How To Start A Lawn Mowing Business
Have you ever wondered if there’s more to life than grinding away at your boss’s dream?
One of the options available to you is starting a lawn care business, for which you don’t need any formal training and you can start on the side while you continue to work full or part-time. I won’t lie to you and say it will be easy, because it won’t.
In fact, you’re probably going to have to get up earlier than you do at the moment, physically work harder than you ever have before, constantly suffer small cuts and scrapes, and your travel plans won’t be as simple any more.
But with all of that being said, owning a mowing business will give you a new level of responsibility over your destiny and a fresh chapter of your life where you can be outdoors working with your hands just as nature intended.
Doing The Work
Hopefully you’ve worked for another gardening company for a good six months so you’re prepared to run your own business in the industry. It may not be what you want to hear, but why would you be qualified to run a business in an industry you don’t understand?
You need to be guided as to the right way to do things; I’m someone who has had multiple bosses and I can say that every one of them had something different to offer me and I’m a much better gardener having worked with a range of professionals.
If you’ve only ever mowed your mum’s lawn and your own and you aren’t prepared to hold off starting your business until you’ve learnt, I suggest working during the day as a gardener and work nights/weekends on your business (read more on my blog about starting a side-hustle mowing business with low funds). Or you could work part-time for another gardening company and part-time on your own.
There are a number of posts on this blog that are going to be incredibly useful to you while you’re learning to perform the work. In particular, "Whip, Mow, Blow & Go: How To Mow Like A Pro" will teach you the basics of mowing lawns with some subtle but effective tips and tricks.
Tasks like catch mowing and pruning mean that you’ll have waste on your hands. You can pay to remove it, you can put it in their green bin or you can pay to take it to the dump.
But you could always build a compost pile at home to get rid of at least some of the waste for free, and then sell it back to your customers when it’s done. You can do either hot-composting or cool-composting depending on the amount and type of material.
Franchise Or Do It Yourself?
One of the first decisions you have to make is whether you’d like to join a franchise or go it alone and start a business from scratch.
The advantages of franchising are that you already have a brand and customers there ready to go when you sign up, and more work will automatically be assigned to you as new clients join within your area.
There is less pressure on you to be a business whiz and you have a lot more support because the franchiser has a vested interest in your success.
On the flip side, some downsides of buying a franchise are that you're locked into an agreement so you can’t always do things your way (though this can also be an advantage because you'll avoid certain mistakes). Once your agreement has finished, the franchiser has no obligation to renew your contract.
When you start a business from scratch it’s much scarier and definitely a lot harder, but you’ll always know that you’re in charge of your own life. Some people prefer to live like this but it’s not for everybody. You’ll have to weigh up both options yourself.
Buy A Run
If you’ve decided to build your own business, one option is to buy an existing run of customers from a gardening business that’s selling theirs. Buyer beware: this could be the best thing or the worst thing you can do.
Best case scenario, you get a head start with a customer base that lasts you years to come. Worst case scenario, the run you bought was just the customers that the business didn’t want any more.
It’s standard for you to go out with the business owner for a week or two to make sure that the customers are legit. Make a special point of meeting as many of them as you can, though you don’t necessarily need to meet them all. Those you meet will be more likely to keep you on after the transition (as long as you make a good impression).
Sometimes the run even comes with machinery so you don’t have to purchase new equipment. You never know if you’re getting good gear or not when you get second-hands but it can help you save money in the short-term.
What You Can Expect To Make Per Hour & How To Ask For It
In reality, customers will pay somewhere between $50 - $80 per hour depending on the sort of work you’re performing, your equipment and your branding. People searching on Gumtree or Craigslist are usually looking for a lower rate and I’ve known contractors to accept as low as $20 per hour which I certainly wouldn’t recommend.
There are a lot of costs associated with a mowing business so even if it doesn’t feel right you just have to suck it up and ask for a rate that makes it worth your while; you can lose money sitting at home watching Dr Phil re-runs.
