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Rough business plan for starting a lawn service





SpaceInvader75
I've had difficulty finding a job recently, and I'm making a plan to try to start another lawn service again. I'm going to share it here, in case other people think this is something they'd like to do.

There's 3 reasons I picked a lawn service:

1. It doesn't require a very big initial investment.
2. I have the most experience with it.
3. Lawn maintenance brings repeat business (in season) every 1 to 2 weeks.

I haven't had a lawn service in years, but I think it's time to try it again. I started a lawn service when I was around 18. I got the majority of my customers by passing out flyers and making my own signs. At some times I was more successful than others; I was not always the most motivated person, and not particularly good at organization or making a budget, which definitely hurt my business. But I am certain I managed to get at least 30 customers in one or two seasons. It may not be very impressive, but I'm confident I could do better than that now (depending on the economy). Speaking of the economy, before I start, let me say this to people who are considering starting a business: I've always heard people say discouraging things about starting a business:

It's too competitive...
The income is inconsistent...
The economy is tough...
Most small businesses fail...

My dad was one of those people, in fact. He worked for the Post Office most of his life. Not really a bad job, but I'm not him. He did what he needed to do to feed his family, but I don't have a family, and I apparently don't look at work the same as everyone else. Anyway, don't let those people discourage you from starting a business, if that's really what you want to do. It is my opinion that maybe you just have to be more creative.

OK great then, if you have a nice income, I can see why you wouldn't want to just quit your job, and start a business. I don't, so I have nothing to lose! Smile Well, I could lose some time, and maybe the equipment/advertising costs, which won't be much in the first place. So, I'm willing to bet that I can do it, just because I've had some (if only a little) success before. There's nothing to stop me (or anyone else) from doing it again.

So, what that said, here's my plan:

1. Estimate starting costs:

I will need at minimum a 21" gas mower, a gas string trimmer, and an electric blower. I guess I could sweep the clippings, but $40 is worth spending on a blower. A gas blower would be better, but I'm not confident in the cheaper gas blowers and trimmers, and I'll only be using the blower typically for 5-10 minutes on an average lawn. Cutting the $130 extra for the Echo hand-held blower will leave me with more to spend on the trimmer/mower, which I'll be using much more. Well, let's say $100, because I'll have to buy an extension cord/roller also. If budget allows, I may go for a gas blower.

I would prefer a better brand of mower with rear-wheel drive self-propel, but I could start with a push mower. A used one will probably be anywhere from $50 to $200 (I wouldn't spend more than that on a used mower). If I can't find anything for $150, I might buy a new Lawn Boy. I still need to check the reviews, but I really don't want to pay more than $300 for a 21" mower that's not even commercial quality.

If I can find a used string trimmer, it would be great, but I'm very picky about my trimmers, because it has to be gas, and the cheap ones tend to have problems starting. That could end up costing me a lot of money in the long run (lost work and repairs). So I'll probably budget for an Echo Straight Shaft model, less than $200, not really commercial, but you probably couldn't tell, except for less power. The extra power would be nice, but it's going to cost about $400.

So, my minimum budget is probably $300, but that's with a $50 mower. It would be better to have at least $500, and, if I want 1000 flyers printed, that will cost me about $80.

If you're new to this, I don't advise starting with $300, unless that's all you can come up with, because you have to depend on your equipment every day. That's why I'm budgeting $200 for a weed trimmer; because those echo trimmers are very reliable, and the straight shaft makes it easier on your back. It's still a little low on power, so if your budget is really tight, be ready to invest more when you start making money, or you may find your equipment is slowing you down, or even worse, broken. This equipment is not suitable for very large lawns, but my plan is to start targeting small lawns, for that very reason.

2. Make a plan to purchase equipment

OK, so I might be able to start if I only have $300, but it's going to be very tough. I'm going to aim for $800, over the next 8 weeks, so I'll try to save $100 per week. Since I don't have a job, I'm going to do day labor, but I only make about $50 a day. Fortunately, I am not paying full rent right now, and very few bills, so I think it is a realistic goal.

