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Trials & Tribulations - The drama of running a business and of life. It's not as easy as it looks. Running a business is full of drama. Customers, employees, money, family, time. You name it, it's a problem. Share with us your drama and how you handled it.

What I have learned


Trials & Tribulations - The drama of running a business and of life.

It's not as easy as it looks. Running a business is full of drama. Customers, employees, money, family, time. You name it, it's a problem. Share with us your drama and how you handled it.
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  #1  
Old 09-26-2010, 12:46 AM
hansons_lawncare hansons_lawncare is offline
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First off I LOVE this site. Thanks.

I have grown my business from nothing, I hated my job and I wanted more out of my life. I needed a mower for my house anyway so I decided to go this rout. I have some time to share the mistakes the goods the bads, the reasons for doing this and the things I want and need advice on. So if your up for it PLEASE give me some feed back.

I first got a mower that wasnt a comercial zero turn. Break downs every week. AVOID. I traded up for a comercial zero turn, never had a problem.

I try and base my business on ALL other businesses. If you pick any business think of the things you like and dont like... in general terms, such as mcdonalds, you get affordable prices, and your in and out quickly. EVERYONE eats at mcdonalds so they are doing something right. On the other end of things, look at a perkins, they take longer, and the price is higher. But you get beter quality, and better service. I look at every business and look at what makes them work and try and incorperate as many of their good things into my business.

That being said, there are people out there that try and do a business without proper equipmment, In my mind go all in or dont go. Word gets around FAST. going back to my other business reference, If a new place opens up and you go there and have bad service, and quality, as you live your life someone will say what do you know about that place, and you say the service was lame and the food wasnt that great, that person will not go try it. But if you use comercial equipment, have a good appearence and good service, the word passed on might be passed on that you gotta try this place. If you follow that.... Im mainly saying EVERY first encounter is the most important.

I worked a full time job, mowing on the side. After I saw the potential, I started mowing full time. Picking up yards as I go. ANY new business needs to understand that by under pricing yards to get work you are hurting yourself and the whole market around you. Your cost may not be very high, and you can do it cheeply. As soon as that happens you will have truck problems, your house will flood, your insurence will go up, you will have a child. DONT overlook the fact that this needs to pay for all of your business expences but it must pay you. if you figure 10 bucks an hour for yourself, thats not liveable. AND as a business owner you dont work 40 hr weeks, you work 100 hour weeks, if you make 10 bucks an hour profit after doing that, I want to be you.

I have learned that building too fast is a bad idea, I jumped in and got an f-150, it turned out to be not enough truck, I went into the dealership and traded it for 2 cube vans, that i can drive my mowers into. Its a great set up, but now my payments went up along with my insurence. Shortly after I needed a dump truck for leaves and landscaping. When you look at the 2 huge trucks and a dump truck and the zero turns and all of the things, month to month is near impossible to get by. So many of the things I am talkin about may not apply to you existing businesses, because you are thru this point or you had money to begin with. I know there is money to be made here or I wouldnt still be doing this.

Employees are a scarry thing, your taking someone elses life into your hands, If something breaks down and an employee needs to get paid you need to be able to work without that equipment. you MUST treat an employee like a piece of equipment, you need to put money into it to keep it working, gas, oil. but every once in a while you add an attachment, a striper a bagger, you need to take care of that employee the same way. Buy them lunch, or a pop at the gas station, treat them well. If you lose a good employee you have to re train and you spend a lot of time and money there.

Does anyone know of an off brand place to buy belts and parts, the dealership over charges and the hardware store has general sizes that dont fit perfectly.

Gopher scheduling, billing, has been a LIFE SAVER. I wish there was a better way to track things but without this program I would be lost. If anyone out there has the skills, using it on a cell phone is nice, tracking the incomeing and out going payables would be nice. I know it offers some of that in the program but it should be an easier project. Also I need to take a lot of that blame, I work all day everyday, I put things off and no software can make up for human lazyness. How many people have a shop. I have a house full of papers, a garage full of mowers, a town full of customers a brain full of ideas and somehow i gotta squeeze a life into that. Does anyone hire an office assistant.

I typed this all up and my battery died, lost it all. so if im repeating things I appologize. I am heavy on the residential side right now, I want to be all comercial, but I have noticeed that a lot of those are bid every year, if someone comes in and under bids me I am out of work for the summer and soon after forever.