Confidence is key: stand up straight, look the client in the eye and tell them your price. If they can smell your insecurity they aren’t going to accept your rate. Build value with everything that you can offer as a fully-insured business owner.
They may still ask you to drop your rate but don’t back down or they will lose respect for you which will cause problems down the line. They can take or leave your services.
Just make sure you’ve really thought your pricing through; don’t expect $80 unless you have a ride-on or are well established within the area.
What You Can Expect To Make Per Lawn
An average small-medium Aussie backyard should be priced between $40-$90. You can start to increase the price higher on larger jobs.
There is a cost associated with driving to and from jobs, so the client must pay a minimum charge for you to even turn up and take out your tools. I suggest you make this $40, even for mowing a nature strip.
When quoting take into account obstacles that will add time to the job as it’s easy to overlook smaller details. Plants in the middle of lawns need to be gently whipped around, toys need to be moved, and furniture can be whipped around or moved.
On a side note, it’s worth considering whether or not you will move trampolines; if someone has an accident after you’ve moved it you may open yourself up to litigation. Your clients can prop them up against a wall the night before you come.
Properties on the corner of two streets tend to have a longer nature strip to work on which can sometimes take longer than you first expect.
You can read my list of equipment you’ll need here. If you already have an old ute/truck/van, trailer, mower, brushcutter and blower, you’re ahead of the game and probably won’t need to put up too much money in to start.
You’re going to have a lot of expenses that you’re regularly paying which need to be taken into account when quoting, including drive time, petrol, vehicles, breakages, insurance, and on and on.
If you can’t afford insurance, you can’t afford to step foot on a client’s property. It’s really that simple because you’re responsible for any f-ups you make and it’s incredibly easy to rack up thousands of dollars of damage within seconds.
Cashies vs. Reported Income
A lot of mowing businesses out there take cash jobs without reporting their true income. They think that this will get them ahead in life, but it won’t really if you think about it.
For starters, imagine the stress of doing something that you know is illegal and always worrying that you’re going to be found out and punished. There are serious consequences to evading the tax you rightfully owe.
Also, a "cash" business isn’t an official business. You can’t go to the bank and ask for a loan unless you have your true numbers to show them. And for what?
Your customer is supposed to pay for your taxes.
Taking cash isn’t intrinsically a bad thing as long as you’re recording each transaction and setting aside the appropriate amount for tax.
Choose Your Beat
Think hard about the zone you’d like to work in. Some suburbs may be more lucrative than others if there are gaps in the market. Perhaps it’s an upper-income area but there are only lower-income competitors around.
In any case, it’s much better to have all of your jobs densely packed into a small area. Start with 4 or 5 suburbs and turn away work that distracts you from your area so you aren’t eating into your profit driving around.
Eventually, you can extend your area as you fill it out as long as you can work within a tightly-knit zone each day. Driving a little bit to get to and from the zone is okay as long as you can maximise your total working time and minimise total driving time.
If you can’t find jobs within a zone for the day, the next best option is to make a loop or a line for the day.
As a local mowing business, you’re only trying to reach potential customers within a very specific area so you have to be clever with finding your target market.
A website with blogs that use keywords targeted to your specific area is one way to reach potential clients. Spend some time researching search engine optimisation (SEO) and Google Advertising before you start building your site.
The only people you’re trying to reach are people that need your services. Blog titles like "Best lawn types for northern suburbs of Brisbane" and "Why we’re the best mowing contractors in Chermside" are targeted to people who either may need your services or definitely do need your services.
"The best way to mow lawns" is a blog title targeted to somebody who wants to mow their own lawn. That is the sort of person who is looking for Plants Grow Here, not your business.
Search for local Facebook groups where you can offer your services. Nobody likes spam, so think about the sort of post that would make you respond as a potential client and post that.
You’ll see the best Facebook results when you’re advertising on it which is shockingly expensive. In order to make that money back, you need long-term regular clients so find yourself a Facebook marketing guru to learn from.
