More Facts About the Lawn-Care Business

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Earn extra money with your own home lawn-care business.

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