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A Fresh Start - What would you do?

Discussion in 'Landscape Architecture and Design' started by CLPS, Feb 1, 2009.

  1. CLPS

    CLPS LawnSite Member
    from Midwest
    Messages: 28

    I am looking for some life advice from anyone who would venture to call themselves "Seasoned Green Industry Business Owners." First a little about myself... this may get lengthy but stay with me.

    I am 20 years old and am currently a biology major / business administration minor at University of MN, 2nd year. Four years ago I started a lawncare business from nothing, had no plans or intentions, but just as a way to make some summer cash and be my own boss. Eventually I realized that I could make enough to pay for college, and decided to keep up with it, expanding a little bit and learning a lot each year. I knew I wanted to own my own business and decided to go to school for a pre-professional program such as dentistry or some other medical profession in which I could have my own office / practice. However, with 2 years of good grades behind me I have come to a crossroads. I am still actively persuing the medical thing, but having a hard time imaging going to school for another 6+ years. Especially now with a 4 month old daughter and marriage in the future.

    Lately I have been thinking about taking my lawncare business to the next level, and starting a career with what I've got. I will tell you how I plan to do that in a minute, but this is why I want to. First off, finances. Right now I work full time during the lawn season, about 8 months here from spring thaw to the first snow (yes I do fall cleanups as long as I can, this year till the end of november, starting mowers in 15 degree weather takes some talent). I mainly work solo with some part time help if needed, maintaining about 45 residential accounts, snow removal to 18 of them. Currently I net about 40K. I also pick up a lot of odd jobs like debris hauling, docks, beach cleanups, and some small landscaping and landscape maintenance work. With the following plan I think that I could at least double that in the next 3 years. And about the time I would be finishing school, be making a profit of 100K+. Maybe not. But staying in school, would maybe start out around 80-100K when finished 6+ years from now. And sure, if I was successful at that and starting my own practice, or taking over one, maybe making 200K/yr in 15 years. But whos says that can't be done with a successful Lawncare / Landscaping business? Plus in landscaping, I would start making more money much sooner, which is pretty important starting a family. Secondly, I would enjoy landscaping much more than going to an office every weekday.

    Now the how part. If I decided to do this I would want to do it right. I would go to school for Landscaping, preferrable just a 2 year program. Local community college has a good looking program to get a Landscape Technition Diploma. I would advertise excessively, hire full time employees and add quipment as needed. Add workers comp, get a fertilizer / pesticide license and a crew doing that. Basically split into 3 parts, lawncare, landscaping, and fert. Maybe not fert right away. And of course snow removal during winter.

    This is where I need that advice:

    What would you do, knowing everything you do now, if you were 20 and starting your business over again.

    What degree would you get?
    What customer base would you go after? Commercial? Reidential? Both?
    What advertising techniques have worked best for you?
    Would you still want to start your business or do something else? How about in MN, or somewhere with a longer season?
    Would you get a business degree also or instead?
    Is this a bad idea (too optimistic) altogether?
    Would you start small with lower overhead and used equipment or go all out?

    Any other advice is greatly appreciated.
    Think back, if you could do it all over again, tell me what you would do differently. Or tell me what your glad you did.

    Thank you!

    Last edited: Feb 1, 2009
  2. lifetree

    lifetree LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,369

    Ryan -- I only do this part-time, however, I would recommend that you at least get your Bachelor's degree in Business, Horticulture or something that would serve you well later on. If in Business, you can go back and get the 2 year degree in Turf Management.

    At some point in the future you may decide to exit the LCO business and do something else in the Green industry ... if so, the degree will give you an advantage which others may not have.

    Good luck.
  3. CLPS

    CLPS LawnSite Member
    from Midwest
    Messages: 28

  4. AWJ Services

    AWJ Services LawnSite Platinum Member
    from Ga
    Messages: 4,281

    I would really look at your prospective income and what you will actually make.
    Most guys in this industry are not "Business Sharp"
    Remember that you will have to supply yourself with a benefit package as well( health insurance, retirement, disability, etc).
    If you where working for a company with benefits they can cost the company 20+% of your wage.
    As you take on more clients you will need additional trucks, employees etc.
    That will increase operating expenses.
    If your serious you need a Business Plan.A very thorough one that maps out your business at it's current level and how you will build it to it's future levels with every possible scenario that will affect it financially and all possible expenses.
    Owning your own Successful Business takes a special breed.

