The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Profitable Lawn Care Side-Hustle

This article was originally published by
The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Profitable Lawn Care Side-Hustle
August 7, 2020

This article is going to be a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to starting a lawn care business.

One of the biggest questions about starting a lawn care business is:

Is starting a lawn care business worth it?

Wrapped up in that one question is a lot of underlying questions like:

  • How much could I potentially make?
  • Is this a full-time job or a part-time gig?
  • Is it complicated?

Spoiler Alert: Yes, it’s worth it. 

This article is going to be a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to starting a lawn care business. And the first step happens to also be the easiest way to prove to you that starting a lawn care business is worth it.

It’s important to note that this article is written from the perspective that this lawn care business is a side hustle, not a full-time job. If you want to turn your lawn care side hustle into a career, most of the numbers we mention in this article won’t apply. But it might be exactly what you need just to get started!

Phase I

Sketching Out a Rough Business Model

Don’t worry - we’re keeping the emphasis on “rough.” We’re not going to be using complicated equations here. We just want to do a little napkin math to answer a few questions that are important to the success of our business:

  • How much will it cost us to get started?
  • How much will it cost us to run our business on a monthly basis?
  • How many Clients do we need to get to cover those expenses and start making money?

As with any business model, we have to make certain assumptions but we’ll try to be conservative and back up our assumptions as much as possible. For the sake of this exercise, we’ll be building out everything from scratch. If you already have equipment or even a few Clients, you’re already a few steps ahead. Well done!

Business Model: A plan to turn a business idea into a profitable business in real life. 

Before we dive in, the first number we need to nail down is how much money we want to make out of this business. Let’s say we’re wanting to mow as a side-hustle to put an extra $15,000 in our pockets each year.  Knowing what we’re working towards will help us reverse-engineer our business to make sure we know exactly what we need to do to get there.

Startup Costs

Let’s start by determining our startup costs. These are one-time expenses just to get the new business up and running.

Startup Costs: One-time expenses that are incurred in the process of starting a business, such as equipment.

  • Push Lawn Mower: $400
  • Weed Eater: $150
  • Blower: $75
  • Gas Can: $20
  • Safety Glasses: $15
  • Ear Plugs: $5
  • Gloves: $10

TOTAL: $ 675

Of course, it would be really easy to jump down the equipment rabbit hole and spend thousands of dollars on a nice set up. But if the budget is tight or if this is just a side gig, we can get started from scratch for about $700 with a residential-grade setup. Let’s assume you have a truck or SUV (or are willing to roll down the road with your car’s trunk open) so that you don’t have to buy a trailer.

Pro Tip: look on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace for used equipment if you need to lower your startup costs further.

A ZTR (zero turn radius) mower, a stick edger, a customized trailer… all of these things can improve the speed and quality of our service. But since we’re just starting out, it’s probably worth it to get started with the bare bones and improve our set up as we can afford it.

Operating Expenses

We’ve got our equipment and we know our goal is to make $15,000 per year. Now we have to figure out our Operating Expenses which is basically determining how much it costs to run our business on a monthly basis, but here’s the hard truth: it depends. I’m sure it sounds like a cop-out. But really, it depends on quite a few things such as:

  • Fuel prices.
  • How well we treat and maintain our equipment.
  • How quickly we go through blades and trimmer line.
  • Insurance (which we recommend!) and the amount of coverage we purchase.
  • Even though it’s not technically an operating expense, we’ll even throw in savings for new equipment.

To start off, we’ll set aside 25% of our revenue for everything mentioned above and adjust from there. This is definitely an over-simplification, but we have to start somewhere. If we want to build a large company, we’ll need new equipment at some point. However, if this will remain a side hustle, then we can go ahead and run that 21” Toro into the ground. 

Operating Expenses: The money you spend running the business day-to-day such as insurance and gasoline.

Revenue

Awesome, our business is up and running! Now, it’s time to make money. Since we want to put an extra $15,000 in our pockets, that means we need to generate more revenue than that so we can cover our expenses. We’ll calculate that below.  

