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View Full Version : New Here - Still Small but Growing in West Central, FL!


BladeMaster Mowing
03-01-2009, 02:45 PM
Necessity is the mother of invention, no doubt about it.

So it went after my significant other, Victor, experienced a layoff in May 2008 with no prospects in an economy that was starting to go down. With no decent job prospects on the horizon things were iffy. What sparked the fire was a little interesting, frustrating and inadvertent 'market research' that had occurred while helping my S.O.'s grandpa secure a reliable lawn service to give estimates on his property. The old company simply stopped showing up and there seemed to be few truly professional new ones to choose from. With the job loss circumstance at hand, we took a chance as we thought we could do better.

We gathered up the 5x10 open-air, wooden trailer that was gifted to us by a family member, our used John Deere PUSH mower, trimmer, edger and hand-held blower, got 250 business cards to start and designed some 1-color, neon green doorhanger brochures. Voila, BladeMaster Mowing was in business! A couple of months later we finally got a new self-propelled $300 Cub Cadet from Home Depot and then a used $575 Craftsman riding mower off of Craigslist. That is what's being used now.

In the very beginning, Victor did A LOT of labor and haul jobs with his pick up truck to bring money into the household and build the business. He still does those types of jobs on occasion to supplement our current income, along with some pricier one-time cuts. I have to add that utilizing the products and services offered by Craiglist, FedEx Kinko's, Uline and VistaPrint have helped a GREAT deal to keep our start-up and operating costs LOW.

We now have 30 active accounts signed up on agreements and Victor basically services them by himself within 3-4 days during the week. We deal strictly with residential customers. Even with the slow economy, the business is steadily growing. Victor is the 'face' and salesman of the business and I am the behind the scenes 'roadie'. :) We've tried a lot of different things to see what would stick with advertising, specials, billing, agreements, etc. and believe we've finally narrowed down what seems to work best for us. There were some hard knocks and lessons learned along the way, most definitely. Heck, we're STILL learning in a lot of aspects. Most of our customers have been pretty good, although there have been some deadbeat ones as well. That's a factor we expect will happen here and there no matter what. It's good to realize that EARLY on. Once things are rolling though, it sure feels great when the payments start 'magically' appearing in the mailbox and in the PayPal account! :D

We've found that it's really not that hard to stand out and do well in our neck of the woods if, for starters, you are simply clean cut, well spoken, show up when you say you will and always aim do right by the customer (even if the customer may not do right by you...karma, people...you certainly can't win them all).

Our business goals for 2009 are to keep our operating costs as low as possible, upgrade to a Z-turn and backpack blower, get an open/metal or closed trailer, create a You Tube video to add to the website and acquire AT LEAST 20 more accounts. Our current IMMEDIATE goal is to get through this tax season unscathed. *Shiver* Having and meeting really specific goals is really helpful.

Well, thanks for reading this longwinded post and it's great to be a new member here! This is one of the best comprehensive websites out there, hands down. To anyone looking to get into the business...DON'T GIVE UP, WORK WITH WHAT YOU'VE GOT AND GIVE IT YOUR ALL! Also, I am always happy to share on anything regarding starting up.

Best to you all,
Luna (and Victor)
www.blademastermowing.net

Steve
03-01-2009, 04:50 PM
Hello Luna,

What a fantastic post! Welcome to our forum!

We've tried a lot of different things to see what would stick with advertising, specials, billing, agreements, etc. and believe we've finally narrowed down what seems to work best for us. There were some hard knocks and lessons learned along the way, most definitely. Heck, we're STILL learning in a lot of aspects.

I'd love to hear more about what you have tried that worked or that didn't work.

Also what lessons do you feel you have learned through this process that you would advise others to steer clear of?

Where do you feel you still have the most to learn in?

BladeMaster Mowing
03-11-2009, 11:41 PM
Some of what's worked so far (and not):

>>>Being very clear about our billing up front. I highly recommend that to anyone. We've definitely found that a collection problem is a sales problem. Being wishy-washy and just hoping a customer will pay you DOES NOT WORK. Also, dragging our feet and being afraid to 'fire' a knucklehead customer in the beginning has cost us time and money. We are now selective about taking on new customers. If price seems to be a core issue during an estimate (or on the phone to begin with), we've found that problems inevitably followed.

