Would you believe that many lawn care operators are underbidding yards by 20%, costing them potentially thousands of dollars every single year? In my conversations with dozens of operators, I’ve unfortunately found this to be true.
If you’ve been mowing grass for a while and feel like that’s you, it’s not too late! Keep reading and we can walk through this together.
If you’re just starting out, then let’s get this right from day one so you don’t leave money on the table. And be sure to read our Ultimate Guide to Starting a Lawn Care Business if you haven't already.
Fortunately, there are a few simple best practices we’re about to unpack that will be helpful guide rails as you get experience pricing (bidding, quoting, whatever you want to call it) yards.
Using these tips, I have been able to get 20%, and sometimes 50% OVER my target rate. I’ll explain how below. Toward the end of this article, we’ll take all of the tactics and boil it down into an example to show how this all works.
To stay on topic, we’ll give pointers on how to price lawn mowing jobs, not landscaping jobs.
Let’s dive in.
One of the most important factors in pricing a yard correctly is your target hourly rate. This is the first number you need to decide on before you start throwing out prices. Many operators use the “dollar per minute” approach or $60/hour, but I encourage you to put a bit more thought into that number. Let’s break down what can make this go up or down.
Operators with a higher experience level can (and should) command a higher hourly rate than a new operator. We all make mistakes, but it’s a pretty safe assumption that more experienced operators will make fewer mistakes like scalping the turf, messing up the edge, missing a spot, breaking windows, not blowing off everything (trust me… I’ve done them all).
I am not a fan of undercutting other operators just to pick up a new account, but I also want to say that it is totally okay to start with a lower hourly rate if you are new to the business. I believe it shows self awareness and helps set expectations for your clients. Think about it… if you came in with premium prices and offered rookie-level quality, that’s a quick way to lose clients.
With that said, if you know you lay the straightest stripes and craft the sharpest edges, then don’t undersell yourself! It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been in business, quality is quality.
The point here is that your prices should reflect the quality of your work and the quality of your work should reflect your prices.
If you can offer a high quality of service but don’t want to, then don’t use premium prices. However, if you can and want to offer high quality, then it’s important to position yourself as a premium provider in your area and one of the best ways to do this is through price!
In my experience, I’ve noticed that even if you position yourself as a premium provider, you’ll still get some clients that want the quick “mow, blow, and go” type of service. That’s fine, but once you settle on your hourly rate, I still encourage you to stick to it even if the quality the client desires is below what you typically deliver (maybe it’s for a rental house or apartment complex). This is a great chance to upsell them to full service or additional services. Take a look at this article by Landscape Management that gives some solid ideas on how to do that.
Efficiency is a big deal in our industry which is why the equipment that improves your efficiency costs a lot more than your entry level equipment. Larger mower deck size, bigger engine, trimmer with more torque, blower with massive airflow… all of it helps you finish yards faster. The nicer the equipment you have, the more efficient you are, but it also means your fuel and maintenance costs go up (not to mention the thousands of dollars you just dropped on the equipment itself).
So, let me ask you a question: as you start to upgrade your equipment which helps you finish yards faster, do you think you should lower the price of the yard since it’s taking you less time or (hint: this is the correct answer) should you increase the hourly rate you expect to make to account for the increased expenses?
Wow, you’re really smart. Increase that hourly rate!
As a general rule, better equipment helps you produce a better finished product, which, as we learned in the quality section above, means you can charge higher prices. It all works together!
Economics 101 tells us that something is only worth what another person will pay for it. This means that even if you think you are the greatest lawn care operator to ever live, but you live in Podunkville, Texas (basically where I grew up) then you’re probably going to have a hard time charging your premium $100/hour rate.
As a general rule, larger cities and metropolitan areas can fetch higher hourly rates and smaller towns have to take lower rates. Don’t worry about this too much though… the higher rates of larger cities end up being offset by the higher cost of living anyway.
I know operators getting $70-80/hour for mowing in large cities like Dallas, Texas and others in small towns that are happy to get $45/hour. You just have to figure out what your market can support, then stay reasonably within that range.
If you want to take this a level further, consider the fact that you can charge more in some neighborhoods than others due to a higher expectation of quality across the board.