As your business grows you can invest more time into researching targeted Facebook advertising, then you can begin to invest in Facebook.
Some people find success on other social media platforms. Instagram is all about good imagery so if you’re a photographer and work with cool-looking plants all day long, it’s a no-brainer. Unless you are able to consistently provide top-quality content, maybe stay away from Instagram and focus on a website and Facebook instead.
Handing out business cards to passers-by when you’re on a job is a hard move to pull off, but if you’ve ever worked in sales or are a good communicator you might have what it takes. You have a much higher success rate with business cards and flyers that you physically hand to people because you’ve made an actual connection.
You’ll also find that people just come up to you and ask you for a quote on the occasion. If you can do the job on the day you might land a long-term client in the same street.
Putting flyers in letterboxes is still definitely worthwhile as a part of every job; just don’t put any with "no junk mail" or "Australia Post only" signs, obviously. Don’t be afraid to put them in every few months or so because you never know when that person might need a contractor and besides, studies show that people are more likely to buy when they’re more familiar with the brand.
New clients on the same street as existing ones are basically gold. Especially if you can keep them scheduled on the same day; in fact, many mowing businesses offer a discount to all customers on the same street when they are done on the same day. The discount needs to be for all neighbours because they’re probably going to get talking and you don’t want to offend any of them.
That’s not to say they all have to be the same price if the workload is different, just that they all need to feel they are benefiting from a discount and nobody is missing out. You can give them all a 10% discount or 1 free mow every 10th time.
How Do Clients Choose A Mowing Business To Use?
Price is important however it isn’t the only factor that goes into a potential client making a decision about whether or not to use your services. Each client has different tastes and what is important to one person may not be as meaningful to another.
Some customers are going to go for the cheapest option and don’t care about how nice it looks at the end. Despite what you might think, this might be a good customer for you especially if you’re just getting started as long as they have realistic expectations on what you can achieve for their budget.
Other customers want a highly professional gardening crew to visit regularly because they take pride in their property and are happy to pay extra for it. This sort of customer is an even better one for you to have on board.
One way to stand out is branding: logos on vehicles and uniforms, well-presented staff and professional equipment which can help you justify a higher price. More on this later.
If you can find something about your business that is special about your business, this can help you stand out in a customer’s mind. For example, there are all-girl groups out there that some people find appealing. Think about if you were an older woman living alone: having female-only contractors could make you feel safe when you were making your decision.
Familiarity is huge: if a person sees you turning up on their street twice a month and they see your vehicle driving around the area on a regular basis, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be the first company they call.
Bad Clients: Are They Worth The Trouble?
Some clients are better off dropping than retaining. If you’re doing a quote and something feels off, listen to your gut because you don’t want to end up getting roped into a job that will never be good enough. There are people out there that will expect you to work extra time, hassle you for the lowest price and still end up giving you a 1 star Google review.
Just like in all other areas of life, some people are just pathological. You need to know when to say "no". When your no isn’t respected you need to say "goodbye" amicably without any hard feelings. If you lose profit on one job, that’s fine; at least you won’t have to come back again.
A good customer would feel terrible if they ever caused inconvenience to you. They want you to tell them what they need to do, so don’t be afraid of setting down the rules as long as you’re friendly and respectful.
To have any hope of keeping good customers you need to always be honest, respectful, friendly and firm. If you want good clients, you must be a good business owner.
When you’re first starting out, Google calendar or a similar app will do fine for monitoring your schedule.
However, once you start to grow you may want to upgrade to a better app like Service Autopilot which allows for a lot more in terms of scheduling and invoicing. This is not an ad, I just love this app for mowing and gardening businesses.
Reaching out to other tradies such as builders, landscapers and arborists to form relationships can be beneficial. You don’t have to go out for Friday beers (though that would be nice); the purpose is having allies out there that are also working in people's gardens.
