PDA

View Full Version : Starting New in FL


mmcuttrim
08-06-2010, 09:22 AM
Greetings All,

I'm starting off very new here in Central Florida. I mean new, currently cutting with a push mower and using my own lawn equipment. I am concerned about buying all the equipment and not being able to maintain a customer base to at a minimum pay for said equipment. I am reading alot on this forum so it is helping. I'm really only interested in residential lawns and only need about 12 lawns a week to make a bit of money. This is a side job for me but would like to see it blossom. Just a few questions.

1- I see alot of people driving around with their equipment but no adverts on the truck at all. No name, number, nothing. I suppose they have a customer base built up but, I would think it would make sense to at least have a name and number listed?

2- Marketing - I have put door hangers out. They are black and whit generics. out of about 300 I have garnered about 5 leads with three being landed. I have lost one of those. So I'm not sure how better to market. I have magnets on my vehicle with name, number, and email, very specific that it is a lawn service via the graphics. Posted some flyers in the local stores that would allow with pull off tabs of name and number. I would like to create a influx of calls just not sure how to make that happen.

3- Pricing - I would like to stay competative but obviously being the only person working within my business I cannot buzz through a lawn in 15-20 minutes. So it seems I am 10-15 dollars higher than most services in my neighborhood. I can adjust this price a bit if I were to get enough lawns to support buying better equipment which would allow me to work faster.

I have read and listened to the post / podcast here and they are helping. I'm also realistic about the economy so that could be a hinderance for new customers. I 'm not looking to scoop up a huge market share but am understanding when new you have to market hard. Any ideas were I could improve? Would it be smart to take the plunge and buyt the equipment and have it "on show" when I'm working? Thanks for any input.

LawnMoore
08-06-2010, 12:04 PM
Guy, im not going to lie to ya, the better equipment is nice, but you dont want to ruin your credit, or have been payed 1k dollars on a machine to lose it all when you cant afford to pay anymore..

My best suggestions would be to SAVE every penny you can, work extra hours here and there, work extra yards anytime you can, and get you a few extra yards, save save save, and hope you can run across a deal on a decent mower, for around 500-1000, i have seen some nice riders (not zero turns) go for about 200-300 in my area (but you ahve to be out there asking around for mowers), if you would just get you something like that, your mowing would speed up. Faster lawn cuts you say will help you price better, then you might be able to build up a good clientel.

I would recomend you save some cash and buy with cash! that way your not paying payments incase you lose a little work in the winter.

Or save up through this winter, raking yards, offering some other services mentioned on the forum, then next spring, spring into action with a mower you bought during winter ( sometimes during winter the mowers are cheaper )

or you could go out and get payments, and have a brand new rider! But make sure you have some money saved back for any loss of work.

mmcuttrim
08-06-2010, 01:30 PM
The advice is well taken LM, as the wife slowed me down a bit at first. I figured it would look crazy pulling up with a push mower and equipment in the back of an SUV vs. small truck, trailer, and typical equipment. She said don't put us in debit doing it. So as much as I must swallow the pride, (...ahem...she was right), about a month and a half into it and only two paying customers. It is really hard in our heat to take on too many yards with a push only, plus keeping up my yard. I would be happy at the break even point of 8 yards a week to allow me to buy the equipment. Then suffer through the winter, which as you may know will still allow me some work, and then hopefully build some accounts during that time into the early part of next year. I was thinking along the lines of some discounts for landscaping labor during the cooler months at the begining of next year, that is if they sign on for lawn mowing month to month. I've thought about the small lawn tractor idea which will shave about $1000.00 off the deal of buying new equipment. I can still use the weeder / edger/ blower I have for now and replace with better lighter equipment when they are dead.

MAKLawnCutter
08-06-2010, 01:37 PM
Welcome to the BIZZZZ, and nice to know of another company in FL.

Well, using your own equipment is awesome. But, sooner or later you might want to be quicker at it, get more done in less time. As you go along you will find things easier (FL heat sucks). I charge a BASE price of 25$ per lawn, and it goes up from there. I had lawns that i started at doing them in 2hours, now i can crank them out in 45min due to higher stamina and used to the heat.