You and I both know that the lawn care industry is driven by trust. That’s why folks often hire the guy mowing their neighbor’s yard. Subconsciously, they assume that if their neighbor trusts them, they’re probably trustworthy. And trust, as silly as it sounds, is partially a perception game. It’s crazy how much a clean logo, polished website, and uniforms can increase the perception of your business in the eyes of a client. I know that can feel like a lot, so if you’re not ready to go down those roads just yet, there are still things you can do to run a professional operation that impresses your clients. Let’s go through a few:
Your clients can feel when you’re disorganized. You forget their yard, don’t send invoices consistently, send invoices that lack detail, or don’t send invoices within a reasonable amount of time. If you get these routine tasks into a system to help avoid simple mistakes, I guarantee your clients will feel better about doing business with you.
If you don’t already have a system to stay organized, we build a mobile app to help operators like you do just that. Our free plan has all of the organizational tools you need to stay on top of things.
Communicating well is two-fold: consistency and professionalism.
When I say ‘consistency’, I mean communicating enough so that the client knows what’s going on with their lawn service and isn’t left in the dark. Notify them the day before you are scheduled to service their property and when their service is affected for any reason (weather, equipment issues, health issues, etc.). When you do reach out, be short and to the point. Depending on your client’s preferences, you can use text or email, but either way, make sure everything is punctuated properly and spelled correctly.
Why does professionalism matter for pricing? Because it shows your potential clients up front how you do business. You will stand out because there’s a pretty good chance their other lawn care operator just stopped showing up one day or just got fired! Often, handling a bid professionally will help the potential client want to do business with you before you even give them a price.
Alright, you have your hourly rate. Now it’s time to set your minimum price for a yard. Just because a yard takes you 10 minutes to complete at a $60/hour rate doesn’t mean it’s only worth $10. To make sure the travel time and effort are worth it, it’s best practice to charge a minimum.
Mine used to be $35, but I’ve since raised it to $40. Again, some markets may only allow your minimum to be $30 and that’s fine. Keep in mind that if you service multiple towns and you have longer drive times, you may need to bump that minimum up.
You’ll have to call this shot for yourself, but I’d recommend having a minimum of no less than $25 per cut and that is pushing it! Not with a push mower… I mean pushing it like it’s getting too low… whatever. The point is, don’t undersell yourself.
If you’re just starting up, then you may have to take whatever jobs come your way (within reason) but it is helpful for you to know what type of property you prefer to service. Here’s why:
The jobs you want will affect your equipment set up OR vice versa.
If you are using a push mower, curved trimmer, and handheld blower, you’re probably going to want to stay away from commercial jobs right now. Your sweet spot is going to be small residential homes, and that is an excellent place to start your business.
On the flip side, if you have a zero-turn with a 60” deck, you’re probably not getting that thing through many backyard gates. In that case, commercial jobs with large patches of unobstructed grass would be just perfect.
I remember when I was starting my business, I had a 42” residential Hustler Raptor and got a request from a friend to mow for a high-end housing development. They wanted me to mow the spec house, two large retention ponds and four large lots. It would have taken me close to eight hours per service (as a solo), including at least three hours trimming, and they were looking for two cuts per month.
I’m not gonna lie, I wanted it, but I was terrified. I sought out the advice of another friend who had been in the business for a long time and he encouraged me to stick to residential for the time being until I had the equipment, and maybe even an extra pair of hands, to handle that large of a job. Best advice ever.
I called the guy who requested the bid and told him I couldn’t handle it right now. I told him that if I was going to bid it, it would be $450/cut. Turns out I was just $50/cut under the current company servicing it.
Sure, an extra $900/month would have been really nice, but the “price” I would have had to pay to earn that, with my setup at that time, and the fact I was by myself, would have been pretty steep. Ultimately, I’m glad I passed on it.
No two lots are the same, even if they have the same square footage. You have to take into account a number of factors that can make a significant difference in the time it takes you to complete (or TTC for “time to complete”).
A benchmark is simply something that you use as a point of reference for other items of a similar nature. I like to apply that strategy to bidding by visualizing one of my client’s yards that’s fairly average difficulty, meaning there aren’t many obstacles and it’s pretty easy to complete. This is my benchmark yard.
The key to having an accurate benchmark is that you have to track your time for that yard. You can literally start a stopwatch on your phone or in the Check app to do this.
As I’m walking around other properties and estimating how long it will take me to complete, I can envision how aspects of that yard are either easier or harder than my benchmark yard. Is it bigger or smaller than my benchmark? Does it have more or less obstacles? You get the picture.