I have done a lot of looking around at comercial bids, if you call in or stop in and the answer isnt from a supervisor dont take that. I have called places and they have "left a note" i never heard back and then I hear they took a bid from someone 45 min away that is charging way more than you would have. How do you find the correct person to ask, when is the right time. I have found that most appartments are owned in groups, fight to get into talk to someone, and they probably own another. I strugle with townhomes, there are boards and people in charge, but you cant tell because every house is the same. i have thought about going for a walk through those areas and asking a random person outside.... Any advice???

Medical insurence, if your maried i guess its not a big issue, but if you are anything like me and NEVER go to the doctor its hard to spend thousands a year just incase. But as soon as i cancel ill have a heart attack.

I like the price calculators they have for the businesses, they are helpful. knowing what you need to make is key, especially if your sitting in an office while others mow. you MUST make money on every job, i have talked to a few people that say take the good with the bad... NO if you are even breaking even get out. we do this to make money.

advertising is tough where i am, I pass out 100 flyers and get 1 call, i put an add in the paper and get a lot of calls, but the paper just keeps raising their prices, Maybe I should start a new news paper.

If you need to raise a price have a list of things you can use as an example, dont make excuses, like i said we do this to make money, explain the tires on your tuck are 200 bucks and you need 4, insurence went up, gas went up, whatever it is, dont raise a price and have NOTHIGN to give them back.

I know I do A LOT WRONG, i try to fix things, study, do whatever i can to get better but no business will be perfect. I want to hear what people think, as we get closer to winter i want to share a lot more and try and fix what i can.

Finally I live in a smaller town, 20,000 people, we have about 7 or 8 lawn businesses so there isnt much freindlyness, I havent been able to learn from the local guys, so im relying on the people who arnt my compition to help, THANKS
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  #2  
Old 09-26-2010, 04:43 PM
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That is a fantastic post!

Quote:
I have done a lot of looking around at commercial bids, if you call in or stop in and the answer isnt from a supervisor dont take that. I have called places and they have "left a note" i never heard back and then I hear they took a bid from someone 45 min away that is charging way more than you would have. How do you find the correct person to ask, when is the right time.
There is a chain of command you can follow. Find out who the manager is, find out who is in charge of property maintenance. Get their number and call them to find out when they want bids submitted. I would say, don't leave a note, be proactive and find the contact person.

What would you say are the top 5 mistakes new lawn care business owners make?
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Old 09-26-2010, 08:01 PM
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#1 Make a business plan from the beginning and stick to it. I started to make some money on the side. If i would have stayed that way I would be better off now. If I would have decided to go all in and make this a real business I would have been able to buy the proper equipment from the beginning. By knowing where you want to be from the start you will have more success.

#2 Have a weekly stratagy and a back up plan. My first year was a very dry year, Every week I made a scedule and found out many times the grass wasnt growing. To keep my new customers happy I wouldnt mow when it wasnt necessary. If you have an employee or even to stay ahead of things by yourself, know what to do with your day. If you have 10 yards to mow that day and only 5 need it, have a plan in place of things that need to get done in that free time. If you have some great customers that you want to keep go do a little extra, do some edging, do somthing that doesnt cost you a lot but goes a long way for them.

#3 Spend time with your customers, Dont obsess on getting through your day. After you finish the yard, talk to the customer, see what is new with them, know them on a personal level. after a summer of doing that you will have a cusomer and a personal friend. Expanding off of that, go to church, go to parades, be in public, let people see you, YOU are the best advertisement for yourself.

#4 Before your commit, take some classes, learn about small engines, learn about marketing, budgeting... ANYTHING. I cant think of a business that requires more levels of knowledge, You have to be a weather, mechanic, accountant, marketing, lawn, public speaking, person, there is so much more that you have to be, so many hats you have to wear. A big business has a person for all of those jobs, in this profession it all falls on you.

#5 Be a sponge, you dont know everything, you will never know everything, I was un prepaired for the crazy requests that some people ask of you. Take in what EVERYONE has to say, know what you want and stay on that path, but I have talked to people ranging from all kinds of back grounds, a man used to run a grounds crew at a golf course, a man who ran his own business and talked me through general business things. You may think your smart but you are NEVER smart enough.
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Old 09-27-2010, 09:29 AM
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Very interesting!

