How to start a lawn mowing business in 12 easy steps
By David Serville, Founder of Crewcut Lawn & Garden
After 30 years in the lawn mowing industry, first as an independent, then building independent lawn rounds, pushing a lawn mower and then building a national lawn mowing franchise network, I have learnt a thing or two. I’ve also listened to a lot of lawn mowing contractors and lawn mowing franchise owners. There are two types of people that are attracted to this industry: Those that think it’s easy, and those that take a more respectful approach to starting in this sector. In my experience those that prepare thoughtfully and approach the development of their business carefully, increase their chances of success tenfold. Those that thought it was easy often don’t last.
Key to success in this industry is having the thoughtful reason for choosing lawn mowing as an industry. Many of the successful people I know say something like. “I always saw myself doing this one day” or “ I always wanted to leave the desk job and work outside” People that explain their motivation in a related way are pursuing a dream and will often have the clarity to make this great business succeed.
Hopefully by sharing this list, it will make your start in the lawn mowing business a little bit easier. This list will apply to you if you join a Crewcut franchise or go it alone. Before you decide if you want to join a franchise or be an independent lawn mowing operator, be sure to read this blog 10 reasons lawn mowing franchises beat start-ups.
1. Make a plan
Most of what you read about planning is not appropriate, complicated and confusing. The plan you write down on one piece of paper will be suited to focusing your attention on the right type of development path. There will be some simple ideas you can edit and adjust over time. Answer some simple questions: What sort of money do you want from you business? What hours and lifestyle do you want to attain, and by when? Will you work in the weekends? What type of jobs will you do? What geographic areas do you want to work in?
By asking and answering these questions, you'll make your decision to buy a lawn mowing business a whole lot easier.
2. Start with some work
Buying some lawns is important. You want to hit the ground running, and you want to buy enough that you know you can comfortably service. A common mistake is to buy a fully developed business then struggle to keep up. Clients get disappointed with a drop in service and they haven’t built trust with you, so if you make this mistake expect to lose some of your client base. If you buy a lawn mowing franchise ask your franchisor to hold some of your clients until you are ‘lawn mowing fit’. Buying a good franchise business will make your first year much more profitable.
Tip: It takes 1.5 x to 2x’s longer to cut a lawn for the first time, and that’s when the grass is being cut on time. If you’re a little late to cut it and it’s the first time, it may take you 3 times as long. It’s about knowing each lawn. To get to a maximum speed, it will take until the third cut to get the timings right. If you have been trained well it helps.
3. Pick a trainer and coach
So you think you can mow a lawn, but can you run a lawn mowing business?
My start-up hack is to give away 2-3 weeks with a couple of very capable lawn mowing men.
Yep work for them, for free. The truth is that you will probably be slowing them down in the first week at least. Don’t do 8 hours mowing a day in your first week. Start with 5-6 for the first week, then only ever a maximum of 6 while you train. The last few days do 8. Training with someone competent is essential. You just have to look at their rig and listen to their advice to work this out. Most people will need at least 3 weeks to build knowledge, but not many will want to work for free that long. I KNOW this will be one of the best investments you will ever make. You should learn in 3 weeks: pricing work, scheduling, equipment operation, quality of work standards, customer service and maybe even some admin and peer work if your trainers are generous. This is just the start. Keep in touch with your trainer (this is your advisor).
Tip: keep in touch with your advisor even after you finish. Who knows, they may be able to share or sell their clients to you for a reduced fee. Who ever said that it’s who you know not what you know - really knew what they were talking about.
4. Choose the right Tools (check list)
Most people spend a huge amount of time here and this is almost the easiest part. Choose two mowers, this seems like a correct balance to start with.
Tip: Only buy new gear. Buying someone else’s gear secondhand has very little merit or value. If you get the gear for under 20% of replacement value and have the expectation to be buying newer gear in your first 3 months, then secondhand gear may be alright in this instance. If it lasts 6 months, that’s a huge bonus. But be sure to have the money to replace immediately if you have to.
The right number for a walk-behind round is probably two in the start. If you have too many mowers, your repair bills go up significantly. Too little and you over-work your gear.
Buy a commercial quality kit and look to the the people who have been in the industry for years.
Here are a few pieces of equipment you should definitely have:
• Catcher mower 21 inch
• Mulcher mower 21 inch or Side delivery
• Line Trimmer Straight arm loop handle 25 cc + plug in tools are handy like hedge trimmer Stihl
• Petrol Blower vac
• Pruner Clips
• Garden fages x 6
• 2X 20 litre petrol cans
Make sure you look after them, and budget for replacement.
Vehicle and Trailer
Make sure you consider your set-up and get a vehicle suitable to your requirements and demands of the business.