As you get to know your client’s yards better, you can use all of them as benchmarks for new properties you’re bidding. You can have a feel for which one of your clients’ yards is most similar to the one you are bidding and tweak the price accordingly. I guess that’s just a fancy way of saying that the more experience you have, the easier it is to price yards in the future.
Massive tree roots, uneven areas of the yard, drainage ditches, play sets, steep hills, pools, lawn furniture, and planter boxes all take extra time to work around with the trimmer. When you’re walking a property, make sure to take note of places that cannot be mowed so you can increase the amount of trim time accordingly.
This may be a no brainer, but the larger the property, the longer it will take for you to complete. But don’t be fooled by commercial properties or large homes with small yards that “don’t have a lot of grass”. Most of your time will be spent trimming, edging, and blowing and that is going to take far more effort than riding your mower 50-60% of the time like you would at a normal yard.
I had an apartment complex that had only 5,300 square feet of grass (if that), but it took up almost an entire acre. It took me 45-55 minutes to knock everything out because what little grass existed on the property was so spread out. Then I ended up having to blow off much more hardscape than I mowed. But, no complaints here… I earned $100/cut which put my effective hourly rate over $130/hour on my fastest days. Nice.
Just resolve right now to always take a tape measure out when you bid yards and don’t “eyeball it” like I’ve done before. You’re looking to make sure your mower will fit through the gate, otherwise you’re going to be stuck push mowing it (not a great switch when you’re pampered by a ZTR or stander) which will decrease your efficiency and, ultimately, your effective hourly wage.
If your mower won’t fit in the backyard, consider letting someone else take that one depending on the size of the yard. Or just carry around some boards and a cinder block like this guy.
True story, I eyeballed one property and the gate ended up being two inches too small. When I went to upgrade my mower, I actually ended up getting a smaller deck size so I didn’t have to push mow their backyard. As I write this, I realize how lazy that sounds… I just like to think of it as efficient.
At the end of the day, you’re going to have to throw a number on it, so go with your gut. But, to make sure your gut doesn’t screw you, don’t estimate your TTC as if you were going to be the most efficient at it from the get-go.
Ask yourself, how long do I believe this will take me to complete on the first time? That will naturally build in a buffer for yourself since you will get faster as you service it more. This will hopefully result in a slightly higher hourly wage than you were initially targeting.
Alright, it’s time to slap a price tag on this thing. Let’s go through an example.
A client calls and asks for a price for bi-weekly lawn care. Let’s say I’m trying to target $65/hr. with a $40 minimum.
So, for anything under 37 minutes, I will charge my minimum and anything over, I will calculate the price based on my hourly rate.
Nerd Alert: If you’re curious, here’s how I calculated my minimum time threshold.
$40 minimum / $65 hourly rate = .6153, which tells me the maximum number of hours I will work for $40.
.6153 x 60 minutes in an hour = 36.9 minutes
I go to the property and take a look around and here’s what I notice:
This leaves me with a 10 minute increase over my benchmark (15 + 5 - 10 = 10).
If my benchmark takes 55 minutes to complete, then I'd estimate my time to complete (TTC) this yard at 65 minutes. We made a pretty handy lawn care pricing chart that does this calculation for you. You can take a look at that post and download the pricing chart here: Lawn Care Pricing Chart
Let's calculate the price for the yard.
65 minutes TTC / 60 minutes in an hour = 1.0833 hours TTC
1.0833 x $65/hr = $70.41/cut
Now, of course I wouldn’t submit that price as is. We’re going to polish it a bit, but we still have a couple more things to consider.
I know this person asked for bi-weekly service, but we’re going to use this opportunity to upsell them to weekly service. Since I want to stay around $70.41, I will add to that price to get the actual bi-weekly price and subtract a bit from it to get the weekly price.
Bi-weekly Service: $70 + $5 = $75/cut
Revenue per month: $150
Weekly Service $70 - $10 = $60/cut
Revenue per month: $240
What we’re doing here is creating a big enough gap in the prices that the potential client starts to consider going with weekly. But if they still stick with bi-weekly, you’re getting a bit more than you targeted! Either way, we’ll call it a win. Let’s goooo!
Now, why would I take off $10 if we just determined that I needed to charge $70? Remember what I said about going with your gut and estimating your TTC on how long it will take to complete the yard the first time? Now I’m telling you to bet on yourself that you will find a way to shave 10 minutes off of your TTC so you can still hit your target rate. I believe you can do it.
Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself!
