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Seeking Advice (Long)

Discussion in 'Starting a Lawn Care Business' started by speers90, Dec 18, 2007.

  1. speers90

    speers90 LawnSite Member
    Posts: 8

    Hi everyone,

    I've been a lurker for quite a while, and I have learned a great deal about what to expect, but I have a somewhat unique set of circumstances and I'm wondering if it will be an advantage or a disadvantage.

    To start I have a residential grade zero turn mower that I use to mow my own 3 acre lot that I was planning on starting out with, I realize that it's not exactly designed for everyday use but I'll use it until it quits. It has less than 100 hours on it. Along with that I have a decent push mower, and I'll be getting a trimmer and blower.

    I have a paid for vehicle that I can trade straight up for a decent used pickup. My father owns a pretty nice trailer that I am sure I can borrow for a while. So as far as startup equipment expenses, I don't think I am really in desperate need of anything. Am I missing something?

    My financial situation is excellent, my wife has an incredibly high paying job so any money I make is a bonus. Our personal overhead is pretty low compared to the national average, we are virtually debt free and will be completely debt free by the end of 2008. What I am trying to say is that I have no illusions of getting "rich" being a solo operator (which is all the bigger I want to be), but I currently make $10.50 an hour working for someone else, and think I could make $20 - $30+ an hour working for myself after expenses, based on charging between $45 - $60 an hour for my service.

    I don't want to be a ridiculous lowballer, but is there any reason why I shouldn't charge say $5 less per cut than the going rate to get as busy as I want to be, say maybe between 50 - 100 accounts depending on size and how long it takes me to mow them. I am not afraid of hard work or long hours if needed. I also enjoy working outdoors.

    I will also be offering additional services such as yard cleanups, fallen limb removal, gutter cleaning, etc...

    By the way I will be keeping my job and mowing on saturday's until I have enough accounts to replace my current income.

    In your opinion do my circumstances make it realistic for me to start a successful lawn mowing/service business.

    As far as advertising I was planning on using door hangers/flyers, but I was wondering if I should just target a certain size/type of property and print them up with a pre-determined price so if the customer calls then they have already decided to choose me for their lawn. My feeling is that a price on the actual flyer gets rid of the tire kickers before they even call, do any of you have any experience with that type of advertising.

    My ultimate goal is more about being able set my own hours and in the process replace/double or triple my income. I currently work from 5:30 to 1:30 which isn't so bad but I have a 45 minute drive to and from work, so I have to get up at about 4:00 in the morning and go to bed by 8 or 9 and that doesn't leave much time to play with my one year old son or spend time with my wife. My plan was to get enough accounts to keep me busy about 7-8 hours a day 5-6 days a week.

    Sorry this got kind of long, any comments or advice are greatly appreciated.

  2. willjones4

    willjones4 LawnSite Member
    Posts: 123

    So you dont have the right equipment and you dont even really need to work. You say you want more home time etc. Why dont you quit your job and stay home with your kid?-- Since you dont need the money. Why do all this and sacrifice your time with your wife and child if you dont need the money? Personally, I am doing this because my family needs to eat. If I were in your shoes I damn sure wouldnt be finding a way to be gone MORE. Just my .02.
  3. jiggz

    jiggz LawnSite Senior Member
    from jerz
    Posts: 646

    your equipement all sounds about square

    hummm I understand where your comming from, thinking if i go 5 beans under the going rate ill get more accounts
    this could be true..but I dont always agree with it.. i mean if the customer never had a service before there
    not going to know the difference right?? And if they did have a service theres a really good chance there people
    wernt being as generous as you are...heres the problem.. right now your just starting out so its not that big
    of a deal, but if you are serious about growing your business there will come a time when you'll be stuck in your
    "nice guy rate"..and you obviouslly wont be able to raise the price 5 bucks one year, thell look at you like your
    crazy..And if you slowly raise it say a dollar or 2 a year.. thell be like whens this going to stop, lol
    all this on top of the fact that you would have to raise your prices anyway..

    the point im trying to make is make sure you know when to stop.. I took over a company once and this guy low balled
    everything, he had like 400 customers and we were losing prolly like 1500 a week lol..at that point theres nothing you
    can really do

    If i were you, beings your wife has some good money comming in I would low ball just enough to make about 50%
    of your current income..Counting driving you currentally have like 10 hours wrapped up each day.. so your
    really ending up with 8 bucks an hour..shouldnt need much to equal that..If you really want to bust your nuts
    with like a 10-12 hour day you can prolly bring in what your making now working 2 or 3 days a week. with winters off :clapping:

    sounds like your in a great position.. i would go for it..good luck!!!

    Ps. your wife have any single friends at work? heh heh heh
  4. Whitey4

    Whitey4 LawnSite Silver Member
    Posts: 2,448

    I would suggest that low balling is a bad strategy, and for lots of reasons.

    1. Customers that are willing to switch LCO's for 5 bucks are usually the biggest pain in the butt customers you will have.

