Contractors Secrets - Starting a Lawn Care Business The Right Way [2019]

    by Gav Barber       January 2019

I've put 9 years of my commercial lawn care and gardening experience into this super simple guide to starting a lawn care business.

STEP BY STEP

No fluff just useful information

This is an independent guide I'm not selling a franchise or any lawn care type of system.

I may however get a commission on a product or service I recommend but rest assured if I do recommend a product, that I have either used it or have done lots of research.

Phew.....now that's out of the way.

Running your own lawn care business can be a glorious thing

Low overheads to start

Unlimited scaling

Uncapped earning potential Yay

Happy face graphic making money

But

A few bad decisions can quickly turn the dream into a nightmare

Not good

sad face icon lost money

Fortunately, that's where I can help.

Follow this guide and you will have a much greater chance of meeting those financial dreams.

Step 1- Is A Lawn Care Business Right For You?

OK, I'm not going to dwell on this.

If you've come to this article chances are you have a good idea you want to run your own business

Starting your own lawn care business can be a glorious thing.....

Just a few things to think about coming from someone who has done it as a living.

  • Running a lawn care business is physically hard

    You could be mowing between 7-10 lawns a day and providing other services

  • There can be long hours involved in running a business

    This is often the case early on when trying to build up your client base and learn the process of running your empire

  • it may take a while to make money

    Customers dont appear magically, it takes time to build up a list so money may not flow for a while.

If my three considerations haven't scared you off then let's go to step 2

Step 2- What Skills Are Required To Start A Lawn Care Business?

This is really important, and quite possibly the difference between making it or not.

Running a lawn care service is about how you interact with people. 

Shake Hands graphic

It is a service business. 

Being good at mowing grass, trimming hedges, servicing equipment, won't get you lots of customers if you suck at customer service.

So..... If you have a back ground in customer service or you are good at communicating with people that's a big plus.

Anyone can learn to mow grass but excellent customer service is a skill.

Step 3- Make a plan?

Image

FAILING TO PLAN IS PLANNING TO FAIL.....

This is one of the most boring aspects of running a business but also one of the most important.

You don't need a 400-page essay on how you will set up the business but a basic plan will help determine the direction you want to go and also help with costs if you know what they will be.

It is like a blue print of how you are going to successfully run the business.

Banks often ask for a business plan if you are seeking finance.

Blue Print for success      =    $$$$$$$$$

BUT FIRST A CONSIDERATION

 

Franchise Business Model VS Independent

Having been involved in both models I can provide some guidance

Franchise Model

Lawn care franchises are very popular and rightly so.

They can take a lot of the stress out of starting up a new business by providing a proven method of going to market.

New customers are provided, they have great systems and good contact networks within the franchise should you run into trouble.

They often have income guarantees

Sounds perfect right?

Well........

Here's the catch

There can be lots of fees in both setting up a franchise and ongoing costs.

IF YOU ARE LOOKING AT A FRANCHISE AND THERE IS A MONTHLY FEE THAT IS A PERCENTAGE OF WHAT YOU MAKE, THINK TWICE.

One of the biggest killers of franchises is the percentage fee.

No matter how hard you work the franchisee still gets a percentage.

That sucks!!!

If the franchise has a set (fixed) fee per month then that can be ok.

And finally, check the saturation of franchises in your area.

If there are already lots of franchises in one area the amount of work coming in is going to be limited.

Don't get me wrong you can make great money from a franchise, just check the fine print first.

DUE DILIGENCE

 

Step 4 - Legal Requirements

Independent Business Model 

From an economics point of view the Independent model will be easier on the budget.

You won't have the franchise fees and any of the ongoing costs associated with the franchise model.

You also don't get any customers or support systems so you have to manage this yourself.

Running the independent model's means, finding your own customers, keeping track of customers and learning how to run a business on your own.

This is where I come in and hopefully after following my guide you will be on the right track to your career and financial goals.

Back to Planning

One of the best ways to ensure you are on the right track for your business is to write up a business plan.

As I said this doesn't need to be a massive project, just an overview of how you plan to implement and run the business.

Free Business Plan Template

The U.S Small business administration website provides. a free business plan template for setting up your business.

The Government of Canada also has information on setting up a business plan here

Once upon a time you could get by mowing lawns without any license or insurance.

Sadly those days are gone.

