Bryan Clayton didn’t set out to be in the lawn-care industry. He enrolled in college with his sights set on majoring in business administration and computer science but soon learned that the grass isn’t always greener.
You see, Clayton began mowing lawns in his Nashville suburb during high school, with hopes of saving money for a car.
“I remember my first mower very well: it was a 21-inch Sears Craftsman push mower,” he recalls. “I started cutting my neighbor’s yard for $15, which took me three hours each week.”
Clayton’s effort to perfect his neighbor’s yard paid off.
“Something about the thrill of earning money inspired me to want more yards to cut,” he says. “Little by little I got more business in that neighborhood and in adjacent neighborhoods. By the time I started college I had grown my little business to more than 100 weekly clients.”
As a sophomore at Middle Tennessee State University, Clayton realized he should consider his business long term.
“About then I was just breaking $1 million in annual revenue. I was earning double or triple what I could have earned getting a job out of college,” he recalls. “So I crafted a plan to grow the business to $5 million a year in revenue within ten years. I passed that milestone three years after graduating.”
What started with a push mower propelled Clayton into a career. But he isn’t the only one who’s realized the profitability of this nature niche.
About the Field
Ryan Farley is co-founder and chief operating officer of LawnStarter Lawn Care, an app and online platform that connects customers with lawn-care professionals.
“According to our stats, $77 billion is spent annually on lawn care and landscaping. About one-third of that is residential,” he says.
Farley points out that lawn care is lucrative because it’s inherently recurring.
“Many businesses in this industry have served the same clients for 20 years,” he says. “And on top of that, most customers want upsells, so you can increase revenue per customer over time.”
Clayton says that although the lawn care industry is competitive, it’s not one that can be evaporated by technological shifts or changes in economic dynamics.
“People have houses, houses have lawns, and as long as we have sun and rainfall those lawns will have vegetation that needs to be maintained,” he says.
If working outdoors and having regular changes of scenery sound appealing, here are a few steps to launch your own lawn-care business.
Laying the groundwork for your new venture will take some time but not necessarily a lot of money.
“One of the main advantages of a gardening, lawn care, or landscaping company is the relatively low startup costs. Ideally, you will buy a commercial-grade lawn mower, a truck, a trailer, and a few other smaller tools,” says Gene Caballero, co-founder of GreenPal, a platform in which yard professionals submit bids to potential clients.
There are a few things to consider when searching for and researching equipment.
“Are you going to buy brand-new items and finance them? Are you going to look for used equipment on Craigslist?” Clayton asks. “It’s a good idea to read forums online about which is the best style of equipment for you as every lawn-care operator is a little different.”
And don’t forget to complete all the steps to make your business legit.
“You need to incorporate, file all the proper paperwork and, most importantly, get the right insurance coverage,” Farley says.
Clayton says that a basic liability policy and commercial auto policy will make sure that a fledgling business isn’t ruined in the event of an accident.
Dig up Customers
There are three ways to find customers: online, offline, and through word of mouth.
“Online, we do Google AdWords, Facebook, Twitter, and a few review sites. Offline, we primarily do direct mail but also outdoor advertisements like billboards and yard signs,” Farley says. “And, of course, word of mouth always drives customers to your business — as long as the word of mouth is good.”
Wills Mahoney, founder of Plowz & Mowz, agrees that the biggest growth hack for customers is other happy customers.
“Any customers who have a great experience will tell a friend or neighbor. We will then notice a whole new neighborhood using our service,” says Mahoney, whose app provides clients with on-demand snow removal and mowing. “We use social media as well, but nothing is more valuable than word of mouth.”
Cultivate a Website
It’s no secret that a well-designed website will give your business credibility.
“It’s a standard that every business has to accommodate now. Almost anyone who has heard of Plowz & Mowz will google us first as a sort of validation,” Mahoney says. “A website is also a great way for us to relay information to our customers via the FAQ or the blog sections.”
A website will allow you to convey a clear message and to show off jobs well done, Caballero says. “A visitor needs to know within two seconds what your company does and how it’s done,” he says. “If it takes longer that than, your customer will not scroll down.”
Creating a striking website doesn’t require a computer science degree or a large amount of seed money. Bluehost offers a variety of options that can help you customize your site the way you customize your clients’ yards.
Grow your Business
As your business expands, don’t forget to have an efficient scheduling system along with detailed bookkeeping and maintenance records, Clayton advises.
Once you acquire 50 weekly customers you can begin thinking about hiring a crew foreman and teams.
“After that you can repeat this process of acquiring clientele and building crews until you can get out of the field and run back-office operations,” Clayton says. “Then you can focus on developing a repeatable sales process to land bigger commercial clientele and grow your revenue into hiring your first official sales person.”
Clayton knows a thing or two about growing a landscaping business. In 2013 he sold his business — which at that point boasted more than 125 employees — to Landscapes USA. That same year, he and Caballero, friends since childhood, launched GreenPal.
“My father taught me at a young age that I can have anything I wanted in my life so long as I was willing to work for it,” Clayton says. “I’m lucky to have learned such lessons at a young age and to have had opportunities to serve my customers and work hard at something that fueled my personal growth and wealth.”