CRAIGSLIST.COM is the bomb, i went from 4 to 32 due to the Craigslist, and those 28 reffered me to 16more :). Best way to sell yourself.

Matt

mmcuttrim
08-06-2010, 01:44 PM
Welcome to the BIZZZZ, and nice to know of another company in FL.

Well, using your own equipment is awesome. But, sooner or later you might want to be quicker at it, get more done in less time. As you go along you will find things easier (FL heat sucks). I charge a BASE price of 25$ per lawn, and it goes up from there. I had lawns that i started at doing them in 2hours, now i can crank them out in 45min due to higher stamina and used to the heat.

CRAIGSLIST.COM is the bomb, i went from 4 to 32 due to the Craigslist, and those 28 reffered me to 16more :). Best way to sell yourself.

Matt

Wow, I didn't even think of Craigslist. I've been a huge ebay'er and craigslist never crossed my mind. That may be huge. My base for up to 5000sq is $20 which is the standard mulch cut, edge, trim, and blow back on lawn. I was going on a few neighbors that I trust to tell me what they are paying. one was $70 a month the other was $65. I just cannot make that happen right now. maybe if I can churn out more lawns (if I can get them). But hey thanks so much for the great idea. Still open to other forms of marketing within reason of course.

Steve
08-06-2010, 09:39 PM
Still open to other forms of marketing within reason of course.

The biggest and best thing you can do is talk to people. Let them know you are in the business now. Give them cards. Ask them for referrals.

Talk to all your family and all your friends and have them hand out cards too.

1- I see alot of people driving around with their equipment but no adverts on the truck at all. No name, number, nothing. I suppose they have a customer base built up but, I would think it would make sense to at least have a name and number listed?

Many newer businesses don't do this because they dont want signs on their personal vehicles or they are not 100% sure they want to go through with this. I think it's very important to create that awareness though and get the signs on your vehicle.

Would it be smart to take the plunge and buyt the equipment and have it "on show" when I'm working?

What is your view on this? As a consumer, how important would it be for you to see that?

mmcuttrim
08-07-2010, 04:44 PM
Steve,

The thought of having the equipment "on show" seems to strikes me well. Even though I have the advert on the vehicle while working I don't think it catches the eye as much as having the trailer attached with equipment on it. Let's say you are driving down a road in a subdivision and you see someone mowing with a push mower. You do not see anything else to identify that person as labor for hire except (maybe) being able to see their shirt with info on it or (maybe) you notice the vehicle parked across the street that has door magnets on it. I can say that I have not had any calls or refferals due to the door magnets. All work has come from door hanging. So I'm not sure if the visual market would help. As I said before obviously I notice more trailers going down the road since I am looking. Before I started in the biz I did notice the equipment being towed around or parked on the roadways. Did anyone else start out my way (push mower, using personal lawn equipment) then purchase other equipment. If so was there a difference in volume due to that? @MAK I'm on craigslist now. Logged into my email today and found a bunch of spam and one request for moving help. In that same token I did check out Service Magic (after reading the post on here I just wanted to see what leads it could possibly generate). It looks like in a 15 mile radius there are between 12 - 75 request for mowing including single time service over a 9 month period. However, the cost is certainly not condusive to partner with them.

Steve
08-08-2010, 03:33 AM
I can say that I have not had any calls or refferals due to the door magnets.

When you are out there working on lawns, do you use the clover leaf marketing technique (http://lawnchat.com/?p=156)?

This could help you land more accounts right nearby.

Did anyone else start out my way (push mower, using personal lawn equipment) then purchase other equipment. If so was there a difference in volume due to that?
I would venture to guess 90% of the forum members on here started this way.

I think the difference in volume comes is due to a small network. The more people you know and the more people that know you are running a lawn care business, the better your chances are of gaining more business.

Take our one friend on here Andy. He drives around with premade postcards for different services he offers. If he sees a home that needs such a service, he takes a postcard and goes over to talk to the homeowner.

That is just one step you can do. There are many many proactive steps you can do to attract more customers.

