There is nothing like learning from those on the front lines of the lawn care industry. They are the ones in the trenches, putting ideas, equipment and know how together to keep their businesses going and growing. Here are some great insight from a member of the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum who is out there and battling everyday to make his business not only survive but thrive. Maybe some of his tips will help you with a situation you currently find yourself in.
He wrote “I have grown my lawn care business from nothing. When I got it started, I hated my job and I wanted more out of my life. I needed a mower for my house anyway so I decided why not start a lawn care business and see what I can do with it? From this experience, I have tried a lot of thing and made many mistakes that I have learned from. Here is a list of what I have learned from operating m lawn care business.
The first mower I purchased was a big box consumer grade zero turn mower. This led to break downs every week and something that should be AVOIDED at all costs. As soon as I could, I traded up for a commercial zero turn, and never had a problem again.
I try and base my lawn care business on things I learn from all other businesses. I learn from everywhere I can. I will pick any business and think of the things I like or don’t like about it. For instance, take Mcdonalds. You get affordable prices, and you’re in and out quickly. EVERYONE eats at Mcdonalds so they are doing something right. On the other end of the spectrum, look at a Perkins, they take longer, and the price is higher. But you get more of a selection, better quality, and better service. I look at every business and look at what makes them work and try and incorporate as many of their good things into my business as I can.
That being said, there are people out there that try and do a business without proper equipment. From my experience, you shouldn’t be running a commercial business with consumer grade equipment. Either make a go of it and go all in or don’t go into it at all. You would be surprised how fast Word gets around in your area. If a new business opens up and offers bad service, and quality, you will quickly find people talk about it and let others know the service was wasn’t good. But if you use commercial equipment, have a good appearance and offer good service, the word passed on will be that you have to hire this reliable lawn care company. So keep in mind that EVERY first encounter is important.
At first, I worked a full time job, and mowed on the side. After I saw the potential of my lawn care business, I started mowing full time. Picking up yards as I went. ANY new business needs to understand that by under pricing yards to get work you are hurting yourself and the whole market around you. Your cost may not be very high, and you can mow cheaply at first. But soon enough, you will find your expenses go up as you go legit and have to pay for things like taxes and insurance. Or you will find your truck is having problems, your house will flood, your insurance will go up, you will have a child. So don’t overlook the fact that this business needs to pay for all of your business expenses and it must pay you. If you figure $10 bucks an hour for yourself, that’s not a livable wage. You might have gotten paid that at your fulltime job but you didn’t have to pay any costs to run the business you worked for. Now you do. Another thing to keep in mind is that as a business owner you don’t work 40 hr weeks anymore. You will work closer to 100 hour weeks.
I have learned that building your lawn care business too fast is a bad idea as well. At first, I jumped in and got an f-150, it turned out to be not enough truck. I went into the dealership and traded it for 2 cube vans, that I could drive my mowers into. It’s a great set up, but now my payments went up along with my insurance. Shortly after that I found myself needing a dump truck for leaves and landscaping. When you look at the 2 huge trucks and a dump truck and the zero turns and all of the things, my month to month costs skyrocketed and made it near impossible to get by.
Employees are a scarry thing as well. With employees, you are taking someone elses life into your hands. If something breaks down and an employee needs to get paid, you need to be able to work without that equipment. You must care for your employees the way you care for your equipment. You need to put money into it to keep it working, gas, and oil. Every once in a while you add an attachment, a striper, a bagger, you need to take care of that employee the same way. Buy them lunch, or a soda at the gas station, treat them well. If you lose a good employee you have to start from scratch again. Find another employee and re-train them. The more you do this, the more time and money will be spent on the process.
Gopher lawn care software has been a LIFE SAVER. Without this program I would be lost. I work all day, everyday. I put things off and no software can make up for human lazyness. I have a house full of papers, a garage full of mowers, a town full of customers a brain full of ideas and somehow I gotta squeeze a life into that.
I am heavy on the residential side right now. In the future I want to be all commercial, but I have noticed that a lot of those are bid every year. There is no customer loyalty with commercial lawn care customers. If someone comes in and under bids me I am out of work.
I have done a lot work and won a lot of commercial bids. One lesson about dealing with commercial customers that stands out to me is, if you call in or stop in and have a question about how they want a certain property issue handled and the answer isn’t from a supervisor, don’t take that. I have called places and they have left a note about an issue, I never heard back from and then I hear they took a bid from someone else, for the job, who is 45 min away that is charging way more than I would have.
How do you find the correct person to talk to with commercial work? When is the right time to bid on commercial jobs? I have found that most appartments are owned in groups. You need to go in and find the specific person in charge of taking bids. Once you do, you may find they also are in charge of other properties in the area.
I struggled with landing town home, home owner association lawn care bids. With these organizations, there are boards and people in charge, but there were just way to many folks to deal with to make it worthwhile for me. To many people to complain about too many things. I would rather have one person to deal with.
I like using the lawn care price calculators, they are helpful. Knowing what you need to make is key, especially if you are sitting in an office while others mow. You MUST make money on every job. I have talked to a few other business owners that say take the good with the bad, but I disagree. Even if you are breaking even, that is not a profit and you need to get out. We do this to make money.
Advertising is tough where I am. I pass out 100 flyers and get 1 call. I put an ad in the paper and get a lot of calls, but the paper just keeps raising their prices. Next up is advertising only on the internet to gain work and through word of mouth.
If you need to raise a price, have a list of things you can use to help explain why. Don’t make excuses, like I said we do this to make money. Be able to explain to the customer that the tires on your tuck are $200 bucks a piece and you need 4 of them. Or maybe that insurence went up, gas went up, whatever it is. Don’t raise a price and have no reason to explain why if they ask.
I know I do A LOT WRONG, I try to fix things as I go and study whatever I can to get better. I realize no business will be perfect but I try to constantly broaden my knowledge base.
Finally I live in a smaller town with 20,000 people. We have about 7 or 8 lawn businesses, so there isn’t much friendliness. I haven’t been able to learn from the local guys, so I’m relying on the people who aren’t my local competition to learn from. If you have any advise of your own, please let me know. Thanks.”