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View Full Version : New Client, BIG job, what do I $$


LawnCosmetics
06-01-2010, 11:13 PM
Here's the deal...

The Client: Elderly couple, that knows a lot of people (he's a realtor) and they want me to be "The Gardener/Maintenance Person" from here on out. Very nice people.

The property: Very large farm/homestead with about 1 acre of flower beds, fences w/ Silver Lace vines, split rails with grape vines, 16 raised flower beds ranging in size from 3 x 5 to 12 x 6, and another 5-6 areas of landscaping.

The Projects:

1. They would like the grape vines tied up where needed and maintained throughout the year.

2. All flower beds and landscaped areas cleaned out (weeds are very bad) and most all the plants to be saved. Bulbs will need to be separated/transplanted and some Phlox transplanted due to over crowding.

3. 12 Tomato plants planted and maintained.

4. Transplant Horse Radish & Rhubarb plants to a bed that will need to be built.

5. Plants more Ivy and establish new beds/landscape areas.

And numerous other jobs that he has yet to show me.

The client has stated that he will order any plants from our local nursery and pay for them directly - I just pick them up. (1/4 mile from my house) Which is cool because he doesn't support the chain retail centers - it's a one owner nursery that I support as well.

Mowing is done by the client. But he will definitely be able to provide more work for me through references. After meeting with him initially, it turns out that he has known my boyfriend's folks forever and is a well known person in the area with a lot of connections.

What in the heck do I charge???!!! Like the flower beds - they need a lot of back breaking work to get them looking nice, but after that, just some things will need planted and maintained. Do I charge by flower bed, by the hour, by the sq. ft. or by the project??? I started tonight and I got 3 beds done in 3 1/2 hours....

I have clients that I just mow & trim for and that's just a flat $35 (ish) an hour depending on the lot, etc... but I'm not sure if I should cut this guy a break because he's going to be using me for all year maintenance and possibly getting me more work...? Do I charge a larger sum for the initial clean up and then drop the pricing for weekly maintenance after the hard crap is done? But even the weekly maintenance will be a daunting task at times. I'm loving the job, just don't know what to charge to be fair...

:confused: Any help or advice would be great! (sorry this was so long..)

LouisianaLawnboy
06-01-2010, 11:41 PM
1. Figure for yourself about 60.00 an hr($ varies from area to area, but 60.00 is about the lowest).

2. Bid it even higher, because it's going to take you longer :D

Or you could just say your new and that you charge 60.00 an hr and you think it will take this long, but it could take longer.

StoneFaced
06-02-2010, 12:26 AM
For now forget about what he could get you and who he knows...If I had a dollar for every...Never mind. Focus on what works for you, and charge a fair rate based on what is in front of you now. The rest is icing on the cake, should it actually happen. I don't want to take any wind out of your sails, but I smell a cheapskate. Why is he supplying the plants and not you? I generally run from those scenarios. That's like telling an artist, "I'll supply the paints and canvas, if you supply the labor." I guess it really boils down to where you want to be in this business. How you contract yourself now, is what you can generally expect in the future. He will tell his friends about the great prices he can get on plants, and the the discounted labor to install, design and maintain it. If that works for you, than go for it. Just don't give any breaks for what could potentially happen, remember he's a con, ahem...I mean a salesman also.

P.Services
06-02-2010, 12:37 AM
For now forget about what he could get you and who he knows...If I had a dollar for every...Never mind. Focus on what works for you, and charge a fair rate based on what is in front of you now. The rest is icing on the cake, should it actually happen. I don't want to take any wind out of your sails, but I smell a cheapskate. Why is he supplying the plants and not you? I generally run from those scenarios. That's like telling an artist, "I'll supply the paints and canvas, if you supply the labor." I guess it really boils down to where you want to be in this business. How you contract yourself now, is what you can generally expect in the future. He will tell his friends about the great prices he can get on plants, and the the discounted labor to install, design and maintain it. If that works for you, than go for it. Just don't give any breaks for what could potentially happen, remember he's a con, ahem...I mean a salesman also.