I'm sure there are a few people out there rolling the dice but really it's so not worth it.

  1. Get a business name.
    • Keep it simple and small as possible.
    • Try to make it relevant. IE Bills Mowing or Bills Lawn Care.
  2. Set up your business as Limited Liability Company or LLC.
    • This provides a level of separation between the owner and personal assets.
    • A LLC will be able to have its own tax ID and you can open a bank account linked to the business which looks more professional.
    • Check with a good accountant regarding this set up.
    • Also check with an accountant as to what tax entity you should be set up with and any information required to minimize tax.
  3. Make sure you check what other licenses are required in your area regarding business operation
    • In the US the EPA manages licenses regarding pest control
    • Double check with your local county clerks office regarding local business licenses
  4. You may also need a business license.
    • Once again check with your local county clerks office regarding license requirements
  5. Ensure you get the appropriate insurance
    • Business or property insurance covers your equipment such as mowers, weed eaters etc
    • General liability insurance covers any accidental damage you may create as a result of doing business. I needed to access my insurance once when working on a roadside and a stone shot out and dented the side door of a Mercedes. Damn!
    • This article provides a ranking of the best business insurance companies across the US.

Step 5 - Marketing

Define your brand 

Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public.

A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.

Get A Business Logo

One way of establishing your brand is getting a logo.

This need not be an expensive undertaking.

The logo for this website cost me $20 via Designhill studio

Lawn Care Tools Guide Logo

The site uses AI to design a logo and its all done online. Yay

They also have more professional options if you have the budget.

Get A website

Now that you have a logo, a website is the next step.

This is not a might have but an essential component of any business.

If it seems daunting dont stress

I've written an entire article on how to set up a website for your business.

Wix or WordPress? - How To Create A Website For Your Business [2019] 

A website is an ideal location to show customers your previous work, maybe leave some positive customer reviews, and there is one big advantage......

You can also focus on a niche area of your business that can be a real money maker.

For example. A big part of my income was doing a lot of hedge work.

Hedging graphic

A lot of business don't like doing it. Particularly the high stuff.

Even the tree guys didn't like doing tall hedges.

Because I didn't mind the big hedges I got a lot of work $$$.

A website is a great way to showcase additional services you provide.

It's in the extra's where you can make the real money.

After all your already on site doing a mow?

Why not maximise the opportunity with some extra work.

Get Some Magnetic Business Cards

I'm not a big fan of flyers and even business cards have limited value.  

But........

There's something about magnetic cards.

Too good to throw out, and where do people put them?

Straight on the fridge door. Perfect, next time a job opportunity pops up you will be the first option because everyone knows how to find the fridge door right?

Vista Print have a service for online magnetic business cards that is a fair price.

Word and Mouth

With all the technology around today, word and mouth is still the cheapest method of marketing.

Happy customer

Get the customer service right and people start talking.

They tell a friend, a neighbor, a relative, the list goes on.

And how much does this cost?  Zero, zilch, Nada.

Just the effort to provide excellent service.

Step 6 - Costs

If you have done a business plan then you may have already worked out your costs.

But just to provide a rough idea of costs involved I've put a list together.

Also, check my buying guides from this website for product recommendations.

Many of the guides have commercially rated products that are suitable for a business.

I particularly like, Shindaiwa, Tanaka and Honda brands.

I would also recommend a multi tool for a back up weed eater and high reach hedging.

See my guide -  Best Gas Multi Tool (2019)

Required Equipment

Mower - $500 (just a push or self propelled mower at this price)

Trimmer - $350 

Leaf Blower - $250

Hedger - $250

Hand tools - $100

Back Pack Weed Sprayer + Herbicide - $150

Gasoline Can - $25

Oil and Gasoline - $20 per tank needed.

Promotional Signage (to put on the side of a vehicle) - $100 for magnetic signs

Flyers - $50

Business Cards - $25 (go magnetic)

Website Creation – Free to $500

Internet Services (website registration, hosting, and Internet connection) - $50 to $75 per month

Insurance $50 to $200 per month

Pickup Truck Lease - Nothing down with good credit, $299 per month plus $100 per month for insurance

Step 7 - Pricing Work

Quoting and pricing jobs for clients is one of the most challenging areas of a lawn care business.

Underquote and you are working for peanuts if the job takes a lot longer.

Over quote and you will look like you are ripping off the customer.

THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE I CAN GIVE YOU REGARDING PRICING IS TO AVOID AT ALL COSTS AN HOURLY RATE

Once you are locked into an hourly rate, thats all you can earn.

ALWAYS QUOTE WHAT THE JOB IS WORTH.

If you think a lawn will take an hour and you charge $35 an hour, quote the job at $35 but dont say it will take an hour.

The client wont care how long you take once they decide they are happy with the price.

This way if you finish earlier, you can go to the next job.

Remember, time is money...........

Try and ring a few local lawn care businesses to see what prices they charge if you are tyring to determine rates for your area.

Look online at local lawn care businesses for pricing that may be available to determine the going rates of work.

ANOTHER PIECE OF ADVICE. DON'T TRY AND BE THE CHEAPEST IN YOUR AREA. 

ONCE YOU STEP INTO "GUTTER" PRICES THERES NO GOING BACK.

YOU CAN ALWAY'S DROP A PRICE IF YOU ARE TOO HIGH.

BUT TRY GETTING A CUSTOMER TO PAY MORE ONCE YOU SET THE PRICE LOW.

I ALWAYS AIMED AT THE MIDDLE PRICING.

A GOOD JOB FOR A FAIR PRICE.

Step 8 - Equipment

Buying equipment is one of the most important aspects of running a lawn care business.

It can be fraught with trouble.

Buying the wrong equipment can either have you constantly at your local mower shop getting repaired.

Tools For Repairs

Or wondering why you didn't buy the more powerful weed eater that would of cut your work load down by 20%.

Angry face

So here are 4 of my invaluable tips on purchasing equipment.

TIP 1.

If you have a local mower shop that has a great reputation for both sales and service buy your gear there.

Don't stress if the prices are a little over what you could get else where.

The support and service you'll get will be invaluable.

If you do buy from a local shop, make sure you get them to teach you how to do basic servicing yourself.

This alone makes up for any money you may have lost in the original purchase price.

If you don't have a decent local mower shop then you may as well buy your gear somewhere else and get the best deal possible.

My articles in this website provide recommendations on commercial grade products. 

Best Gas Weed Eaters

Best Self Propelled Lawn Mowers

Best Gas Leaf Blowers

Best Hedge Trimmers

TIP 2.

Don't under any circumstance buy second hand gear for all your small engine machines.

Small equipment such as weed eaters hedgers and blowers get used all the time.

Any money you save buying second hand will soon be lost at your mower shop from repair costs.

TIP 3.

Make sure you only buy reputable brands that make genuine commercial grade products.

This is my list that I used and others I know are ok.

It doesn't include all brands so if you are unsure, research online or even check with a good lawn care contractor.

  1. Tanaka - excellent weed eaters, hand blowers and hedgers
  2. Shindaiwa - equal to Tanaka although can be more expensive
  3. Honda - I always used Honda self-propelled mowers and I  couldn't speak more highly. The HRX range is not commercially rated but I never used any of their commercial range. I got 3 years from the domestic range. See my guide 7 self-propelled mowers to kill mowing fatigue
  4. Stihl - good in chainsaws, blowers and weed eaters.
  5. Exmark make excellent zero-turn mowers. Green Industry Pro website ranked Exmark as the favorite brand as voted by contractors. 

TIP 4

Unless you are cashed up with good financial resources don't buy a riding mower or big walk behind unless you already have the work to use it.

Riding mowers image

These are expensive items.

Why burn your cash up and have these sitting in the shed when you could use your money for other necessary equipment.

When the time comes you will know when you need to purchase a riding mower.

TIP 5.

Avoid buying equipment on finance.

If possible pay cash.

Having to pay monthly installments when you are just starting out adds unnecessary financial burden.

Consider waiting until you have the money?

Step 9 - Being Profitable

If you've made it this far on my article you haven't been scared off running your own lawn care business. That's awesome!

This is also one of the most important steps in my guide and one area that I feel is invaluable coming from an ex contractor.

TIP 1

Anyone can run around and make a few dollars with a mower out of the back of a trailer or pickup.  But........

You won't make much money and maybe not even be profitable.

Set yourself up as a brand regardless of whether you buy a franchise or work for yourself.

This means get a logo, have a uniform, get your car and trailer etc branded.

Branding means you look professional, have expertise and most importantly people expect to pay for a service that looks professional.

