This post is mostly for those who’re thinking about starting a landscaping business. If you have one, there may still be some values in it.
I started a landscaping business from 0 to 23k service appointments in 4 years.
$99B on lawn care spend in 2019. Average ~$800 annual spend per household. Over 500k landscaping businesses in the US, over a million workers.
Why & What
We started a yard care business (southwest US) 4.5 years ago because we couldn’t find one that’d pick up our calls, or show up to see our yard, let alone do the work. Got frustrated and decided to build a business for it.
We wanted to make the process of hiring a landscaper easier, so we built a website to let people book lawn service online. They search their address, see the instant quote, and can book the service.
We can change the pricing anytime with a click. The day we launched we had our first online booking. A young professional booked our first appointment and he’s still a client to this day.
On the business side, when a new booking comes in, we assign our crew to a new client. Send out auto-reminders the day before the service.
We built lots of features to automate the workflow (scheduling, invoicing, payment, clients, crew’s login). We have a feature to charge all houses by clicking a “Charge” button.
We do 30-40 houses a day. This saves us hundreds of manual clicks. You’re building a business, not a job. Ideally, money should come in with or without you around.
It won’t be 100% no involvement but you want to be as hands-off as possible. Automation is your friend. Try to automate as much as possible.
Revenue comes mostly from recurring yard and lawn maintenance, weekly, biweekly, monthly. We had no prior landscaping experience, learn the trade on the go by tagging along with the crew.
We grew to 420 recurring clients as of today. ~23,000 appointments served since launched.
The instant quote, booking feature of our site really help fuels our growth. Service ranges from $40-$300+ per yard depending on how large the yard is. Plenty of add-ons services (irrigation repair, install, tree trimming, removal, planting, grass reseeding).
Tree removal, installing a new irrigation system could be in the thousands. NET margin’s roughly 20%. If you apply good business practices, $500k+ annual revenue is very realistic.
As for pricing your job, we use our site to set the maintenance pricing. If you don’t have that, some use hourly rate. Some quote by the job. Use what best fits you.
This is probably generic and applies to any industry. Our first hire was our own yard guys. His brother also does work for us. He knows someone from his church. One leads to others.
We now have 6 crews. We tried indeed, craigslist, have a job application page on our site. We never had luck with them. We’re lucky all our current guys are great. Very little turnover.
They are the most hardworking people we know. Good crews are hard to come by. Pay them well above the average. If you had to fire someone, do it fast. It hurts all sides if you fire slowly.
Send clients service reminders at least a day before the service. Your crew should have access to all service info. Group all the houses in the same area on a specific day. It saves travel time and gas.
Our maintenance service doesn’t just mow and go. We trim bushes, remove weeds on gravel (majority of yards here have rocks). Check the irrigation system, help clients set up irrigation timers. Look out for leaks, broken sprinklers (add on revenue), report to clients if you see any. They will appreciate your attention to details.
Crews will forget gate code, when they ask, tell them, don’t let them wait. Your job is to make their job easier.
Clients will have special requests, how much to remove this bush, how much to trim this tree. Get the quote out asap, best to do that on the same day of maintenance.
Crews may miss things. Forget to trim a shrub, left the debris at the corner. You need to be ready to fix the mistake, put out the “fire”. Maintain good communications, always.
New leads will call to ask you to come out to see the yard, we direct them to our website that has an instant quote or have them send you the most recent photos (not the photos on Zillow that’s 6 months ago), if they want an accurate quote.
If mowing only, you can ask how tall the grass is in inches, go to findlotsize.com to measure the area. You can give them some rough estimates that way. You will get one-time cleanups often, try to turn them into recurring maintenance.
We charge more on the one-time service and discount the first service if they sign up for maintenance. We tell the clients something like this:
There’s no contract on the maintenance service, you can cancel at any time. However, if cancel right after the first service and before the next maintenance service. The difference between the one-time service ($300) and the discounted first service ($250), will be charged.” *Maintenance $50.*
Ask them why anything not happy with. Don’t make the same mistakes if you’re in the wrong. Many clients won’t tell you unless you ask. If they move, make sure to let them know to leave your number to the new owner. Ask them to leave you a review if they haven’t yet. Many new owners end up signing up with us.
Stolen tools. We’ve had $600 blowers, $800 lawnmowers stolen multiple times. Need to lock them in the trailers.
Our city doesn’t rain much. If it did, we had to reschedule that day’s appointments. Fixing an irrigation leak could take much longer than expected. Finding the source is much harder than fixing it sometimes. This will mess up the day’s schedule.
Rescheduling could be a mess just to check what days to reschedule to. Notifying the clients, make sure they’re ok and the crew’s route is optimized so they don’t need to travel far from one yard to the next. Limit the number of houses to no more than 12-15 per 2-3-men crew daily. For any automation experts, we’d like your feedback on how to automate the rescheduling.
