More Facts About the Lawn-Care Business

Learn more about this part-time lawn-care business that helps you make a profit while enjoying the great outdoors.
By Michael L. MacDonald
November/December 1977
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Earn extra money with your own home lawn-care business.
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A MOTHER reader shares more tips on running a lawn-care business.

Rules for the Lawn-Care Business

Naturally, after four years at the game, I found your article "You Can Earn Extra Cash With a Lawn-Mowing Business" in MOTHER NO. 46 (page 81) very interesting. I originally started out (September 1973) doing odd jobs . . . in fact, that's still my official business title. I did anything that would bring in the money and gradually — discovered how nice it was to make that money mowing lawns: You work outside, meet some fine people, and perform a needed service.

So I enrolled in a landscaping course and began investing in some good equipment. My inventory is now $4,000 (I plan to stop at this point so I don't get too big to control customer relations on a one-to-one basis) and my service has broadened to include every facet of landscaping from consultation (very lucrative in the spring) to design (lots of fun if you can find enough to keep busy) to installations (more fun) to maintenance (the bread and butter of the operation). My first month in business I grossed $153. Last year I reported $19,192.80 which has made me justly proud (and not a little weary).

During the course of this growth and learning, I've assembled some ground rules for myself that I'd like to pass on to others.

[1] Know the capabilities of your machines, your worker(s), and — most important — yourself.

[2] Get acquainted with others in your area who are doing the same thing so you'll know the prevailing market price for land scape/gardening work on an hourly basis ($12 per man per hour in the Boston area). You'll also be better able to give job quotes to customers who are leery of hourly charges.

[3] Establish a minimum charge, and charge it. It costs to gather together all your equipment and transport it to the site, in addition to doing the actual job. Don't be afraid of asking too much . . . you'll quickly be told if you are, but very few people will freely tell you you're charging too little. 'Tis better to be high and in than low and lose.

[4] If you say you'll do something at such and such a time, do it. Everyone and his brother are out there making agreements . . . and often they show up two weeks late and do half a job. If you establish yourself as a man of your word, and charge a reasonable rate, you'll soon be overrun with customers begging for your services.

[5] Advertise only in the area where you wish to do business. 30 minutes travel time to a job costs you $12 (in my area) round trip, and that doesn't include operational expenses. Keep your business local.

[6] Get a trailer with a floor not more than eight inches off the ground, large automobile or truck tires, a hinged ramp, and sides at least two feet high. Smaller trailers are not durable, are unsafe (they're too easily overloaded and they don't track well), and are just downright inconvenient. Take it from one who now owns an ex-U-Haul 5 X 9.

[7] Service your equipment religiously (at least every 25 working hours). Oil or grease everything that moves. Keep it clean and tidy. Change that dirty engine oil (new powerplants cost plenty). That may sound like a lot of service (I figure at least three hours every Sunday) but it'll put money in your pocket.

[8] Get a one-ton-rated pickup, dump truck, or platform truck with a hoist under the body. It'll enable you to haul either sod or loam, carry large amounts of new shrubs and trees, and cart away all of a customer's debris (believe me, there'll be plenty) . . . and unload everything without breaking your back, at a considerable savings in time (which is money in the bank). Shop wisely (truck body and equipment shops, other contractors, farmers, and — as a last resort — used car lots) and you can get a good buy.

[9] A leaf blower or lawn vacuum will pay for itself your first season.

[10] Obtain a good tarpaulin (at least 8 foot by 8 foot) for hauling debris. It'll pay for itself on your first cleanup job.

[11] One pair of $8.00 pruning shears will outlast four pairs of $3.00 ones. Moral: Buy the best. You'll save in the long run.

[12] Use chemicals very, very sparingly and with utmost caution and concern for safety. They can be deadly to you as well as to their intended victims. This warning applies to chemical fertilizers, also, but fortunately many manufacturers offer partly organic lawn fertilizers. Use them.

[13) Never, never work any kind of lawn equipment without heavy work shoes (preferably steel-toed ones) that cover at least your ankles, and higher if you can tolerate them. A whirling blade can sling pieces of steel, rocks, and wood with fantastic force (I've seen mowers hurl pebbles over 20 feet to break windows). Believe me, I've got scars to prove there's a danger.

[14] Be careful never to put your hand or any tool under a lawn mower without first disconnecting the spark plug wire. Better yet, remove the plug entirely . . . the machines have been known to start up just because the blade was moved.

[15] Don't — under any circumstances — ride a mower up an incline while you're sitting on the machine's lower side. (I learned this lesson the hard way when a riding mower actually flipped over on me as I was going up a grade.) If you think you'll have to lean into the job and strain to move a push mower up a particular hill or bank, always either back a riding mower up the slope or mow across it sideways.

In closing, I'd like to make one specific recommendation about equipment. I've had a Sensation 19 inch walk-behind lawn mower for three years now and find it to be one of the most pleasant of all the machines on the market to work with: It will cut in either direction without your having to lift and turn the mower (just reverse the handle and push) . . . it moves easily on roller bearings . . . it's made of durable, heavy, cast aluminum magnesium alloy . . . and it's easy to service.

— Michael L. MacDonald
Newton Lower Falls, Massachusetts


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