Issues with collections in the first few months of starting up is what led to doing our billing on the 15th of every month, making it clear payment is due on the 1st and that there is a $10 late fee after the 5th. This information is on our website, is discussed with the customer on an estimate visit or follow-up and is on the agreement the customer signs. We also do a courteous, friendly and breezy follow-up call around the 3rd if no payment has been received. Sometimes people honestly forget and appreciate the call to avoid the impending late fee. It's working out beautifully now and we have very few accounts that are in arrears or crazy late. You just have to be careful with budgeting your income when it all comes in almost all at once. We MAY continue one or two services past the due date for a late paying customer while giving another courtesy call or two in that timeframe. We still keep it friendly, but matter-of-fact. If they do not pay as agreed, we do not waste our time and continue to mow. That's not to say that we aren't more than willing to work with a customer that has a legitimate delay and/or they happen to contact us within a respective amount of time. We'll also give the OCCASIONAL courtesy waive on a late fee to a good/well meaning customer.

>>>Setting up a PayPal account that links to our business checking account was a no-brainer and easy enough to do. So many people pay their bills online these days and we wanted to offer our customers that same feature. Customers can pay through PayPal on our website and we do ask that they add a $2 'convenience fee' if they do so. This helps to offset the small percentage of what PayPal charges us for using their service and our customers have no problem with it. A commercial merchant account may be in our future, but PayPal does the job just fine right now.

>>>Setting up an informative and visual website and using every opportunity to direct the public to it is an ongoing must for us. Our website is integral in showing potential customers what we are about and what we have to offer. The web address is on the truck's side windows and tailgate for those idle moments at stoplights, on our doorhangers, Craigslist postings, on the voicemail of the business cell phone, on our neon green work t-shirts...you get the picture. I built the website myself through Vista Print and I am in no way an I.T. tech. VistaPrint was cleaner and easier to use compared to Go Daddy (although not as 'flashy'). We only pay $19.99 for the premium package. They also have packages on VP for $4.99 and $9.99 a month. There is no reason not to have a website at those prices.

>>>'Top' Posting on Craigslist EVERYDAY has been great. We make sure to use long, catchy, sometimes quirky subject lines in all caps AFTER deleting the posting from the day before, of course. If the subject line is long and in all caps it stands out from the other postings listed. We've found that if we did not post very regularly, there weren't as many calls. We don't lag more than a day at most now. A number of our latest new accounts have come from CL (and it's our slow season). We repost 2 slightly different versions of the same body posting that is comprehensive and easy to read/skim. The Household and Labor sections have been the best sections. It's great because CL completely free to advertise. We advertised in a free local shopper's weekly for awhile and it was expensive with NO response at all.

>>>Wasting A LOT of money on tri-fold brochures that we used in our very first doorhanger bags sucked. I finally narrowed the information down to where we got 3 times more inserts by doing a 'tri-cut' version where we utilized 1/3 of a page on both sides (black text with some clip art design on a neon green cardstock page). Kinko's prints and cuts them for us. We get our bags cheap from Uline. Keeping it simple has paid off.

>>>Outside of the manual and office work, I'd say studying up on the industry, its trends and consistently educating oneself about all the types of plants, pests, diseases and products out there is an ongoing job in itself. It's very necessary, but not always easy to invest the time you want into that learning process. Customers always seem to appreciate recommendations based on good knowledge and expertise.

Luna (and Victor)
BladeMaster Mowing
www.blademastermowing.net

Steve
03-12-2009, 12:11 AM
Also, dragging our feet and being afraid to 'fire' a knucklehead customer in the beginning has cost us time and money. We are now selective about taking on new customers. If price seems to be a core issue during an estimate (or on the phone to begin with), we've found that problems inevitably followed.

This is very interesting. It seems when most small businesses start up, they take anyone they can as a customer but as they go they get more selective.

Have you found yourself creating a way to pre-qualify your potential customers when they call to see if they are the kind of customer you want to service?

Any suggestions or advice on how to do this?