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Pros and Cons of Lawncare as Sole or Primary Income Provider: An Open Discussion

Discussion in 'Lawn Mowing' started by MOturkey, Jul 25, 2007.

  1. MOturkey

    MOturkey LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,780

    This post is prompted in part by a post by a young guy a couple of weeks back who was ready to throw in the towel. I didn't reply to his post, as I recall, because I wasn't sure what advice I should give him. Most encouraged him to not give up, and a few suggested that perhaps he should find a regular job and do the lawncare on the side, at least until things were going his way financially again.

    Envy also had a poll on the same general subject, whether or not we were full, or part time, among other things. I'd like this thread to go several steps farther and perhaps provide some useful insight, particularly for those new to this business, or business in general, or just life on their own.

    I once asked an employer of mine when I was a teenager why it seemed there were always so many small restaurants's that come and go. I've never forgotten his answer. He said, "It really is pretty simple. First of all, it doesn't cost much to open a restaurant. And, most people figure they can cook".

    I've absolutely no doubt this generalization applies to many in the lawncare industry as well. Many long to be self-employed, and the service industry in general, and lawncare, in particular, are relatively inexpensive to enter. (Note the current post about starting with homeowner equipement). And, about everyone has at one time or another, done some yard mowing, so, it is a natural step for many to figure they can start up a business, and become self-employed.

    I mow part-time. I've been at my day job for over 24 years, and worked in route sales for over 27 years of my life. I started the business after I helped a friend of mne, also a milkman, who had a mowing business on the side. I found I actually kind of enjoyed mowing, with the right equipment, and when we had a bit of a windfall a few years ago, I bought a Z, trailer and all the assorted gadgetry and went into business for myself.

    Being a bit older than most of you who start out, I probably dreamed a little smaller, as I had no intention of replacing my current income with mowing income, only supplementing it, and, to hopefully earn enough to be able to supplement my retirement in a few years so that I can go ahead and retire early. The cost of health care insurance has made it nearly impossible for many people to retire early, even with a decent pension.

    But, for those of you who are young, with families, is it the right decision to depend upon this industry for your livelihood? I know there are guys on here who could buy and sell me a thousand times over, and I'm happy as a pig in feces for you, but I also know for every one who makes a killing in this business, there are thousands who will never make enough money to really have any kind of standard of living for their families. Nothing wrong with dreaming, I'm not trying to squelch that, I'm just interested in putting the facts out there as a tool for people interested in this industry.

    Here are things as I see them. First of all, virtually all startup, sole proprietorships, are under-capitalized, and I suspect lawncare businesses are at, or near, the top of that list. If you don't believe that, just read a couple of days postings about "is this a good price for a Z?," or "I wanted the 60 inch, but the 48 inch was $500 cheaper."

    If a business is properly funded, there is money available to make NEEDED purchases, when the need arises, not years down the road. That, in and of itself, makes it tough to operate and keep your head above water, because I suspect many spend lots of time robbing from Peter to pay Paul. I'm writing this from experience. I have owned 3 small retail businesses through the years, so I have lots of experience doing just this.

    It also takes a certain amount of business acumen to make a go of it in this, or any business. I strongly suspect all of you who read this, and are considered highly successful, would have been just as successful in any business you started. Lawncare just happens to be the one you chose. It also requires you to wear many hats. I, for example, would literally starve to death as a door-to-door salesman. Sure, I'm in route sales, but the products sell themselves. I am not good at selling my business, and I know that is one area I need improvement in. It is great to be able to do the physical work, and an excellent job, but there is simply more, much more, to running a truly successful business.

    Now, let's look at working for the "man" for a moment. Many offer group health insurance, often at little or no premium, although that is changing as well as healthcare costs escalate. My health insurance is almost 100% company funded. Insurance is not an option, if you have a family, it is imperative, as you can be wiped out with one simple medical emergency.

    Retirement: If you are self-employed, particularly in a service industry, where large amounts of capital are not apt to be accumulated, you must be very, very diligent and resourceful to have any hope of retiring early enough to enjoy any of it. That is just a simple fact. I will be able, after 25 years of service, to draw a union pension which is approximately 75% of what I now make working. That souunds great, but factor in $700 + a month for health insurance, and inflation (how many of you actually BELIEVED 10 years ago that we would be paying $3 a gallon for gasoline, or $4 a gallon for milk, for that matter?), and I'm not sure I can afford to safely do so. Our pensions have no cost of living increases common to government pensions, and if I should be fortunte enough to live 20 more years, who is to say gasolne won't be $8 a gallon?

