Starting a lawn care business only for the summer?

Two students looking to start a summer mowing company are curious to find out more what steps to take to begin. It is amazing how much regulation is involved to simply try and get a small business going for a few months. In this discussion from the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum, one veteran shares his thoughts on how a newbie should go about doing this and if it is financially worthwhile to attempt.

One lawn care business owner wrote “here is my situation. I plan on mowing lawns with my brother next summer to earn some money before I go back to college. It’s not a permanent thing, as I come home in mid-May and return to school on Labor Day. We plan to get a cheap used riding mower and few other pieces of equipment, with a start up cost of approximately $1,000.

We live in a rural area. Our target customer base would mostly be the elderly and people who don’t have time to mow.

The big questions I have are, would we need to register this as a business in order to do this? And if so, would we need insurance to cover us? Or would we be able to offer these services and not have to register as a business?

Also, would we be able to re-earn our $1,000 and then make profit? Or is this whole idea not even worth our time?

I made some phone calls today and was told I’d have to register a trade name, which costs $50 for five years. Not bad! I’m not real worried about finding enough lawns to mow, I’m sure there are plenty, I’m just hoping a cheap used riding mower and some other gear can do the job. We don’t have the kind of money lying around to get new equipment and don’t want to even think about loans. We found a pretty good riding mower on craigslist that runs really well, so we’re just gonna sharpen the blades and tune it up and use it as our primary mower. I am not sure what we plan to charge per lawn, but probably around $30-$50, depending on size.”

A second lawn care business owner said “what you need to do all depends on the path you want to take. If you are doing this for a few months and just want to throw a mower in your truck and mow a couple of lawns, there are plenty of people that will just do it. They ask around and see who needs help with their lawns. They mow those customers and then at the end of summer they pack it up.

You may have a hard time finding customers depending on when your season begins and ends. Many business owners try to get their customers signed up for lawn care before the season even starts. That is not saying you won’t be able to do it. There are plenty of people who don’t sign up for lawn care because they think they will do it themselves. Then a month or so into the season, they get tired of mowing their lawn and want to hire someone. Or their current lawn care provider is unreliable and they want someone else. So ask around and work your social network to see who you can find.

If you want to go the legit route to register a business, you need to talk to someone in your town/county and your state to see what laws cover your area. In my state, basically any actions, services, or products that generate $1,500 per year or more in gross revenues requires a business license. Not only does this apply to the city and county we are registered in, but also in neighboring counties/towns/cities as they sometimes require you to pay for doing business there as well.

If you’re small, some choose to disregard the laws, licensing, insuring requirements all together. If you are caught, you may pay a small fine and have to account for income and taxes later. Once you get your business license, city and county, a few other things will happen, at least here it does.

They will send you a personal property schedule to record all your equipment and tools on, they notify the state that there is a new business and the state will send an inquiry to you wanting to know who is a partner, a sub, or an employee, so that you properly pay your SUTA (State Unemployment Tax Act) and FUTA (Federal) taxes. You will also have to show that you have workers comp. insurance. That insurance certificate here alone without any actual coverage is $750. In my area the owner has to be covered with additional premiums or they can pay the state $200 for an exemption. You also will want to get liability insurance for your business. A half million or million dollar policy should suffice.

As far as the money goes, it is going to be up to how much you actually spend, your cost of running equipment, truck, and repairs. It will be up to you to find the customers to be able to cover all these costs. Remember all of your fixed costs, being mowers, weedeaters, blowers, etc. and all the variable costs fuel, oil, blades, weedeater line, etc. Come up with a figure for what all that will cost you and estimate what you could approximately make from mowing yards in your area. Add it all up and compare the numbers. Set a goal on how many yards you will need to break even and how many you need to profit.

I am quite certain that there are kids on summer break doing jobs for half of what my hourly rates are and are netting 50% more than we do on those same jobs!

You won’t know what you can do until you try, so get out there and try. Don’t let all the bureaucracy stop you. Experiment a little and see if you can get some traction based on the effort you want to put into it. If you can, scale up your licensing and insurance, or what ever else your local government wants you to do. Just don’t let all of this overwhelm you before you begin.”

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