With a job such as lawn care, there are a lot more variables in play than if we were making widgets in a factory. Things that we can’t control such as weather, lot size, and traffic. Since we can’t nail down exact numbers, we have to use assumptions that are averages based on how we think we’ll do in a given mowing season. If we get rained out two days one week, we may have to work a few extra days the following week to make up for it. You get the picture.

So let’s talk about a few assumptions:

  • A 6-month (26-week) lawn care season from April to September.
  • We’ll mow 3 days per week.
  • A $40 average price tag per yard.
  • Cutting the grass every week of the season. Of course, this varies all across the country, so take this into consideration!  
  • Your operating expenses and savings for new equipment stays constant at 25% of revenue. 

Great! Now let’s use those assumptions to determine how many clients we need:

Step 1: Divide our take-home target of $15,000 by .75 (1 - .25 for Operating Expenses) to get the amount of revenue we need to generate. $15,000 / .75 = $20,000 in Gross Revenue needed.

Gross Revenue: In case you’re not familiar with the term, gross revenue isn’t disgusting. It’s simply the money coming in before we’ve paid for all of our expenses. Once we’ve paid for our expenses, the money left over is called Net Revenue. That’s what we take home.

 

Step 2: Divide our $20,000 Annual Revenue Goal by the 6-month season (26 weeks) to get our Weekly Revenue Goal of $770.

 

Step 3: Divide $770 by the 3 days we work each week to get our Daily Revenue Goal of $256.

 

Step 4: Divide $256 by the $40 we charge per yard to get the number of yards we need to mow per day which comes to 6.4.

 

Step 5: Multiply 6.4 yards a day times 3 days a week, times 1 for weekly service. So, 6.4 x 3 x 1 = 19.2 clients. Let’s round up to 20 clients since I don’t think anyone would want only 20% of their yard mowed.

 

Let’s check our math. Our net revenue should be slightly higher than $20,000 since we rounded up in a few places.

20 clients

x 26 (weeks in the mowing season)

x $40 (average price per job)

= $20,800 (Gross Revenue)

x  .75 (75% is what we take home since 25% is for Operating Expenses/Savings)

= $15,600 (Take-Home Cash or Net Revenue)

Nice job! That wasn’t so hard. We can adjust the numbers based on our goals, equipment needs, and other circumstances that unfold as we run our business. Still, this is a solid starting point. 

Since we’re making more than we’re spending, our business is Cash Flow Positive.

Cash Flow Positive: When the money coming in each month is more than the money you spend each month.

I think it’s safe to say that starting a lawn care business is worth it! It costs us less than $1,000 to get started and in less than a month we’ve built a profitable side hustle.

Phase II

Coming Up With a Brand

In the world of lawn care, word-of-mouth is the best marketing. Not only is it the most common way for a lawn care business to grow, it’s the most preferred way for a lawn care business to grow! If a Client passes our name along to their nextdoor neighbor, we now have two properties next to one another which shortens our time on the road. In an ideal world, all of our Clients would exist in a single neighborhood, effectively eliminating drive time and maximizing Route Density. Of course, that’s not always possible, but we can increase our odds by doing two things:

  1. Providing quality service at a fair price.
  2. Making it incredibly easy for our Clients to refer us to their neighbors and friends.

Route Density: This refers to how close together each client’s property is. The closer they are, the denser the route which means less time in your truck and more money per hour.

We’ll cover the first one in another article. For now, let’s focus on optimizing for referrals by building a shareable brand.

Personal Business Name

Since this is a side hustle and we want to keep the operation small, the most valuable asset we have is your name. YOU are the brand.

You’re the voice on the other end of the line when people call asking for a quote. You’re the one pulling up in front of their house and servicing their property. And, unfortunately, you’re the one they’re yelling at if you break a window. We don’t say that to scare you, we say that to establish the power of your name. Simple. Memorable. Personal.

Starting out? Let’s just go with the name you already know. Your own.