Thank you for writing exactly what I was thinking!! I Would tell that guy to f off and walk away, you will be glad you did. Ok maybe don't tell him that but just say you are far to busy to service him at this time. Run now
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AzLawnMan
06-02-2010, 02:03 AM
First things first, I dont charge by the hour, I charge by the job. First, you have the grape-vines, if he buys are you putting a warranty on them if something dies? Is the grower? Buy all the plants, and tell him there is no way for you to warranty them otherwise. If they do die you and the grower may get into a fight about who is responsible. So buy the plants and charge depending how much you get them for. I buy 1 gallon plants for $1.25 and charge anywhere between $6.95-$9.95, 5 gallon plants I get for $5.95 and I charge $22. and so forth. Then I put the warranty on them. If he says he can get them cheaper then fine, but you cannot warranty them for any reason. 2nd, flower beds, how much weeding? Set a price, I dont know what they look like so come up with a fair price. How much to transplant the bulbs, $1 a piece, $2 dollars? Are you gonna warranty those as well? If so you need to charge in case they die and you gotta replace. I dont offer a warranty for any type of transplant, period. Building the beds, you gonna do it, or sub it out? If your gonna sub it out, then you need to make money as well, mark up whatever the sub wants. I am usually 25%. If your gonna do it, Come up with a price for building those as well. Price out your materials and then mark up those materials, charge for labor, and delivery of those materials. What about irrigation? How are all these new plants and bulbs getting water? If they are gonna water by hand then any warranty is off the table! I only warranty stuff that is on an automatic timer, nothing that is hand watered. Dont bid things by the hour. I sit down and take everything a step at a time. I call all my plant and tree vendors and see who is giving me the best deal, then I mark it up. Put everything, plant by plant and step by step on your invoice. When I do a big job, I break down 1 gallon plants, 5 gallons and so on. I show a seperate charge for multch, misc. repairs and of course delivery! I usually charge anywhere between $45-$90 for delivery. Listen, we are in this business to make money. Dont nickle and dime, but explain were your numbers came from and what you are gonna do for the money. Also, the tomato plants, are they gonna be serviced regularly? You need to charge a "trip charge" plus labor and materials. If everytime you go out to service the plants are you including fertilizer? Weeding? all things you need to think about. I know I just threw a ton of info at you, but learn from someone who has gone through these "mistakes" if you will, and I can tell you before I learned to bid jobs like this, I lost and gave away alot of money!! If you want a sample of what one of my invoices looks like for a job like this, PM me and I will email one to you. Good luck

Az Gardener
06-02-2010, 03:07 AM
The closest you will get by bidding is to do your estimate then double it. I am not joking a bit. Bidding takes a long time to become accurate at. I have built my business on clients just like the one you are talking about.

My rule of thumb for the last 10 years was if its under 1,000 per month I can bid it and do OK , if it was over that I do it T&M because a storm on a property that large can ruin your month. The only way it is fair to both of you is to do it T&M.

I am now to the point I don't mind giving a firm bid on the large homes but I budget additional time during our Monsoon season when we typically have a lot of wind and storms. The last two I did were 2300 and 1900 per month for residences. They both preferred fixed bids to T&M with a not to exceed limit, fine by me.

I think this is the best niche in out industry, good luck but don't count on much in the way of referrals. My advice, as soon as you have a solid footing on this property is start training someone so you are not dependent on your labor alone

LawnCosmetics
06-02-2010, 08:29 AM
Guys - thank you so much for the advice and input so far. Would you suggest billing weekly or by the project?

AzLawnMan
06-02-2010, 10:18 AM
If you can get him to pay weekly or even after every project, then great. Most of my jobs I bill monthly for regular service and small incidentals. But if we do something out of the ordinary then they will recieve the bill as soon as we are done. So however you can get him to pay i guess would be your answer, just as long as he pays. Azgardner is right about marking your bid up, I have talked to other guys who own companies and their mark up is anywhere between 10-25%. Not me! I am doing a job now and materials alone are costing me around $2,500 and I am charging them $7k. That's more than 150% mark up. Be firm with your prices and never lower them. I tell them to get bids, chances are I will be more expensive, but I will also be around in 10 years and my work speakes for itself. Take his advice and double your bid untill you get used to bidding jobs like this.
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MileHigh
06-02-2010, 11:08 PM
Figure out how much it takes to run your business, and what the going market rates are..then formulate a price.

You say that it took 3.5 hours to do 3 beds. So that would ruffly be 18.5 hours.

Let's say your shooting for 50/hr for this customer..that would end up being $925 for just the bed cleaning. So now, if you go get some decent help...say two guys at $15 an hour, you'll get the beds done in around 6 hours (for all 16 beds) and pull in about $120/hr or $720 after paying the helpers.