    On a side note, my advice to everyone, particularly you young guys. Do two things: Start saving now. A lot. Until it hurts. And, get a home paid for. Also, try to get something going in your life that will provide an income without you working for it, whether that be mutual funds, rental property, or even a lawncare company big enough to let you sit in the office. I wish I had seen this years ago. Everything I have ever done required the sweat of my brow to turn a dollar. That is great when you are young, but you won't be nearly as long as you think.

    Also, lawncare, in most states, is a seasonal business, and a spradic one at that, particularly if you are primarily in the maintenance end of things. Will the income be there if you have a prolonged drought? A lot of you are experiencing that right now. Working for the man, in most cases, provides a regular paycheck year-round.

    I'll quit blowing now. I realize there are those among you that simply cannot envision themselves doing anything but this. Same with astronauts to zookeepers. There are some people who just seem to be born to do one thing, are happy doing it, and, generally, reasonably successful. I've never been that fortunate. The things I really love doing, I've never had the opportunity to make a living doing. I can honestly say I don't ever recall waking up in the morning and being in a hurry to get to work. :) If you are one of the lucky ones, more power to you. I'm hoping to hear from you, as well as those who wish they had done something else, and everyone in between. Thanks.
  2. Americal Vet

    Americal Vet LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 250

    I make fairly good money at it, but mainly because I do government contracts. Now if out of this income I had to pay for health insurance, and actually rely on it to support a family, I would be up the creek. I suppose I could support a family, but not at the same standard as I do now

    I have a self storage business, apartments, mobile homes, and a couple of rental houses. All of my health care is provided by the military due to a combat related incident.

    I do this because I enjoy it, and it keeps me active and healthy.
  3. tomgolfs44

    tomgolfs44 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 49

    you have a lot of very good points in there for the young folks about saving, doing what you love, etc....I applaud you for that. I spent 19 years in the restaurant biz, 15 as general manager/managing partner, making _hitloads of money @ 70-90 hours a week. Last year, my second year in full-time I grossed the same as my highest gross in management. (gross, mind you) This year i am positive 45% in clients from last year and working 45-55 hours per week. Can't wait to do my taxes next year and realize it was all worth it to get off the nipple of "the man" and fend for myself. I have now put my 3 and 4 year old to bed for the 800+ time in this biz.....about 780 times more than the last. GOT TO LOVE IT!!
  4. David Hartzog

    David Hartzog Banned
    Messages: 531

    this is a super post. and i can see the wisdom in what you say.

    this is a rough biz. i am 36 next monday. and i have 4 small young uns'....and a bad back. what am i going to be doing in 10 years? will i be able to walk at my daughters graduation. will i be physically able to teach my 3 boys to cut and save money for college. will the money be enough for that then?

    i love lawn care...if i could i'd get a farm and grow cotton and raise cattle, and invest in rental property...but....

    i hope the folks at the begining of their lives listen to your words.
  5. Mr Priceless

    Mr Priceless LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 412

    Thank you....so much. I almost literally shed a tear of reality reading that incredibly deep insight of wisdom you just shared with the world.

    With every post I read on here I gain just a little more valuable info to hang on to and to shape my dreams, both ambitious and realistic, and try to come in the middle of the two for the best possible way i can set up for my future.

    For example, since my neighbor had asked me to mow her yard, I vowed at age 14 never again to work for the "man" again, thinking this was the world and it would never fail me. Well, 2 years later I work close to 30 hours a week stuffing tacos and manage 15-20 yards, which will prove a challenge when school starts again.

    Also 2 years ago, I figured college would be complete waist of my time since "Hey, why go to school to train and work for the "man" when there's yards to mow!" Well, now I have thought over and over again, and I think college is a critical step no matter what path you take. Always have a cushion to fall on. This applies in all aspects too.

