Starting a lawn care business can be a rewarding and lucrative venture if you enjoy working outdoors and like a bit of hard work.
Let's start with a story. In 2007, a large family in Meridian, Idaho, decided to start a lawn mowing business. Dad, Mom, and five teenage children did the work initially. The family used a blue 1972 Ford pickup truck and 21-inch push mowers purchased at a Lowe's Home Improvement store. All of the mowing was done in the evenings when the parents finished work.
At first, the family dumped the cut and collected grass into the truck bed, leaving it overnight since the local dump was closed for the day by the time they had finished the evening's work. But the stink was horrendous. The moist grass fermented in the warm summer weather. By the time the family stopped by the local dump at the beginning of the next shift, the grass was oozing. Tossing it out of the truck bed with a pitchfork made Dad gag.
Gross, right? We told you this part of the story because we wanted to be clear that owning and running a lawn mowing or lawn care business is hard sometimes. But it can also provide a significant income. Over the next three years, the family grew their little lawn-mowing business to 70 residential clients. The average revenue per lawn was $35, so they brought in $2,450 per week from mid-April through early October. In a good year, that would be $61,000 for the season.
Starting a Lawn Care Business
Whether you're interested in starting a lawn mowing business or a full-service lawn care company, and regardless of whether you want to do it part-time or full-time, there are several key steps you'll need to take to get started.
In this article, we'll provide a guide to starting your own lawn care business. Admittedly, we have not included every detail, but we hope we have provided enough information for you to continue your research and make sound choices.
Is a Lawn Care Business Viable?
Before starting any business, it's important to conduct market research to determine if there is a demand for your services. This research will help you understand the potential of the lawn care industry in your area and identify your competition.
For example, the Idaho family mentioned above decided to start a lawn mowing business after they had trouble finding a reliable service to take care of their own lawn. While this is not the best example of market research, it indicated that they might be competitive.
To conduct market research for your lawn care business, start by searching online for lawn care companies in your area. Look at their services and pricing to get a sense of what they offer and how much they charge. Consider taking a drive through local neighborhoods and looking for lawn services in action.
Next, survey potential clients to determine their needs and preferences. This can help you identify the most popular services and find a unique selling proposition that sets you apart from the competition.
You can also test market. Consider putting a flyer offering lawn mowing services on 20 houses in your area. If you get more than one or two calls, you probably have a viable business —assuming your work at it and don't make any blunders.
Have a Plan
We recommend that you start with a plan. This may begin as a back-of-the-napkin thing or be a more formal document, but a business plan will help you organize your thoughts and create a roadmap for your business. Your business plan should include the following:
- Your target market. Determine the types of clients you want to target, such as residential or commercial, and whether you will specialize in a particular service, such as lawn mowing or landscaping.
- Services offered. List the services you plan to provide and the pricing for each service. Be sure to research your competition to ensure your pricing is competitive. Also, make sure you know what you are getting into; edging, for example, might require a special tool and extra investment.
- Startup costs. Calculate the costs of equipment, supplies, licenses, permits, insurance, and marketing expenses. This will help you determine how much money you need to start your business and how much revenue you need to generate to break even. It might also help you decide on the scale of the business. Do you need to invest $8,000 in a commercial mower, or can you start with push mowers?
- Revenue projections. Estimate your revenue and profit margin based on your pricing and the number of clients you plan to serve. This will help you determine how much money you can expect to make and how long it will take to reach your financial goals.
- Business structure. This is also a good time to determine the business structure, for example, will it be a sole proprietorship or a limited liability company (LLC)?
It is ok to plan to grow. The Idaho family, who started their own mowing service eventually had a trailer, multiple mowers, and a truck (not the 1972 Ford) dedicated to the company.
Licenses and Permits
Before you can start operating your lawn care business, you'll need to register your business and obtain any necessary licenses and permits.
Business requirements differ significantly by location, so check with your local government to determine the specific requirements for your area. Some common licenses and permits include:
- Business license. Allows you to operate a business in your city or county. It also lets your local government charge you fees.
