As the owner of a lawn care service, the actual lawn care you do will be the single most important part of your regular business day. But you’ll also have to attend to numerous other details to keep your business running smoothly and pave the way for additional business later.
To begin with, part of your time will be spent on the phone scheduling jobs, marketing, ordering supplies and talking to salespeople. It’s essential that you stay organized. You can either do this with software or organizational notebooks, although with the inexpensive cost of laptop and tablet computers there is really no reason not to do this electronically. We suggest keeping separate categories such as “Current Clients,” “New Clients” and “Potential Clients” (with related logistics and proximity); “Marketing and Social Networking Channels”; “New Service Ideas”; “Research on the Top Green Professionals”; “Expenses” and “Income.” It’s important to record details, even if you only have a few clients when you first start out, because creating good habits in the beginning will pay off later by helping you keep your facts straight.
Another good reason to map out the details is that you should service all clients located in roughly the same area on the same day. Recording types, sizes and locations will help you cluster mowing jobs and keep you from wasting valuable time crisscrossing your market area. A monthly planner that you keep by your office phone is all you need. Microsoft Office also has a monthly calendar template included with Word that you can use if you prefer to note your appointments electronically, or there are myriad ways (such as an app from Google) to keep electronic calendars that are synchronized with all your electronic devices.
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Some green professionals believe the time you spend building up your customer base in the first two years should be equal to that of actual lawn care so you have the option of being selective about the kind of clients you want. So make sure you budget time for marketing and advertising. The part of your advertising that addresses summer services should be done in the spring, right before the start of the regular mowing season. Your winter services, like snow removal, should be marketed in late fall, preferably with a magnetic business card, so that when the snow comes down, there you are, right on the fridge. Occasionally, you’ll hear about an advertising opportunity too good to miss, like buying an ad in a recital program for a dance school in an affluent area or sponsoring a Little League team. You’d then have to spend time creating a new advertising piece.
Finally, general office administration will take up a chunk of your time. This will include returning phone calls, handling the finances (i.e., accounts payable and receivable), giving instructions to employees, rescheduling work hampered by weather and sending out invoices. Getting paid for your services should be simple and not take a lot of time. Tension can build if customers don’t respond to invoices in a timely fashion and it can damage your relationship with them. You wind up giving second and third notices and this can create unnecessary friction between you and your customer. Sometimes they’re running behind with all of their bills, or having tough financial times, or simply just too busy to send it in. None of these personal problems that customers have should become your problem, but life isn’t that simple, is it?
One way around this problem is to have your clients submit a credit card number, even if they’re paying by check. If you can get your customers to enroll in an electronic, automatic billing, flat monthly rate program, there will be no invoices or waiting for checks to be written and sent. Their payment is deducted from their bank account on the fifth day of each month for that month. If people choose to primarily pay by check, if they don’t pay you by a certain date, you can just charge their credit card.
If you want to use hard copies to deliver an actual paper invoice, ServiceCEO offers a handy invoicing and tracking system with many customizing features. You can also keep it very simple in the beginning when you just have a handful of customers by using a preprinted invoice form from your local office supply store that you leave inside the customer’s screen door or rubber band it to the knob. Just keep the book of invoice forms in your truck and handwrite the bill at every stop. It’s not necessary to speak to customers at all, and in fact, they’ll probably appreciate that you didn’t interrupt them just to hand over a bill. But don’t leave your bill in the mailbox. It’s considered private property, and it’s illegal to use it for anything other than mail delivered by a USPS carrier.
Weathering the storm(s)
Even in the sunniest of climes, you’re likely to have days when you can’t mow or plant or prune. There’s not much you can do when grass and landscaping are wet -- except maybe catch up on paperwork, read over equipment catalogs and go through your email. That’s why many green industry service providers choose to work a five-day workweek, leaving Saturdays (and Sundays, if necessary) unscheduled just in case the weather wreaks havoc on their work plans. Alternatively, you can work longer hours on a regular maintenance day to catch up -- chances are people won’t even blink if you’re out merrily mowing or trimming as the sun is setting because it means they don’t have to.
There’s one more weather phenomenon you may actually welcome, at least in the northern tier of the country. Snow plowing can be a very lucrative mainstay or sideline to add to your lawn or landscaping business. It doesn’t cost much to launch a snow removal service -- basically you need only a snow blade for your mower or truck and some extra advertising efforts. Best of all, offering such a service means you’ll have a regular income stream even during the slowest part of the year.
Marc Wise and Lindsay Stame of Greenwise Organic Lawncare in Evanston, Illinois, can count on a lot of snow to support their supplemental plowing service during the harsh Midwestern winters, as well as the growing demand for applications of their eco-friendly ice melt product that is safe for pets, plants, and the water table. They also offer an LED light-hanging service for the holiday season and create seasonal displays for events.