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Early Lessons Learned

Discussion in 'Starting a Lawn Care Business' started by GardnerLandscaping, Jul 22, 2006.

  1. GardnerLandscaping

    GardnerLandscaping LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 310

    1. Cut fescue no shorter than 2". Get it to 2.5" BEFORE the summer heat/drought. This is especially true if it is unhealthy from lack of fertilizer and aeration. It also saves your blade from things that might be under those weeds with fescue.

    2. Old lesson I already knew about: Don't stop the mower in thick warm weather grasses unless you want to leave a circle in the lawn. Keep moving and raise the front-end when you need to stop.

    3. Be extremely careful about run-off with weed killer on pathways.

    4. Pick up sticks before you mow. You'll waste more time picking up and blowing mulched sticks than to pick it up before you mow. Customers do care about sticks. Older customers care more about sticks being picked up than about a "country club" edging.

    5. Go easy with the string trimmer. Don't bump the head hard, you'll break the shaft. Get a Husqvarna trimmer so you spend less time fixing the string. Don't keep the trimmer at full speed, you'll heat up your string and cause it to melt together to where it doesn't feed--Husqvarna string is cheaper and more resistant to melting and locking up in itself. You'll also save on engine wear. Hold the trimmer high when edging for more control. Tilt the string trimmer to where debris blows away from your legs when clearing weeds. Get a straight shaft for easier reach behind that fence post. Use weed killer to edge around turbine fence or wood fences if low to the ground.

    6. A tiller moves a lot of dirt. If you're planting or building landscape beds, use a tiller. Small ones cen be more effective, especially if it is a Honda 4-cycle, than a large tiller. It goes through roots and loosens most rocks up. The tiller attachment to a string trimmer is as effective as a garden rake and less effective than a hoe. For anything under 3 tons of dirt, you'll spend less time with a tiller than messing with a Bobcat. You'll spend a lot less than time than with a shovel alone. If the tiller can't get it, such as a large rock or root, a pick axe can.

    7. Hedge trimmer is a big asset which makes you a yard man rather than a lawn boy. I use a 25cc hedge trimmer with a large blade. I do need to add a pole trimmer to my arsenal. Never hedge Azeleas after July, at which time you should should do selective pruning.

    8. Tree shears are great for cleaning up yards with trees that should have been weed-whacked last year. Chain saw is good for those trees that should have been weed-whacked 5 years ago if you need to cut them up for removal. Bow saw is OK for your mom if she wants you to put the trees on the bank to prevent wash.

    9. Self-propelled mowers waste time where the grass is thin and slows you down when maneuvering. The cheapest mulch mower is better than an expensive mower unless you've got large yards and need a commercial mower, especially when it comes to scalping. Never go over a ridge, mow with a ridge at the edge of the ridge to prevent scalping with a push mower.

    10. Large wheels on push mowers improve ability maneuver and push over uneven yards. They also make it easy to remove and load from a truck without a ramp.

    11. Pliers are the most frequently used tool in the toolbox and should be placed for easy reach. Great for snipping and working on trimmer line and equipment. Need screw drives and wrenches too. You never know when you need to work on equipment on the spot.

    12. Bungie cord is great for keeping equipment, weed killer, and gas cans tied down.

    13. Keep brochures and business cards handy.

    14. Always keep spare shirt, socks, shoes, and towel in the car. Carry a roll of clean-up towels. Keep one in your pocket for wiping off sweat. Carry extra cups because sometimes the micronutrients (dirt) gets too rich.

    15. The blower is the most important tool you have. Get the best one. The extra power saves you a lot of time when you need the power. It also justifies why you are doing it and not the neighborhood kid. It also compensates for using a $100 mower rather than a $400 honda bagging mower which sucks up more than a chipper vac or a multi-thousand commercial mower. I never met a lawn where there wasn't a place to blow the grass except for one lawn about 20 years ago where blowing it in a pile and raking it into a bag didn't justify the hassle of a bagging mower.

