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Anybody start a lawn care business on the board? I've been thinking about doing this in time for next spring. I have no doubt that I could get enough customers to make a go of it, but I have some questions:

1. Looking for some information about the science of lawn care. Things like fertilization, striping.

2. Accounting of mowing. How much to charge per square footage. How much time it should take, etc.

3. Personnel. How many guys should be employed per job to make it profitable.

4. Equipment decisions.

Anything else you could help me with.

baldguy13
-got the entreprenuer bug
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First, you should have liability insurance. If you have employees, there is Workers' Comp insurance. Of course, you will lawn mowers, both riding and push, as well as edgers, hedge clippers, loppers, etc.

As far as finding out proper lawn care, call your local extension. There are master gardening programs available through the extensions. Also, do you have a technical or community college nearby. They may offer a horticulture course. If not, you should get a job with a local lawn and yard maintenance company to learn.

Donna
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Not sure about Michigan, but in CA you'd need to know your market
Really Really Well. There's tons of competition here and prices
are dirt-cheap. Our gardeners charge $35/visit with a $70 "full"
service every 6 weeks.

DW is a biz broker and we analyzed a couple of these businesses. Her
conclusion: the "management" trick in this (and related regular
visitation businesses like maid service) is that careful route planning
is the key, to keep your crew doing paying work as much as possible
with as little time in transit between jobs. You'll need some way to
keep in contact with your crews so issues can be dealt with quickly
without expensive delays (in case of heavy traffic, accidents or other
trouble, customer's new pit bull that's running loose, etc). The
better run of these businesses had mapping software that generated
route maps which were given to the crews each day when they arrived for
work. Using software is good here since irregular jobs and new
customers can be worked onto the route easily.

--Foobarista
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Foob,

Good call on the route mapping software. I've never heard of that, but being a geek by trade, I'm all for it. Do you know of any good ones?

I think the big difference between CA and MI is the size of the lawn. The smallest plots around this area are 1/4-1/3 acre and go up from there. I envision putting 2 or 3 man teams on each of these and having 6-6.5 billable hours each day (the remainder being drive time and maintenance). Of course, it would probably be myself plus 1 person for the first year. The second year, I would add another team. By the 5th year, I see 3-5 crews working 4-5 days.

I definitely don't want to do this as a job. I want it to be run as a business. With my background in software, marketing, and sales, I think I will gravitate toward selling and managing more after the first year. I am thinking I need a solid season of hands-on work so I know when employees are BSing me. It would also help with estimation of jobs.

I figure with all these entreprenuers, SOMEBODY has had to give this a shot, or at least some serious thought.

baldguy13
-once bitten
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Being a Linux-head, I hate to peddle an MSFT product, but I'd figure
that MSFT Streets & Trips is probably sufficient, and since it costs
$30, it wouldn't be a budget-buster. Regular delivery route
software is probably massive overkill and would cost $thousands since
it is targeted at trucking companies looking for "enterprise solutions".
(I always imagined Gene Roddenberry's wife speaking as the voice of
the computer whenever someone talked about "enterprise software")

Definitely, if you're at all successful, you'll be basically a central
dispatcher, marketer, and customer-service troubleshooter - but you
will need to be in the field at least occasionally for all the reasons
you mentioned.

--Foobarista
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Being a Linux-head, I hate to peddle an MSFT product, but I'd figure
that MSFT Streets & Trips is probably sufficient, and since it costs
$30, it wouldn't be a budget-buster. Regular delivery route
software is probably massive overkill and would cost $thousands since
it is targeted at trucking companies looking for "enterprise solutions".


A small scale project can definitely be done for less than $1000.
"Streets and Trips" is a cut down version of the MS's "MapPoint" product, which I think usually sells for a couple of hundred dollars.
(I've got the latest N.Am. version via an upgrade of the European version - screwed up MS, but I digress!).
Not sure how advanced the route planning in Streets & Trips is - whether it will merely navigate you from A to B, or whether it will do more advanced things for a business (I suspect it is very limited).

"Add-ins" can be easily added to MapPoint, as with Excel, Word,etc,etc.
Have a strong suspicion these would not work with "Streets and Trips".
(they have to distinguish the two products)

But I do have experience of writing code to manipulate MapPoint!
And I was thinking of writing a shareware add-in for MapPoint. Mainly as a way to attract traffic to my website, but it will be able to handle different geoids & coordinate systems (not a problem for your needs!), and possibly some kind of route planning or geographic "pairing".