- Contractor's license. If you plan to offer landscaping or irrigation services, there is a good chance you will need a license.
- Zoning permit. If needed in your area, this permit will allow you to operate a business in a specific area.
- Environmental permits. These may be required if you plan to use pesticides or herbicides.
Obtain any required licenses and permits before you start operating your business. Failure to do so can result in fines and other penalties.
Equipment and Supplies
The equipment and supplies you'll need for your lawn care business will depend on the services you plan to offer. At a minimum, you'll need a lawn mower, edger, trimmer, and blower. You may also need a truck or trailer to transport your equipment.
Other equipment and supplies you may need include:
- Sprayers for applying fertilizers and pesticides,
- Irrigation equipment,
- Safety equipment, such as gloves, goggles, and ear protection,
- Uniforms or work clothes with your business name or logo.
When purchasing equipment and supplies, it's important to choose the proper balance of quality and value. Let's revisit the Idaho family business mentioned above. They never purchased commercial mowers, rather it was more cost-effective for them to buy four 21-inch push mowers at the beginning of each season —and have the mower blades sharpened every week— than it was for them to outlay thousands for a bigger ride on. They even used it as a competitive advantage telling customers that they used the relatively smaller mowers so that they would not tear up the customer's yard.
As an aside, always wear safety glasses when you are trimming. The family's eldest daughter was working her shift running a STIHL line trimmer one day. She was weed-whacking along a fence at the back of a yard when the line hit a pile of warm dog poo. The spinning trimmer sprayed poo everywhere, like a canine fecal tornado. The young lady was very glad she had safety glasses and a face scarf on at the time.
Lawn care professionals should have general liability insurance to protect against accidents, injuries, or damage that may occur while on the job. In addition to general liability insurance, you may want to consider other types of insurance, such as:
- Workers' compensation insurance. This insurance will cover medical expenses and lost wages if an employee is injured.
- Vehicle insurance. Here the cover will pay for damage to your vehicle and liability if you are involved in an accident.
- Business interruption insurance. This form of insurance can cover lost income if your business is unable to operate due to a covered event, such as a natural disaster or fire.
Shop around for insurance policies to get the best rates and coverage for your business.
Develop a Marketing Strategy
Very few things work better for a lawn services business than a physical flyer placed on someone's door.
Seriously, print up a few hundred flyers with information about your services and prices, and put them on folks' doors. If your phone starts to ring, you know you are doing it right.
Beyond the flyers, here are some other, potentially, effective marketing strategies for lawn care businesses.
- Create a website. A website lets potential clients learn about your services, pricing, and contact information. This will give you a home base, if you will, to use for all of your other marketing.
- Word of Mouth. Once you have a couple of customers, ask them if they would recommend your service.
- Advertise. Consider placing ads in online directories or in search. For example, you can create a Google ad aimed at keywords like "lawn mowing service near me."
- Social media. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram allow you to showcase your work and connect with potential clients. There will be loads of competition, but you have to start somewhere.
Employees or Contractors
As your business grows, you may need to hire employees or contractors to help you with the workload. Be sure to follow all legal requirements when hiring staff, including verifying their eligibility to work in the United States and complying with minimum wage and overtime laws.
When hiring employees or contractors, look for individuals who have experience in the lawn care industry and are reliable and professional. Be sure to provide proper training and supervision to ensure that they are performing their duties safely and efficiently.
Monitor Your Finances
Keeping track of your finances is essential to ensure your lawn care business is profitable. You should monitor your expenses, income, and profit margin to make informed decisions about the growth of your business. So plan to track your dollars and cents before you open the business.
Remember your taxes. This is a big gotcha if you don't properly report and pay.
Starting a lawn care business can be a challenging but rewarding venture. Following these steps can turn your passion for lawn care into a profitable business.
Remember to conduct market research, develop a business plan, register your business and obtain licenses and permits, purchase equipment and supplies, obtain insurance, develop a marketing strategy, hire employees or contractors, monitor your finances, and expand your services. With a strong work ethic and dedication to customer satisfaction, your lawn care business can become a successful enterprise.