3. Make a marketing plan

This has always been the most difficult part for me. Oh, and let me point out something important here, if you're interested in starting a lawn service. You want an advertising method that targets a specific area (at least if your city covers a large area). I don't get paid when I'm driving from house to house, so I want to keep that distance as short as possible, especially since I'm targeting smaller lawns. If you want to do larger lawns you will need bigger mowers. I think the Post Office has a program to target areas, but I couldn't find the information on their web site yet. I think the best approach is to start with flyers and put them where you want them.

If I get a 2% response rate on flyers, I'd like to pass out 500 per week, to get 10 jobs. At an average of $35 per lawn, that would make me about $350, or more than minimum wage at 40 hours (minus expenses). Where I live, the grass may not need mowing in one week, but maybe I can pass out another 500 flyers. I'm going to have to try it and report my success. For those of you that are interested, I'll go ahead and start a blog on it to report how it's going.
Blaster
Just a side note how do you plan on running an electric blower?
watersoul
Good luck with the business plan!
I was out with a few mates I hadn't seen in a while on Saturday night and chatting to one who has been a firefighter for the last 10 years after 5 years running his garden maintenance business.
He said how he misses it in many ways, the freedom of working (or not) when he liked, the totally cash based income, plus the limited responsibilities of the work.
He earns a good stable salary as a full-time firefighter now, but told me that most years 'on the gardens' he made much more money and paid less tax Wink

Keep us posted Smile
SpaceInvader75
The electric blower part may not work. I did it before, with an extension cord, but not all houses have electrical outlets on the outside, if I remember correctly. I was just thinking of how I could save money for the mower/trimmer. I suppose I could start with a push broom, considering the majority of the work is mowing/trimming. It wouldn't make a significant difference until I get busy.

Thanks Watersoul. I do miss being able to make my own schedule. I can do that with the labor place too; the problem is that I make minimum wage. I also like the challenge of building a business; it usually isn't boring. I think the biggest reason is potential for higher income. There will be an increase in income per hour right away, but the question is if I can get enough business to make that really ad up.

I'll keep you posted on how the first step (saving money) is going in week or 2.
Blaster
I'll take the full time firefighter job... Most full time Firefighters in the states are required to work another job just to make enough money to live though.
watersoul
What is this labour place then, I'm curious, a collective of workers, government scheme, or an employment agency type thing?
Sounds interesting as a start-up business assistance option for people, work opportunities but at a lower rate through the scheme until you get established?

@Blaster, decent wage fighting fires full time in the UK, although the govt are looking at cutting pensions and enforcing early retirement under fitness rules but the pension won't pay out until age 60, also, moving to desk/community safety work job options will become things of the past.
Blaster
Here in the states a lot of firefighters work 24 hour shifts. They may do a 24 hour shift on then 72 hours off so there is a lot of down time. Going to a desk job after a job like this is really rough though. 2 different worlds.
SpaceInvader75
Quote:
What is this labour place then, I'm curious, a collective of workers, government scheme, or an employment agency type thing?
Sounds interesting as a start-up business assistance option for people, work opportunities but at a lower rate through the scheme until you get established?


There may be some other name for it. It may be considered a temporary service; but there seem to be some differences. Temporary services may pay better wages, but in my experience they don't often offer me work (unless I just haven't found the right one yet). The labor place, as I call it, has offered me work almost every time I've been there, although it has always been unskilled labor (they do ask about your skills, so maybe it's possible to do other things). You have to show up around 5:30 am and you sign in. Then they give you a work ticket that you take with you to the job site for that day, and have your employer sign it. There is no guarantee, but they employer may ask you to come back again, and if they check that box you get the first option to go back (unless the employer doesn't think you did a good job). But you're never required to go back if you don't want to, so you could work one day a week if that's all you wanted to do, which makes it decent option if you already have part-time work. You also get paid the same day, which is not typical of a temporary service.

