In prior posts, I discussed my first job as a newspaper deliveryman, er boy, at the age of 10 and second job doing house chores when I was 11. My third job — mowing neighbor’s lawns — started when I was 12.
My Third Job: Mowing Lawns
When I turned 12 my neighbors started asking if I wanted to mow their lawn after seeing me mow my own. At the time I was living in Savannah and the going rate in my neighborhood was $10. When we moved to a more affluent neighborhood 1 year later I was able to charge $20 per yard.
My job was basically to mow half-acre lawns in the Georgia heat. Later, as I honed my mowing skills, I started receiving landscaping gig requests. The biggest projects were building a retaining wall (the client was my family) for ~$750 and building a garden pathway ($500). I would also cover another friend’s lawn mowing services when he was out of town.
At its peak, I had 5 clients, which came to 2 or 3 yard every other week, or $200/mo. This amount was so little that I later took a second job as a bag boy at Kroger.
Lessons from My Third Job: Mowing Lawns
- Location, Location, Location. Affluent white suburbia loves nice lawns. They love other people taking care of those lawns even more. I learned, however, that people value things differently. My more affluent neighbors were willing and able to pay twice as much for the same exact service. Thinking back, I should have gone to the wealthiest neighborhoods and sold my services at a premium.
- Keep your presentation professional. Over time, I mowed my family’s lawn less and less. As a result, it started growing over and deteriorating in appearance. This lawn, however, was supposed to be the best example of my work. If I was too busy to do it myself, I should have hired someone else to do it instead, and ideally do it even better than I could!
- Calculate in the Costs of Doing Business. My paycheck came with strings attached. I had to pay for gas, equipment, and repairs. Thankfully, I had “investors” — my family. I was allowed to use their equipment in return for taking care of our own. My dad even saved me $60 once by sharpening the mower blade at his factory.
- Upsell. Mowing lawns was a loss leader once I considered all the costs associated with it. I saw my most profit — my cash cows — on higher value jobs like landscaping. My advice is to figure out in advance services you can upsell and focus on the easiest sell of them all — existing customers.
- Start for cheap, but only for awhile. The fastest way to grow market share is to sell your product/service for cheap. However, this is not a long-term strategy as there will always be someone else able to figure out how to provide the product/service for even cheaper. Instead, gain the necessary client base to sustain the company and then start increasing the price. You can impress prospects with the quality of your work and demand a premium from them. In general, if you have a sales closing ratio above 50%, you are underpricing your product/service and need to increase your rates.
- Don’t be afraid of partnering with indirect competitors. Sometimes a gig was out of my experience, I didn’t have the tools, or it simply didn’t fit my schedule. Instead of saying no to the work, I would find someone — a partner — to help me with the project. For example, one time I had a friend who was going out of town for a month. He mowed yards in one of the most affluent neighborhoods, and as such could charge more per yard. I agreed to cover his yards in his absence and let him keep 20% of the money. In the end, I made my usual rate and I was able to use his equipment — a great win-win!
- Get recurring income. Too often I would have a customer call me in a frantic telling me that they needed their lawn mowed that weekend for a party, or would wait 2 or 3 weeks between services. In such a situation, there are two great options to consider: 1) charge more for the rush order, or 2) offer a discount incentive for signing up for recurring service. For example, I could have offered a discount to customers that committed or pre-paid for a “Summer Pass” of mowing services — buy 9 and get your 10th one for free. In the end, this is nothing more than 10% off, but I was getting them to commit to an entire summer of lawn care services.
Next time, my fourth job as a bag boy at Kroger.