Next just figure out how much the material is going to cost...either double or triple it, and figure how long to install the stuff and that should give you an idea.

When they see the price they might jump a bit, so you might want to be able to present the job nicely with a detailed summary of what is going to take place on the job.

Florida Gardener
06-03-2010, 01:24 AM
Lot's of great advice. I can't really comment much as I don't have properties like this YET, but one thing I would add. I have had potential customers give me the "I know a lot of people," "I will get you more business," etc. Don't cut them a break until you start working for them and find out what kind of customers they really are. Not to say they won't be good, but don't start off by giving breaks and discounts.

AZ, what does T&M stand for??

BTW, you are very pretty:)

LouisianaLawnboy
06-03-2010, 01:57 AM
Lot's of great advice. I can't really comment much as I don't have properties like this YET, but one thing I would add. I have had potential customers give me the "I know a lot of people," "I will get you more business," etc. Don't cut them a break until you start working for them and find out what kind of customers they really are. Not to say they won't be good, but don't start off by giving breaks and discounts.

AZ, what does T&M stand for??

BTW, you are very pretty:)

Two of the most important things in lawncare. Time and money.
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Az Gardener
06-03-2010, 02:17 AM
Lot's of great advice. I can't really comment much as I don't have properties like this YET, but one thing I would add. I have had potential customers give me the "I know a lot of people," "I will get you more business," etc. Don't cut them a break until you start working for them and find out what kind of customers they really are. Not to say they won't be good, but don't start off by giving breaks and discounts.

AZ, what does T&M stand for??

BTW, you are very pretty:)

Its actually Time and Materials

J & D Greens
06-03-2010, 02:31 AM
Lot's of great advice. I can't really comment much as I don't have properties like this YET, but one thing I would add. I have had potential customers give me the "I know a lot of people," "I will get you more business," etc. Don't cut them a break until you start working for them and find out what kind of customers they really are. Not to say they won't be good, but don't start off by giving breaks and discounts.

AZ, what does T&M stand for??

BTW, you are very pretty:)
Strongly Agree;
Whether you do installs or maintenance your work will get you the business, I'll be working on a yard and every week some one stops and comes up asking if I have room for them on my schedule, Have your business cards ready and don't think for one minute that the customer will be your meal ticket to more work. (they might get you more work but don't count on it) The work you do is the ticket. Make sure you make ample money on this job or you will regret it as you can work for 5 clients and be paid more by 3 of them than the one who is trying to get cheap labor out of you. So careful on you bid.

Florida Gardener
06-03-2010, 09:44 AM
That's what I thought it stood for.

Wow, so you have clients that you will just bill them for time worked....must be nice. I STRONGLY want to get the type of customers and accounts you have. We have that here in S. Florida, but it is very hard to get.

andyslawncare
06-03-2010, 05:38 PM
$50 per hour for just you, and $75-80 per hour for 2 people. Add $35 per man hour for additional help.

Cut your client a break after he proves that he is going to prove worth your time...ie: gives you more accounts to his friends or lets you maintain houses he has for sale. Give him a small discount on services for every so many dollars extra he refers you towards... All of my clients refer me to their friends and neighbors. They don't get a break on the first project, but they are rewarded with gifts or discounts when referrals are made.

Don't sell yourself short.

I would break down each little part and total up how much time for each and how often, then submit a proposal to the client.

Don't bill a clean up job like this weekly. Bill it by service after you break down each service.

Your proposal can serve as a contract with a date, estimate date of completion, cost break down, and signatures... Make sure you contract people like this.

LouisianaLawnboy
06-03-2010, 05:43 PM
Its actually Time and Materials

It was late and I was tired, anyway close enough.:laugh::sleeping::sleeping::laugh:

I agree with what your saying, the only reason I suggested by the hour is because the person is new. Doing a job like that will definitely open your eyes on how to bid the next job. I bid by the job, because I know I have the equipment to do an excellent job in a short amount of time.

LawnCosmetics
06-03-2010, 06:40 PM
$50 per hour for just you, and $75-80 per hour for 2 people. Add $35 per man hour for additional help.

