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How to start a lawn care business

Vijay Khandekar

How to start a lawn care business

Imagine it’s three years from now. You’re guiding your zero-turn around a three-acre lawn in a gated community, and you’re smiling. You just got an email from your accountant, and you’re on track to turn six figures. Your lawn care business is growing like Ryegrass.

It’s not so hard to cut a path to this dream. Hundreds of thousands of lawn care pros have done it, and the average makes over $127K a year. It’s incredibly easy to get started, but there are some steps to follow to grow your income fast.

Let’s get you into this zero-worry future ASAP. Below, we’ve harvested the wisdom from a survey of over 80 top lawn care pros in the U.S. — down to just four simple steps. Most of them say it’s the best decision they’ve ever made.

We’ll share their best tips, plus a case study of a real lawn care success story (complete with numbers), so you can follow his breadcrumbs to prosperity.

P.S. — licensing is not the issue.

Ready?

1. Choose your type of lawn care business

There isn’t just one type of lawn care business because there isn’t just one type of person starting them. Are you in high school or college and just hunting a side hustle? A teacher looking for some summer income? Or an HVAC tech wanting to transition to your own small business?

Most lawn care pros in our survey say to start by deciding what kind of lawn care business to run. Tip: It all depends on your resources, and on how much money you need to make. If you’re a high-school kid who wants a little recreation money, your path is easy. If you’ve got two kids and a mortgage and you need to make $2,000 a week, you face a bigger challenge, and you’ll need a different type of company.

Backing into your goal will make your choices easier.

Types of lawn care companies

Type of Lawn Care Business Employees Equipment Startup Cost Range Labor Hours Per Week Potential Revenue 
Micro 1 Borrowed truck or SUV, push mower, 2 gas cans, string trimmer $0 to $500 10-20 $15,000
Part-time 1 Truck or SUV, mower, string trimmer, edger, hedge trimmer, blower, gas cans $500 to $1,500, plus vehicle 20-30 $50,000
Full-time 1 Truck, trailer, zero-turn mower, string trimmer, edger, hedge trimmer, blower, gas cans $1,500 to $5,000, plus vehicle 40 $130,000
Multi-team 2+ Multiple trucks, trailers, zero-turn mowers, string trimmers, edgers, hedge trimmers, blowers, gas cans $5,000 to $20,000, plus vehicles 60-160 $200,000
Full-service 4+ Multiple trucks, trailers, zero-turn mowers, string trimmers, edgers, hedge trimmers, blowers, gas cans, plus added equipment for other services $10,000 to $50,000, plus vehicles 80-400 $500,000

Micro

College kids who want to make a few bucks on weekends and in summer months can start their own lawn care business on a shoestring. Your parents’ SUV or truck, push mower, and string trimmer are all you really need. A hardworking kid can earn from $10,000 to $20,000 a year with a small lawn care company like this.

Part-time

This kind of grass-to-cash concern works great for more industrious college kids or grownups looking for a side hustle. You’ll need to spend a few more dollars on equipment and a bit more time — but not much! You can earn as much as $50,000 with this type of lawn care business.

Full-time

Teachers, tax pros, and snowbirds fit the full-time lawn care life like a pair of canvas gardening gloves. This is where you get your zero-turn, your truck and trailer, and your other tools. Despite the $130,000 income potential here, the cost to get started is still surprisingly low.

Multi-team

When you’ve got too much business to handle on your own, you’re ready for a multi-team lawn care company. You might have one, two, or even five teams of 1-2 employees each out there trimming the verge. But although you can grow your revenue substantially, you’ll have to ask yourself if it’s worth the extra management and marketing hassle.

Full-service

Most companies won’t start here, but once you’ve got a successful multi-team lawn care biz up and running, the next step is to add more services. You can include pest control, tree service, aerating, power raking, and landscaping in your offerings. (Don’t feel you need a lot of teams to add on services though. Plenty of lawn care pros start small and offer pest control or landscaping from day one.)

2. Understand the challenges

“Oh-oh. I think I bit off more than I can chew.”

Nobody wants to get in over their head. But we’re not trying to drive you away from starting your own lawn care business — far from it. In fact, the right kind of person will thrive in this industry. (You’re the right kind if you enjoy physical work outside and beating your high score in a system.) But you do need to know what you’re up against so you’ll be ready when you face the inevitable hurdles.

Very, very hard to find clients

The competition is extremely strong. The pros in our survey hear from homeowners who get five or six business cards on their porch every spring. When you’re competing against a dozen seasoned pros in your area (and anyone can do your job), you’ll have to claw for market share. To make things worse, too many of the available customers will low-ball you.

