Grow your lawn mowing business like a pro
By David Serville, Founder of Crewcut Lawn & Garden
I worked as an independent lawn mowing contractor for about five years before I started the Crewcut Franchise Group. During this time I was building lawn lists into scalable lawn mowing businesses and then selling them off.
So when considering building your own lawn run, what is the cost? Your time is definitely worth something, so how much of it do you have?
To build a lawn mowing business, you must have free time. How much is your time worth? If you’re working in a highly paid job that you want to leave, building lawn lists full-time may not be the answer for you. You may want to consider purchasing a private lawn round or a lawn mowing franchise, because building a lawn list has an actual cost, and it's not cheap.
But if you have lots of spare time and are up for the challenge and commitment, then building a lawn client list could be a good solution. The cost is pretty simple to work out. To keep it simple, let's just put a cost for a month of your time. If you decided your time is worth $30 per hour, then one month of constant work is worth $5200. If it takes you three months of full-time work to build a small chunk of work, then the cost is $15,600, less the cost of the work completed and invoiced for.
So how many months will it take to build a lawn list? This will depend on the marketing skills you have. You may already have the knack of marketing along with a great network, like being an active member of a local sports or community club. This will help a lot in growing interest in your business. But practically getting the first cluster of clients is the hardest. I would, however, set your own goal and establish a forecast and an actual number you hope to achieve per month. You may need to consider how to supplement your lawn mowing startup with a part-time job.
Five Necessary Skills
To be a successful independent lawn mowing business owner, you will need these five skills:
- Sales - Be willing and enthusiastic to improve your selling skill. (see sales skills)
- Marketing - This is essential, and some basic understanding is an absolute requirement. Do a lot of reading online before you start your business.
- Good health - As long as you don’t have old injuries or ailments, then becoming mowing fit takes 6-10 weeks.
- Record keeping - You need the discipline of record taking
- Organisation - As a business owner this is essential to be able to balance your time between mowing lawns, marketing, sales, and bookkeeping.
Start before Spring!
One bit of sound advice I can give here is time your start well. To maximise your business building, you will want to be ready just before the highest growth season, spring. Do all your research, make your lawn mowing business plan, and consider all the issues that may arise. The people that do well in business always do thorough planning.
Again, have this plan completed in winter so that you’re all ready to start in the high season, Spring. In New Zealand, I would have the preparation and planning stage completed by the end of August. That includes marketing materials, policies, your vehicle, and all the equipment.
Now we have established a start date, let’s consider
a timeline to get to the first milestone.
Stage One (part-time)
Residential lawn mowing is different in every town. In small towns, the land packages are large, and in large urban areas the land size is small. At Crewcut, we have some small towns (Bay of Islands) where it is a requirement for everyone to have a ride on mower. That said, most of this article is written for the average start-up in large residential areas.
So let's say you want to initially build a part-time business of say 20 regular lawns to cut per week. Based on the fact that most lawns get cut on a fortnightly basis, that is around 40 clients. Let's say the average lawn cut is $30, you could plan to have a revenue of $600 per week. A lawn may get cut about 22 times per year, so in regular lawn cutting terms that’s $26,400. You would or could also do other property maintenance work. So let's say through referral and off that client base, you could earn an extra $4000 with some preparation for slow months. In total you could earn $30,400.
The point I’m making here is that you need to establish your goals. Do some back of napkin planning. Do you need to keep your current job for a while until you can go full time? Obviously, if this is your retirement project, you are going to view it differently.
Stage Two (Full Time)
Let's say full-time businesses start at about 80 lawns. In Crewcut, we start franchise owners with 60, but that is to get them mowing fit. Newbies to lawn mowing businesses need to get their line trimming skills up to a speed that can accommodate 80+ lawns. A skilled lawn operator can mow more than 100 lawns on their own. I have known operators that do far more than 100, but this is all about skill and experience.
80 residential lawns is a sweet spot, and a great goal for a lawn builder or lawn mowing business start-up. We will assume you have gotten to 40 lawns already and now you are planning to build a revenue of $60k and upwards. The thing to consider is getting slowed down by winter. In New Zealand, there are dramatic differences between the South Island and the North Island. It obviously slows down to a holt if there is snow on the ground. Again, make a winter plan.
In some parts of Winter, you will have little more than seven hours of light. Before you drop off in income, consider broadening your service offering. This can backfire though as people will want these tasks done at the height of the season. Tree lopping, gardening, hedge trimming, gutter cleaning and water blasting, to name a few.
From 80 lawns, it is very easy to build to 100+ as the referral work from a solid base should be quite steady, as long as you are a good service provider.
