the man with the plan: jason sauer
Artist, community organizer, and Jack of all trades, Sauer knows how to get stuff done. He’s also learned a thing or two about teaching others after years of training workers in the Learn to Earn Program (an initiative started by Sauer which we profiled in the September 2016 Issue of Steel This Magazine). Here he is with a crash-course we’re calling, “Entrepreneurism 101: Escaping the Rat Race.” Our first escape route: founding your own landscaping company.
The items we priced were consistently more affordable second hand on Craigslist and other crowdsourced trading sites, but if you prefer something straight from the factory that comes with a warranty of any kind, the big box stores offer the lowest prices. As always, if you can afford a few more dollars here and there, we suggest you procure your wares from a local mom and pop construction supply, there are still plenty floating around like Dobosh Center and Rollier’s Hardware. If you’re going to run a successful business you’ll need as much support from your community as you can get, so a ‘pay it forward’ mentality is a great thing to have right about now.
- weed eater: gas powered with a straight shaft. lowest price in pittsburgh: $129.00. this is an essential tool in your arsenal of lawn-trimming accouterments; no landscaper is prepared without it.
- pickaxe: perhaps the most bad ass member of the team, these can be got for as little as $29.90. this will enable you to break apart everything from root systems to stubborn rocks and pieces of cement.
- leaf blower: once again, you’re after a gas powered, handheld device. the cheapest we found was $49.97. a big part of a decent landscaping job is keeping it neat and tidy. this blower will save you lots of time and effort while gussying up for the homeowner.
- loppers: branches, roots, and anything else too big for handheld shears gets the loppers. they’re inexpensive and indispensable: $32.97.
- broom: at least 15′ wide and make sure it’s sturdy. not a dollar store purchase. we found decent bristles for as low as: $9.97.
- rake: when fall really sets in you’ll be thrilled you have one. get one that’s steel, at least 24 tines. you can pick it up for as little as $19.97.
- gas powered push lawnmower with bag attachment: the most important piece of the pie. we found one for $199.00 at lowes.
you’ll need a few more items to get the business up and running. be sure to pick up a tarp for clippings, ($44.98). pick up a hedge trimmer, hand held and gas powered ($109), and get two gas cans ($12.97 each) – one can for 2-stroke gas, one for unleaded. also, pick up a round-point digging shovel ($9.97), and a wheel barrow ($49.97).
Before you start charging people, you’ll also need to register your business with the PA Department of Revenue at www.Revenue.Pa.Gov. There, you’ll also find useful literature like a beginners’ guide to starting a business in Pennsylvania. You’ll also want to open a bank account for the business once you’ve been approved by the state. Some banks like Citizens Bank will file for your business’ Tax Identification Number free of charge.
Find a graphic designer. You can even offer a trade of services with them and possibly get your design done in exchange for lawn mowing. Design some flyers that let people know how much you’re charging and the services you provide. A good list to start with contains things like grass cutting, leaf raking, snow removal, debris hauling (once you’re using a vehicle), bush trimming, and mulching. Once you get your foot in the door with these services, homeowners will likely ask for other services like painting, drywall work, or various demolition projects. A $15.00 per lawn flyer may land you a much larger and long term job. As far as pricing goes, the industry experts tell us a good rule of thumb is $1.00/minute. So, a lawn that takes 45 minutes to cut and cleanup (hence a $45.00 charge) can eventually be done in less time once you have a routine down. Soon, you can start finishing those jobs in 25 or 35 minutes and increase your earning potential.
So, you’ve procured your tools, squared away with the government, designed your flyers, and opened a bank account. Now it’s time to get to work. Where do you start? First off, you’re going to need some clients, so it’s time for some old fashioned door knocking. A big savings here is the ability to work without a vehicle until you need to unload large amounts of waste. Staying local is a big part of that. Try to pick up eight lawns or more to service every 10 days. Make sure they’re all within a few blocks of each other. This season is a great time to sell Fall cleanup services where you can help clear brush, leaves, and other fallen debris from your neighborhood. It’s also a fine time to get those same properties to sign up for winter cleanup and maintenance (snow shoveling, salting sidewalks, etc.).
Once you’ve picked up some clients, start making your rounds. How can you do this without a truck? Simple, by keeping your clients hyper-localized, you can simply walk around town with what Sauer calls, “The Rig.”
By strapping all of your tools to your push mower, you can save a ton of money in the beginning on gas, a truck, and all of the expenses that go along with those things. You will need a truck once every week or two to empty clippings, rubble, and other odds and ends from job sites. One can be rented in the city for as little as $75.00 + $0.35/mile.
It’s also important not to rush in the beginning. Just being in a neighborhood working is a good chance for your client’s neighbors to see you on the job. “You can pass out flyers until your arm falls off, but being in the lawn working is your best business card,” said Sauer. Keep your eyes peeled on your route for distressed lawns. Don’t jump from neighborhood to neighborhood, the longer you stay in an area, the less time you lose, the less gas you waste, and the stronger your marketing becomes.
It’s a good idea to invest in your referral system, as well. Get quotes from your happiest clients with pictures of their lawns to show new customers. Some homeowners may request up to three references, so ask permission to pass along your client’s contact information. Remember to ask for advice constantly. Ask your homeowners how they liked the work. Ask if there’s anything you could do for them in the future to improve. Your tenacity and hard work will ultimately pay off in new referrals.
Depending on work load, every week or two you’ll need to dump your refuse. At the Reserve Park Landfill, you can dump 1,500 pounds of concrete for $50.00. In Glenshaw, there’s a receptacle service for concrete that doesn’t charge anything called Glenshaw Concrete Recycling. The Pittsburgh municipality will accept leaves only for only a $20 money order and proof of city residence.
Once you’ve been mowing for a season and have saved some money, it’s time for your next purchases, a 6-foot step ladder ($59.68), and an 18-foot extension ladder ($89.70). Now you can clean gutters without climbing on a roof and grow your list of services. As in most ventures, if you want to expand your revenue, a great idea is investing in more products to offer. The next purchase you make should be a gas powered chainsaw ($89.97) for tree trimming and cutting.
As your services grow you’re going to need more help, as well as a more reliable transportation system than “The Rig.” A great way to take care of both of these at once is to bring a partner into the business. Someone with a strong back and a truck can earn half of your business by bringing their truck and sweat equity to the table. The vehicle will expand your service area, and your partner’s full-time help will effectively double your workforce.
From then on out it’s a constant game of expanding, cutting costs, and offering more services. If you produce quality work, not only will more word of mouth referrals be passed your way, but your clients may invite you inside to perform general maintenance on their homes.
So there you have it. This is our crash course in starting your own landscaping venture. Hopefully you’ve gleaned enough from our writing to at least encourage yourself to look into a life beyond the traditional nine to five. If you’ve got more tips for our readers that we’ve overlooked, drop us a line at email@example.com.