Daniel Pepper, author of How To Start Your Lawn Care Business, provides tips and advice about how to start a lawn care business. He covers all the basics including buying the right mowing and trimming equipment, finding potential customers, locating good employees, and much more. [14 min.]
Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got started in lawn care.
Well, I certainly didn’t do it willingly! Back when I was a kid, my parents forced me to mow the lawn, and so because my allowance was tied to that I really didn’t have too much of a choice, so I just went out week in and week out and mowed and trimmed the lawn, and did my best. Then I guess what happened was, I just began to realize that I might have a bit of a business here. And so one thing led to another, and of course it happened over several seasons, but I got better at it, and decided to step out and put up some fliers, and the rest is history.
Most people have mowed their own lawn at one point or another, but tell us a little bit about how the lawn care business works.
Well, time really is the new money, and the cost of living has gone up in the country, and people need to work harder and work longer to make ends meet, and that’s really where the lawn care business thrives. I become the person that the customer turns to to look after their lawn because they just don’t have the time to do it anymore. And so essentially, it’s simple. I’ll keep it to a mainstream lawn care business, which is trimming, mowing, and power blowing, which is just kind of cleaning it up. Essentially the way that it works is a person no longer has the time to look after their lawn, and so they’ll catch an advertisement or some form of marketing, and they’ll give us a call, and we’ll come out, give them a quote, and if it looks good, they’ll give us the green light, and then we’ll begin to look after their property for them. And then there’s just different cut intervals, do they want it done weekly, do they want it done biweekly? Some companies even offer lawn cuts every 10 days, but that’s essentially the way that it works. It’s a very, very simple business, so I definitely don’t want to complicate to the audio listeners.
Who are your potential customers, obviously homeowners, but who else uses this type of service?
Well, definitely residential. I would cut it down into two groups. Either residential or commercial. And so you’ve got single moms, you’ve got CEO’s, you’ve got small business owners, blue collar workers, white collar workers, and then of course business wise there’s gas stations that need the lawn looked after, there’s retail stores, there is just a ton, it’s an unlimited customer base to choose from and to build a customer roster of lawn care businesses across the country.
Talk about the equipment you need to get started. Do you need to buy a lot of expensive mowing and trimming and leaf blowing equipment?
To each his own. Every lawn care business is totally unique. But essentially, for the person just starting out, for the person that just doesn’t have the thousands of dollars, absolutely not. When I first started I simply went to my parents garage and there was their mower, there was their trimmer, and off I went. So just to keep the answer really simple, the answer’s no.
What kind of lawn care equipment do you use in your business and do you recommend it?
The type of lawn care equipment that I use is a trimmer, mower, and power blower. Those are the three, those are the big three if you want to call it that. The brands that we’ve used and come across our desk are John Deere, Husqvarna, and Honda. Those are the three that we have predominantly used.
Do you need any kind of formal training to get started in the lawn care business?
Absolutely not. I mean, I keep coming back to my original story and how I got into this. And just a twelve year old kid going out there and mowing the lawn, those are the types. I mean, anybody can start this business. It’s amazing, it’s unlimited, and as long as you’re disciplined, as long as you can just pick up the trick of trimming right, and pick up just mowing straight lines, and cleaning up after it, I mean anybody can do it.
I’d imagine that attention to detail would be important to keep your customers happy. Is this hard to control when you have employees? Is this something that’s important?
Well, I think just establishing the vision. If you’re running the business by yourself, of course you’re the only person. The buck stops with you. But when you branch out and you start to get bigger, you definitely have to stay on top of the standard that you want each and every one of your employees to hit. And I think that will always come down to relationship, touching base with them depending on how big your company is, maybe you just work with another guy, but you could have two, three, four, you could have crews. You definitely want to touch base with them, find out how things are going, you want to do quality control on the jobs, and you absolutely want to let your customers know that they’re free to call or e-mail, and to touch base with you to make sure that they’re satisfied.
Can you start this business part-time, or does it really demand all of your time?
Absolutely not. I’ve got a lot of customers that want to start the business part-time, and you can totally do that, because you control how many customers you want to take on. And a lot people, that is the way, and that’s what we recommend. That’s the way to start part-time. Take it step by step, take it slowly, let the business mature naturally, and so even though someone may be even in a full-time job, they can still on the side, after work, on the weekends, take on one, two, three, four customer accounts, and just go from there and grow it as a part time business.
What marketing techniques are most successful for lawn care professional? Do you just drive around looking for overgrown lawns? What do you recommend?
That’s definitely a technique that I have come across that does work, but again every market is different. For some the door hangers, hanging a little flier on the doorknob of home works well. For others it’s just a flier itself that’s maybe inserted into a local newspaper. Then there’s classified ads. A lot of businesses simply have that, and thrive off just having a little classified ad, a three or four liner in the business section of their classified paper. Then there’s still those businesses that thrive off radio and some even do TV. So it really depends when it comes down to marketing is you’ve got to test. It always comes back to testing. Testing your marketing. What’s working for you. What’s not. Stay away from what’s not and push towards what is. And again, every market’s different so it’s tough to nail down exactly what will work. Nothing is ever going to work the same in every different market. Every market’s different.