As a lawn mowing or gardening business owner sometimes a customer will ask you to cut down a large tree or do some hard landscaping. Instead of simply saying no, give the customer a card and recommendation for your buddies and hope they are out there doing the same for you.
Other Services You Can Offer
Something you might like to ask yourself is whether you’d like to niche down and only offer mowing or whether you’d like to branch out and offer other services as well. There are advantages to both options, but here are some of the main additional services that mowing companies tend to offer.
Eventually you can think about purchasing a ride-on mower which is quite an investment but opens up new clients with larger lawns and a higher price bracket.
If you can’t afford insurance, you can’t afford to start a mowing business I’m afraid. This is a dangerous game and you’re eventually going to make a mistake. It’s a good feeling to work with the knowledge that you’ll only have to pay an excess if you cause any damage to people or property.
A good chunk of your time will be spent speaking with clients, going out on quotes, organising your weekly run, and on and on. You need to take this into account when you quote because eventually this work should be covered. This isn’t a hobby, it’s a business.
Get An Accountant
It’s hard enough researching everything you need to do to start a business in Australia, organising insurance, etc., etc. Why add another stress to the mix by trying to manage your own books?
You might consider sourcing a local bookkeeper that has experience with mowing businesses. Speak with other business owners in your area on Facebook or other forums about who they use and whether they recommend them.
Building A Brand
It’s more than just a logo, although that is part of it. Branding is all about how a person (especially a potential client) thinks about your business. Perhaps your brand has a young, hip vibe. Perhaps it has a sunny, optimistic feeling. Perhaps you run an all-women mowing crew which may feel safer to some clients, especially the elderly or those living alone.
In any case, always do your best to position yourself in the best light possible when you’re in uniform. This means obeying road rules, doing good work and just generally being competent. Avoid seeming rude, incompetent or leaving poor workmanship as this is bad branding.
Remember: whether you’re trying to or not, you’re always branding.
When you first start, you might be working on the weekends out of the boot of your sedan and that’s fine. But eventually you’re going to want to think about building a real brand with a business name, logo and website.
This is something you’re going to have to pay for but if you use a platform like Upwork (not an advertisement) you can post a job and have designers and developers bid from countries that have a much lower living cost and wage expectancy.
This is not unethical as long as you both agree on a price and scope before the project actually starts; in fact, it’s great for both parties!
Buyer beware: you need to check for reviews and previous work experience which are both normally supplied in the bidding process as well as ensuring that all aspects of the project scope are in writing (including what the review process will be if changes are required).
Be the kind of client that you want to see in the world. These are real people with real skills who deserve your respect.
Can A Woman Start A Lawn Mowing Business?
Of course! Why not?
It’s hard work, but if you’re up for the challenge there’s absolutely no reason you can’t start a lawn mowing business as a woman.
Many employees dream of breaking free to start a project of their own, and mowing lawns is one of the boots-on-the-ground down-to-earth realistic paths that any reasonably competent person can walk. You can literally start today with the tools in the shed and your current vehicle.
Where To From Here
Everything that’s on this website is written for you. The Plants Grow Here slogan is "learn to speak to plants"; basically I want to give you the information to become a truly competent gardener and differentiate yourself from some of the other jokers out there so you can earn that premium price bracket.
If you’re going to start a lawn and garden business, you may as well know how plants operate and why they get sick. The best place to start is my series on plant biology, and then move onto plant health problems. This knowledge comes in handy over and over again so that you can eventually troubleshoot problems in the field.
There’s an art and a science to pruning. I’ve written an article explaining the three different places you can cut a branch and how they all affect future growth along with some helpful diagrams.
Plant identification is a great skill for any gardener, even if you’re only mowing lawns. It’s impressive when you are able to name the plants in a client’s garden, even if it’s only to the family level. You can read my articles on the basics of how to identify as well as my series of plant families, subfamilies and genera (genuses) to get a crash-course and learn quickly.