• Van - Go for a long wheel base
• Ute - Will need a trailer attached
• Lite Truck
• Trailer - Consider the design. Single axel high sides with built ramps. Also on a wish-list is lockable cabinets, Stowage for lawn equipment on the cross bar with drop ramp.
Signage on vehicle and trailer is best loud and proud. Customers have mentioned that the Crewcut signage is recognisable and gives them comfort that their backyard is in good hands.
5. Give yourself some slack, and be patient
When you first start a business, you can have great expectations, but these can be set-back by the reality of the industry. The lawn mowing game can be a competitive one, it takes time to really build momentum.
Tip: It can take 3 months to set up your lawn mowing business, depending on the season. This will obviously be more profitable in the summer period, but it’s short lived and you’ll be faced with the winter months. You also shouldn’t expect to make much money in the first few months. During this time you’ll be investing a lot in your equipment and gear. Plus you won’t have as many customers as you will in 12 months time.
6. Use your existing clients to build income
While you can go out finding new customer sources, your best resource is your existing client-base. These are the people who will recommend you to their friends and family - a vital marketing tactic. Use all the options you have, whether it's handing out a few of your business cards, adding a message at the end of your invoice or offering a great referral benefit system.
7. Collect payment routinely
Payment is one of the most important parts of a contractor and client relationship. Without it, you have no income, yet so many feel awkward discussing it. There are a few things to consider when thinking about payment: training your clients with an invoice rhythm, trading terms, debt, collection rate and internet banking. This is something I could go into great deal about, but for the sake of this article I'll keep it short. Set out how you do payments within the first or second meeting with the client - that sends a message to them that you're organised, and they will need to fall in line. If you can't communicate this from the start, your clients will likely be lazy too.
8. Organise your schedule and prepare your equipment at the end of each day.
After a full day mowing, the last thing you’ll probably want to do is prepare your equipment for the next day. But think again, this is an important step in ensuring you’re ready to go. If you're not ready to go in the morning and end up late to your first mow - it will throw off the rest of your day and irritate your customers. This is especially important in those first few encounters with a client - make them unhappy at the beginning and they'll be lost forever.
9. Communicate with your clients regularly
Don't be invisible. Be easy to get hold of and keep in touch. Many in the service and trade industries get marked with the label of ‘poor communicators’. Avoid this at all costs. Make sure to call or txt all your clients on a regular basis. It will show you’re being proactive and will make your clients happy. There’s nothing worse than not showing up to a mow and not telling your client. Always, always, always let them know if a part of your schedule changes and will affect them.
10. Love your clients
Customer service is everything. You want to be friendly, with a ‘nothing is a problem’ kind of attitude. Many clients love to stop and chat with lawn mowing operators as it’s sometimes the closest and most regular form of interaction they get. Show your clients you’re glad to work for them - this will be so beneficial to you in the long-run. They may recommend you to their friends, or give you extra work.
Tip: Ask them for feedback on a regular basis. Ask questions and be curious. Customers like to have all their needs catered for. Showing you’re willing to go above and beyond will make them raving fans.
11. Marketing and growing your business
For a non-franchised business, this is a large task and only a few with some sales or marketing expertise will find this easy. Most people will need to have a suitable plan that will need to be reviewed regularly.
This is probably one of the biggest reasons aside from support to purchase a well functioning franchise businesses. I hear some people ask; “Why even buy a franchise?”. Well this would be one of the compelling reasons. Marketers will do all your marketing, for a weekly fee of course.
The marketing landscape has changed a lot since I started my lawn mowing business nearly three decades ago. Back then it was all traditional marketing like: Yellow Pages, local directories, letter box drops with advertising flyers, advertisements in local suburban newspapers, referrals through local communities and hubs such as sports clubs, churches and schools. All of these except referrals are pretty much out the door. But the old school strategy of building off your existing client base is still a good one to have.
The new era of digital marketing is here. Now you need to know something about developing a small web page or landing page and developing a Facebook page and getting 'clicks'. Does it sound a bit like mumbo-jumbo? To many it can be frightening to step into the wild world of new technology. While it's scary, it's even more frightening to think that all potential customers are using these technologies and could be going to your competitors. At the very least, you will need to set up a Facebook page to engage with your customers when you're not at their address.
Review and audit every 4-6 months. Look at how your business is developing. Some things you can measure. Lawn numbers, average lawn price, time spent on lawn jobs, travel time between lawns & debt collection rate. You'll be able to really tell how things are going by looking at these factors. Room for improvement? That's normal, besides it will have been the toughest 4-6 months you'll likely face in the business.
As you can see, owning a lawn mowing business can be a lot of work and careful planning. If you're thinking of starting your own, perhaps consider the benefits by joining a well known, national franchise system like Crewcut. We have franchises currently available right around the country, so check here to see if one is near you!