Can you add other services such as fertilization and week control to your product line for additional profit?
If a business isn’t doing that, they’re losing money, they’re leaving money on the table, because you’re already visiting the customer’s lawn. How easy is it just to have a fertilizer bag and a spreader in the back of your vehicle or in your trailer and just offering that service. It’s very easy, it’s just a matter of letting the customers know that you offer those services.
Can you recommend some good websites or magazines related to the lawn care industry that someone just getting started might want to check out?
There’s definitely a lot. Starting with the small business association, that’s a great place to start. What I recommend is going down to a local lawn and garden equipment supply shop and looking at the brands they’re selling, and then going back home and just Googling that website. Researching that type of equipment like Ariens, Billy Goat, Cub Cadet, Honda, John Deere, Husqvarna, like I mentioned before. It’s just going out there and doing the research.
Talk a little bit about purchasing large expensive lawn care equipment. Any advice about how to get the best price, do you go to a home improvement store, or a larger dealer? What’s been your experience?
Well, for us, when you purchase big equipment like that, expensive equipment, it’s not just the hundred dollar mower, but you’re talking four or five, a thousand dollar mower or higher. What I found works best is a really good lawn equipment supply store will offer or have a demo day. And the demo day is where you’ll be able to come in as a commercial, even residential, but ideally mostly commercial customers will come in and have the ability to try out the equipment. And it gives you an opportunity to get a feel of whether that equipment is something that will work with where your business is going. And usually during those times they’ll also offer significant discounts. We purchased thousands of dollars of equipment this year at a demo day here in town, and the discount that we got they don’t offer it at any other time except on that one day. And so for the listeners I would definitely say look into demo days, so you can try out the equipment and usually those demo days are tied in with big discounts.
I’ve seen lawn mowing equipment that kind of has a zero turning radius? Do you need that type of more professional equipment to be successful?
Absolutely not. Just a push mower, a trimmer, even a broom, just to start, because when I was a kid that’s all I had, and look at where it has grown. I think it’s just a matter of starting where you’re at. Don’t think that you’ve got to have the diesel truck with the enclosed trailer and tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. That’s a lie. Just having a simple mower and a trimmer, it’s just a matter of going out and starting out where you’re at.
What advice do you have for people looking for good help in their lawn care business? Is there a source for employees, like local colleges or where do you go?
Again, it’s tough to say exactly what will work every time. Every location is different, but like you mentioned that’s a good place to start. Local colleges, word of mouth, if you hear of anything, posting jobs online, is an excellent way of having resumes shooting to you even while you’re out working those resumes are coming in. And then when you get home at the end of the day you can take a look through and begin to sift and filter out people you want to interview and people that you want to stay away from. But online, I think, is one of the big ones that’s really taking a leap here lately, because you can just post something, and people even out of state can see it if they’re even planning on moving in there. And we’ve just got a lot of resumes coming in from on-line postings so I’m going to stick with that.
Daniel, what are the biggest mistakes people make when getting started in the lawn care business?
I’ve boiled it down to about four. Four reasons that I think that people fail with the lawn care business. And I would say the first one is ignorance. A lot of times people just felt, “oh it’s too easy, I don’t think that this business could really make money, that it’ll really help me get to that next level of the where I need to get to in my life.” They just don’t believe it. You know, I certainly wasn’t raised in a family was an entrepreneurial family. It was a nine to five, that’s all that you can do, that’s the only thing that the world could offer, and I had to find from books like Robert Kiyosaki and authors such as that,Rich Dad, Poor Dad. You decide. You can set in motion how your life turns out, so ignorance is number one for sure. The second one would be indecision. “Just oh yeah, I’ll get that done, I’ll get it started, I’ll do something, but maybe I can’t, maybe not, I don’t know if I can, okay yes I’m gonna start my lawn care business, well no I’m not sure if I’ll start my lawn care business.” I mean, I’ve known so many people, they can’t make a decision. They can’t make a decision and follow through. The third one would definitely be procrastination. People that know they need to do something different because life’s not going to change unless they do something different, but they never really get around to it, and it’s funny how many reasons will come up when they know they want to start a lawn care business, but well, you know my friends say it’s not possible, I’ve tried stuff before and it just doesn’t work, and they procrastinate. And I’d say the fourth reason would be a lack of discipline. Because any time you do make a decision you’re going to have to follow through to the end. So those would be the top four reasons that people fail with a lawn care business, or make mistakes that lead to failure.
Give us some parting advice for someone wanting to know how to start a lawn care business.
Alright, for those that are listening that are ready to do something, and they’re starting a lawn care business, I’d say start where you’re at. It’s a reality that you can make a lot of money mowing lawns, but you’ve got to start. Start by figuring out where your local lawn and garden shop is, and go in and take a look at the lawn care equipment they offer. Or get out there on your own lawn and practice, or on a friends lawn and practice mowing and trimming, and then ask your friends and family their advice, whether they think that those lines are straight enough that they would pay you or hire you. Start where you’re at, do something, take action. It always came down to just doing something. Take some sort of action towards starting your own lawn care business. Don’t sit back idly wishing, hoping, that someday it’ll happen for you.
Daniel Pepper is the author of How To Start Your Lawn Care Business.