Basically cutting to the chase, to pay me to write what you need in MapPoint (assuming it doesn't do it already) is probably above your start-up budget, but if you think a simple add-in would help then I'd be very interested in talking - perhaps I could design one of the geographic options to handle your needs, and I can then sell it accordingly. Chances are lots of other people will find it useful!



RB
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What we have found in our situation (I am president of a 120-condo community association), is that the owner of the business MUST inspect the work his crews are performing. We have fired companies because the crews "laid down on the job" after a few months and the property suffered, due to the fact that the owner of the lawn maintenance business did not properly supervise.

Donna
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<<I definitely don't want to do this as a job. I want it to be run as a business. With my background in software, marketing, and sales, I think I will gravitate toward selling and managing more after the first year. I am thinking I need a solid season of hands-on work so I know when employees are BSing me. It would also help with estimation of jobs.
>>


While I think you can make money at that kind of business, I suspect you are kidding yourself about being a manager and salesman.

Getting and keeping a reliable, honest low wage work force would be a considerable challenge, I'll bet. Absences would have you out mowing to keep up with schedules fairly often, and you might find that a good many employees are interested in finding ways of qualifying for worker's comp benefits of one kind or another.

And supervising such small groups would take a good deal of time.

I used to be treasurer for a small homeowner's association, and we employed people to mow lawns and do maintenance work. Most employees treated it as a racket to be milked, one way or another.

I'd bet that finding and keeping good people would be difficult, and supervising them properly even more so unless you do it yourself.



Seattle Pioneer

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Getting and keeping a reliable, honest low wage work force would be a considerable challenge, I'll bet. Absences would have you out mowing to keep up with schedules fairly often, and you might find that a good many employees are interested in finding ways of qualifying for worker's comp benefits of one kind or another.

And supervising such small groups would take a good deal of time.


I know employees are the biggest pain in a business to deal with. Michigan has very different laws for seasonal workers, which I am slightly familiar with (I will have to retain counsel before going ahead). For example, you do not HAVE to pay overtime or benefits.

I know a fair amount of my time will be checking on their work. I see this as a requisite for the next 5 years or so until it is large enough to either sell or see someone rise to the top as a concientious employee that would be very well taken care of. As far as finding employees, I am next door (literally) to Michigan State University, which has around 60,000 kids.

I'm basically trying to find something that I can grow where franchise fees won't eat everything. I also need it to have a relatively low startup cost ($20,000-$30,000 cash).

baldguy13
-expressing thanks
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hi, baldguy,

if you don't mind a brief ramble, i had several thoughts.

first, it sounds like you're not really interested in lawn care but rather the idea of running a company where other folks do the work and you supervise on occasion. there are a lot of other service-type business opportunities out there that fit the same bill. (carpet/upholstery cleaning is one that comes directly to mind since i used to do it. computer tech, sanitation,,,) maybe i'm wrong about that, but it's just my interpretation. i see similarities between your situation and Duck's from a couple of weeks ago; perhaps you're both at similar crossroads.

second, lawn care seems like a low-margin, high-compete industry. Any time I'm out driving during the day in the summer, I pass literally dozens of trucks pulling trailers with lawn equipment in them. I'm guessing that with the truck, the trailer, and the tools, you'd easily shoot that $30k wad in a week. I really enjoy gardening, but have never seen lawn care as a viable business option.

and that brings up my third thought. lawn care is one of the easiest businesses to get into-- all you really need is a mower and a strong back,-- which is why all these folks are doing it. and those who truly enjoy the work are the ones making the money at it working for themselves. it seems that lawn-mowing employees would, by definition, be non-self-starters. i could be wrong there too, but if someone really wants to make money mowing lawns, I'd think they'd push their own mower to their neighbors' houses and get started. I live in a college town myself, and while you may have a better employee pool, you may also have a larger contingency of self-starters which increases competition and lowers prices.

you mentioned franchises. from what i understand, franchises are basically a name and business support. that's what you're paying the fees for. If you have confidence in your business acumen (as it sounds like you do), perhaps you should start a business you're truly interested in... and create your own brand name. when i read Entrepreneur magazine these days, it seems to be all about finding the best franchise. doesn't anybody start their own business any more? (that's a rhetorical question)
i mean, why open McDonald's #10,325 when you could open BaldyBurger #1?