Example: John Smith’s Lawn Care or Smith Lawn Care

Here’s a good 4-step approach to coming up with a name:

Step 1: Write out a list of twenty names. Half of them might be horrible but just getting the ideas down on paper (or in your notes app on your phone) will help the creative juices flow. Here is a fun exercise to get started: pick one item from each list and slap them together. If you’re a risk taker, close your eyes and point to the screen.

  1. Your First Name
  2. Your Last Name
  3. Your City’s Name
  4. Your City’s Nickname

  1. Lawn Care
  2. Landscaping
  3. Property
  4. Lawn or Yard

  1. Leave this one blank!
  2. Company or Co.
  3. Management
  4. Service(s)

Here’s an example for you: We’re in Baton Rouge, Louisiana which is affectionately known as “The Red Stick” (that’s what it means in French). I could name my company “Red Stick Lawn Co.” Wow, that sounds solid. Or if I wanted to keep it short and personal, I could name my business “Tim’s Lawn Care”... if my name was Tim.

Step 2: Let’s make sure you’re not going to step on anyone’s toes here. Do a quick Google search of your favorite name to see if anyone is using it. It may be helpful to Google your proposed name with your city’s name behind it to double check. If someone is using it that’s around you or has a trademark on it, go to your next option. It’s not worth getting into a legal battle.

Step 3: If we’re looking to have a social media presence (which we recommend!) it’s good to do a quick check to see if the names we like are available on all of the web and social channels. We’ll use a service like NameCheck.com (it’s free) and search for our business name which will give us a comprehensive overview of the name’s availability.

 

Step 4: Once we’ve landed on which name we’re going with, a quick win is to set up a new Gmail account so we’re not emailing Clients from that firewizard89@yahoo.com email from high school. Next, we’ll use that new email to sign up for the various social media platforms and create an account with GoDaddy so we can register the .com URL for our website. For now, we won’t worry about those social media accounts or the website. We’ll create another article talking about those in detail. We just need to make sure we create accounts with each so that no one else can take them.

Commercial Business Name

Down the road, if we decide we want to turn this new side-hustle into a fully-fledged operation with multiple crews, a fleet of trucks, an office manager and a huge book of business, using your own name might not be the best option. You might not be the one picking up the phone, mowing their lawn or handling broken window claims. So providing the business with a commercial brand would be a good choice.

Coming up with a name that isn’t cheesy but IS memorable can be a difficult task. But here are a few things we’ll want to keep in mind:

  • Keep it short. Long names are harder to remember.
  • Keep it simple. Words that are hard to spell or are purposely misspelled can make it harder for Clients to find us with a quick Google search.
  • Keep it unique. Using a generic name like “[Your City] Lawn Care” blends in and doesn’t stick in the mind. This is perhaps the most difficult part of coming up with a name.

Phase III

Setting Your Pricing

 Before we get too deep in the weeds (pun intended) with marketing our business and finding Clients, we need to define our pricing first. While setting pricing might seem straightforward at first glance, it can quickly become complicated.

The 5 primary factors at play are:

  1. The Services we offer.
  2. The Time it takes to complete them.
  3. The Quality at which we execute.
  4. The Size of the lot we’re servicing.
  5. The Complexity of the lot we’re servicing.

 

That list can be overwhelming since there are a lot of unknowns such as lot size and complexity. This makes it important for us to have a system for pricing that is more thoughtful and systematic than simply looking at it and pulling a price out of our grass. So we’re going to break this down into smaller portions and tackle it one bite at a time.

Step 1: Determine your services.

Since we’re just getting started, let’s keep it simple and start with the lawn care basics like mowing, blowing, weed eating and edging. Depending on the state, other services may have strict licensing requirements so we need to make sure we know which ones we’re legally allowed to offer.

Step 2: Understand the market.

Based on the services we’re offering, let’s find some middle of the road prices. We can start by reaching out to neighbors or friends that live nearby to see what their lawn care operator charges them. We’ll take into consideration the size and complexity of their property and what services the operator provides. If we have a friend who cuts grass, they could really help us out here. What we’re trying to do here is get a general idea of the market so we can better position ourselves in it.