Learning to quote and price lawn mowing
This is pretty straight forward, so consider what hourly rate is expected by the market. Some suburbs and towns have lower lawn prices than others. You may decide that you want to achieve $50 per hour when mowing lawns. You will be pricing lawns against competitors, so you will soon learn where you’re positioned. You may lose a few potential customers until you grow in confidence.
At Crewcut, we teach you basic sales skills to convert clients. First Impressions count for everything. It amazes me how independents and franchise owners alike get this first sales tip wrong. But it’s key to basic sales. The first three tips are all about that first 30 seconds you have to leave an impression. Get all of these right and you are 80% of the way there.
- Turn up on time as agreed. You have your work cut out for you if you don't keep your word. In a busy world, a customer’s time is valuable, so don't fail on this one.
- Be presentable - Clean, tidy, fresh, and smell nice- uniforms and brand help build credibility, and demonstrates that you can easily be found and are accountable. If you turn up in an unmarked shirt and shorts (even if it’s tidy), you are deemed as a nameless person that can easily hide if something goes wrong. Look like you mean business.
- Smile and make eye contact. Let them know you’re keen to help. A smile and friendly greeting are free. Before you leave, give them a genuine compliment.
- Listen carefully to their requirements.
- Up-sell if you can and advise them of additional work they may want to consider.
- Then ask for the business.
- To close the sale, remind them that you can do the lawn immediately. If they hesitate, throw something in for free. Remember you should have extra time to do this. I never used to leave the property until I closed the sale.
Sales recording client details
This is your database. If you have ever sold Amway or Insurance, then you know what to do here. Make a list of all your friends and let them know yours in the business. They may end up mentioning it to someone. Use your social media and mention it from time to time. You have a community, but you have to let them know. If you don't want to do this then sadly building a business from scratch is probably not for you. Maybe you're more suited to buying an established mowing business.
Read more lawn mowing business advice:
Very few Traditional Marketing techniques work anymore, but here are a few tools that you may want to prepare before starting your lawn round.
Business Cards (essential)
There is no point in printing these if you forget to give them out. It may seem like a small point, but get into the habit of keeping them on you at all times and giving them out. For most people, this has to be practised.
Web Page - This does not have to be expensive but is really important.
How to market
When I started my first lawn mowing business years ago, it was all traditional marketing. Distributing pamphlets, placing adverts in local news papers and advertising in the Yellow Pages. It's pretty safe to say these are all dead, apart from networking.
Marketing is all about digital. If you want to be found, then you must have an online presence. A web page does not have to cost a lot, but is your most important tool. Apart from choosing your name and getting a simple logo designed, I would advise this page to be designed, written and online as early as possible. You should have this is completed months before you launch your business. There is a real art to writing, but you may enrol a friend or well-priced copy writer to help build the content on your webpage.
Images are also really important. My recommendation is that get some good help from a small webpage and SEO company. How much will this cost? Depending on where you go and what you want, this could cost as little as a few hundred dollars to many thousands. Working on your web page is something that should be done regularly. Focus on the locations and details that will build your lawn mowing business in your geographic area.
Book Keeping and accounts
If you don't send an invoice then you won't get paid. Certainly in the beginning, you will want to be paid at the time you mow a lawn. But as you grow, this is pretty much impossible. You have to develop a good rhythm for sending out accounts. Usually, people don't like paying small accounts on a regular service. When you’re setting your terms of trade policy up, I have found that if you mow twice and get paid from a two cut monthly invoice, then everyone is happy.
At Crewcut, the software we use to distribute work to our franchise owners includes an online accounting package, but you may want to collect all your receipts and learn to run software like Xero. If you’re not organised and hate book keeping then you will need help here.
The most important habit to learn is to keep your receipts and keep your expenses recorded well so that your book keeper or accountant’s work is easy. Make it easy for them and get a cheap bill from them. Make it difficult and it will cost you.
Health & Safety
Health and Safety are important and needs to be considered before you start your business. It also might seem complicated, but you will not attract any commercial clients without a thoughtful Health and safety policy. At Crewcut to make it easier for our franchise owners, we use a product called Safety Work Kits. Safety work kits is a templated system to help you start on this journey. While you still need to think carefully about hazards and how you manage these, it will give you most of the forms and polices to help you form the habits required.
There are many other things to consider when building an independent lawn mowing business, but I have covered off on the key ones. Independent lawn building is well suited to people that don't follow systems and have some great marketing and business skills under their belt. At Crewcut Franchise Group, we enjoy great relationships with independent contractors. If your business proves to be successful, then please keep us in mind when you want to eventually sell your business. We purchase a lot of these, so this may be a viable and quick way for you to also exit the industry.