I think it's important to not focus on having all this equipment to show off to those driving by. It would be better to see yourself as running for mayor now. You want everyone you can meet to know you are in business and things will pick up.

What other things are you considering doing to get the word out more now?

mmcuttrim
08-09-2010, 06:42 AM
When you are out there working on lawns, do you use the clover leaf marketing technique (http://lawnchat.com/?p=156)?


What other things are you considering doing to get the word out more now?

Steve,

Usually what happens is that I have blanket covered the subdivision with door hangers. All being the same offering the lawn service, a starting price point, and the phone number for a free estimate. I like the idea of maybe swithing it up a bit and hitting the houses closest with a postcard hanger being more specific to their neighbors lawn (cloverleafing). I think maybe adding to that I could incorporate the homeowner who's lawn I service by asking them to recommend me to their neighbor. If the neighbor signs up for a month to month the original customer gets a free cut the month that the new customer signs up or a smaller discount say $5 off if the neighbor atleast gives me a try.

I also tend to wear a clean work shirt when I need to run some errands around town. I read the post or maybe it was a podcast, where one person wanted to increase their customer base for the up comming year. I believe this was the post / cast http://www.gopherforum.com/showthread.php?t=12026

I may have a potential to get some adverts out by partnering with local businesses. We do have local advertising magazines that go out each month or bi-monthly and that is another avenue I could look towards. Thanks for the heads up on cloverleafing I'll give it a shot.

Miles

Steve
08-09-2010, 11:37 PM
Keep us updated on how things go!

mmcuttrim
08-11-2010, 12:05 PM
Keep us updated on how things go!

Will do! MAKLAWN has been helping out behind the scenes and I am going to put your idea into play about the cloverleafing. I will probably pick up some of your books for downtime reading too. I have one oppertunity that has presented itself but not sure how it will work out. I'll report on it when I know more.

Steve
08-12-2010, 04:39 AM
I have one oppertunity that has presented itself but not sure how it will work out. I'll report on it when I know more.

I look forwards to hearing the updates.

mmcuttrim
09-26-2010, 04:42 PM
I look forwards to hearing the updates.

Greetings again all,

I just thought I would update everyone with what has been going on. I now have a total of 5 accounts. 2 that have corner lots. Yep I push cut those a couple of times this year and it took about two hours each to complete all work, plus I was spent afterwards. The others are about 5,000-6,000 sq.ft and I can finish those in about an hour and fifteen pushing. Well I got a word of mouth account that has about 10,500 sq.ft so that would be the equivelant of three corner lots. So this week I bit the bullet and bought a zero turn and trailer. I cut out some personal expense to help pay for the equipment in lean times. I will trade out cars with the wife on cutting days and tow it with her SUV. I cut my two true corner lots with it the other day. 23 minutes per yard to cut. I was done in less than an hour with with each yard and I felt much better than pushing them so I know I could have done a few more yards. OK I know you are say "What did he get?" I know there are some that will want to flame me but I got a 34 zt Gravely. There is a reason. The new 10k sq.ft lot has a 41" gate. I am quite aware of the pro's and con's to this type of mower. Plus the cost in an acceptable price range. One of the lawns I cut the other day has some challenges and I had cut it once with a borrowed troy-bilt lawn tractor, which scapled some areas around a few ruts in the yard. The zt did not, which made me happy. So I am pleased so far. Now to inform you on oppertunity I spoke about on my last post. I posted on Craigslist as suggested by another user. I was new to the whole craigslist thing and thought I was pretty smart to scams. I was contacted by a "company"..."looking for handymen", offering to give me bank owned property work. I had to of course pay for a background check $99.00. You guessed it, no work so far after saying they were backed-up by 7 months. So I am currently disputing that with the card company. There you have it. Still working to get some more accounts.

Steve
09-27-2010, 09:18 AM
I was contacted by a "company"..."looking for handymen", offering to give me bank owned property work. I had to of course pay for a background check $99.00. You guessed it, no work so far after saying they were backed-up by 7 months. So I am currently disputing that with the card company. There you have it. Still working to get some more accounts.

I am sorry about that happening.

