Bootstrapping a Lawn Care Business - Part 3
So you're trying to learn how to start a lawn care business and you decide to go to a number of lawn maintenance forums for equipment advice. What you will likely find is enough opinions on equipment brands to make your head spin. That's because these recommendations are almost entirely based on anecdotal accounts provided by various landscapers. When comparing quality among pieces of equipment it is necessary to consider budget constraints. Quite simply you probably can't afford the best equipment when you are starting out, so the guy on the forum who claims "All mowers are garbage except for Exmark" might not be much help.
See our product reviews here at StartMyLawnCareBusiness.com for in-depth recommendations. For the purpose of this article I'm going to attempt to generalize categories of equipment. Which category of equipment you will likely need depends on the amount of use you will need this equipment for. Let's consider a zero turn lawn mower.
- Light use residential – This type of mower is usually the lightest weight of the mowers. Many of the parts are plastic instead of metal. You will see that metal parts are sometimes thin and many parts are attached with small bolts (that tend to rattle loose while traveling on trailers). The decks are usually stamped thin metal. They also have the cheapest spindles. They are most commonly recommended for flat terrain only. I would use a lightweight mower like this only if completely necessary, and for short periods of time. - (ex: Home Depot and Lowe's cheapest mowers)
- Heavy use residential – This mower is intended for homeowners to cut only their own yard but can handle being run hours at a time for much larger areas than the light use. The tires may be beefier and the steel may be a slightly thicker gauge. The warranty on these mowers does not cover them being used commercially. In my area I see many of these mowers out on the road being hauled around for commercial use. However, I think anyone running these more than 15-20 hours a week can expect to see problems rather quickly. These mowers can get the job done, but expect to spend more on upkeep than with a commerical mower. - (ex: Home Depot and Lowe's premium mowers)
- Light use commercial – For an established lawn care business this type of mower will suffice if your workload tops out at 30-40 hours of run time per week. This type of mower will usually have a thicker guage welded deck and heavy duty spindles. It can handle a variety of terrain types and has plenty of power for overgrown areas. - (ex: Snapper Pro, Hustler commercial)
- Heavy use commercial – This type of mower is the most expensive, and for good reason. All of the parts on this type of mower are rated to run for much longer periods of time. A lawn care business will have no trouble getting 40-80 hours/week of run time out of this class of mower. This is a serious investment for the serious lawn business. - (ex: Exmark Lazer Z)
Lawntrepreneur Quote of the day
"It's not about money or connections. It's the willingness to outwork and outlearn everyone when it comes to your business. And if it fails, you learn from what happened and do a better job next time"Mark Cuban, Entrepreneur
It is a constant balancing act between what equipment you need and what you can afford. If you are fortunate enough to have secured a large amount of funding as you are starting a lawn care business then this next section probably isn't for you. However if you're looking to stretch your dollar, read on. Go with whatever your budget allows, but view future equipment purchases as investments into your future success. A dependable piece of lawn equipment can pay for itself 100x over or more.
Without access to substantial credit your options will be much more limited and you will find that you must come up with creative ways to obtain quality equipment. You may be stuck with equipment that you know isn't the long term answer. That's ok though. Hard work and determination overtake a big budget in the long run. I am proof of this as I started with just a push mower and now oversee a lawn care business that serves hundreds of customers each week. In the mean time here are some of the more creative ways I've acquired equipment in my early days as i learned how to start a lawn care business.
- Barter – Yes even in 2017 you will find opportunities to trade your services for unwanted equipment. Approach customers and potential customers with the idea. Some will be glad to have the item removed. Others will be thankful they are getting lawn service with no cash invested. This approach can even help you acquire a new client!
- Bank loan – If you have assets that you can offer as collateral and decent credit then you may be able to approach your local bank or credit union representative about securing a small business loan. It helps to have a valid business plan drawn up before going this route. Their job is to evaluate whether or not they believe you will be able to pay back the loan, so come up with your plan for world domination ahead of time.
- Find used equipment – Many times sites such as Craigslist have a wide variety of equipment for sale. Sometimes you can find a diamond in the rough. Often a worn out premium piece of equipment is a better investment than a brand new cheap piece of equipment. Before committing make sure to give it a thorough test drive. Make sure it isn't leaking oil. Drive mowers up an incline to test it's power. Engage mower blades and listen for rattling parts.
- Friends and Family – Yes I realize this is controversial but the truth is that sometimes a small investment from a friend or family member is the only way to get up and running (with any new business). No one knows you better than friends and family. If you are trustworthy and hardworking you will probably find someone who would be willing to invest in YOU. Offer them free lawn care until the loan is paid back, or offer part ownership of the company. Get creative. Think like an entrepreneur!
Putting It All Together
This brings us to the end of the 3 part article on how to start a lawn care business. I hope this gives you some high level information to chew on, and hopefully answers some questions you had about getting started. In the future we are going to dive deeper into specific lawn care topics. Lawntrepreneur.com also offers marketing and software resources to assist you getting your successful lawn care business off the ground.