seeking wise counsel

Discussion in 'Starting a Lawn Care Business' started by RScapes, Nov 28, 2012.

  1. RScapes

    RScapes LawnSite Member
    Messages: 21

    Gentlemen and ladies: I have made the decision to start a small lawn care business. I am retired, have a very good pension (39 k annual) but still need to net about $13,500 annually to supplement the pension to pay the bills. The additional 13.5 K will keep us at about the same standard of living as when I was employed. I'm still in pretty good health/shape and don't mind hard work and good Lord willing will be ready to go at it in 2013. My lovely bride has a good job, kids are out of the house with 1 still in college.

    Goal is to primarily offer mowing service but leave the door open to other services (mulch, edging, installation, clean ups) as long as the other services/projects are small as I do not intend to hire/work with anyone-I am going solo. I would be happy doing nothing but mowing-but would be willing to look at other work.

    I have saved enough to pay for all of the equipment I need (and already have most of the equipment). Overhead will be kept low. The plan is to stay lean.

    I have no customers, but, I have not hit the pavement yet to get my name out. I intend to start advertising and networking soon and will continue to do so throughout the winter right up to mowing season/2013. The thought of no customers lined up is a significant concern. But, I have saved enough money to get through year 2013 in case the $13,500 net doesn't happen.

    Does it sound like I am on the right track? Is $13,500 net doable just starting out? Any advice would be welcome. Thank you in advance and God bless.
  2. Darryl G

    Darryl G Inactive
    Messages: 9,500

    Sounds pretty good to me. However, I think you should resign yourself to the fact that cleanups are part of mowing. How can you mow a lawn that's covered in debris? Most lawns will need a spring cleanup. Sometimes it's just a matter of picking up some sticks and putting a bagger on the mower. Other times it's a matter of doing the fall cleanup that never got done. In the fall when the grass is still growing how are you going to mow it when it's covered with leaves?

    Just keep in mind that any time you decline to provide a service that the customer requests you open the door for someone else to not only provide that service, but the services you are offering as well.

    As far as the $13.5K that more than achievable.
  3. tonygreek

    tonygreek LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,909

    Sounds like you're on the right track. When it comes to advertising, even if you're not planning on having a web site, create Google/Yahoo/Bing local pages for your business as soon as possible and that will help market to those who sit in offices all day searching for services on their boss' dime. lol Well thought out Craig's List ads (read: not all caps, not a string of exclamation points, and a professional image portrayed) can also be very effective.
  4. britsteroni

    britsteroni LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 334


    Have you already gone out and purchased equipment specifically for this business? If not, I would take the next few months to evaluate whether you are making a good decision or not.

    This business can easily net you $13,500 per year working part-time, but it will take a lot of work to get there.

    Here are some questions I think you should consider before you jump into this head first:

    1. If you currently need $13,500 to maintain the same standard of living, what will the plan be for the future as prices continue to rise (inflation) and your body breaks down as you age? I'm guessing you are in your 50's, so SS and Medicare will kick in once you reach 65 (there are a myriad of other factors, but 65 for simplicity). In my opinion, it is risky to bank on your body holding up into your middle to upper 60's chasing a mower around all day.

    2. What other skills and abilities have you acquired over your lifetime? Is there another part-time business that would be available for you to start with similar start up costs? There is nothing wrong with mowing lawns, but the barrier to entry is so low that competition is fierce all across the country. That doesn't mean that you can't be successful, but in a heavily competitive market, econ 101 tells us that it is a race to the bottom for profit.

    3. If you only need $13,500 a year, have you considered part time work doing something you enjoy as opposed to starting a business? By my calculations, if you could find a job working 20 hours a week at $15/hour, you should be able to meet your yearly need of $13,500. You need to do a self-assessment and decide whether you want to own a business, be self-employed (you own the job of mowing people's lawns), or work for someone else. All three have pro's and con's, but you should decide which of the three fit your desires and personality best.

    4. Have you considered reducing expenses instead of trying to increase income? If you are not required to work, most folks are able to significantly decrease what they spend per month. Things like clothing, fuel, auto repair, eating out should all decrease as you no longer are required to do those things to work. Maybe a combination of both? You could try to reduce expenses by $6,500/year while increasing income by $7,000/year. Then you would have less pressure to work or start a business.

    These were just a few of the thoughts I had after reading your initial post.

    Good luck!
  5. billpiper

    billpiper LawnSite Member
    Messages: 82

    If you are paying cash for all your equipment and have a nest egg to cover the first year, I'd think you should be fine. 13K a year is easily doable the 1st year.

    I assume you like doing lawn care. You need to. This kind of work is easy, but it's harder when you're doing it for other people for pay. Based on my averages, if you cut 2 lawns a day (or 40 a month), you'll gross a little over $14K. That's only 10 - 20 customers depending if you cut weekly or bi-weekly. Keep in mind these figures don't include any overhead like gas, maintenence, etc.

