How to Start and Run a Successful Lawn Care & Landscape Business

Before you “Hang your Shingle”

Plan? We don’t need no stinking plan! There is only one time I personally recommend you do a “full fledged” business plan. When you need to borrow money that you CANNOT get anywhere else. I say this because a true business plan, though a “map” to where you’re going, has much information you won’t really need, use or understand. I favor Marc Allen’s’ approach called the “one page plan”.

I suggest you read the Millionaire Course by Marc Allen to get a better feel for it, but here’s the basics.

• Write down your ideal scene, set five years in the future.
• Write down your goals (extracted from ideal scene).
• Turn your goals into positive, personal, present-tense affirmations.
• Deal with doubts and fears effectively (the book provides a specific process for this).
• Write simple plans for your goals on paper.
• Take the most obvious first action right in front of you, and keep going from there.

So you basically write down your ideal scene, be brave and be outrageous. Then scan this document for “goals” that you can write down. Then write down specific tasks you can take to accomplish these goals. Remember, beginning has boldness! And hard work is simply a bunch of easy stuff that didn’t get done when it should’ve!

Who are you? Who are your clients?

Define your market – define yourself: Who are you as a company? Are you the guy who specializes in cemeteries and schools and other municipal properties? Or are you the one who takes care of that “select group” of wealthy, particular clients who very few have the skill and patience to serve? It’s SO important to define yourself FIRST or you’ll have a “mixed bag” of clients and you’ll make many errors in judgment as to how to serve each type. You can be general or specific, but start defining now.

We cater to middle to upper – middle class, middle to old age, particular but not “spoiled”. This is where we experience the best money, most enjoyment and greatest client satisfaction. On the corporate side, we cater to small properties who are loyal to a company who gives great service. We want companies that say “Ok, he did our property JUST the way we liked it last year, I see no reason to go anywhere else”. I stay away from companies that put their properties out to bid every year. You MIGHT keep the job if you give “knock em’ dead” service, but chances are, saving money will always win in the end. I Stick with small and loyal, and that just works for us.

DO occasionally take clients “above” your target, just not below. Defining yourself is another way of setting your “terms”. For instance, our rate is our rate. We don’t dicker. We say HOW the work gets done, the client gets to dictate the end result. I am paid on time. I do what’s best for my family, I live by the golden rule and I clean up my messes and take 100% responsibility for my life. Notice there are no “or else’s” at the end, no “back doors”. THEN they would be called “conditions”. These are NOT conditions, they are “terms”. There is no room for any alternative and we do not give the alternative space to exist. Period. Most of your personal terms would be the same whether you were married, single, childless or patriarch over a brood of 11. They “define” you, and adhering to them strengthens you and compromising them weakens you.

Metaphysically speaking, when you define yourself, you invoke the great “I AM”. When you firmly define yourself, you will begin to find situations drawn to you that fit your definition. You’ll get calls from the “right” clients, you’ll be in the “right” place for the president of the condo association to stop and talk to you, you’ll happen to be the ONLY contractor that answered his phone that day when the new homeowner next door calls.

Pick two and “Know the WHY?”

Pick Two: This is extremely important! There are 3 things you can offer; low price, great service, great quality. You can only offer TWO out of the three. What are they going to be? If it’s great service and quality, don’t you DARE let clients dicker with you on price. Trying to offer all 3, OR offering a “different 2” from one day to the next will do you in quicker than almost any bad business decision you can make. Who are you? It’s ok to change your mind as you go along, just be clear as to why. Be clear on who you are.

I’m clear that I’m all about quality and service, which is why I hire subs and am “stepping back”. All my successful business decisions can be traced back to a decision to follow these two choices. All or most of my poor decisions can be traced back to a time that I “waffled” and forgot who I was.

Know the Why!: Know what you’re going to charge and WHY. You MUST feel that there’s a reason you charge $40, $60 or $80 per hour or you’ll let yourself be talked out of it. Know WHY you’re in business. What are your goals, what are you trying to accomplish? Where are you going? Another word for “WHY” is “purpose”, and purpose gives the needed energy and passion to everything. Passion is really all you need to get going and STAY going through all sorts of conditions. Passion leads to perseverance. Perseverance leads to success. Perseverance is “heard” by God and the universe as “Hey, this is what I want and where I’m going, regardless of whatever obstacles I encounter”. This is also crucial in budgeting. Know how you came up with your numbers. Do the extra work. Instead of just saying “I want to grow 20% next year”, figure out what needs to happen to accomplish that. How many lawns do I need to get? Make sure you BELIEVE that you can do it, and you understand what needs to HAPPEN for you to do it and your chances will skyrocket.

Sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC or corporation? This is one of those questions that can ONLY be answered firmly by a lawyer or tax specialist (you do have an accountant don’t you?!) But I’ll put my 2 cents in here. I believe that ONCE YOU ARE MAKING A GOOD PROFIT, an Scorp is the best way to go for the following reasons:

1. It disciplines you to keep company and personal money separate because you HAVE to pay yourself a paycheck and CANNOT commingle funds.

2. As you make more profit, you get to dictate your paycheck and leave the rest of the profit in the company which simply gets taxed at your rate. For instance, if you are a sole proprietorship, and you make $50,000 profit you have to pay state and fed taxes PLUS social security and Medicare (self employment tax) of 15.3% (you and company side). If you are an Scorp instead, you pay yourself $30,000 and pay all those taxes on it, then JUST pay state and fed on the remaining $20,000, saving $3,060!! Setting up an Scorp is pretty straight forward.

I would say that as long as your GROSS is $100,000 or less and your net before tax profit (including money you pay yourself as wages) is $30,000 or less, you should stay either a sole proprietorship OR LLC. Consult your lawyer and accountant on these matters first though.

A couple of points about incorporating:

• DON’T buy expensive ledger and corporate package. It’s only a fancy 3 ring binder and corporate seal. Google “corporate seal” if you really want one, but my understanding is that they are no longer necessary.
• DO spend 50-60 on an incorporating package OR a program like LLC maker because it just simplifies and clarifies everything for you. IF you are comfortable researching, go ahead, but my advice is that if you can run a business, you can incorporate yourself without a lawyer. I just bought a “maintenance package” that includes minutes and bylaws to keep everything tidy and legal.

That’s it for now!

How Vinyl Siding Installation Affects Life’s Values

Technology propels innovation and births inventions to make more efficient of life. To replace costly materials with cheaper alternatives, many home owners opt for the much extolled vinyl siding. Installation as well as maintenance expenses are purportedly more attractive as compared to conventional methods. Advertisers laud the advantages of putting up this fascia as natural options are being superseded by the artificial.

Before opting for any major change in one’s life, whether personal or property, it is ideal to understand the undercurrents. As it is harvested from a chemistry lab experiment as compared to forest reserves and natural slates, it is bound to draw some public attention. Akin to the continual clash between plastic bags and their recyclable peers, some schools of thought consider these artificial walls to be less than ideal to the home owners’ health in the long run. Extreme weather conditions as well as fire breakouts may induce emission of fumes to cause adverse effect to respiratory systems. Proponents of vinyl siding installation however present differing opinions as these views obviously jeopardize the future of the industry.

Encasing one’s house with this polymer is no different from living in a plastic bubble. Since plastic is durable and has proven to outlast its creator, perhaps it may be the answer to minimal maintenance of the house’s exterior. Despite the best of intentions, mold and mildew set in, colors fade. Unless one is content with a dilapidated exterior, effort is still needed for its upkeep. Being lightweight, this material is susceptible to breakage due to accidents of nature or otherwise. No different from modern car fenders, a dent requires a replacement as the siding is not designed for refurbishment. Short of one cordoning off a perimeter to lawn mowers and falling branches, this artificial wall is exposed to potential damage.

Despite best of intentions to recreate wood swirls, upon closer inspection, facades with vinyl siding installation may not paint the prettiest of pictures. In case the owner puts the house up for sale, this may detract from its property value. Properties claiming historical significance may also lose their preservation status if too much of the original is tampered with. As said once too often, it is a rare occasion to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Badminton and Lightening Bugs – Using the Memoir to Teach Middle School Students to Write

One of the best ways to get middle school students to write, begin to enjoy writing, and eventually find their own voice is to teach them to write memoirs. Once they learn to put their own thoughts and feelings on paper, writing memoirs can have a double benefit. Often, with a little prompting, students can write memoirs that quite naturally fit into the structure of a well-written essay. But how do you get them started? The very best way is to model an example for them. When you assign them a topic, complete the assignment yourself, give it your best effort, and share your writing with your students. Share with them how you brainstormed to narrow down your topic, how you organized it, and how, why, and where you edited and revised it. Students will follow your lead. If you produce good writing, they will watch and model you and they will produce good writing. Try it and see.

