Should your new lawn care business use mowing contracts?

Your first year in business can be a real trial by fire. Everything is new and there are so many issues you are going to be running into, it can make you want to pull your hair out. One specific issue we are going to focus on, from the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum, is whether or not you should be using lawn care contracts in your first year. There are pros and cons to doing so. Sure they can help cut back on the goofy customers who want to pay what ever figure they come up with in their heads, but are you comfortable enough with your bidding to lock yourself into the price you estimate for a full year? These are things to think about.

One lawn care business owner wrote “I am new to the landscaping industry. Currently my job is doing administrative work for my husband. So far everything seems good. I am always looking for more helpful information and tips that would make life a lot easier.

One thing I am trying to get my head around is the whole marketing concept. It is not my strongest point but I don’t want to head in the wrong direction and spend money needlessly. I have an ad in the local newspaper and am now thinking about using craigslist. Next I am considering experimenting with a direct mail marketing campaign with post cards to specific areas.

At the moment I have not received any phone calls or emails from the newspaper ad however my husband believes that newspaper ads are the way to go, but so far, I am not on the bandwagon about this with him. I am going to keep trying to broaden our horizon with new clients, which is why I am experimenting with different marketing methods. It seems there is way to much competition in my area although I am not going to give up just yet.

Another issue I am running into is if I should use annual lawn care agreements when out giving estimates?

Since I haven’t used them yet, I am wondering if by having an annual lawn care agreement in place with a client, would it protect both parties? This is my reason for wondering, there have been way too many mowing customers with selective memory regarding services preformed and what discussions were held about cost. By having using an annual lawn care agreement, I would hope if the customer has something that outlines exactly what they have contracted us to do for them and what is expected from them as far as payment goes, it might make the process smoother.

I have had some really REALLY mean mowing customers lately that because there was no agreement in place, they just send whatever they feel they want to pay instead of the specified invoice amount. Or they dispute us on the invoice even though the work has been done.”

A second lawn care business owner said “this is why I do not send out invoices to residential mowing customers. My process is, I mow, knock on the door, and get payment that day. That way if they want to play games, they can have someone else do the work. I use an estimate form that details the work to be done and payment amount. I have them sign it and then you have in writing the agreement that way. You can use an estimate for everyone, but you should collect the same day.

Before I used estimate forms, I had similar customer problems as you are having now. Now when I go to do an estimate for mowing, I fill out an estimate form and then if they want us to do the work they sign it.”

A third added “what I find tends to happen, especially early on when you are just getting your business started, is that you take any customer you can without filtering them out. Because you take any customer you can get your hands on, you get a % of people that are going to be terrible customers. These customers will probably balk at signing any agreement because they know, they tend to do screwy things and try to get away with it. So the lesson to learn from this is warning lights should be flashing in your mind when people try to avoid signing anything.

As you grow, you will want to get away from such customers and look for those who are less problematic. When you start getting money in your bank account, you tend to be less desperate and more careful on who you sign up as a customer.

Customers may balk at signing an annual lawn care agreement with a lawn care company that has yet to be in business for at least a year. But this doesn’t mean you can’t try.

One last point I want to bring up about using a contract is you really need to question your ability to bid a property before you start to use them. When you bid a job, are you making enough profit on it to grow or are you just guessing? If you are just guessing, you can lose a little money each time you mow smaller lawns and you can lose a lot of money on larger mowing jobs. So don’t lock yourself in on a price until you are confident that is a price you can live with for a year.

Keep all this in mind as you are out there and don’t let any of the bad customers get you down. You will learn over time how to filter out the potential bad apple customers. This is your business and you need to enjoy it or what is the point?”

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