So there's 2 possible advantages, maybe 3, and maybe 3 disadvantages as well. The possible third advantage is that some of these places also can do "temp to hire" so if you work long enough for the same employer and do a good job, the employer may hire you permanently, therefore increasing your wage to whatever the wage they normally pay is, which brings me to (in my opinion) the biggest disadvantage:

In my experience, the labor places normally pay you minimum wage. The second disadvantage is that you are required to report to work around 5:30am. You can theoretically go whenever you want, but your chances of getting a job are not very high. If you already have a ticket (meaning the employer has requested you come back) you do not have to go to the office first, however. The third disadvantage that I see is that your chances of advancing in your career this way are probably pretty low, since you will be primarily doing unskilled jobs. Also, the jobs tend to be temporary, and, even if an employer wanted to bring you on as a permanent employee, the contract with the labor place prevents them from doing so (understandably) until you have worked a considerable amount of time (for minimum wage, likely). But considering I'm just planning on using it temporarily, and hopefully having a second income soon, the disadvantages do not outweigh the advantages at this point.

I always make sure that I'm early to the job site, partly because I have to find the address the first time, and I'm going to have plenty of time, even if I start work at 7:00am. And, I may not be the fastest at loading or unloading a truck (I've been unemployed at not working out lol) but fortunately my last couple of jobs are not that physically intensive, and I try to stay busy and show the boss I don't need constant supervision. My previous job at this same labor place was working at a body shop cleaning up trash and they asked me to come back 2 or 3 days a week for 2 weeks, and then business slowed down and I didn't go back to the labor place for a while, until this year. My first day was last Tuesday; I got a job at a construction site unloading things and cleaning up, and they didn't ask me to come back so I took a few days off (partly due to some unusually cold weather for my area lol). I went back this Monday, and they sent me to the same construction site (they didn't say if the company requested me). I did the same type of work the same day, assisting the foreman. He kept asking me to come back so I worked 4 days in a row, and today he said he wasn't sure when he'd need help again, but I didn't mind cause I wanted a day off to rest. lol Now the hard part is saving enough of the money I make. Smile
SpaceInvader75
Watersoul:

Since you mentioned the collective of workers, I did discuss with one of the contractors, the options for doing skilled construction, which could also be a stepping stone to starting a business (maybe more profitable than a lawn service). He said that many contractors will hire you as an apprentice, and even pay for you to go to school, if you are a good employee. Plus, there is a labor union, which I'd like to research more. I think you can go to the labor union and tell them you want to be an apprentice, and sign up. Then, I'm not sure if they help you look for an employer or if you have to do that yourself, but when you're in the union, supposedly you get a certain wage requirement, and after you work a certain amount of time there are mandatory wage increases.

He said if you don't go to school, it takes 7 years to advance to the next level, which is a journeyman, which sounds like a really long time, and I don't know how much jouneymen start out at. But if you go to school, you can do it in 4 years. I'm interested in finding out more. I think I could eventually make a nice income as a commercial construction contractor, although it sounds like it might take a long time to reach that point; it also takes a long time to get a degree, and you still might have difficulty getting a job even after you have that degree.
standready
Ok SpaceInvader75,
How are you transporting your equipment to job site? I am guessing a pickup truck.
How much are you going to charge? How much does your competition charge?
Are you capable of maintaining your equipment? At very least mower blades need to be sharpen regularly to cut well.
As for advertising, 1000 flyers seems a bit much to start especially since you don't have a crew. Think smaller, say 100 to start. Create your own then have copies made at local office supply.
Blaster
Ehh 1000 flyers put on cars at a few shopping centers might bring in the perfect amount of business if thats his plan with the flyers.
SpaceInvader75
Quote:
Ok SpaceInvader75,
How are you transporting your equipment to job site? I am guessing a pickup truck.
How much are you going to charge? How much does your competition charge?
Are you capable of maintaining your equipment? At very least mower blades need to be sharpen regularly to cut well.
As for advertising, 1000 flyers seems a bit much to start especially since you don't have a crew. Think smaller, say 100 to start. Create your own then have copies made at local office supply.


I forgo to mention, I have a small truck (Ford Ranger). It should be fine for maintenance, but if I get large equipment, I will need a larger truck and a trailer. Right now I don't need all that for my initial plan (to focus on smaller lawns).

That's a good question, about my competitor's prices. I don't know yet. I guess I can call them and ask but they might say they have to look at my lawn (and I live in an apartment lol). Maybe I can get a general idea, though.