TIP 2

Mowing grass is the bread and butter of the business.

Bread and butter business context

Sure you might make a few bucks if you can bang out 8-10 a day.

The real money comes from all the extra services you can offer that help the customer but also increases profitability.

Examples of this are:

  • Rubbish removal
  • Tree pruning
  • Hedge trimming (particularly large hedges as you can charge more)
  • Landscaping work (small jobs such as edging or larger depending on your skill level)
  • Minor building repairs
  • Graffiti removal (good side business)
  • Small tree removal (easily done with a high reach pole saw, see my multi tool guide)
  • Small painting jobs outside
  • Path cleaning with high pressure 
  • Deck cleaning, oiling/re staining

So there are lots of extra work that people have ready.

If you have good customer service skills you will be amazed at what extra work you can find.

This is particularly invaluable in the winter months when grass mowing is limited.

TIP 3

Residential work vs Commercial Work

The type of work you get can really impacts on profitability.

Sure there is lots of residential work and you certainly can make good money butt........

Commercial work is where the gold lays.

Gold coins

Why I hear you ask?

Well, commercial rates tend to be higher for starters.

The jobs are usually bigger so that means higher cash flow.

Pricing tends to be less of an issue, commercial sites usually just want a reliable service that gets the job done.

The person managing the job has a ton of other things happening, and they just want a reliable and professional job.

Big sites usually have lots of different work they need done so the volume of work might equate to 10-12 domestic jobs.

See what I mean?

Any commercial jobs you get a like gold and the more the better.

If you can build up enough commercial jobs you can then sell off a chunk or if lucky all your domestic work.

Selling Splits

This brings me to another point.

Another way of making some good money is to sell of part of your business.

If you have built up your business but you don't want to hire more people or you got too big to manage the run then sell up all the residential customers that are low paying or not in the right area.

This can shrink your existing geographic area thereby reducing drive time and increasing profitability.

 

More Information.

Answers to some frequently asked questions.

Do you need a license to start a lawn care business?

Each country and state vary to what license you require. In the US seek your County Clerk, state department of business and the tax revenue office for advice on license requirements.

Some states require a business license also which can also be checked via the county clerk.

Also, check with the EPA regarding the use of chemicals used in lawn care.

How much does it cost to start a lawn care business?

Minimal costs start at approximately $2,000 for a very basic set up assuming you may already have a vehicle to use.

A more realistic start up cost would be $15,000 allowing for a second hand pickup, associated equipment and other business costs.

How should I charge to mow lawns?

Always quote the cost to do the job rather than an hourly rate. If you quote an hourly rate that is the most you can earn.

Seek out prices in your area from other operators to determine the "going rate" for lawn care services.

How much can you make mowing lawns?

Because a mowing business is scalable, earnings can potentially be unlimited. First year profits vary from 0 - $20,000 and tend to increase year-on-year.

Can I make a living mowing lawns?

A good living can be made mowing lawns but it requires the same amount of effort and planning that goes into any successful business endeavor.

How do I get lawn mowing clients?

Getting clients involves a multi marketing approach.

1. Word and mouth from current clients

2. An optimized website for the business that people looking for lawn care services can find when doing a search online. 

3. Do a drop of promotional fliers in a targeted neighborhood.

4. Local paper advertising

How to sell lawn care services?

From a contractors perspective the easiest way to sell lawn care services is from established, trusting relationships.

By this I mean once you have established a solid relationship with a customer you can leverage this by suggesting other services.

I often found if the right relationship is established then customers will ask for additional services they require.

The Final Word

If you have made it this far then you are well on your way to getting the right start in a lawn care business.

Just to recap

  • Lawn care is not for everyone, make sure you can handle the work load
  • Good customer service is the key to a successful business, it doesn't matter if you're not great at lawn mowing at the beginning.
  • A good plan on how you will run the business will go along way to a successful outcome
  • Take the time to ensure you have all the necessary licenses and business legal requirements in place.
  • Work out the most effective marketing strategy relevant to your area. At the very least set up a website.
  • Identify what costs you care going to be up for.
  • Buy reputable commercial grade products that are going to be reliable and do the job you need.
  • Use my guide to identify some cash making strategies to ensure you are profitable
  • Finally, enjoy the process as working for yourself is awesome, especially when the cash starts rolling in!

All the best from Big Gav