Step 3: Determine your hourly rate.

You’ve heard it said that time is money, right? It’s true! Our time is valuable and we need to know it and believe it. Starting off, a good hourly rate is $45-$55 per man hour. As with any profession, we’ll be able to raise our hourly rate as we gain experience and can prove the quality of our service. Remember, this may be much higher depending on the cost of living in our city, which is why we included step #2!

When it comes to bidding yards, think about it in terms of how much time it will take to complete. It takes a bit of experience to be able to glance at a property and accurately estimate this, but don’t worry too much. We can always adjust prices later on or fire a client (no joke!) if we really mess up a bid and they won’t agree to pay more.

Step 4: Determine your minimum.

Setting a minimum helps us make sure that the yard is still worth our time. Let’s say our hourly rate is $50 and we’re bidding a yard that will take 15 minutes. Just because it is a $12.50 yard ($50 x .25 hours = $12.50) by our hourly rate doesn’t mean we should charge $12.50! It depends on the city, but our minimum should be between 60-70% of our hourly rate. So, a $50 hourly rate would mean our minimum should be between $30-$35. There are a lot of opinions out there, but using $30 as a minimum isn’t a bad starting point.

Step 5: Go get repetitions.

We’re not going to get it right every time, and that’s okay. Repetitions help us dial this skill in so let’s get out there and cut ourselves some slack! Pay attention to the nuances of each yard and learn from others. Here are a few quick final thoughts:

  • If two yards are the same size, and one of them requires more weed eating, we should charge more for the second yard. Remember, bid by the time it takes to service it, not necessarily the yard size.
  • If someone has multiple properties with us, we could give them a discount for their business. Along those same lines, if someone has a larger property, we could offer them a price break since we’re not having to travel to other jobs to work the same number of hours (remember route density?)
  • Ask new clients to talk with their neighbors and pay them a referral bonus if they bring in a new client. We may even consider offering a group of neighbors a discount if they all sign up with us. This increases route density a lot!
  •  We’re not going to be “that guy” that says “any yard for $20”. First of all, it’s not good for business. We’re worth more than that and we simply can’t sustain it. Secondly, it’s not good for the industry. Cutting grass is good, honest, hard work. It takes a tremendous amount of skill to provide quality lawn care service. It’s not cheap or easy work and shouldn’t be painted as such. Okay… we’ll get off the soapbox now.

Phase IV

Getting Your First 10 Clients

It’s time to get down to brass tacks: finding people to give us money.

Who is our target audience?

The first thing we need to do is understand WHO needs our service. There are really only two necessary characteristics:

  1. They must live in a house with a yard.
  2. They must be able to pay us. 

The best place for us to start is by using our existing network. Social media is an extremely powerful way to get information out there. If you’re not on any social media platforms, just twist your friend’s arm to help you out. 

Post on Social Media

A simple post on a few platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, is sure to get us a few clients. Let’s copy the paragraph below and fill in the blanks.

Hey, everyone! I’m starting a lawn care company called [enter the name of your business] and would love the chance to service your property. I’m offering [enter your services] and estimates are completely free! Shoot me a message and we can go from there.

If you’re willing, please share this with anyone you know who you might be interested!  

Thanks, 

[enter your name]

[enter your business name]

Simple, but effective! You could also use that as a script for a video if you feel comfortable with that.

Using Other Websites

There are a few other great options out there to help us get the word out about our business such as Craigslist and Nextdoor. The Nextdoor app allows people in the same area to talk about relevant topics to their neighborhood. Many people use it to request services such as lawn care. We’ll keep an eye on these. 

Identify Target Neighborhoods

Pull up Google Maps and find your house. From there, let’s look in a 5-mile radius for any neighborhoods that you’re familiar with or have contacts in. The closer to your house, the better as that will cut down on drive time and help us make more money per hour.