Have you done any investigation on this company? Have others had the same problem? Are they profiting on the $99 or is it going to another company? Did you have to show proof of insurance? Do you feel it definitely is a scam or is it possible they simply don't have jobs local there?

Could you show us the initial email they sent to you and take out any specific contact information so others know not to fall for this?

mmcuttrim
09-28-2010, 12:34 PM
I am sorry about that happening.

Have you done any investigation on this company? Have others had the same problem? Are they profiting on the $99 or is it going to another company? Did you have to show proof of insurance? Do you feel it definitely is a scam or is it possible they simply don't have jobs local there?

Could you show us the initial email they sent to you and take out any specific contact information so others know not to fall for this?

Steve and All,

I did some quick research before calling, but could not find anything good or bad about the company so I called. Afterwards, I found the same company using a slightly different name via complaintsboard.com and there were similar issues like mine and of course there are a few that reply that they are great. The company claims the $99.00 is to pay for a background check that is "required" to work on the properties. They did not request License or Insurance proof. I say they are not legit because when I called they claimed a "7 month" backlog "in my area". After a month not even one email or phone call for work. Phone calls to the support number go directly to a voicemail and emails get a auto response to check the website faq's as to the reason the contractor may not be getting work orders, of which none apply to me. Here is the original email I received with limited retraction:

Hi,

Responding to your ad on Craigslist.

looking for skilled handymen and tradesmen

that would be able to work on bank owned and residential properties.

Please have transportation and tools to where you can do minor repairs on homes.

$200-$600 per work order

"work order" = 2-5 hours worth of work.

Regards,
Jac
1-888-8**-8917

immediate consideration

Steve
09-28-2010, 09:26 PM
Has anyone else run into anything similar to this situation? What's the best way to avoid falling into such a pitfall? I would guess there must be a few companies out there that are able to pull in work.

mmcuttrim
11-02-2010, 11:29 AM
Just another update. Total of 7 accounts all but one want twice a month which is ok right now due to lack of rain / growth. Getting much better with the zero turn, really got the hang of it around the 5 hour mark. And just yesterday had someone stop while I was cutting asking about service. so the "just being out there" seems to have some effect. I have about 400 door hangers ready to go but not sure if I want to tackle it right now. Sure, about 5-7 more accounts would be very nice but due to the decline in growth and cooler temps I'm not sure how many people would bite. Anyone else down in the Central FL area see much growth in accounts during this time? Thanks for any input.

Steve
11-02-2010, 07:12 PM
yesterday had someone stop while I was cutting asking about service. so the "just being out there" seems to have some effect.

Do you have signs on your truck and trailer? Is that how they knew you were a business or did they just come up to you without that?

mmcuttrim
11-05-2010, 02:53 PM
Steve,

Yep I have door magnets on the SUV. I also wear a logo t-shirt and hat. I just figure it shows that I am open to new business. I have not hear anything from the prospects as of yet but the persons lawn I was cutting at the time did not call me for almost two months from the time I did a door hang, so I wait. :D

The Cleaning Doctor
11-05-2010, 03:32 PM
When I first got into deck staining I charged according to what I found to be the market not how long it took me to do something. Why?

1. My equipment was inferior. I knew I would get faster after I could get the right equipment purchased.

2. My skills were inferior. My first deck took me 5 hours to clean and prep. WAAAY too long. But now that deck would take me less than an hour.

I tell you this because you said in an earlier post that you were 10-15 higher than the competition. If it were me I would look at a yard and say it should take me this long to cut based on having the proper equipment. You will get more customers and then upgrade your equipment and the cuts will go faster.

Charging more because you have inferior equipment will not help you grow and obtain customers. There is no physical cost because it is only your time. Yes your time is valuable but can you survive on 2 customers? I figured it as my time was cheap to me.

So with my thinking for example.....

2 clients @ $40 = $80 ..... A year before you can upgrade.

10 Clients @ $30 = $300 ..... A few months at this level and you can now buy a good used machine and a trailer. Now you are moving faster and can add more clients and do it all over again. Only faster this time.

You are only out your time and you are charging what the current market is.