    16. Ask your customer first time out about any plantings that might not be obvious. Ask your customer before you cut it down if you're not sure what it is. Don't sweat it if you do cut something down that was struggling if you actually accomplished a lot on weed removal and improving the look of the lot especially if you did manage to rescue a few plants. Hand-picking weeds can sometimes save time, especially swamp grass in liriope. It might be best to go ahead and take out that struggling hosta under a large variety of weeds, especially if they have a hundred other hostas that the deer already took out.

    17. Juniper and iris were made for each other like how daffodils were made for crape myrtle. Liriope tends to bring out those washed out plants, but yes, don't use them for a border, use it as a ground cover. You still need to be prepared to change plant selection after visiting a few landscape suppliers because there is always something else that can be used and a plant that can't be found.

    18. Hardest part about plant selection is finding a healthy plant and finding the right price for it.

    19. Hummus adds more bulk than top soil. Have fill-dirt delivered if more than 40 bags are needed.

    20. Don't be afraid if you're not sure on the time to do something. Give an estimate, but state you're not sure and would rather charge for actual time. Your competition will probably bid twice as much anyway.

    21. First time doing a yard takes much longer than normal. I give a lower first visit rate and estimate a higher number of hours for the first visit if there is a large amount of clean-up work to do.

    22. It is very easy to underbid and charge less than you should. However, I'd rather have customers and work for myself than work for someone else because I don't have customers.

    23. Do a good job always and spend the extra time if you have to spend it. Yes, I do hear what you didn't do but should have done for your former client. :nono:

    24. I'm sure I have about 125 more lessons to learn before the season is done.
  2. grass_cuttin_fool

    grass_cuttin_fool LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,526

    One important thing to learn the easy way is be sure you are liscensed to spray that round up or it can cost you 2500.00 for each yard you spray it in (the hard way)

  3. GardnerLandscaping

    GardnerLandscaping LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 310

    which is a serious lesson. can't you still qualify as a hobby or for family/friends if you're in your first season working for yourself, not running a full schedule, not employing anyone, and not even using a trailer yet?
  4. topsites

    topsites LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 21,653

    From what I understand, the IRS considers any enterprise doing less than 1,000 dollars a year, a hobby... At least it used to be this way, which is a nice way to stretch the 600-dollar undeclared income limit without incurring business taxes.

    On another note, this might vary from state to state but where I live you do NOT need a chemical applicator's license so long that you do not charge money for this type of service (meaning you do this for free). This may sound like a joke but it's not, it will force you to keep this sideline small for one (by including it in your service rather than charging extra), while it gives you some time to get your feet wet before you decide to take the plunge.

    Hope that helps.
  5. topsites

    topsites LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 21,653

    Now, may I?

    1. Cut 3" always, never change the height of your cut for a customer. Matter of fact, never change the height of your cut.

    5. Wear jeans and DO aim the trimmer's debris towards you so that you take the damage instead of a window or a bystander. Keeping the rpm's low will minimize this damage and with practice comes perfection, you're not supposed to hit things that can hurt when flung. The cheapest string is bought in 5-pound spools, especially if you can find it on sale.

    7. Spring and fall are the best times of year to do pruning. Anytime the temps are below 80 should be ok, but not below 60. So, when it gets a little cooler but not in the cold. Plants are cold-blooded creatures, heat makes them thrive, they need heat just like our bodies do but their systems do not generate it, instead they gain heat from the air and the sun - Hence, heat makes them active and cooler air numbs them, so prune plants when they are less active to increase recovery rates.

    8. Never heard of weed-eating trees.

    9. Any 21" mower is a push-mower, self-propelled or not. The self-propelled one is the biggest POS, but all 21" mowers are POS.

    10. Get a commercial mower, at least 44" wide but preferrably no bigger than 48". The wider the deck, the faster you get done.

    12. Bungie cords are dangerous, can fail or snap at a moment's notice and take out your eye or at least a chunk of flesh with that hook. Use tie-down straps.

    13. Business cards are for noobs, every new business owner thinks this is the most important part of owning a business is to have business cards. Customers know this too, they can see a new business owner coming from miles away and they all LOVE to ask for the little cards as they know this makes the new business owner feel important. By not having these around, you save yourself from more than a few wild goose chases. If you think word of mouth can replace paid advertising, think again - Be prepared to spend up to 10 percent of your annual gross on paid advertising (newspaper ads and the like, not classifieds).