you said you've got a background in software, marketing, and sales. your experiences in those areas will definitely help with promoting your startup, whatever it is. just as a thought, have you considered a Rent-a-nerd type of business? or consulting services? you could structure those businesses in a manner similar to what you're talking about with the lawn care idea.

and one thought i had that's neither here nor there: $20-30,000 is a good amount for a startup. it might make a good downpayment on a rental property or two (or three or four, depending on where you live). an early trickle of rental income might supplement whatever you're doing now or might free up some time for -again- what you really want to be doing for a living.

i apologize if i've completely missed the mark. your words tell me you don't necessarily have any interest in lawn care, but you see it as a quick, easy business startup. i'd suggest an honest cashflow analysis up front. and if you do go for it, i'd also recommend the Master Gardener course through the Extension Service. i took it several years ago. it's a crash course in everything you'd ever come up against in that line of work. and it might even look good on a business card.... although i seem to recall that we were advised against using the MG designation for financial gain.

good luck in your endeavor.

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Clairence-

Allow me to expand on your ramble. My situation is somewhat like Duck's. I'm about to be the victim of another company's mismanagement. They will be going out of business within the year (maybe sooner!), and I'm tired of living through this with little, if any, say in the outcome.

Firstly, I have little interest in lawn care as a passion. If I do decide to pursue this, I will be taking a few crash courses at Michigan State (ag. college) to help my understanding of lawn/gardening and to get licensed to fertilize and use pesticide/herbicide. I simply was looking into lawn care just as you said. Upon running further numbers, it does not seem to generate a good income until you have at least 7 crews (figuring about $10,000 profit per crew). That is estimating insurance and taxes and 10% reinvestment. As with most businesses, it seems you have to stay small or large. If you try to make it through the growth stage, you risk losing it all.

Secondly, I have thought about rent-a-nerd or consulting, but my background is in software for the printing industry, which is the 3rd largest manufacturing sector in America, but it is dying a not-so-slow death. While print will never fully die, printers are not ones to invest in new technology, which makes it tough for startups to get started.

Thirdly, you talk about creating some time until I can do what I really want to for a living. That's where my real problem lies. In my adult life, I have mainly been in computers for 16 years, but in between computer jobs (especially before it was a popular profession), I did everything including stocking shelves at a grocery store, pumping gas, bouncing at a bar, delivering pizza, teaching college courses, flipping burgers, and selling vacuum cleaners. It is both my gift and my curse that I enjoyed everything that I did. The gift is that I learned everything I could about each industry and that cumulative knowledge has served me pretty well for not having a college degree (not that I wouldn't like one now, it just wasn't in the cards for me before). It is a curse in that I have passion for almost nothing. I love mountain biking, but have went for a few years without doing it and not missed it. I am truly a techno-geek, but I do not miss computers when I am away from them for a few weeks at a time. I am quite creative in inventing some things, but to get those things into production would take hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I guess the thing that comes closes to a passion for me is people. I love talking to people. Meeting new people. Helping them achieve their goals. This means almost any business I pursue will fit into those parameters. My problem with most companies is they do not value the customer enough... I figure with my own business, I can make sure this happens. If anybody's got any ideas on a business that may fit these parameters, I'm all ears.

baldguy13
-feeling lost
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Ah, Baldguy, you're sounding a bit like me. My milieu was office work, but I, too, spread out, learned as much as I could from different industries, and enjoyed it all. (Exception: I'd 86 the people. <g>)

Dunno why you couldn't turn your geekhood into rent-a-nerd consulting, though. So, your current specialty is software for the printing industry. BFD. Can you diagnose most PC problems? Swap components? Chat with people to find out what their tech problems are, help them find solutions? Hmmmm?

Especially if you're doing this with end users instead of business clients, you don't have to know every piece of software backward and forward. You just need to know how to figure out their problems. That might mean sitting and twiddling a few minutes, or it might mean getting on the net and asking experts. Either way, your experience with tech in general should be bankable.
I'm InLivingColor
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I have mainly been in computers for 16 years.
I love talking to people. Meeting new people. Helping them achieve their goals.
my background is in software for the printing industry...but it is dying a not-so-slow death.


And why is the printing industry dying a rapid death? Is it because printing projects can now be done on PC's by homebodies and entry-level office workers? (That's just my guess)

Well, who helps them with their projects? Who could expand their knowledge about how their *printing software* works and *help them achieve their goals* more quickly and easily?

