Want to start off correctly

Discussion in 'Starting a Lawn Care Business' started by MGenay, Sep 20, 2011.

  1. MGenay

    MGenay LawnSite Member
    Messages: 69

    Little backstory...

    Past couple summers I've spent doing carpentry with my uncle.

    I graduated highschool in 2010 then spent the summer doing carpentry again until I went off to college. After a year of that I realized it wasn't for me and there was no way I would ever survive in a cubicle.

    April of 2011 I start the year with 2 yards and a job with a landscaper. By the end of April I had picked up another 6 full season accounts, 7 that were only springtime, and another 10 that were only once in a great while. Quit my job with the landscaper. Picked up another couple through the season. Also did a bunch of landscaping and carpentry. That brings us up to now.

    2012 I want to go legit. Currently my inventory consists of:

    Two Craftsman 21in FWD mowers (both can bag and mulch, both run great, purchased in '03 and '04)
    Craftsman 4 cycle gas trimmer - purchased in '06, runs ok, has blower and edger attachements
    Stihl HS45 hedge trimmer (just purchased)
    Stihl MS-180 chain saw (just purchased)
    A whole ton and a half of carpentry tools.

    Vehicle wise I have a '08 Toyota Matrix given to me by a awesome aunt, 35k miles, worth around 15g. Problem is I'll get disowned if I try to sell it.

    '78 Dodge Power Wagon for my work truck. I spent the winter restoring this thing and finally got it on the road in early July. Only has 22k miles and a great plow. Only problem is the body shop ****** up my hydraulic pump, screwed up all the electrical, and did god knows what to my carb.

    I now realize the old Dodge was a stupid idea for a work truck, I need reliability. Problem is I have more invested in it than I can ever sell it for. I will do what ever it takes to have this thing working perfectly by next spring, even if that means missing out on plowing this winter. I'll be happy if I get 5 years out of it then buy a new F-250.

    At this point I have a brand new 4 barrel carb on it and sorted out some of the electrical. Plow and winch are still ****** at the moment. Also down at the moment for a ****** up front axle. Its hurting me this season but I'm getting by.

    Shopping list for next season is the following:

    Trailer Hitch for truck
    Exmark Turf Tracer S-Series 48in deck with bagger and sulky (not sure which engine size yet, help on that is greatly appreciated)
    Stihl FS-90 trimmer
    Stihl BG-86 blower
    Small trailer, not sure what size yet. Need to fit 48in walk behind and one of my 21 in pushers on it, plus rack for trimmer, not sure what to do with gas cans and blower yet(truck is for grass).

    Wondering what you guys think regarding those purchases + any tips or recommendations.

    I'm sure a couple people will be saying don't bag. I bag. Period. No matter what. I like have the best damn lawn on the block, not a leaf anywhere, best stripes, best edges. That is how I make my money.

    I have a property that is 2.5 acres, subtract the house, driveway, flowerbeds, sidewalks and I'm still cutting at least 1.5 with a push mower, and I bag it all, and I get paid for it all. The previous jackass raped his yard double cutting the same stripes all year long, turfing on the corners, and zipping down the rows at 7mph on his ZTR. This spring I had to actually fill in the ruts.

    Every lawn I picked up has been one stolen from another company, not because I undercharge, in most cases I'm getting more, but because I over deliver. I remember that, because someone else could easily do it to me.

    My philosophy on this business is to buy the best equipment, do the best job, and when I have enough accounts, hire the best people. This is why I'm purchasing everything new.

    Insurance wise I do not have any. I plan on probably dropping a few of the people I work for just because they aren't worth the trouble. With the accounts I pick up this coming spring I do not plan on having more than 30 accounts. Leaves time for other work.

    Question is do I need to get insurance, if so, should I be going through my car insurance company or somewhere else.

    Records wise... I don't have any. Hopefully the IRS doesn't try to hit me.
    Should I use Quikbooks or what?

    My equipment... right choices?

