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Starting a landscaping business
I have included more material here than many other services because it's the lion's share of our business. I've included pricing, strategy and some other tips.

I price mowing at $1 a minute per man. Very simple, so we can estimate a lawn quickly, on the fly. This gives me $60 per man hour which is what I have decided to get for my mowing services, based on costs as well as desired income. Now I use a mix of methods to estimate each lawn. We work in Maine, and every yard is a little different. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that there is NO typical yard or lawn! I start with a $30 minimum if we can do the whole lawn with a commercial walk-behind or z, $50 if we have to even THINK about breaking out a rear bagging push mower. From there, I take an educated guess as to how long the job will take based on "comparing" it to other lawns we have. In other words, if I have a similar lawn across town that I charge $30 for, but this one has 5 extra trees and a fence, I might charge $33-$35 per mowing. Now if you don't HAVE any other lawns yet, this method won't help. So here's a quick bullet list of times based on size of lawn. We mow weekly: If the client wants it every ten days or bi-weekly, we then charge by the hour or say goodbye. Follow these guidelines, and you won't get in MUCH trouble, and you can tweak this system as you go. I STRONGLY recommend that you put a clause in your agreements stating that you can increase mowing price with 30 day notice. Finishing a "one time" job that you under-bid is one thing. Showing up week after week to mow a lawn for $25 that you should be getting $40 for is quite another, and I don't personally believe you should be locked into that. 30 days is plenty of time for them to decide to keep you or find someone else.

1/4 acre: Minimum. $30.00
1/2 acre: Minimum. $40.00
3/4 acre: Minimum. $50.00
1 acre: Minimum. $60.00

Trimming and blowing should run approximately 50% of mowing time. So figure: Mowing time PLUS Trimming, edging and blowing (50% of mowing unless there are ditches you need to mow, fences, more than 10 trees, etc.) PLUS travel (5-10 minutes - any more and you need to question whether the account is worth doing) TIMES hourly rate equals mowing price.

There are so many variables that frankly, it's impossible to give you a clear formula. But trust yourself. A BUCK A MINUTE PER PERSON, $30 minimum period, $50 minimum if you're going to start a push mower. For HUGE lawns, you can literally measure and use this formula:

75% efficiency rating is representative of actual mowing conditions, as it allows for turns and overlapping. Formula for calculating acres per hour: % efficiency = (mph x width of cut)/99.

 44-Inch Deck52-Inch Deck
MPH 80% 80%
3.0 1.06 1.26
5.0 1.78 2.10
7.0 2.49 2.94

I personally think it's a good idea to do ALL your lawns at LEAST once or twice by YOURSELF so that you have an idea of how long mowing vs. trimming and blowing should take. You might record both mowing and trimming time on all--or most of--your lawns just once, so you have a ballpark. It's good to really be clear how long things should take so you can properly assess how your helper—or entire crew—is doing time and efficiency wise.

Mowing Strategy
Mow first: Go up and down and back and forth NEVER around and around like you were taught when you were a kid! I go around the perimeter of property and home twice, directing clippings inward (never spray clippings on house, trees if you can help it, or beds). Then when you've got this "outline" done, pick a direction and make your lines. If clippings are visible after mowing, re-mow in the SAME direction. My mowing foreman showed me this: We used to mow twice, in opposing directions, but we seem to get better results with excess clippings if we keep our direction the same. THEN alternate direction the NEXT mowing cycle.

ONCE you're super efficient, you can weed whack first so that the long clippings get mulched up by the mower. But for the first year, do your trimming after your mowing. Until you get a good feel for how close the mower can get to obstacles, you’ll probably find yourself weed whacking too much or too little. If you mow first, it's a no brainer: You simply whack whatever's left! Pay attention and sort of form a mental snapshot of what’s left after mowing, and as this snapshot gets more and more implanted in your brain, you’ll be able to judge how much to trim much more accurately, allowing you to weed whack first if you want to. Use your trimmer to edge vertically. Use either your hand blower or backpack to blow drives, walks, and any stray clippings that get into beds.