I considered creating my own flyers. That would save a little money on expenses, but my response rate may depend on how well the flyer is designed. I'm hoping for a 2% response rate, which would be 2 calls per 100 flyers. I suppose that might get me 2 jobs, but I could mow a lot more than 2 in one day. I guess 100 flyers would be the minimum; I'll see how long it takes to pass them out.
standready
SpaceInvader75 wrote:
(and I live in an apartment lol

So where are you going to store and work on your equipment?
Perhaps your first customer could be your apartment complex.
SpaceInvader75
Quote:
So where are you going to store and work on your equipment?
Perhaps your first customer could be your apartment complex.


I was planning on renting a storage unit; I had to do that before. I don't really have an area to work on equipment, but I don't think I'll be doing any major repairs anyway.
malik66
[quote="SpaceInvader75"]I've had difficulty finding a job recently, and I'm making a plan to try "Us" as in FRIHost's Moderating and Administrating Team.
Blaster
Please do me a favor and don't store your lawn equipment in your apartment. Might sound like common sense but as a fire fighter I've been to a few calls where this was done and the amount of fumes the gas gives off can cause serious health problems.
SpaceInvader75
Quote:
Please do me a favor and don't store your lawn equipment in your apartment. Might sound like common sense but as a fire fighter I've been to a few calls where this was done and the amount of fumes the gas gives off can cause serious health problems.


No; I didn't realize the fumes were that bad, but there isn't really room for mowers, plus they would get the floor dirty and unless I lived on the first floor I would definitely prefer to pay the storage fee than try to get a mower up and down multiple stair flights every day. I've seen one apartment with an elevator, but most don't have them.
SpaceInvader75
Quote:
[quote="SpaceInvader75"]I've had difficulty finding a job recently, and I'm making a plan to try "Us" as in FRIHost's Moderating and Administrating Team.


I don't understand your post.
standready
Quote:
I've had difficulty finding a job recently, and I'm making a plan to try "Us" as in FRIHost's Moderating and Administrating Team.


I don't understand your post.[/quote]
Me either! Probably someone with English as a rough second language.

Will storage units allow you to 'work' on equipment there? Also that space is a monthly expense that will effect your costing.

Best of luck to you.
SpaceInvader75
Well, it's been almost 2 weeks since I started my official savings date, and I'm happy to report that I've been able to set aside $100 for first 2 weeks. In addition, I was able to replace 3 tires on my truck that were in really bad shape.

Quote:
Will storage units allow you to 'work' on equipment there? Also that space is a monthly expense that will effect your costing.


I'm not sure if you're allowed to work on your equipment there. I talked to one storage place yesterday,
and they asked me if I would be storing gas there. You're not really supposed to store gas engines there, but they said if it was an outside storage they weren't going to check. They said I couldn't put any gas engines inside, but I don't want an inside storage anyway, because I want to pull the truck right up next to my storage when I'm loading/unloading. A 5x10 storage is going to cost about $60 a month.

The thing about fixed expenses is that they will really cut into my profit if I don't have very much work.

For example, let's take the storage and phone: My phone is actually off right now, because it costs $55 a month, but as soon as I'm ready to advertise I will turn it back on. So let's round the phone up to $60, and then those 2 expenses would be $120, which is easy to divide into 30 days. So each day, those 2 fixed expenses cost me $4 a day, or $28/week. So I'd have to mow one lawn a week just to cover those 2 expenses. Now, if I mowed an average of one $30 lawn every day; I would have to deduct $4 from each lawn just for those 2 fixed expenses. But if I mow 2 lawns per day then that cost is now down to only $2 per lawn. With gas around $3.00/gal, it could easily add another $2 per lawn on top of the fixed expenses, however, and that's not even including equipment maintenance.

This is one reason I need to really be aggressive with my advertising. With my limited budget, my advertising is first going to consist of delivering flyers, so one of the first things I will need to do is determine how many flyers I can distribute in one day. I know parking lots have been suggested, but I would prefer to deliver to the customer's door, if possible, because I may be able to write a general estimate on the flyer if I can see the front lawn. I'm hoping this will increase my response rate.