    Where do you guys dump your grass? I had been going to the town recycling center but they started to notice that I was coming pretty often. Not allowed there anymore. There is another place to go but they charge 10$ for a pickup bed my size. Same thing with tree branches.

    After the stupid truck I'm down to 3k in my bank account, god knows what I'll have after I'm done dumping more into this truck. I have a credit card and pay it off in full every month. I don't like loans because I don't like interest. Whats the recommendation regarding financing?

    I don't have a legal business. I want to start one but I honestly have no idea where to start. How to I apply for the name, and what else do I need?

    I can not store the plow, mowers, or trailer at my house. I live in the suburbs and the neighbors would kill me. I don't think I can afford a garage. I heard some people talking about storage units. Is that really recommended? I don't need a shop, I have one of those, just no storage space. Plow is currently at the previous owners house, and hes cool with that.

    I know Exmark has a deal right now where there is a 0% APR for 24 month when you buy a new mower. Problem is then I'd have to find a place to store it all winter long...which means renting a storage unit for it and the trailer I guess. I'm not worried about missing the financing deal. What I'm worried about is when March comes around and I try to purchase a mower will I have to worry them being back ordered?

    I should have written down all the questions, those are just the ones off the top of my head. Any help is greatly appreciated. I'm sure I'll think of more questions.
  2. pjnlandscape

    pjnlandscape LawnSite Member
    Messages: 160

    I started with a 5x8 utility trailer, my 36 inch walk behind mower, a backpack blower and commercial trimmer. As far as the clippings issue, check with your local garden supply center preferably one with there own large fields for growing plants typically they have an area for landscapers only to dump landscape debris like grass clippings. Its a good way for them to gain our friendship by helping us out.

    Insurance wise get 1 million in liability it will get you the best protection and commercial accounts like dunkin donuts and such require it.

    Don't finance any equipment if you can help it, wait till you have the cash and let it talk. All my stuff is bought with a company check. Cash talks with these dealerships believe me.

    definitely start recording income, the IRS hates the small business man who thinks he can get away with hiding income. They will throw the book at you just to prove a point.

    I have built my business on this set of guidelines, I am 19 I have 45+ total accounts both full yearly service and some just part time cleanups etc. I run a full service snow division and I do work for commercial properties and even the local school system. My sig speaks for itself nothing on the list is not payed off.

    Good luck brother do the best work for the best price and you will succeed!
  3. MGenay

    MGenay LawnSite Member
    Messages: 69

    5x8 is what I have been looking at. Seemed like a good place to start in my mind as well.

    Called around a little today to nurserys. No luck so far. Going to try more tomorrow. Worst case... Ill go find one of my competitors and ask them.

    Best places to get insurance? I called my car insurance company (Nationwide) and figured out that they do have small business insurance. Car insurance company the way to go?

    Going to bust my ass all winter trying to save up the cash. I hate financing as well, so hopefully I can earn and save enough. Worst case I'll take a family loan.

    Quikbooks? Been recommended to me a couple times but not by lawn guys. I have heard some horror stories about the IRS and small businesses so it really is something I'm worried about.

    You have a truly awesome set up there. Wish I had got my **** together a couple years back and started early.
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2011
  4. SLMGT

    SLMGT LawnSite Member
    Messages: 245

    Try Hortica.com for your commercial liability insurance. They specialize in the green industry. Best of luck.:usflag:
  5. pjnlandscape

    pjnlandscape LawnSite Member
    Messages: 160

    I went through the same company that does my vehicle insurance as well. That is your best bet overall.

    I have never used quickbooks I just keep a separate checking account Under my business name so it is simple to keep track of income versus costs.
  6. MGenay

    MGenay LawnSite Member
    Messages: 69

    I was looking at my vehicle insurance company as well. Seems like it would simplify things.