Where to begin?

Once we’ve found a couple neighborhoods, we’ll start by reaching out to the people you know first. If we can convert that friend to a paying customer, fantastic! That’s one down. If not, we can ask if they would mind introducing us to a neighbor. A simple introduction by a neighbor can be a huge vote of confidence for a homeowner. The more we can inspire trust, the more likely they are to give us their business.

If we don’t know anyone in that neighborhood, that’s okay! We’ll start with a simple door knocking campaign. Face to face conversations are always better than phone calls or emails. It helps homeowners feel more comfortable with the person they’re letting into their backyard. 

A couple things to be aware of… some subdivisions prohibit solicitation, which could get us in trouble if we go knocking on doors. It’s just better to avoid these all together. Next, due to COVID-19, many people will be more hesitant that usual when someone unexpectedly knocks on their door. To help people feel comfortable, knock on the door, step back past 6 feet, and maintain social distancing. This will show the potential client that we respect them, which is always a good way to start a relationship. 

From there, we’ll use a simple script like this:

Hello! My name is [your first name] and I own [your business name]. I was wondering if you would be okay if I gave you a free estimate for lawn care services. Are you interested? 

Pro Tip: If you’re going door to door, don’t dress in the torn up, dirty clothes that you’ll be mowing in. Throw on a nice pair of jeans and a clean shirt. You don’t have to dress up in slacks and a button down shirt, but look presentable. People are more likely to answer the door and give their business to someone who looks like they have their act together.

What’s next?

Got your first customer? That’s a huge win! You now have a legitimate, money-making business. As we begin growing our book of business, we’ll want to keep a couple things in mind:

  1. By now, we’ve talked about route density a lot.. In a perfect world, all of your Clients would exist on one street so you can move house to house without ever having to get back in your truck. We can aim for tight route density, but when we’re starting up we shouldn’t be afraid to take jobs that are a little further apart than we may prefer. You can always let a client go in the future. 
  2. Second, an introduction from an existing Client drastically increases your probability of closing other Clients. So don’t be afraid to ASK. Simply ask, “would you mind introducing me to your nextdoor neighbor? I would love to mow their yard as well and it would mean a lot.”

Pro Tip: To further increase your chances of an introduction, explain to your Client that, since you won’t have to pack up and drive, you’ll give both them AND their neighbor $5 off if they’ll be so kind as to introduce you and their neighbor ends up becoming a Client.

Phase V

Avoiding Common Pitfalls

Alright, we’ve got some Clients! Let’s address some of the common pitfalls that young lawn care operators run into. If we can avoid those, we’ll be off to a great start.

Pitfall 1: Not putting a monetary value on their time.

Let’s say that a yard takes us an hour and a half to service and we make $60. It can be exciting to do some quick math and think, “wow, I’m making $40 an hour!” While we may have worked on the property for an hour and a half, we haven’t taken into account all of the time it takes to run the rest of the business.

  • Scheduling all of the jobs out on a calendar.
  • Rescheduling them because of rain.
  • Communicating with the Clients about when you’ll be coming out.
  • Loading up the trailer.
  • Filling up the gas tank in the truck and all the equipment.
  • Creating an invoice for each job.
  • Sending those invoices to your Clients.
  • Collecting payments.
  • Logging those payments and the receipts for gas in Quickbooks.
  • Etc. 

When we begin adding up all of the time it takes us to run the business and divide the amount we made by the number of hours we spent, we’re no longer running a $40/hr business. That's not to say we aren’t still making good money! It just might be less than we expected.

The solution is fairly straightforward: maximize our efficiency and streamline as many administrative tasks as possible so we make more per hour. We’ll get into this more in a bit.

Pitfall 2: Not collecting basic Client information.

You might be surprised how many lawn care don’t even know the last name of their Clients. Or their email address. Or even the address of the house they’re servicing! They’re simply showing up at “Sam’s neighbor’s house by the 7eleven.”