What follows is one of the first memoirs I produced and shared with my students. They were writing pieces for an autobiography and this piece was called, “My Most Treasured Childhood Memory.” They were free to change the title or add sub-titles as their pieces progressed. Mine became: “Badminton and Lightening Bugs.”

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Badminton and Lightening Bugs

(My Most Treasured Memory)

When I think about my most treasured memory from childhood, it isn’t a trip or vacation or a special occasion, like a birthday or a particular Christmas. Instead, my favorite memory centers around those long summer evenings when my family was all together and we did nothing special at all. What makes those evenings stand out in my mind and my heart? Perhaps it was the easy-going carefree atmosphere, kind of like the Andy Griffith Show. Or maybe it was that all my family was there, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. That treasure is something I’ve lost forever. My brother and sisters are busy with their own lives, my parents have passed away, and my cousins have all moved away. Another family lives in our house now. The memory of those summer evenings lives only in my heart.

I grew up in a small, white house with my mom and dad, two sisters, and a brother. In the summer, with no air-conditioning in the house, we found ourselves outside as much as in. Our house had a concrete porch with steps that led down to a sidewalk. At the end of the sidewalk, two more steps led down to our gravel driveway. The sidewalk separated our yard into two halves. A pine tree marked the edge of the left side of the yard and a large, spreading elm shade tree marked the edge of the right side. It was a lovely yard to play in, and the sidewalk made a natural division for choosing sides and playing Tag or Red Rover or our favorite summer game – Badminton.

We had a number of cousins who lived within walking distance, so many times in the late summer evenings, one or more of them showed up at our house and a game of one kind or another got started. It was easy to play Badminton because the sidewalk made a kind of natural “net” and we didn’t have to worry about setting up or taking down an actual net. In fact, I can’t recall us ever owning a real net. We just grabbed the Badminton rackets and a couple of “birdies” out of the basement and the games were on. Our yard was big enough to play one against one or even two against two. The trees on either side of the yard served as boundaries. Our games were sometimes fiercely competitive elimination games, especially as we grew older and more skilled, but just as often they continued in a friendly, easy-going manner until the dusk overtook us and we could no longer see the birdie well enough to hit it.

By that time, the lightening bugs were out and flying everywhere around us. One of us took the Badminton rackets and birdies to the basement and returned with a couple of mason jars. Then a new competition started as we ran around the yard in a frenzy, each of us trying to get the most lightening bugs in our jar. Just as tricky as catching them was keeping them in the jar as we added to our stash. Sometimes two or three escaped when we tried to put a new one in. We got extra points for having bugs with different colored lights. Did you know that lightening bugs’ lights are different colors? They are – I can tell you that for a fact. I don’t know what the different colors are supposed to mean – if it’s evidence of the bug’s age or gender or what – but the lightening bugs in our yard could be dark or light green, dark or light orange, or golden yellow. Whoever got at least one bug of every color in a single night was “King of the Lightening Bug Catchers” for that day.

Eventually our parents, who were sitting outside on the porch watching us, called us in to get ready for bed and sent the cousins back home. We set our lightening bugs free and put our jars away, ready to be filled on another evening. As the summer wore on, the katydids started chirping and the number of lightening bugs slowly diminished, going, I suppose, where all lightening bugs go with the coming of fall. The night air started getting nippy and soon it was time for school to start. That was the end of our late evening “Gatherings on the Lawn” until the next summer called us out to play once more.

It’s been many years since I last played Badminton or caught lightening bugs in my front yard, but it doesn’t take much to awaken those memories in my heart. The smell of freshly-cut grass or the deep green scent of a pine tree, the swooshing sound of a birdie being hit by a badminton racket, the keen, echoing chirp of a katydid, and of course, the tiny glow of a lightening bug are all it takes to carry me back to my most treasured childhood memory – Badminton and Lightening Bugs.