    2. You make less money per customer.

    3. You are unlikely to get many extras from these customers. Applications and plantings are where I make most of my money. Tight wads won't spend, but will typically be more demanding that customers who aren't.

    4. Raising prices is a very tough thing to do. You will be locked in, and any referrals or neighbors you might get will want the same no profit low ball price.

    My suggestion, and my business strategy is to be a bit higher than these guys who swoop in with a five man crew of illegals. Being solo has some benefits. You can respond to specific requests regarding maintenance. You are on the job, not an absentee landlord type. I sell quality instead.

    Study up a bit on other aspects of lawn and garden work. Know how to properly trim a hedge without creating bare spots or letting it outgrow it's location. let the customer know (educate them) how you will improve the look of their property and treat it as if it'syour own.

    Plantings are VERY profitable. Learn what will work and where it will work when you do a planting. For instance, I will talk a customer out of a privet privacy hedge and suggest a Nellie Stevens Holly instead.

    In other words, be more than a lawn mower guy, and charge accordingly. You won't work as hard and make more money in the long haul.
  5. speers90

    speers90 LawnSite Member
    Posts: 8

    Thanks for all the advice,

    I was a stay at home dad until my son reached one year of age, he goes to daycare now for socialization with other children his age. Since he is an only child right now, we feel that this is a good situation for him.

    willjones4, I wasn't clear but the reason is that I want to work, but I want to do it on my terms. I grew up on farms and working on farms here in the midwest and I love being outdoors so I want to make a switch that meets all my requirements.

    1) Be in control of my time
    2) Spend it doing the things I want to do
    3) Make 2-3 times the going rate in Kansas for manual labor, at least in my area.
    4) Provide a quality service to customers, I was in a product related business before and I definately think service businesses are easier to start
    5) I realize that few people are in my situation so it is an incredible blessing that I have the options that I do

    You seem to be pretty critical of the equipment that I have, which I guess is fair, but would you have me go into debt to have the "right" equipment. I realize that what I have isn't going to last that long, but it is also paid for. If what I have makes it a season then I'll be a long way ahead towards getting the "right" equipment.

    jiggz - your just a little late, she did have lots of single lady friends until the last couple of years and now the last one is getting married in may.

    You make some really good points, I'm thinking that I might focus my attention a little more on the "nicer" neighborhoods and offer more a total package service and shoot for say maybe a total of 40 - 50 customers that are on monthly billing for between $100 - $150 and then supplement that with one time services like plantings, mulch beds, etc...

    Idea's for total package service:

    Basic lawn care - mowing, trimming, edging, blowing
    Spring cleanup
    Leaf Cleanup
    Fallen Tree/Limb Removal
    Snow Removal
    Gutter Cleaning
    Granular Fertilization

    I have no experience or certifications for chemical applications so I would have to outsource that.

    Are there some services that I should or could offer as part of the whole package that I have left out?

    Thanks for the advice guys, I really appreciate it. For my circumstance there are two scenarios that I am torn between:

    1.) I can afford to undercut the market a little bit and be as busy as I want to be, but this may lead to customers that I don't want to deal with.


    2.) I am in a position that I can seek only the best customers to work for, which may take quite a while longer to build a large enough customer pool.

    The other wrench in this idea is that I am only going to be in this area of the upcoming season, after that we are going to relocate to minnesota. Does that change your thoughts at all.

    Thanks for the advice,
  6. M&SLawnCare

    M&SLawnCare LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 304

    Having no overhead starting up and really no financial responsibilities (your wife can cover the bills you said) is the best scenario to start a business. You really have nothing to loose and if it doesn't work nobody goes hungry. That's also the perfect reason to not low ball. There's just no reason to do that in your case. You don't "need" the immediate burst income that many lowballers need so why put yourself through the headaches? Someone thats willing to dump their previous lco for you strictly on the principle of your cheaper is also someone that's likely to expect the most from their buck and become a real pita for you. You don't want to deal with that and your situation doesn't warrant it. (the only justification for low balling imo is someone that needs quick income for a short period of time such as if they lost their job)

    Second off you need to realize your talking about starting your own business. Your hours wont be as flexible as you might think. If you make this a full time job your hours will end up becoming "much" less flexible than working for someone else. Once you make a schedule your expected to keep to it by your customers. Being solo means you can't "have a sick day", can't call off work that day, and can't find another employee to cover for you. If you get rained out one day you have to kill yourself the following day to get caught up. If you really want to reach 50+ accounts a week plus extras, depending on size and travel time, you wont have a whole lot of flexibility in the summer.