  • If we don’t have an address, we can’t effectively manage your routes.
  • If we don’t have an email address, we can’t send an official invoice or receipt.
  • If we don’t have a phone number, we can’t communicate with the Client.
  • If we don’t have a service frequency, we can’t effectively schedule jobs.
  • If we don’t have a price, we might invoice them for the wrong amount.

And as we start to grow the business, we can’t simply hold this information in our heads. We need a system to efficiently collect and store our business information.

We should have the following information on file for every single Client:

  • First and Last Name
  • Phone Number
  • Email Address
  • Property Address
  • Special Instructions
  • Service Frequency
  • Services
  • Price

Pitfall 3: Not treating lawn care as a legitimate business.

A lawn care business is still a legitimate business and there are some simple things we can do to spruce up our professional image and help make it easy for folks to recommend us to others.

First, we can show up.

We’ve heard story after story of lawn care providers simply not showing up when they said they were going to. Some just disappeared, never to be heard from again. We can’t afford to be those guys. In lawn care, your reputation is everything and being seen as a quality lawn care business is 80% about just showing up and doing the job you were hired to do. The rest of it is more or less optional.

Second, we can communicate clearly and often.

We can let them know when we’re on our way, when we’ve arrived, when we’ve finished the job, when we’ve sent an invoice and when we’ve received payment.

Third, we can leave a paper trail.

We can regularly send invoices for the jobs we perform and send receipts when payments are made so there’s a paper trail of how much is owed and how much has been paid.

 

All of these things are common courtesies that help our Clients trust us and feel confident recommending us to their friends.

Phase VI

Managing Your Clients and Jobs

Now that we’ve got a handful of Clients, we need to work on putting basic systems in place to run our business well. In order to maximize our efficiency, we’ll want to automate as much as possible.

We can use an app like Check which automates a number of time consuming tasks, completely eliminating those things from our to-do list.

  • Automatically sending invoices at the completion of a job.
  • Automatically scheduling jobs on a regular cadence (eg. every week).
  • Automatically generating the shortest route for the day.
  • Automatically calculating each Client’s balance based on invoice and payment activity.

 

It also makes other tasks much easier, such as:

  • Logging Client payments (and how they paid).
  • Capturing and storing critical Client information.
  • Rescheduling or canceling jobs due to weather or equipment malfunction.
  • Keeping track of job details and special Client requests.

 

By eliminating or reducing the amount of time it takes to manage the admin part of the business, it frees us up to take on more Clients and thus, earn more money with less of a headache. If you have a few Clients already, getting started should take less than 15 minutes.

Step 1: Download the App

We can search for “Check: Lawn Care Management” app in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store and download it for free.

Step 2: Sign up for an account.

We just have to add some basic information like name, phone number, email address and services. It should only take us a quick minute.

Step 3: Import our Clients.

Check allows you to import Clients from your contacts on your phone so if you’ve added their name, phone number, email and address into a contacts card, adding them to Check is as simple as importing them. If their information is in your notes app on your phone or written down on paper somewhere, it’s still easy to do but estimate it taking about 1 minute per Client to fill out their information.

Step 4: Set up Recurring Jobs.

Now that our Clients are in Check, we can add Recurring Jobs to each Property. If a Client has more than one Property, we can add both Properties in their profile first. Then, simply go to each Client’s profile, and add a Recurring Job for each set of services that need to be scheduled on different cadences. For example:

  • Lawn Care every 2 weeks.
  • Gutter Cleaning every 6 months.
  • Hedge Trimming every month.

Now that we’re set up with Check, we can spend a lot more of our time focusing on the work itself and less time thinking about the pile of invoices we have to create when we get home this evening.

Wrapping it Up

We certainly hope that this guide has been helpful and we wish you the best of luck with your lawn care journey! If you have questions that we didn’t adequately answer in this guide, please reach out to us at support@hellocheck.co. We’d love to chat with you and make sure that we answer all of your questions.

And, as always, if you have any ideas or suggestions about how we can improve Check, please let us know! We want to build the best product for YOU.

Download Check Today

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