I don't know *the printing industry*, but Microsoft has a certification program for folks who go around training people on Word or Excel or Access. I believe they get paid pretty darn well. Intuit charges hundreds of dollars on Quickbooks seminars.

So, is there a PrintShop certification program? I really doubt it. That's even better; fewer startup requirements. It seems like you've already got a definite rent-a-nerd niche if you choose to go that direction. Start a *make your print work stand out* seminar series. Offer in-your-office printing assistance. Show lawn care-takers how to put together really nice flyers and cards....


I can relate to your passion "problem". The fact that you learned each industry you worked in shows that your passion is not "for nothing", but it's "for everything". The hard part is finding a specialty, because it feels so limiting. There's so much in the world to do, to master, to accomplish... why focus on just one thing? Our time here is finite; you gotta take everything in.

I can do anything. And I have done many things. And later, after I wasn't doing them any more, I didn't really miss them. But they're still part of who I am- my history, my experience. Nobody has the same experiences I do; nor do they have the experiences you do.
Think about how your experiences shaped you and motivated you. Look at them as puzzle pieces. Try and fit them together in as many different combinations as you can think of. Because that's where the big idea-- your idea-- will be found. Just as my experiences are different from yours, my answer is going to be different from yours. And sometimes the questioning itself is the answer.

Alright... it must be past my bedtime if I'm talking like a shrink.
I hope some of that is helpful.


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Dunno why you couldn't turn your geekhood into rent-a-nerd consulting, though. So, your current specialty is software for the printing industry. BFD. Can you diagnose most PC problems? Swap components? Chat with people to find out what their tech problems are, help them find solutions? Hmmmm?

I think this is a short-lived solution at best. Most people dump their computers when they have problems. After all, with a Dell desktop with monitor for about $500, it is quickly becoming disposable technology. And while you may have a lot of software-related configurations and fixes to do, the majority of people will not understand why they paid $500 for a computer and then have to pay $100 for two hours of training or fixing. After all, you don't buy a car and then pay for driving lessons. I think it would be better to cater to small businesses, but you run into the same problems. I would need at least 20 hours of work each week at $50 per hour just to start to make it worth the time. Given the above circumstances, I don't think you'd get much repeat business either... of course, I could be totally off base with my observations. Anybody else is free to chime in.

I'm now researching scrapbooking supply stores. Of course, I can't tell if being a man would be a positive or a negative. I have always been artistically inclined. I won my fair share of art shows in my youth and have years of work experience doing computer graphics, which could be a value-added service for professional photo retouching.

baldguy13
-thoughts?
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I'm currently working as a "geek" in the rent-a-geek profession. My employer is a small business (18 people), and I provide IT (information technology) related services to my customers. Right now, the IT side of the business is limited to two people, so I am in the process of learning both the business, and the technical side of things.

I have a BS in Computer Info. Systems, and a few years of experience. What I do is design, implement, and support computer networks for small and medium sized businesses (between 5 people and 150 people). Most of our solutions are designed around Microsoft products (being a MS-Certified Partner), and I have an industry certification (MCSE).

The computer business - e.g. selling computers, or repairing them for home users is clearly suffering due to the how cheap computers have become. However, your typical office PC with properly licensed software will run anywhere from $1000 - $1500. On top of that, moving up the chain from small to medium sized businesses, you'll find that it is usually easier to get monies approved for service and repair work, than it is for improvements (e.g. buying new PCs).

Which brings me to the point of my posting... The more time I spend in this business, the more I can see myself being in business doing this for myself. The company I work for isn't really interested in growing the IT business much beyond 4 employees (currently at 2), and our advertising and marketing has been quite limited.

I'm interested in building a business around providing IT services to small and medium sized organizations, through significant (by comparison) marketing, and creating a diverse skill set by hiring new employees.

But where does someone start this process? Do I talk to organization that does my taxes, and find a good laywer? I have no idea where to go to get legal as it is, in terms of creating a business and legally protecting myself. Anything that anyone can do to point me in the right direction would be much appreciated.

Thanks,

nick



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The computer business - e.g. selling computers, or repairing them for home users is clearly suffering due to the how cheap computers have become. However, your typical office PC with properly licensed software will run anywhere from $1000 - $1500. On top of that, moving up the chain from small to medium sized businesses, you'll find that it is usually easier to get monies approved for service and repair work, than it is for improvements (e.g. buying new PCs).

