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Please offer some suggestions for getting started.

Discussion in 'Landscape Architecture and Design' started by Howie's Lawn Care, Oct 1, 2006.

  1. Howie's Lawn Care

    Howie's Lawn Care LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 512

    I want to expand into some other services next year since all I do is regular lawn maintenance and some shrub trimming here and there. How did you guys all get your start? I don't see how you go from watching nascar with jazz music to making a retaining wall and charging large sums of money. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to get started hydroseeding, reseeding, irrigation, fertiliznig, design indtalls. retaining wall, and other similar jobs that don't come to mind at this time. I would really appreciate any advice pertaining to the above. Thanks for any advice and suggestions.

    -Nick Howard
  2. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,742

    Most guys work for other people for a few years to learn the basics of doing the work. The biggest mistake in going into business too early is that once you start you are fairly limited as to where and whom you can learn from.

    You have your own business now, but it is limited in what it is doing now and in its potential for the reasons above. You might ask yourself how much you think you can learn and earn working for yourself over the next four years vs. how much you can earn and learn over the next four years if you work for someone else for the first two of those four.
  3. Mike33

    Mike33 LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,649

    :hammerhead: Dont knock nascar
    Thats tough to answer, i started from scratch self taught on bobcat shoving some dirt than started installing new yards. On walls i had a buddy that new mostly what he was doing on walls i helped him with a few than i started small ones. Once i liked it i went to seminars from ab manufacture and gained some business and the rest is history. I bought my hydro-seeder july 05 never did it before took advise from manuf. and my seed salesman.
  4. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 6,839

    Well, many landscape contractors who specialize in design/build or irrigation went to college for it. But there are also several of us who were totally self-taught as well. I'm one of those. I went from just mowing and clean-ups in 1996 to running a company that handles over 100 installs per year in 2006.

    There is way too much to say here on lawnsite. But I'll summarize it with this; START SMALL. In a nutshell, that's how I learned everything from irrigation to retaining walls to dry-stack rock walls to pavers to flagstone to water features to new sod lawns and even planting. If you aren't experienced, you're gonna screw stuff up, it's just a given. But if you're going to screw it up, start small. Better to screw up a 500 sq. ft. sod lawn than a 5000 or 10,000 sq. ft. sod job. Same with retaining walls or anything. Start by taking on just the very smallest of jobs. And when you land them, get all the help you can find before you start. Ask about how to do the job here on lawnsite. Read books (start with "Landscape Construction" by Sauter). Ask suppliers. Once you've done a small 300 sq. ft. sod job, then try a 600 sq. ft. job. Then try a larger one. Same thing with retaining walls. First try building one that's 20' x 2'. Then try one a little larger, and larger, etc. Same with plants. First just try installing 2 or 3 trees and a few small shrubs. See if you can install them correctly and see if they will actually live for a while (at first, I had a 20% failure rate with planting, until I learned some helpful tips and how to do it right.) You get the idea; Start small and work your way up.

    As for where else I learned; employees were a big part of it. Many times over the last 10 years I'd hire someone who had experience in a field where I didn't. After talking to them a while we'd get on the subject of something like pavers. And I'd say, "You've done paver jobs before? Are you any good at them? .... Really? Think you and I could handle one together? And so then I'd land a very small paver job and give it a shot with him. It didn't turn out 100% as nice as I would have liked. But the customers were happy and I learned quickly. Before long, I was teaching other guys how to do them and I learned how to do them even better than my employee was doing them. Similar story with irrigation. We hired a guy who had a lot of experience in irrigation. He helped us through the first several systems we installed and eventually I realized he wasn't doing them 100% the way I'd like them to be. So once I understood the process, I was able to improve upon his methods and now I teach my workers how to install some of the best systems around. But it all started with very small jobs, and learning from them.

    I have also learned a lot from my suppliers over the years. In the beginning I thought it was unprofessional to ask my local wholesale nursery about plants. After all, I should know that stuff, right? I didn't want to look dumb. And same with irrigation. I didn't want to ask my irrigation supply store questions either, and look dumb. But eventually I learned that they don't mind at all - and in fact it's pretty common for contractors to ask their suppliers questions or for tips on installing their products. I thought every landscape contractor already knew it all and I was the only one going to be asking questions. But I soon learned that none of them knew it all. A lot of them were in the same boat I was and were asking questions too! So don't hesitate to ask for help from suppliers. Want to know how to install irrigation systems correctly? Find a local wholesale irrigation supply store and talk to their rep. Even better, find the local Rainbird or Hunter rep. and take him to lunch. You'll be surprised to find out how helpful they will be if they see you are exicted to grow and start doing installs.

    Finally, read a lot. The book I mentioned above is a great starting point. But there are lots of great books on different landscaping subjects. And lots of great stuff on the internet too.

    It takes time. It's not anything you're going to learn over night. But you can learn a lot in just a few years if you are dilligent and ambitious.
  5. dlm17

    dlm17 LawnSite Member
    Posts: 102

    Talk to people read everything and watch what other people do, as you gain exp then you will be able to be more creative if you have that ability, not everyone does, also a lesson from an old man who has been there expect to lose money the first time as you learn how to do it, this way you wont be dissapointed and you will know how to charge the next time dont try everything at once add a service do it well then add more, it has worked for me
  6. sheshovel

    sheshovel LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 5,112

    :waving: I agree with Jim, start small. But even before you start small educate yourself by reading about planting methods, soil structures, drainage methods, and how a plant uses water. Sometimes there are adult schools giving homeowner landscape design classes to give you a start that way.
    The net is a great place to gather info and learn all of the above. If I don't have time to read new info I am interested in I print it out and read it when I have time. Libraries are also a good source of info as well. Good luck in your endeavors.
  7. GSP

    GSP LawnSite Member
    Posts: 5

    I'm new to the site, but have been reading posts for many months now and I believe Jim's comments for somebody wanting to get into the business (like me) is THE BEST post I have read in a long while...thanks Jim! :clapping:

    For those of us who cannot afford to go back to school, I do think there are plenty of options out there to learn many different trades and become proficient at them. Jim summed up most of it in his post and included a great piece of advice...start slowly...

    I am thinking long term, not just how much money I can make in the next couple years, but how much I can learn in that time to give me the opportunity to offer great services to those who need it and have a viable career to support my family 5, 10 and 20 years from now. I will not be where I want to be in just a couple years, but in that time I will have gained some of the experience needed to continue building my business on...

    I greatly appreciate the pros who give sound and honest advice to us exploring new things...
  8. Surf'n'Turf

    Surf'n'Turf LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 326

    Good post, Jim. You can also gain practical experience by practicing and perfecting value oriented add on services such as patios, plantings, seasonal color, nightscaping, ponds, etc. in your own or family members yards. Certain services like hydroseeding (best have a market before you invest the $) and irrigation (need to be licensed in NJ!) are best learned by working alongside an experienced operator/installer. Good books and CD Roms on subjects you are interested in are a cheap investment, too.
  9. olderthandirt

    olderthandirt LawnSite Platinum Member
    from here
    Posts: 4,900

    Not much more to add except Common Sense goes along way in expanding, If you know a little about the basics you can learn through books and from others. But that common sense thing should tell you that water won't run up hill,and a good wall needs a good foundation etc.
  10. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 6,839

    And it helps to have an Avatar of a snarling mangy wolf. :laugh:

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