There’s often gravels on the lawn. We’ve broken 2 sliding door glasses, a van’s glass parked on the driveway when we weed eat the lawn. We lived up to our mistakes. Told the clients immediately and always pay for the damage in a timely manner. A sliding door glass easily runs $500 and up. Having liability insurance that has good coverage is very important.
We’re fortunate most are nice people, but some are absolutely unbearable. One client always wanted us to do free work. Got mad if we don’t do it even though we stated clearly what’s and not included in the maintenance. Threaten to leave us bad reviews. Fire these types of clients quickly, you won’t regret it.
We do a little bit of free work here and there for clients sometimes cos we’re nice people, but a line should always be drawn, business is still business, we’re here to make money.
We’ve had about 5-10 clients who straight out scammed us from not paying us (mistakes we didn’t get their cards first). All big cleanups. If it happens to you, after a few invoices, don’t spend more time on it, send them to collections.
Your time should be spent on taking care of your clients, crews, and getting new business. Always in your best interest to get their credit card info. Tell them: The card info is for reserving the appointment only. It’ll be posted as a pending/authorized transaction, however, it won’t be charged until the service is completed.
We don’t do printed ads, never printed door hangers. We do have business cards that we give out to new clients. Not a big fan of traditional marketing. Maybe we’re missing a lot though. Yelp is downright terrible. Hide good reviews and always call to get us on their ad platform. We never bite. Any bad reviews we respond professionally. Smart consumers can see who’s in the wrong.
We do get Yelp’s new lead message from time to time. We check the lead’s profile. If you only see 1-star reviews they give everywhere, don’t respond. Chances are, they will give you a 1-star too. Wait for a few days, yelp will email you to remind you to respond, then click don’t intend to reply. This way, it won’t hurt your response time and rate.
We focus more on google review. We tried fb ads, google AdWords, thumbtack, HomeAdvisor’s initially. Never had good results. You must set up your GMB and Bing business page. Add photos, posts regularly. Use their analytics to narrow down the search keywords. Use them to optimize your site SEO.
Our site traffic and people calling are mostly organic search through google. Send an auto email to clients after each service with a simple review link at the end to increase the number of reviews.
We have some CRM in place though not systematically. We have thousands of old and existing clients in our database. Trees need trimming once a year; lawn needs fertilizer regularly. Reach out to them. More reason to have repeated clients than a one-off. You should have add-on business regularly either you reach out to them or they ask for it. You need a CRM plan if you want to grow to the next level.
We’re present, but not active as in having daily scheduled posts. It’s very time-consuming to post, follow others, be engaging, just to hope others will retweet/share or follow back. We aren’t sure how much more effort we should put into it. Currently, no ad spend. We’re open to it. Just need a plan. If you’re spending $$ on ads, good to know your client segments so you can target them.
- Homeowners: Most clients of ours are younger crowd, professionals who don’t have any time to do yard work or wait for someone to come out to give quote.
- Investors: Out of state, snowbirds, send them after service photos, they will appreciate it.
- Property managers: We work for a property management company that manages over 2,000 investment properties in our city. They give us constant stream of work. Many are large ticket one-time cleanup. Find yours in your city. Contact them. They may be looking for landscapers.
- Realtors: Got some work from them here and there. Most we know don’t give us much work. We don’t actively reach out to them. Not worth our time.
- Apartments, shopping center, HOAs: We avoid this type of business although we do have a few. Net 30 payment is too long. We understand it’s a large amount but it ties up our resources. A good size apartment landscape maintenance could take 3 guys half a day. Residential homes are quick, excellent receivable, job done, click charge, get paid the next day. You just need a lot of repeated clients. With lots of smaller clients, you reduce the risk of losing big clients. If you have too many large commercial clients, what if they cancel the contract next year, it’ll crush your top line. You lose a residential client out of hundreds or thousands, no big deal.
- HOA, city violations: Depending on the HOA, cities, and states, they send our violations to residents if they don’t maintain the yard. Many only find help right before the fine kicks in. Those are very good business. If you pick up the call, you most likely will get it. Convince them to sign up for maintenance, more recurring, add-on revenue.
We have many message templates for generic questions, to save time communicating with leads and clients.
Examples: “If you have recent photos of the yard, please send them to us so we can provide a much narrower price range. Thank you!”
Please refer to our ongoing maintenance service details here for your reference. >> “link to your site’s page that describes the maintenance work”
You can see some of our work here for your reference. “Link to your photo gallery or IG page of your work photos.”
These are some irrigation, tree trimming work of ours for your reference. “Links to your photo gallery”
You can also login here to view the service schedule and details. Thanks. “Link to the client login page.”
Refer to your friend and family to get a 10.0% discount on your next appointment if they book with us. >> link to your referral page <<
We have a few spreadsheets we created to calculate fertilizer, weed/feed, new sod, reseeding price. Plug in the area, give you a price. This makes it quick to send estimates.
Final take away
Anyone can start a landscaping business. You don’t need to have much knowledge or invest thousands of dollars to start. We didn’t even have a truck, a lawnmower when we started. Th