How important do you feel it is to be able to offer a variety of services to your customer base, kind of being a one stop shop vs. focusing on a single niche?
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Old 09-27-2010, 05:45 PM
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I think that in the beginning you need to concentrate on what you do best. Over time adding what you can handle without stretching too thin. I have a lot of customers that dont want to hire someone else, or they ask if I know someone who can do whatever it is they want done. Since Im there mowing the lawn, I can aerate, dethatch, spray, without any cost in advertising or travel cost. I was already there. I would say offer as many services as you can handle, It assures work if another aspect of your business lacks. But dont go away from what you do best
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Old 09-28-2010, 06:55 PM
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What are some of your big plans now for the next year and the future? How far ahead do you like to plan in your business plan when it comes to growth?
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Old 10-11-2010, 08:23 PM
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as for the future I want to start spraying lawns. The biggest problem I have is that I started without a proper biz plan and to survive I had to buy to meet the demand. So for my future I need to concentrate on getting out of debt. Im to the point now that I have as many yards as I want, but I need to get them in a smaller area. The way to make money is to do yards in the same neighborhood. if you have one yard on one end of town and one on the other and you jump around your are waisting fuel, employee pay, wear and tear on a vehicle, and just a waist of your own time. I suggest keeping a log with start and end time, you may see that you spend more time in the truck than mowing. So my next goal is to make a list of my best and worst customers, look around for more yards in the good neighborhoods and weed out the bad.
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Old 10-12-2010, 07:09 AM
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What kinds of things do you want to do, as far as marketing goes, to start picking up other properties near your current customers? And ultimately make your routes tighter?


Quote:
The biggest problem I have is that I started without a proper biz plan and to survive I had to buy to meet the demand. So for my future I need to concentrate on getting out of debt.
If you could have done it all over again, what would your plan have included that you didn't include up to this point and what kinds of things did you buy that you didn't plan on buying initially?
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Old 12-03-2010, 03:24 PM
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Fall hit and i got busy. My advertising plans for getting a full neighborhood are pretty simple. I have a customer or 2 in the area, I will talk to them about getting neighbors to join, and offer some sort of deal to them for ever new account I get. After that I will look for lawns that are obviously mowed commercially. Some may see it as stealing a yard, but if they are interested in talking they cant be 100% satisfied, build off of the new customer. Tell them that if they get a nighbor to join you will give them a great deal. I am a strong believer that YOU are your best advertisement, but a nighbor is a trusted person and not a random guy telling you that he is good. Go door to door, talk to a few people. I may have said it before but this last summer I took a notebook and put a start and an end time on all of my yards, mow times were between 18-30 min and drive time seemed to be another 20min. so knocking out that drive time adds half a day plus gas and truck use.

One thing I know big businesses dont have much of a problem with, but as a small one or 2 guy show, when yo go out, you want to bid a little lower, because you think thats what it will take to get the job. but if you notice its not the little hardware stores or grocery stores selling the cheapest. If you cant do it that cheap, DONT. You can figure in, i will use my mower this long, and gas and maybe advertising and insurance, but there are things you dont account for. HOUSE PAYMENT, GAS, ELECTRIC, PROP. TAX, GARBAGE, WATER, INTERNET, TV, PHONE, this is your job, If you went out and had to get a job somewhere you would add all of these things up and if they offer 8 an hr you would say no because its not enough, you know you need atleast 12 to survive. so when you are out doing your estimates, know your costs, but dont go below our only going to hurt yourself, it doesnt pay to work just to break even. also a problem I had this year was equipmnet break down, in the past things were under warenty, now that im a little ways into this i have to make repairs on my own. take a class, if you ever hire a worker, make sure they are mechanical, because its not just the cost of the repairs, its the down time. once i get going its had to stop, Ill leave it at that for now.
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Old 12-03-2010, 03:53 PM
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now that I finally have a chance to catch up and get all of the things done that get put off, I am going to work on my shop, does anyone have some pictures or examples of where to even start. I have a 3 car garage, half of one bay is an office, when i got the place i was thinking 3 car garage, I can fit everything in here....... Its full and I put up another cold storage shed thats 12wx20lx14h. NEVER enough storage. But if there are pictures or examples or anything let me know. I hope to get into a bigger place, I bought this place as a forclosure and fixed it up, but you have to stay 2 years to avoid being taxed like crazy. so for the next 2 years i need to have a shop that can work on everything.
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