I’m not telling you to sacrifice quality, but I am challenging you to get as efficient as possible with each of your yards. Take the one above for example. What happens if the client goes with bi-weekly AND you shave 10 minutes off of the TTC? Let’s find out.
55 minutes TTC / 60 minutes in an hour = 0.9167 hours TTC
$75 / 0.9167 = $81.81 Effective Hourly Rate
Route Density has to do with how close your clients are to one another. If one of your clients is in California and another one is in New York and you mow them on the same day, then congrats you have the worst route density in the history of cutting grass. Ideally, you want to target certain neighborhoods or parts of town to stay in on any given day. The more dense the route, the less driving you’ll have to do, which means you’ll be spending more time making money. Nice.
When pricing yards, it can be worth it to give a neighbor a discount in order to get their business because drive time is non-existent. Just roll over on your mower! Go ahead and price the yard how you normally would, but if they say it’s too high, it’s definitely worth it to come down a bit to win their business.
Take a look at this article from the National Association of Landscape Professionals on how to build more route density.
If you’re cutting someone’s yard for the first time, there’s a decent chance that it needs a bit more work than usual, whether that’s re-setting the edge, cleaning up limbs, or just knocking down the jungle of overgrowth.
You’re not going to charge extra every time you cut it, but let’s not give away our time! Everything mentioned above should have an appropriate fee attached to it, ideally reflecting the TTC for those tasks.
Rather than calculating the exact TTC to set the edge for every linear foot of concrete in their yard, sometimes it’s just easier to do a flat fee. I charge a $20 “edge setting” fee for every new yard because that overgrowth can get gnarly. You can make that call for yourself depending on how fast you are with your equipment.
For significantly overgrown yards, you may use a multiple of the price you agreed upon. For example, if the first cut is going to take three passes at progressively lower deck heights to knock it down to a manageable level, you should easily double or triple the price and then drop it back down after that. You deserve that extra money because at that point you’re adding additional stress on your equipment and risking hitting an unseen object… that has happened to me multiple times. From experience I can assure you, people will pay for it.
You’ve dialed in the price and you’re ready to submit them, so go ahead and text it to the client!
We’re more professional than that. Submitting a bid in a professional way with a bid template will help you close twice as many clients. You can grab ours here for free.
As we submit bids, it is on us to clarify the types of services we will deliver as well as how we will operate. This helps give the soon-to-be client confidence that you know what the heck you’re talking about and that you’re a bonafide pro. Here’s a snippet of the language that I include with bids:
“Your service would include mowing, trimming what the mower doesn’t get, edging between the turf and hardscape, and blowing clippings off all hard surfaces back onto the turf.”
Of course you can adjust as needed for your service offerings. The main takeaway is that you don’t want to leave any ambiguity around what services the customer is paying you for.
Are you cool with kid’s toys being all over the yard? Dog poop? Beer Cola bottles? Not this guy.
What about that lock on the gate to the back yard? Do you need the code or are you cool just hopping it each week? No thanks, I’ll pass.
Pay me 3 months after service? Nah fam.
This is where you (very kindly and professionally) let the client know what you’ll need from them in order to maintain a business relationship with them.
Too many clients treat lawn care operators with less respect than they deserve. Communicating directly and confidently with clients helps you establish yourself as a professional who deserves to be treated like one. Balance this with being personable and a pleasure to work with and you’ll be on your way to success.
Use this language in your template:
“In order for me to service your property, please make sure __________________
Or I ___________________
You can run as tight of a ship as you want. It’s your business and there are plenty of potential clients out there! Mix and match those to set the right expectations for your client.
By putting these things into practice, you will set your business up for a win. Now it’s time to get out there and start bidding. Don’t wait for someone to call you, go to your neighbors and your current customers’ neighbors and ask if you can give them a price for lawn care!
Just a fair warning: you’re going to make mistakes and that’s okay. Remember to cut yourself some slack (no pun intended). You’re the one out there grinding and working hard. You’re the entrepreneur that is showing ambition and building something for yourself. Even though it can be stressful at times, it can also be extremely fun if you let it be. Way to go. Seriously, way to go.
If you’re looking for a way to alleviate some of the pressure of running this wildly successful business you’re building, take a look at our app that helps you get organized, increase efficiency, and get paid faster. It also does some of those fancy things I mentioned above like tracking time and generating a daily route. You can sign up in less than a minute and use the free version forever if you want. I’ll leave that up to you :)