    A separate savings and checking account is what I was planning on doing, but I was wondering is there a good program out there for organizing the income from each customer and what not. Also I'm worried about tax write offs, depreciating assets and what not.
  7. pjnlandscape

    pjnlandscape LawnSite Member
    Messages: 160

    Keep it simple tracking each customer. I have a three ring binder with a cover page showing each customers info on it and a white lined sheet of paper behind it. Each time you do a paid service for a customer put the date, service, and what you charged them. when the money comes in write PAID next to what they paid for. I have that system for all of my customers and it is really easy come end of the month billing.
  8. PoohBear

    PoohBear LawnSite Member
    Messages: 3

    My son and I are going to try our hand at cutting for money next season. A few things that we discovered that may be helpful to share with you as they pertained to some of your questions are as follows:
    We took some of the guess work out of the whole starting a business process by biting the bullet and scheduling an hour consultation with our tax/account guy who was very helpful in answer some questions we had and even answering a few we didn’t know to ask. It cost us $50(tax deductible) but was well worth the peace of mind. If this that is something you’re not interested in doing you can visit sites like legalzoom.com who claim to be able to assist with getting a business started (I have not used these sites and would not be able to comment on them other than what they claim on commercials) In the meantime keep all your receipts that pertain to getting your business up and running.
    As far as you record keeping is concerned, there seems to be many programs available. But I have to say I think we are going to first try PayPal. If you visit their site they have a merchant section that seems an ideal way to invoice and get paid all via email and a couple of clicks of the mouse. There is no fee to set up your account and you can use them as your business account receiving customer credit card or check payments (your customers don’t have to have a PayPal account to send you payments) PayPal can give you a debit card associated with that account which you can make your business expense purchases from, keeping what comes in and what goes out easily determined using their many report options you can run at any time from their site. I don’t know if you have a smart phone but if so they have an APP that allows you to keep up with your account on the Go. The way they make their money is by charging a percentage of what you change your customer. I believe the percentage goes from 1.9%-2.9% plus 0.30 cents per transaction. You may find this to expensive but I feel it is worth the convenience and clean automation of the account process. Hope this helps. Have a great day, be safe and God Bless
  9. Frank's Lawn Care

    Frank's Lawn Care LawnSite Member
    from fla
    Messages: 109

    If you bag everything. check out a used walker mower. sometimes i see used old ones on craigslist for $800.
    I have a 5x8. can put 21" and toro 36" fine. racks,cans, tool rack too. bought on craigslist. only buy commercial stuff. less running to the parts store..
  10. Aaronnc

    Aaronnc LawnSite Senior Member
    from Zone 7B
    Messages: 354

    Alrighty, first and foremost let's address the insurance situation. The question is NOT if you need it or can afford it, but can you afford not to have it? All it takes is one mishap or thrown rock, and that's it, your done. Cut the lights off when you leave, sitting in front of a judge getting the pants sued off you. Yeah, tons of people don't have it, yada, yada,yada........But remember all it takes is once. Plus, you sound like a bright kid, do it right the first time and you won't have any regrets. Call around and get different quotes. Your auto insurer might cut you a deal since your already with him/her. Get a bare minimum of $500,000 liability but ideally you will want a $1,000,000. Plus also, alot of HOA's and commercial properties require insurance to even put in a bid, so cover yourself for the future. Insurance can run anywhere between $400-1000 a year all depending what type of coverage you get. Just starting out, I'd recommend liability only, and later down the road you can always upgrade to cover your equipment and/or truck, etc.......... GET IT! http://www.contractorsinsuranceallentownpa.com/contractorsinsuranceallentownpa/contractors/landscaping/pa-landscaper-general-liability-insurance.aspx Also check out State Farm, Nationwide, Farmers, etc.........

    Secondly, your gonna definitely need to get a business license eventually. Cities, Counties, States, IRS, etc....... definitely frown upon trying to pull one over on them. Again, there are bunches out there that don't, but they're playing on borrowed time, and having to constantly look over their shoulder. The IRS will slap you with a fine and haul your rear to court (If not jail time) faster than a Navy Seal can shoot a Taliban member between the eyeballs. Again, you want to do this right. Go to legal zoom.com and get you an LLC for $125 (including PA's fee) and then pay something like $100 to your city and county. So total will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $200-250. Just do it. You won't regret it. Call your city clerks office and tell them your thinking of starting a lawncare business, and they'll tell you everything you need to know.