I guess what I am trying to say is that charging more because you have residential instead of commercial equipment just because it takes you longer is not the way to go. Charge what your current market is.

You see after 1 week you can get a used rider.... Cutting gets faster then a few months down the road you can get a commercial machine etc.... It just keeps building.

Make a plan and then work the plan.

The Cleaning Doctor
11-05-2010, 03:41 PM
Sorry I posted the above before I realized there was a 2nd page.... LOL

Congrats on the new equipment.....

As far as the return on door hangers..... It usually runs around 1% can go as low as .5% and as high as 3%.....

I don't knock doors.... Do you have a web site yet? If not you need to get one. Get visible on the web.

How happy is the wife with you using HER vehicle?:D

Steve
11-05-2010, 09:33 PM
I guess what I am trying to say is that charging more because you have residential instead of commercial equipment just because it takes you longer is not the way to go. Charge what your current market is.

Pat,

This is a very interesting topic. For those thinking about this and saying, well why should I bother scaling up and spending more for newer higher priced equipment if I am still only going to be able to charge the same amount to do the job, what is your view on why they should be looking into scaling up their equipment all the time or should they?

Is there a point you reach where you simply won't profit any further no matter what upgrades you make?

The Cleaning Doctor
11-06-2010, 09:37 AM
There is a point where you really go beyond your needs. For instance in my case I used a 4 gallon per minute pressure washer. I could buy a 20 GPM machine but then I would have to haul a water tank. See an average home is only able to put out about 5 gallons per minute so going over that is a waste of money unless you also do commercial flat work.

Just like your mowers, it does not make sense to buy a 52" mower if you are only doing 5000 square foot lawns. but you don't want to be mowing an acre with a 21" push mower either. Not to mention being able to get through fences.

I would say that if the equipment will cut your time by 25% or more then plan to upgrade. But don't just count the mowing time. You need to know how long it takes you to load and unload and cleanup afterward. Say it cuts 25% off your time to mow but adds time to the cleanup then it is not worth it.

The reason I say 25% is that if you are doing $4,000 per month, 25% of that is $1,000 per month or $12,000 per year. Brand new top of the line 0 turn (just Guessing at the price) $6,000. That is a 100% ROI. You get the added $1,000 per month by adding clients because you can mow 25% faster now.

Now lets look at a 10% improvement. That is $400 per month for a yearly total of $4,800. You have not even paid for the new $6,000 mower with this change after 1 year.

You can look at this 2 ways.

1. What happens if for some stupid reason the mower gets stolen, breaks, wears out etc. on the first scenario you will have replacement money in 6 months. Leave out the insurance argument, you are on your own.

2. The chances of the mower lasting 6 months are excellent. They drop fast after a year in a commercial setting. Remember in scenario 1 you have replacement money and can buy gas for the tank. Scenario 2 you will have to go back to a used mower.

If you are so busy that you need to upgrade at the lower % then you might be better off adding a crew. Then you would more than double your cutting capacity thus it would pay for the equipment faster.

I DON'T do credit so I upgrade all with cash. It is more stable that way.

Steve
11-07-2010, 04:23 PM
But don't just count the mowing time. You need to know how long it takes you to load and unload and cleanup afterward.

Have you found the larger equipment tends to take more time to load and unload and also clean up after?

If you are so busy that you need to upgrade at the lower % then you might be better off adding a crew. Then you would more than double your cutting capacity thus it would pay for the equipment faster.

What is your view on how this is more or less cost effective than upgrading a piece of equipment?