The other thing I need to do is to try to determine what my competition is charging. I do know one person that has a lawn service, but he's probably going to tell me every lawn is different, if I ask him. lol

I tried to do a rough estimate last night: Based on mowing small lawns, by myself, with my starting equipment, I estimate I could take care of a maximum of 50 customers. This number was also based on mowing the lawn every other week, because in my area the grass doesn't always get enough water to need mowing every week. I estimated I would make about $22 an hour after expenses. This rate actually seems a little low, but it's just an estimate; I may have overestimated maintenance costs, and I don't really know the average price per lawn, so I had to start with $30. In addition, once I buy better equipment my mowing time will be reduced for each lawn.

I won't really be able to do a better estimate until I have somewhat steady work.
Blaster
Going door to door isn't a bad idea but it is more time consuming than going to a parking lot. You can get more flyers out in a parking lot in a quicker amount of time. Plus if you give them time to call you and have you come out and give an estimate it might be a way to start talking to them. Talking to people always helps. Customer relations is a big thing in any business that you need to keep up. Also making a website to advertise and posting on Craigslist is a good idea. Both of these ideas can be free and work really well.
SpaceInvader75
I might try parking lots again. Last time I tried it at a mall and security made me remove the flyers. So I have to keep an eye out for security. Smile I actually got a job now, so I don't know how much time I will have to work on a new business, but I still want to do it. I'm supposed to be off on weekends, so that will give me 2 days out of the week, if I'm working full time. My other job doesn't have guaranteed hours, but the busy season is about to start. I'm assembling things (grills, wheelbarrows, patio furniture, etc.) for hardware stores.
Blaster
Try to go to a place that doesn't have security. Strip malls are usually better for this or grocery stores.

And remember you will probably get more business in a place where women shop than a place like home depot or lowes
SpaceInvader75
I'm updating this finally. If my other job keeps going the way it has been I'm not going to have time to start a lawn service yet. I guess the question is how much I'm going to make a week; I have some concerns about that because I'm getting paid by the piece. I should be off on most weekends, so I might still be able to mow lawns on the weekend. That might be helpful while I am building up my speed. But the past 2 weeks I've had more than a couple of 10-12 hour days, and I expect even more once I'm done with training. So, we'll see what happens.
Blaster
Well if you can only do it on the weekends you might want to consider how many lawns you could mow with just them 2 days. I would expect you to be a lot busier come the summer months at your other job as well so keep that in mind.
SpaceInvader75
I don't remember why I quit posting; probably cause I hate my computer. lol I still haven't had enough money for a new computer, but I need to start working on a web site soon. I don't even know where to start.

Anyway, I ended up quitting my assembly job. At first I was getting paid by the hour, and it wasn't anything great, but when I switched the piece rate I was lucky to make minimum wage. I liked the work, but I just wasn't picking it up fast enough. I would be in the store until 10PM sometimes, and then calculate what I made and it was just not near enough for the time I spent.

But the good news is that I was able to save up for basic lawn equipment. I started without the blower and swept off a couple of driveways and then I found a Hitachi blower on sale at Lowe's, for $140. I bought an Echo trimmer for about $200, and the best deal was my $100 LawnBoy 20" push mower on CraigsList. Of course, I would like to get a self-propelled soon, but this LawnBoy is so lightweight it's a lot easier than I thought it was going to be.

I seem to have some problems with motivation; I don't pass out near as many flyers as I should. I don't know if it's because the results are so slow (probably because I didn't get started until May) or what, but I did get some customers.

A real estate agent called me because I left a flyer on his house, and he buys houses to fix and re sell. He usually has about 6 properties at a time for me to maintain. I have a few other regular customers too, but not near enough yet; I'm trying to figure out the best places to put the flyers, but the problem is the neighborhoods in my area seem to be more working class and they usually mow their own lawns. Now, I could go farther away to the edges of the city and put my flyers on more expensive houses, but then I have to drive farther. I'm hesitant to do this because I have a '99 Ranger, but I think I'm going to have to. It will be difficult at first, but then once I get several customers in an area it will probably be worth it.

I'm also trying to expand services. Hopefully I can get some saws together soon for tree trimming. I won't be able to do everything, but a few tree trimming jobs could really help my income. Lawns are good because you get regular work, but the size I'm doing now doesn't pay too much and I'd probably have to have over 50 customers to keep me busy, unless I have some other services. I'm looking into pressure washing too, but then I have to save up for a pressure washer.
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