I think making a go of this would depend on the market. I live in a smallish town (300,000 people) that I am not sure would support this type of business. I have seen many people attempt this and fail miserably.

baldguy13
-geek
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<<. And while you may have a lot of software-related configurations and fixes to do, the majority of people will not understand why they paid $500 for a computer and then have to pay $100 for two hours of training or fixing. After all, you don't buy a car and then pay for driving lessons. I think it would be better to cater to small businesses, but you run into the same problems. I would need at least 20 hours of work each week at $50 per hour just to start to make it worth the time. Given the above circumstances, I don't think you'd get much repeat business either... of course, I could be totally off base with my observations. Anybody else is free to chime in.
>>


I've often thought that putting together home networks for people and small businesses would be a way to make money. That's a feature that is becoming increasingly useful but is too complex for many to master.



Seattle Pioneer
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<<Which brings me to the point of my posting... The more time I spend in this business, the more I can see myself being in business doing this for myself. The company I work for isn't really interested in growing the IT business much beyond 4 employees (currently at 2), and our advertising and marketing has been quite limited.

I'm interested in building a business around providing IT services to small and medium sized organizations, through significant (by comparison) marketing, and creating a diverse skill set by hiring new employees.

But where does someone start this process? Do I talk to organization that does my taxes, and find a good laywer? I have no idea where to go to get legal as it is, in terms of creating a business and legally protecting myself. Anything that anyone can do to point me in the right direction would be much appreciated.

Thanks,

nick
>>


Ooooh! I think this can work very well.

There are lots of books on starting a small business. I'd begin by reading a half dozen of them.

And I'd consider how you would meet the demands of your customers. My guess is that the downside is that when a business computer system is down, they are likely to be out of business or really hurting. That probably means that quick rtesponse 24/7 is important, which can be draining.


And I'd do a lot of studying up on your current employer's business, since that appears to be a model of what yoours might look like in gerneral terms. Study the invoices and charges you write up. Figure out the margin you can charge on parts. Make a list of suppliers and collect catalogs.

Save your money!



Seattle Pioneer
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I'm interested in building a business around providing IT services to small and medium sized organizations, through significant (by comparison) marketing, and creating a diverse skill set by hiring new employees.

I do a bit of this, and expect to do more in the future. I have clients that were originally my suppliers for my real estate business. Happens I'm more qualified than most for computer networking support, so when my carpet supplier's network crashed, and I happened to stop in that day to pick out some carpet...

Since then, I have as much of this kind of business as I presently can handle, just based on word of mouth.

Presently I service my clients as needed but am not trying to expand because all my energy is tied up with unwinding the real estate business - which, BTW, is difficult when you are in a depressed area - and in marketing my commercial software product which is one of the follow ons to the real estate.

But as the real estate winds down, the network support will increase.
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Oh, and on the subject of lawn care; I have a lawn care business. It is captive and only services my properties. During the summer, this is full time work for two people.

It is a pain. Keeping them working, not listening to their excuses, keeping the equipment running...

I had one guy take a brand new commercial mower and run it over a brand new Stihl weed-whacker, ruining the weed-whacker and damaging the mower.

One guy forgot to fasten the commercial mower down, and took off at a gallop. He chuckholed the trailer, and the mower was upside down in the street.

One guy ignored the fact that the truck was overheating and pushed on, cracking the block.

I outsourced it for a couple of years, but had problems with the companies doing the work. I finally brought it back in-house to have more control over it. Regardless, it is a chronic pain.
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I've often thought that putting together home networks for people and small businesses would be a way to make money. That's a feature that is becoming increasingly useful but is too complex for many to master.


As I've said in previous discussions on this board concerning computer services, a person could be very successful providing services to home users and small businesses if he could:

1. Talk to people in non-geek terms

2. Write advertising copy in non-geek terms that let the reader know what you can and can't do. When someone is frustrated after trying to put together a home network, reading that "this program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down" message, etc. - it doesn't do him much good to open the yellow pages and see ad after ad with text reading, "Complete integrated solutions"

ShelbyBoy
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Oh, and on the subject of lawn care; I have a lawn care business. It is captive and only services my properties. During the summer, this is full time work for two people.

It is a pain. Keeping them working, not listening to their excuses, keeping the equipment running...


LOL

"But boss, ya' just gott'a listen to my excuse. It's the best one I got an it's worked LOTS of times!"
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That is so true with most employees in most industries on most days.

baldguy13
-really
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