mmcuttrim
11-15-2010, 09:39 AM
Yes I found out early on what you said to be true. I quickly changed tactics and set up some basic parameters to get prices more in line with the one man operations in my neighborhood. Which covers most of the area I am cutting. Even now I seem to be a few dollars higher on a per cut basis but if they are on month to month I am a few dollars cheaper so it is sometimes a wash at the end of the month for me. Seems to be working well. Word of mouth has helped a little too. As far as the plan goes. I am making a profit at the end of the month and this business is a means to an end. Payoff our vehicles early and start putting money back from what we would have been paying for them. I would like to have a dedicated vehicle and a place to store it and the trailer. That way I could get my vehicle back in the garage at night. Doing so right now would leave me no profit at the end of the month so I will wait but it is in the cards if I grow the business. Also my fulltime job is stressful enough so getting on the mower and cutting is kinda like my quiet time - excuss the pun. I know running your own business can be stressful so I am try to make it not as much. Website wise I am not out there yet. Obviously I'm open to some cheap options. My door hangers have been right at the 2% mark. Cloverleafing has neted nothing so far. And the wife is ok with me using her vehicle once maybe twice a week, but then I spend alot of time cleaning it afterwards hence I would really like my own to use. To answer Steve's question. I think the scaling part is a natural progression if you are actually growing your business. As long as I have been in Fire / EMS you find quitea few of us cut grass as a second job. Most started like I did cutting friends and family as needed or was on a crew then started their own business. Over the years they bought new equipment as needed or dictated by the business. Mine was need. I have a limited time frame that I can cut due to other responsibilites. Using a push mower I would only be able to cut 2 lawns a day. Now I can cut 3-4 depending on when I can get started each day. I will submit to other to answer the last part of your question as I am not that versed in the larger business.

Steve
11-16-2010, 02:59 AM
I quickly changed tactics and set up some basic parameters to get prices more in line with the one man operations in my neighborhood.

Can you tell us a little about the tactics you changed?

mmcuttrim
11-18-2010, 12:23 PM
Yes, when I first started I believe I may have over thought how to market. I thought it would be good to have different levels of service 1- Standard (basic: Mulch cut, trim, edge, and blow clippings back onto the yard). 2- Super (basic but blow clippings from the edges and bag up, leaving a nice clean edge without grass clippings in it). 3- "My Lawn Service". Which is basicly how I cut my lawn, which is #2 above but bag lawn clippings while cutting. I noticed most people utilizing my service just wanted the grass cut, the lawn to look decent, but did not want to do themselves. So the super and my lawn just didn't sell. I also had looked at sq footage and said 0-5000 sq was a certain price and 5-10,000k was a certain price, etc. All this was / still is on my cards but I do not utilize the business card as much..and It was only a $6 investment that i will be changing before spring. Now, I say that I start @ $20 per cut, and tell them I will need to look at the property to give them a exact price. If they need me to be more specific before i come I can look up info about size on the property appaisers website to get a little closer but still let them know I have to see the property. When I meet with them I ask what they are looking for in the service and tell them what I offer. Most still only care to have standard service which is fine for me and my one person operation. Basicly, it has worked well and I have gained the extra customers. Maybe I am not making what I could, but currently I feel that it is fair to the both parties. I am obviously open to better ideas if anyone cares to share.

Steve
11-19-2010, 02:58 AM
That makes perfect sense to me. You first get into the business with a plan that involved a certain pricing method and certain service packages. But when you start you realize your customer base simply wants a standard service at a standard price. You altered your plan to fit with the reality you found and you have continued onward.

I do wonder now that you are up and running if you are learning more about your current customer base. If this is a group you want to continue to service in the future or if you will want to move up and service another group of customers that may be more discriminating in their lawn care tastes and willing to pay for it. Or maybe the place you are in now is ideal.

What is your view on that?

JLM
04-15-2012, 04:41 PM
Where you at in FL? Im in Lakeland. its a different beast here in the good ol sunshine state aint it! hit them yankee trailer parks the yards are good for 12.00-15.00 per cut and you can do a good mess in a day. Our northern friends are only here for 4-6 months but wil need your service to thier lawn year round. push mowers do well in these areas.

mmcuttrim
04-16-2012, 10:34 AM
I'm in the Orlando area. Your idea sounds great. I know a lot of the mobile parks up here use a service for the whole park, but could be something to think about. Just a little
update on the service. Two years this June. I have found that 6 lawns is about my max, seeing as this is a second job for me. I have a few larger lawns and a few medium. It has allowed me to pay off both vehicles early and now it will be extra income for whatever. Plus all equipment will be paid off in Oct. It is nice to have year around grass cutting down here, but i know some people in the mid south that cut summer only and have winter to do other odd jobs. I've been happy with the investment so far.