Cut your client a break after he proves that he is going to prove worth your time...ie: gives you more accounts to his friends or lets you maintain houses he has for sale. Give him a small discount on services for every so many dollars extra he refers you towards... All of my clients refer me to their friends and neighbors. They don't get a break on the first project, but they are rewarded with gifts or discounts when referrals are made.

Don't sell yourself short.

I would break down each little part and total up how much time for each and how often, then submit a proposal to the client.

Don't bill a clean up job like this weekly. Bill it by service after you break down each service.

Your proposal can serve as a contract with a date, estimate date of completion, cost break down, and signatures... Make sure you contract people like this.


Andy - thank you.... the $50.00 sounds more reasonable for this guy and I have been debating all week on how to bill and last night I finally decided on "by project" because he has so much to be done. Like I said in the beginning, he's an elderly man, needs a strong back to care for his place, make his elderly wife happy - which has already been accomplished - and someone just to take care of things. There's no "cheap ass" behavior here on his part for wanting to buy the plants - he believes it's a convenience for me - that's his mind set. He's very old school - like many of your grandfathers would be - and believes that he has found a God-Send in my work (which is impeccable and a bit "anal" at times) and asked me for more business cards already because he handed out the 3 that I gave him.

Please understand that most of you are more in the "mowing and hardscaping" area than I am. While I do do mowing and light hardscaping, I have more of an eye for where flowers need to be planted, what colors go with what, which beds will require less maintenance, where a flower bed should be placed to attract the eye and focus on the house, entertaining purposes, and even the vegetable garden placement and maintenance, etc....While you guys make the striped grass and retaining walls and decks and stone patios look like a million bucks. (even in this business things seem more like a marriage) I don't quite have the man power for that yet. I only do this part time and most of my clients are all older. Their children are the ones calling me and saying "My folks can't do this themselves anymore, but still want to be able to putter about in the yard/garden, can you please take care of the major work?" One day I hope that my business will grow into something that will not only give me joy and happiness, as it does now, but also something that will be able to give my own daughter an opportunity for experience if she so chooses. Hell, even if it puts her through college and then bottoms up - at least there was success from it. But I hope to retire from this one day far away from today.....

I see how many of you have been in this business for so many years and I see the trials and hardships you have suffered and still occasional encounter and yet I am still optimistic that this will be successful for me. So now that I've totally proven how much of a woman I can be and rambled on and "off" the pricing subject....lol..... thank you all again for your wisdom and consideration in answering some of my ?'s !!

LouisianaLawnboy
06-03-2010, 06:48 PM
Andy - thank you.... the $50.00 sounds more reasonable for this guy and I have been debating all week on how to bill and last night I finally decided on "by project" because he has so much to be done. Like I said in the beginning, he's an elderly man, needs a strong back to care for his place, make his elderly wife happy - which has already been accomplished - and someone just to take care of things. There's no "cheap ass" behavior here on his part for wanting to buy the plants - he believes it's a convenience for me - that's his mind set. He's very old school - like many of your grandfathers would be - and believes that he has found a God-Send in my work (which is impeccable and a bit "anal" at times) and asked me for more business cards already because he handed out the 3 that I gave him.

Please understand that most of you are more in the "mowing and hardscaping" area than I am. While I do do mowing and light hardscaping, I have more of an eye for where flowers need to be planted, what colors go with what, which beds will require less maintenance, where a flower bed should be placed to attract the eye and focus on the house, entertaining purposes, and even the vegetable garden placement and maintenance, etc....While you guys make the striped grass and retaining walls and decks and stone patios look like a million bucks. (even in this business things seem more like a marriage) I don't quite have the man power for that yet. I only do this part time and most of my clients are all older. Their children are the ones calling me and saying "My folks can't do this themselves anymore, but still want to be able to putter about in the yard/garden, can you please take care of the major work?" One day I hope that my business will grow into something that will not only give me joy and happiness, as it does now, but also something that will be able to give my own daughter an opportunity for experience if she so chooses. Hell, even if it puts her through college and then bottoms up - at least there was success from it. But I hope to retire from this one day far away from today.....

I see how many of you have been in this business for so many years and I see the trials and hardships you have suffered and still occasional encounter and yet I am still optimistic that this will be successful for me. So now that I've totally proven how much of a woman I can be and rambled on and "off" the pricing subject....lol..... thank you all again for your wisdom and consideration in answering some of my ?'s !!

