons learned and grow your business as big as you want.”
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