When blowing the driveway, pay particular attention to the edge. Many people blow clippings TO the edge and they collect there, die and then there's visible dead grass along the edge where the drive meets the grass. Take an extra moment and blow clippings ONTO the lawn. Also, once a month, blow off the foundation - dry grass tends to collect where the siding meets the concrete foundation.

PAY PARTICULAR ATTENTION TO THE ENTRANCE OF THE HOME. This is where your client enters and exits SEVERAL TIMES EVERY DAY. If you leave a mess here, they will see it 100 times before you come back again. Always take one last look at the entry, or other V.I.P.s (very important places) before leaving.

Size of crew
I use one man crews for mowing and maintenance, 1-2 man crews for everything else. Basically, if there's a lot of traveling and more than 4 jobs per day, use one man. Why? Efficiency: For many reasons, each time you add a man, your labor expenses jump anywhere from 70-90% but your income does NOT. There are now two men in the truck between jobs. So if travel is 10 minutes, there's now TWENTY man - minutes of non productive time instead of just the 10.

There's also a lot of "hidden" efficiencies to having one-man crews: There is less need for communication; lunches seem to take less time; the crew member’s schedule is more flexible—he can punch out and go to an appt. or stop and get a tire repaired if need be without having to come up with a plan for the other employee. Office and management-wise, it's easier because there's one less employee to pay and manage. There's one less person per crew using the equipment. Lastly, the employee of a one man crew often feels a much broader sense of "ownership.” Granted, your "per man" costs-per-hour are greater because now you have truck and trailer expenses that need to be recovered by ONE man instead of 2-3, but in my humble opinion, you will still come out ahead using one-man crews. Let's do the math; but before we do, I want to explain a few of the numbers we’re going to use.

Labor burden is just what it sounds like: The “burden,” beyond the actual wage, that you bear to have an employee. This includes worker’s comp, social security, Medicare, benefits, bonuses, down-time, and any other direct labor related cost above and beyond the hourly rate. The industry average is 30%, but I like to figure it every year just to make sure that’s accurate. Costing of trucks and equipment is fairly simple: First, you make an assumption on how long you’re going to own them. That’s your “recovery period.” Then for hours used, you place your trucks and trailers in service all the time you’re “on the clock,” both drive time and curb time, while you place your mowers and equipment in service only while on the property. So the basic formula for both is:


Fool around with this formula based on your own equipment. Run scenarios and see if there’s any benefit to running your equipment “into the ground” vs. trading up every two years. This is one area that you’ll have to do your own homework, because costs will vary greatly depending on whether you buy new or used, work 40 hours or 60 hours, mow 2-3 large properties per day or twenty small ones, etc. Now, onto our one-man vs. two-man crew comparison!

ONE MAN CREW (per hour)
INCOME $47.50
wage $15
labor burden $4.50 (30%)
truck $6
trailer / equip $7
indirect $9 (fixed costs such as insurance, office, etc. that do not change and are not directly related to the job)

TWO MAN CREW (per hour, and assumes 30% reduction in efficiency, which has been my conservative experience)
INCOME $33.25 X 2 = $66.50
wage $24 (15 plus 9 for helper)
labor burden $7.20 (30%)
truck $6
trailer / equip $7
indirect*** $12 (fixed costs such as insurance, office, etc. that do not change and are not directly related to the job)
TOTAL PER MAN HOUR $56.20 / 2 men = $28.11
PROFIT PER MAN HOUR $ 10.30 / 2 men = $5.15

The difference in profit per hour may not seem like much at seventy-five cents, but percentage-wise, that’s 16.5%. If you do $1,800 a week in mowing, 16.5% is almost a $300 difference per man!

Now this is STRICTLY doing a “back of the envelope” calculation. If you start factoring in the "off the books" stuff like the "ownership" factor, independence, one less person using the equipment, etc. you find you may have a very desirable situation using a one man crew. All this being said, your individual situation may be different, so use 2 men if it serves you. There's nothing wrong with it and you may find it’s the best situation for you: Especially if it drives you crazy to work alone!!

*** indirect per hour is $18 for whole company and assuming myself as one worker (not in the mowing picture) and my one man as another, with one man crew overhead is $9 ($9 for me and $9 for mowing man), but if we add another man, that same $18 gets divided by 3, hence $6 per man hour or $12 for a 2 man crew

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