    Along those same lines, definitely check out Quickbooks. Personally, I like Service Autopilot. I like the $47 a month one, but I think you can get it for $30 a month. Not only does it keep up with all my paperwork, but I can give estimates in the field, take credit cards, attach images to my client files, create contracts, automated billing, etc, etc........ I love it. Wouldn't know what to do without it. But get something, anything. Your gonna have to have something on file. If nothing else, to create your own expense report and track expenditures. At least a notebook or something. GET IT! http://www.serviceautopilot.com/

    Thirdly. I know you love your truck, and never want to get rid of it, but hey, it's time wake up and smell the turds, regardless of what you have sunk into it. Why chase bad money with good? Again, the question is can you afford NOT to get rid of it? It's starting to sound like a boat. Huge money pit. If you can sell it or piece it out or whatever, get rid of it. Gone. Poof. Is the truck working for you, or are you working for the truck? Get you something cheap and will get done what needs to be done. Car lots and Ebay are full of $2500 3/4 ton trucks with 200,000 miles you could squeeze 2-3 seasons out of. Just like a girlfriend who catches the clap, that thing needs to be VAMOOSE like yesterday. STAT!

    Fourthly, your setting yourself to fail and/or be miserable for years to come talking about buying new equipment and or trucks in the future. Look up the most successful guys and get their opinion and watch them. When starting out (and even when you get rolling too.) YOU NEVER BUY NEW TRUCKS AND/OR MOWERS. I REPEAT NEVER.

    Let someone else take the depreciation hit and so on. Always scan ebay, craigslist, newspapers, equipment trader, equipment dealers, for low hour decent shape equipment and/or vehicles. See these places are full of deals and steals where kids like yourself dreamed of buying a new Turf Tiger and F250's and did, then couldn't hack the payments and/or slow times and had to sell. All my trucks are used, and the only reason I buy new mowers now is because I pay cash and get fleet pricing. But it's taken me 15 years to get here. As a rule of thumb ONLY buy new handhelds. Mowers and trucks are used till you can pay cash and get fleet pricing. Don't worry, you'll get there. Cut up that damn credit card if it's burning a hole in your pocket. And 0%?? Yeah right. Miss a payment or be late or whatever, and then see how close 0% is to your hind quarters. DON'T FALL FOR IT.

    Last the storage issue. Yeah, you can go the storage unit route, and alot of guys like that, but do you have room for a enclosed trailer to park anywhere? For years I parked my 3 enclosed trailers in a boat/RV storage yard because it was cheaper than any storage unit or anything else I could do. I'm a huge fan of enclosed trailers, cause not only can you lock them up, but in the future you can get them vinyl wrapped and have a rolling billboard. I get more business from people seeing my trailers than anywhere else. When I had my open utility trailer, I got robbed once, and that was it for me. Enclosed all the way now. But yeah, talk to friends and family, look up storage in your yellow pages and/or google it. You'll find something. Try calling up some construction companies or something of the like, and offer them $30-40 to park your trailer there and lock it to something. Anything is worth a shot.

    Oh yeah, don't think you'll get around the dumping issue. I pay my county $75 a month for unlimited dumps, but depending on your city/county/state I see no way around it unless you know of someone or somewhere you can burn it or just dump or whatever. Dumps, Composting places, etc.... Can't help you much there. I mulch everything unless upon request, because the dumping has become such a hassle where I'm at. Even with what I pay, you have to sit in line at the dump for up to 30-45 minutes at times. Crazy.

    Oh well best of luck to you lad, and I hope you get a good start and are successful. Hope this helps, and shoot me a line if you want to ask anything. Good Luck. :drinkup:

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