    Personally I would get an education first as a safety net.There are other options in the Medical field that pay well and take a 4 year degree.
    What seems like a long time now will be just a speck in your past one day.
  5. Blmtlandscapes

    Blmtlandscapes LawnSite Member
    Messages: 116

    good thread... I'm 24 years old and just started out last year and learned a lot from my first year in business and will be changing a lot of things in preparation for this year. I graduated with a four year degree in business and economics and have found that to be very valuable. If I could go back in time I definitly would have picked up a landscaping degree as a second major. I am taking classes now on the side to learn as much as I can because I want a long future in this industry. I think it is important in this business to remain business minded and driven to expand, don't get too comfortable, push yourself. There is only so much work you can do by yourself so make sure you always think big but start out small. I have made some pricing mistakes my first year. Nothing too severe but I will definitly be adjusting some of my customers prices while I am still fairly new. Overall my advice is if you truly like this kind of work than go for it. Its a long life and you should do something you enjoy and are good at. Focus your studies on business, as well as classes that pertain to landscaping, whether it be design, construction, horticulture etc. Constantly review your numbers! Check your prices, revenues, expenses, etc... see what is working for you and what is not. In comparison to most people on this site I am inexperienced but I think being able to adjust and learn from mistakes will allow you to grow at a faster rate. Good luck, sorry for the rant but I thought it was a good thread!
  6. CLPS

    CLPS LawnSite Member
    from Midwest
    Messages: 28

    Thanks a lot for the reponses so far. It is stressful when your trying to figure out where you want to be in 10 years and how to get there. This stuff has constantly been on my mind the last few months, and the insight has been very helpful.

    My first step in in making this decision is definately to draw up the most detailed and thorough business plan I can, possibly with some help. And write up my goals and basically a pros and cons list. Anything else I think of (or you think of) that will be useful in helping me make this decision as well. I know that its possible, I just need to make sure I can remain finacially stable with the responsibility of being a father through the next few years.

    Deciding to go with landscaping, one of the first decisions I would have to make would be what to pursue educationwise. I see how important it is to be business smart, and I really like how nview put it to remain business minded and driven. My main question here is, in this industry, is there a significant difference between a 2 year business degree and a 4 year one?

    And also how about the landscaping program, 2 year? 4? With a strong business degree, and a little expirience already, wouldn't you just want to learn the manual, contructive part as soon and quickly as you could? There are lots of community colleges around here with two year programs like the link to the one above. Or on the other hand, I'm not even sure where to get a 4 year landscaping degree around here. I know the state university doesn't offer it. Which is why I would need to transfer, but why not a trasfer to a 2 year?

    I also like what you said about constantly reviewing numbers and business performance and learning to adjust quickly and learn from mistakes. I would definately spend a lot of time and effort in that area. So again thanks for the advice.

    Also could you tell me about your employees? Do you have one or two main guys that are long time and can pretty much run things if they need to? Or do go through them every few years? Ideally I would want to run two lawncare crews full time independantly, have a fulltime landscape crew I could employ year round helping with snow removal in winter, guys that I can completely rely on allowing me to maintain focus on business aspects while still working landscaping in the field, and possibly a full time fert specialist maybe with an assistant, and sectretary. Looking like 10 to 14 employees including myself. Is this reasonable? This is what I would ultimately base my business plan off of, of course not all at once, but gradually reaching these numbers.


  7. BluestoneOL

    BluestoneOL LawnSite Member
    Messages: 15

    I'm going to pass on giving too much advise on this particular industry since I am new to it as well. However, I have other business(s) that I own or owned and can give some other insight.

    Basically, I think you need to take a good long look in the mirror and figure it out what your goals really are. Its time to be brutally honest with yourself. If you need immediate stability or long term oppertunity. Also, remember what sounds simple isn't always easy in practice...just ask all those who thought they could take some risk and market volatility and then watched their portfolios crumble. They found out just how much risk they could handle. Do your best to really evaluate what the consequences of your decisions are. That said, sometimes not doing anything is the best thing. Is it possible to keep going to school and running your business? Do you really want to continue with school? Would any industry related classes be tax deducible as continuing education? What about business classes?

    Personally, it may be cliche, but there is no subsitute for an education but there is also no timetable for it. You can always go back. I have a business degree but when I decided to get into this business I selected some core classes at Ohio State that I wanted to take that met my needs. Another degree wasn't the goal, but concise and credible knowledge was.

    Finally, this is like any other business decision...do the best you can and move on. If things change then adjust. The reality is, the most important thing probably won't be what you plan for but more likely how well you adapt for what you didn't plan.
  8. BluestoneOL

    BluestoneOL LawnSite Member
    Messages: 15

    Just took a quick look at the course offerings. They look pretty straight to me, if by name only. Usually classes like these from local colleges offer pretty good value. I think it would be worth talking to an advisor or prof to see if you could sit in on a class or two for you to evalute.
  9. stuvecorp

    stuvecorp LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,245

    You may be better off to keep working on getting your degree in dentistry/medical. The reason I would say that is you probably could work part time and make more in those fields than lawn care/landscaping. Money isn't everything but thinking about your family the medical profession may be better long term. It is a tough decision, good luck.

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