    My advice is start small and charge the standard rate. Once you hit 20 accounts then decide if you want to take on more. You have the luxury of not "having" to make a set amount to feed a family, so don't burn yourself out by trying to take on a full time schedule right away. Try and find the happy median between flexibility and making enough income.
  7. newz7151

    newz7151 LawnSite Silver Member
    from Tejas
    Posts: 2,419

    If you're going to try and take a residential intended ZTR mower into regular daily cutting, you'll find out soon enough the amount of debt you're going to go into when it breaks down on you after about a month and you're left with no immediate backup mower and have customers calling you constantly wanting to know why you're not there cutting their yard.
  8. Albery's Lawn & Tractor

    Albery's Lawn & Tractor LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,674

    These types of threads are funny (new guys giving other new guys advice, most of which is bad). 1st you won't CLEAR that much an hour, you have Liability Ins., TAXES, fuel, supplies, repairs, etc... Your current mower would probably allow 5-10 yards per week, but you'll be abusing it and constantly fixing it, plus productivity will be way down. Buy either a good used COMMERCIAL mower or look at some new mowers that are offering 0-1.9% interest rates. Any equipment you buy should be commercial. You'll spend a small fortune to try and gain 100 customers in just 1 season. Why offer to work for less then a competitor unless your work isn't as good. Using your method you'll have to mow more yards to GROSS the same as if you were charging the going rate but it will cost YOU money in operating cost. Wantiong to work your own hours isn't going to happen unless you stay with 10-15 customers but then you don't make any $$$$. From March-December you'll be working you ass off putting in 60+ hours a week. And after you get home from mowing all day you have to do invoices, plan the next day's route, repairs, pay bills,etc...
    This is a great field of work to start you own business but a lot of guys think like you and take the plunge and don't last because they have no clue what it takes to truely run a business. Hopefully you'll see this as a reality check and realize you have to spend money to make money.
  9. speers90

    speers90 LawnSite Member
    Posts: 8

    M&S Lawn Care - Thanks for the advice, I understand what you are talking about and I am thinking that you are probably right. I would rather be comfortably busy with 20-30 quality accounts than frantically business with 50+ lessor quality accounts.

    Albery's Lawn & Tractor & newz7151 - I don't have any doubts that you are probably correct about a commercial mower versus a residential mower, but since I am just starting out I think it is wise to use what I've got. In fact, I have sufficient cash to purchase a used commercial ztr but I think it is wise to make sure this is something that I want to do for a career and to get a better feeling for the industry before I invest that money.

    Like I said before it is relatively new having less than a 100 hours on it, and it seems to be in fine working condition. Of course, it hasn't been used on an everyday basis, but how much time on a quarter acre lawn would I actually be using the ztr?? Or does the time in use not matter and it's just more of a problem that I'll actually be using it everyday??

    I need to clarify that for my goals and my situation I will only take on enough work to make it fit my schedule. I have been thinking that I could comfortably mow 8-10 lawns a day in 7-8 hours, which may or may not be the case. Which is why I was thinking 40-50 accounts, I know I read a post on this board about how many lawns a day you can mow and I thought I was being conservative with an 8-10 a day estimate. Is 8-10 accounts to much in one day for a solo operation with a 50" ztr? I am of course talking about all lawns that are less than 1/2 an acre, and most of them would be 1/4 of an acre or smaller. Drive time in between them would at most be 10 minutes, but I will be concentrating my advertising in specific areas in hopes of keeping my accounts relatively close to each other.

    My ultimate goal isn't a dollar amount, it's a time spent working doing something that I enjoy doing issue. I expect to be able to double or triple my current hourly pay rate in the process but that doesn't have to happen in order for this to be the right thing for me to do. Of course this means that I won't be lowballing to gain accounts, I will be at market rate or slightly above because I am not in desperate need of customers.

    Sure you have to spend money to make money, but if you spend to much money trying to make money you go bankrupt. I could spend $10,000 - $20,000 easy on new equipment, but I doubt that the equipment is going to help me get better accounts this year. Or I could use what I have and supplement it with a couple thousand in cash for the other things I need and I can be pretty confident that I will make a decent amount of money this next year.

    Thanks again for the input, it is truly helpful.
  10. B_gerrits

    B_gerrits LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 297

    I don't think you have a clue how hard this buis is. I think you think you just sit on your azz and mow lawns. The first obstacle is going to be getting accounts you think you are going to get 100 accounts in I guess a couple of months. The avg response on flyers is between 1-3% so you need to get out about 6,600-10,000 of them. Question how are you going to distribute these flyers if by yourself you will be doing a lot of work that you will not be getting paid for. Are you going to buy your flyers or design and print your own. The next obstacle estimating your calls. Are you going to quote by sq feet? or go and look at the job? Ever done any estimating? I hope so, rule of thumb you will get 1 in 3 jobs you quote if your % is higher you are probaly not charging enough or one hell of a salesman. Then you get to do the work and keep all your records. If you do get 100 accounts better get an accountant because you will be filing quarterly or estimated taxes cuse if you don't IRS man going to take you to the cleaners. Next, your equip, normally I would agree with Albery and tell you to buy commericial equip but since you are only going to do this one season I would use what you have, however Albery makes a good point what are you going to do for back up equip? One last question do you know how to repair your own equip cuse if you don't better line up a mech. I personally don't think it is worth it to try to set up a buis for one season but good luck to you.

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