Should I drop lawn care customers to tighten my routes?

Thinking about business growth all the time can be really stressful. Equipment, employees, travel time, all of these issues can weigh heavily on your mind. So what should a small lawn care business owner do when they are trying to grow, yet they feel they are being run ragged by trying to maintain a service area which may just be too big? Should they let good paying customers go just because they live too far away from others? That is the question asked on the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum and the responses should help many in the same situation.

One lawn care business owner wrote “I have a question regarding growth. This is my second year doing lawn care maintenance. My first year I got 13 customers and it took me about 1 1/2 days to service them. Last year I did several things to get new customers, such as flyers and advertising in the church bulletin. Due to where I live, it stopped snowing in March and I started getting calls in April right before I bought my equipment.

This year I already had 3 people ask me for mowing quotes. I got 2 of the 3 people but what I am afraid of is growing too fast too soon. Right now I work a full time job but it’s 4 days a week leaving me 3 days off. I have heard about shooting for 10% growth per year but starting with 13 customers, that would only be 1.3 customers this coming year. I feel I could handle 20 customers before I would need to figure out how to become more productive.

Last year I increased the size of my mower from a 36″ to a 48″ and that helped out. One thing I was thinking of was that I have 2 customers that are about 20 minutes north from my house. The rest of my customers are 30 minutes due south of there. So driving time just for these 2 is 50 minutes a day. The 2 new lawn care customers I picked up are in a development that I have 7 in already. The time for me to get to them is under 1 minute.

Would anyone advise me about dropping customers in only my second year? I know drive time is a factor and by getting new customers closer together would help out. What’s do you guys think about my growing? Also at what point should I hire an employee?

Right now because of my full time job I am hoping that I can keep this a one man show. What I am afraid of is growing the company to a point where it will take 2 people to run it. Then if the second person up an quits, I am going to have a real problem. I think I can do about 20 accounts before I need to put the brakes on the advertising or figure out what to do next. Good help is hard to find and at first, I could only give someone part time hours. I guess this is just part of the learning process.”

A second business owner said “there is nothing wrong with dropping customers to tighten up your routes and being more productive. Just explain to them that you will no longer be servicing that area. If you can, try to find someone to take it over before you inform the customer you will be quitting. Then let the customer know you have someone willing to take over where you left off, if they want them to. It will be fairly easy to pick up more customers to fill the spots especially when you are doing more work in a smaller area.”

A third added “I think worry about growing too fast is something we do in our minds to freak ourselves out. Ultimately you shouldn’t worry about it now. Get your business to the point where you are turning customers away and you will figure out how to handle that new stage.

The 10% growth rate per year I think applies once you have yourself situated and you are running at a full time level. Early on, 10% growth really is nothing. You want to add a lot of customers when you are just getting started so you are busy and so you can see that your business will indeed work!

If the customers are too far out of the way and it’s really causing you problems, then sure pass them on to someone else. It’s always better to find another lawn care business owner in a surrounding area to hand them to because then in the future they just might hand you some customers outside of their area. Use that opportunity to build good will.

Hire another person when you can no longer do all the work by yourself.”

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