    18. Find plants on sale during the off season and buy some selections and plant them in your own yard. Then, pro-create them by air-preening and make more, then sell them at your usual price.

    22. If I wanted to work for free, I can do that sleeping. When I'm afraid of underbidding versus losing a customer, I double my price and the problem is fixed. I would rather have less over-priced customers than a slew of underpriced ones.
  6. GardnerLandscaping

    GardnerLandscaping LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 310

    According to the Scott's landscaping book I have, it recommends changing the height according to the season and according to the type of grass. Tall fescue is 2-3", fine fescue is 1.5"-2.5". Bermuda is .5"-2". Maximum cut in hot conditions, lower cut or maximum cut during cooler season. For a fescue lawn with a high amount of weeds, you want the shorter cut during the cooler season, you just want to be sure you raise to the maximum height before the hot weather hits. I had two weak lawns because I raised a week too late.

    Thanks for the advice on the trimmer. I wasn't well trained with the trimmer when I worked for someone else. I do try to be careful around windows or around bystanders. I'm learning low RPM is more effective.

    You're right on the larger spool. I'm running tight on cash flow until I complete this software work-for-hire. Rather put the cash flow in better equipment than to save $3 buying more trimmer line than I need for a month.

    I'm glad we agree on the self-propelled. I'd rather have a 22" mower die at a cost of $100 than to have to replace a really expensive mower. See cash flow. I agree that a 44" wide mower is needed for anything more than 1/4 acre. Anything less than a 1/4 acre, you get higher quality cut (less scalping) for the same amount of time it takes to maneuver the larger mower. I like finishing the small lot with my 22" push mower and stopping to watch the guy ride around in circles to scalp a small patch of grass. Almost as fun as watching NASCAR.

    I'm referring to weed-eating the trees that are an inch high. Quite common in highly wooded lots of Georgia.

    You tie down equipment with the plastic tie-down straps after each visit? Doesn't that get expensive? I've even used bungie cord to strap a level while the other level was clamped to plumb posts for a fence. I never spent a dime due to bungie cord injury.

    Word of mouth is effective if you do good work. But yes, I do need to spend more on advertising so I can have a full schedule. I like the idea of the coupon book and door-to-door. Business card and brochure is important when you need word-of-mouth because the contact and full description of service are on those materials. It is also a lot quicker to hand a card and brochure than to write it down on a piece of paper for the neighbor and describe all the service who asks for that information because they want you to do their yard too after you drastically improved the look of their neighbor's yard.

    Not sure if homeowners would approve a green house or farming in the back yard, but yes, it is a consideration, especially for bulbs that enjoy yearly divisions. I could stick stems of crape myrtles in the ground and apply root stimulator. I could pull up those 1-inch maple trees, save them, and sell them to someone else with no trees. You'd have to be careful about patents though and use all native plants.
  7. Freddy_Kruger

    Freddy_Kruger LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,064

    1. 3" is a touch too high for my mowers.
    2. "wear Jeans" ??? fer geta bout it.
    13. business cards are essential and cheap.
  8. CutInEdge Lawn Care

    CutInEdge Lawn Care LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 677

    We use magnetic business cards. Customers love them!!!! I even have one on my fridge so when I forget my number I know who to call.
  9. fiveoboy01

    fiveoboy01 LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,988

    No way no how in the heat we've had. I've had bloodied shins from cutting brush, it's a trade-off I'll take to stay cooler.

    Horse doo-doo.

    Agreed. I have probably lost a few accounts because of my price and my refusal to budge on it. Fine by me.
  10. PMLAWN

    PMLAWN LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,534

    I have come to the conclusion that you do no business at all. I do not think I have ever come across a person that was so negative to everyone and everything. Your ideas of how to run a business never cease to amaze me. The only reason I can think of for you always preaching to do everything CHEAP is because you have no real income to pay for anything. Do you even make a living or do you still live with your parents?

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