It sounds as though you found your niche, which is very important.

andyslawncare
06-03-2010, 07:39 PM
in this business things seem more like a marriage


You won't know this part until you visit the same property the same day each week for 5 years straight! HAHA! I've been steering away from the maintenance part of business because of this; the same thing over and over!!!

Good luck!

SLMGT
06-04-2010, 10:03 PM
I would be wary of being anyone's gardener. Often it is very difficult to satisfy these folks and most gardens can take as much time as someone wants to put into it. I too would not put much stock into the work he can get you. Like eggs, you don't count them until they hatch.:usflag:

forestfireguy
06-04-2010, 10:50 PM
Alyssa,

We have a division devoted entirely to the kind of work you describe, we call it garden care, and in northern NJ it is a niche market for sure. We estimate jobs and take deposits just like if were doing a $50,000 patio/pool job. Obviously the dollars are smaller but the business behind it is the same, you have to do all you can as a contractor to protect your interests, be they financial, reputation or employees. The only thing we do hourly is heavy weeding, it can present challenges unseen when visiting a site. My advice to anyone getting started is to try and sell everything you can hourly at a fair rate, as you develop expierience start to sell by the job, you can't know what kind of production your employees and yourself are really capable of on a given job without some basis for your thoughts. Also many "novice" contractors find taking the labor rate(employees or your own, including costs like ins ) and multiplying by 2, you are then bidding at a 50% Gross profit. Like everyone else has said, treat each job like all you might get is what the individual offers, as for every 1 person that turns you onto additional leads there are 5 who are just saying hoping you'll cut them a deal to get at the other oppurtunities.

Florida Gardener
06-04-2010, 11:33 PM
^where you at? Westwood, Oakland?

AzLawnMan
06-05-2010, 12:50 AM
I know a very succesfull contractor here in AZ that started out the same way she did. Small jobs that require alot of attention. Well the guy hasnt advertised in 10 years, has a weekly radio show, which would be considered advertising but he does great quailty, expensive work for these types of customers. I think you are on the right path, and the right mind-set to succeed in this field. I see so many new "lawn guys" showing up in this business with equipment that I am confused as to how they get work done. Take things slow and dont limit yourself or your company as to what services you offer. I know a lot about nothing, a little about everything. Take that as you may but I run a very lean and profitable company. Ask around in Az and others have heard of us. We basically started residential services in Az back in the 90's. I still have customer that I used to mow when I was 10 years old! Do what you know how to do and do it well, the rest will come in due time.

GrassIsGreenerLawnCare
06-05-2010, 01:41 AM
i enjoy leaf clean-ups and garden bed installs,weeding, hell even some shrub planting/removing. But when it comes to tedious garden maintenance work....im out in a flash. Worst decision i ever made was to do the same thing u are getting urself into right now. I was called by one of my customers' mothers. elderly rich lady whos husband died and wanted me to mow. after the 1st mow we started talking....she walked me around her 1 1/2 acre garden bed/coy pond/walkways/friggin bird sanctuary forever telling me exactly what she wanted done and what she "expected" (same stuff u were talkin about: tending tomatoe plants, new flowers,etc) wants the whole HUGEEEE place kept up very well and presentable for all of her rich friends. 2 weeks go by and she pays me without a hassle. so i continue for another 2 weeks. now she comes out after im done and starts pointing to a pinecone behind a tree that i missed...then to a dead flower leaf...then a leaf buried under mulch. (catch my drift?) i deal with it, make her happy(kinda) and it comes time to pay...now she calls me and wants to sit down and chat about the invoice.(if i had charged her what she really should have been charged she honestly would have had a heart attack on spot). she nitpicked over the entire thing saying "well i had to tell u about the pinecone so that was 5 minutes of your hourly rate right there"...."oh and by the way, i have 80 freinds coming over who are from my gardening club this weekend so i need this place to be tip top shape". right there is when i said please pay me what u owe me and find sum1 else!!! BE VERY WEARY OF THIS TYPE OF WORK AND THESE TYPES OF PEOPLE. I now know better to get involved with "gardening" maintenance jobs becaue the people can rarely be pleased and always try to "buy there own flowers etc" which is a joke in itself (thats how we make money) so best of luck to u and i hope it works out well.....im sorry to write a book, but just wanted to warn u and i hope u realize to charge for hourly rate plus extra for odd jobs. I just cant see doing more than one of these hellholes at a time lol