    How much production you'll get will depend on your equipment as well as your health. I'm 60 years old, have had a spinal injury that makes me about 85% from the waist down, so I can only do 3 lawns at the most if I have to walk behind the mower. I have a riding mower, so I can do more than that.

    Looks good to me. just don't kill yourself doing it. Start off slow and let your body get used to the work. It's harder on you than you think.

    Good luck.
  6. Duekster

    Duekster LawnSite Fanatic
    from DFW, TX
    Messages: 7,961

    Some valid points but I am sure the kid in college is an expense that will go away.

    If the wife is still working the OP likely wants something to do and generate some income.

    My advice is to set up the old home office and get all the tax deductions that would come with it.

    I also recommend that he keep prices up! even with low expenses there are many consideration.

    IE think of the mower equipment as an investment. Now break down the cost of the mower, hand held and truck over 10,000 hours. That is your cost recovery period, then think about the interest rate you want to make on an investment.... this should beat the stock market. Say 10% a year is good.

    So you want 10% a year on your initial investment plus the principle recovery over 10,000 hours.

    Now add all your expenses insurance, fuel and maintenance. Allow some money to buy small tools, say 200 month. Break this down into an hourly rate.

    so now we have two components of your hourly rate.

    You want 16K per year so you need to make around 20K or $10.00 an hour but then again you are not going to work a full time job so triple it to 30.

    I suspect when you do all the math you will be at or about 50 to 60 an hour minimum.
  7. Darryl G

    Darryl G Inactive
    Messages: 9,500

    To the OP, if you haven't already, feel free to seek advice here on equipment choices. It's best to avoid homeowner-quality equipment unless it's something you already have for personal use. It's important to have a contingency plan if one of your main pieces of equipment goes down too. You want any problems you have to be invisible to your customers and to remain dependable at all times.
  8. JoDon

    JoDon LawnSite Member
    Messages: 25

    I just retired again from my part time lawn business after doing what you want to do for 7 years. Here's what worked for me. I was 59 years old but age is a plus in certain customer demographics as it implies experience and knowledge in those first impression sales calls. I combined that with a professional image of uniform, written estimates, lettered trailer and promptness. Decided early on not to chase low ball clients by setting $35 minimum mowing fee. Charged hourly on cleanups (learned this one the hard way). Used post card mailers to generate sales leads in only the neighborhoods I wanted to work in. Decided anything else (yellow pages, etc.) was too expensive and non-specific as to location. You can't make money pulling a trailer across town to mow a couple of $35 lawns. After 2 years, only marketing was phone# on trailer and your customer's neighbors will start calling you. I only worked 4 days a week about 5 hours a day and averaged $45/hr gross after a couple of years. You get better and faster while the price stays the same. Best part time job I ever had.

  9. Hamatsa

    Hamatsa LawnSite Member
    Messages: 79

    What everyone else said.

    I retired 7 years ago and I'm starting my 6th. year in the business. I'm running two crews and spend most of my time bidding and in operations.

    Here's my addition to the excellent aforementioned advice;

    1) Avoid all consumer debt related to the business if at all possible.

    2) Your first customer will be the hardest.

    3) Be careful while bidding one-off jobs. Clean ups always take longer then you think.

    4) Cultivate relationships with other trades. Especially arborists.

    5) Keep your prices professional. You're doing ok if you're catching 50% of the bids.

    6) Learn the signs of a possible PITA and avoid them at all costs. They're time consumers.

    7) Do not be afraid to fire a client...preferably after they pay you. Be civil, diplomatic, and firm but if your gut is telling you that you're dealing with a potential problem, then walk away.

    8) This is better then joining a gym.....have fun!!!!
  10. shovelracer

    shovelracer LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,008

    No one has mentioned that he needs to net 13K as the owner not have sales revenue of 13K. By the time uncle sam is done, fuel is bought, repairs are made, fees are covered, etc. he will need revenue of around $30,000 on a very lean and conservative side. Not sure the area but lets say 30 weeks for spring cleaning, mowing, and fall cleaning. $1000 a week. $250 a day for 4 days. Solo and not working at a young mans pace with likely not top of the line equipment is going to lead to 6-7hr days. Likely about 30 hours a week. or low $30's per hour gross which is actually pretty decent if it amounts to that. There are guys all over here that are pulling revenue of several hundred thousand and if they did the end math likely are making $20-25 per hour. There are a few old timers doing this type of gig around, but they are not breaking their backs. Likely they are golfing buddies or whatever and they are not taking the type of client that most full service landscapers would be be interested in. More so they are good for super cheap commercial clients, hands on and mow only clients, and the type of client that generally needs work done, but has no interest is hiring "contractors". It can be done, but like any business it is not all roses.

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