    Again, you have shared many points that this teenager needed to hear. Feel free to share some more.:)
  6. grassgirl4

    grassgirl4 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 125

    Excellent post!! ...And just what I needed to hear...again!! I say 'again' because my dad regularly reminds me that I need to be saving at least something every week, as well as getting a mutual fund up and running. Now, I do have a small (and I emphasize 'small') 401K from my previous occupation; however, that's not going to fund my retirement by any means!! I've got to get going on this--seriously!!

    Also, I'm glad you mentioned growing the business to where you just sit behind the desk and direct. Once again, my dad has conveyed to me on several occasions that I won't be young forever and that with each passing year, I will feel it more and more...not to mention, what if I get hurt as a solo?? Who picks up my slack then?? Your post has solidified in my mind the need to be big (prior, I was wavering, contemplating staying small to keep overhead down and profit margin high). Bottom line is, when you look at it from all angles, there seems to be far greater risk staying solo than taking on more OH/labor (e.g. what happens to your profit margin when you get hurt as a solo?? It evaporates...poof...gone!!). Best move: take on more OH/labor - resulting in lower profit margin - and make it up in volume. At least when you get hurt, your business won't be exposed, because you will have people doing the work for you!!

    Again, great post!! Thanks :clapping:
  7. coonman

    coonman LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 686

    Now that I am 44 and have gone through years of doing a job a did not look forward to, I can honestly say DO SOMETHING YOU ENJOY. I know everyone wants to make as much money as possible, but that means squat if you are miserable. A couple of years ago my longtime employer called me back after a layoff. Got my old salary back, 5 weeks vacation, insurance, pension etc. So I sold my half of my lawn biz to my partner and went back. Guess what? I lasted about a month and a half. I felt like I was in prison. Being a longtime fitness fanatic, I went and got certified as a personal fitness trainer. I have been building that up and also considering opening my own studio. I have also started a part time mowing business, because I love to mow and the money is way better than other part time job. Also considering going full time Lawn biz next year, and ramping up the training in the winter months. Either way I am alot happier regardless of how much money I am making. To all you young guys out there, if you enjoy the lawn biz, go for it. What's the worst that can happen? If it does not work out, just go on down the road, but atleast you tried something you enjoyed. If you are really passionate about it, you will be successful. You don't want to get to your forties or fifties and say I wish I would have tried all of those things. Just go for it. Let me reiterate, start some investments as soon as possible and put them on autopilot and forget about them. Years down the road you will be glad you did. So the moral to this story is that I would rather clear say 35,000 a year doing something I like than clear 50,000 and dread going in everyday. Follow your passion and you can't help but be successful and happy.
  8. Mow N GO 06

    Mow N GO 06 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 79

    A very great post to say the least........."Strive for perfection, although you will never achieve it, you always be better!! "

    Perfection = A fame that all strive for, never achieved though, but better for trying.

    Point = NEVER EVER NEVER, settle for 2nd place.......It's only the 1st place LOSER.

    Great Post though!!
  9. Liquidfast

    Liquidfast LawnSite Senior Member
    from Ontario
    Messages: 739

    Yeah, it was a good post but the majority of it is common sense. If you haven't realized that you need to save, christ, you shouldn't be in this biz. If you buy machines solely on price and not for the purpose, you shouldn't be in this biz.

    This is lawn care people. If you chose this "profession" as your excuse to not "work for the man", I feel for you. Not sorry for you, but I feel for you.

    I'd bet 95% of the people here started their business thinking it was quick, easy money with little or no start up costs. Of those 95%, I would again gamble to say 80% of them now snicker at the new start ups or shake their heads at the truck that goes by them each day with 1 push mower bouncing around in the back of a pick up.....and call them lowballers to boot.

    Here is the realization. You are replaceable. Each year a new crop of start ups blow thru your neighborhood stealing your present or future business. If I could do this over again, I would not.

    Some members are so afraid to say LCOs stand a chance to make a profit that another member actually PM'ed me asking me not to say how much I made in my second year. This member felt it was better to post that it sucks to discourage new start ups :dizzy: .

    Personally, I take 15% of EVERY penny that goes thru the bank or as cash and put it into my HIGH interest ING savings account. It has worked well for me.

    .....my wife carried on about the upcoming wedding and I lost my thoughts.
  10. swingset

    swingset LawnSite Member
    Messages: 231

    Great post, some good wisdom there, and things for anyone getting into it or struggling to think about.

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