Bad weather

Rainy seasons are bad for business. You might find yourself struggling to fit your cuts in while the grass grows out of control from rains like something out of Forrest Gump

Difficult to find employees

Scaling a lawn care business can be exhausting. It’s hard to find someone trustworthy. Not only are 1.7 million Americans absent from the workforce, but the shortage is hitting physical job markets particularly hard. And once you find them, you’ll have to hustle to pull in enough extra work to keep them interested. 

Clients can be tough

Customers will try to talk you down and complain, and some of them will be outright nasty. You won’t have a boss, but you’ll still have people telling you what to do.

Managing employees can be hard

Even if you do manage to build a solid team, lawn care workers don’t tend to stick around. They move on to greener grassland, start their own thing, or get a “real job.” Plus, you’ll have to stay on top of them to make sure they show up on time and do work up to your standards. A good field service software app like GorillaDesk can help by managing your scheduling, dispatching, invoicing, route mapping, and quotes for you.

3. Get equipment, licensing, and insurance

This is where the rubber meets the Kentucky bluegrass. It’s not hard, but there are some i’s to dot and t’s to cross. Thankfully, the advice from 80 lawn care pros below will guide you through the hedge maze.

Start as small as you can

Don’t jump into the middle of the ocean to learn how to swim. Half the lawn care pros in our survey say you’re delaying your success by starting small — but the other half say to start small and keep working.

The camp you fall into depends on your needs. If you need a bigger income now, you may need a small loan to get going. If your financial needs are relatively small, don’t overreach. In general:

  • Don’t buy things until you need them
  • Start your lawn care business as a side hustle to test it out. Don’t quit your day job until it’s getting in the way of your successful company.
  • Don’t hire employees until you absolutely have to.

Get equipment

You’ll have to do a little calculating here. The list of lawn care equipment below is comprehensive, but don’t feel you need to buy every item on the list. If you’re able to start small because you don’t have massive monthly bills, you’ll get by with a string trimmer and a 36-inch walk-behind.

Total equipment cost: $330 to $70,000

Total monthly costs: $100+ for insurance, plus gas and sundries

Here’s the breakdown:

Essentials

  • Mower: $250 to $4,000. You can start with a low-end push mower, or go all-out for a high-end zero-turn.
  • String trimmer: $80 to $300. A good string trimmer is absolutely necessary. It’ll hit the places your mower can’t reach.
  • Gas cans: $50 to $200. You’ll need two gas cans: a 2-gallon and a 5-gallon.

Battery powered? Nope.

They do have plenty of power but they’re not quite there yet for professional use — mostly because the battery life is too short, I would have to wear a battery pack on my person with a cord to the trimmer which is inconvenient to say the least!

You’ll need a way to charge batteries, which is an added cost. Also, when you use your equipment, the battery gets too hot to charge, especially if it’s hot out, so it’s challenging to charge it between lawns.

-Neal Poorman, Lawn Service Business Owner, West Virginia

Good to have

  • Edger: $50 to $200. Even some seasoned pros do a good job edging with their string trimmer. If you have the money, graduate to a dedicated edger.
  • Hedge trimmer or attachment: $50 to $200. You can buy string trimmers with hedge trimmer attachments, or buy a standalone.
  • Blower: $80 to $300. A string trimmer will do a passable job at cleanup, but it looks a little rough. Start small or spring for a top-end Husqvarna.
  • SUV or truck: $0 to $60,000+. An old rust bucket won’t get you good customers, but don’t break the bank. You can definitely start out with the family SUV and work your way up. You can also buy a used one or go all out for a brand-new Ford F-250.
  • Trailer: $1,000 to $5,000. A simple gooseneck will work. You’ll pay top dollar for the convenience of an enclosed landscaping trailer.

Other needs

  • Lawn care software: A good field service app will take the world off your shoulders by handling your invoicing, scheduling, dispatching, and routes. GorillaDesk is a popular choice with 4.9-star Capterra reviews.
  • Learn basic small engine repair. A little skill with a wrench will save you a ton of money.
  • A place to dump leaves and mulch. Try to get in with a farm or a pit in need of compost. Otherwise you’ll need to use the local dump, which may or may not charge for it.

Pro tip: Think hard about whether to buy long-lasting pro-grade tools. If you’re starting small, there’s nothing wrong with cutting costs at first and then replacing them with more robust tools after you’re successful.

Get licensed

Do you need a license to start a lawn care business? Licensing depends greatly on your location. Most states require at least a general license for any business, but it’s not hard to get. You may also need a dedicated lawn care business license, depending on your state. Most states don’t require one, but here’s a list of regulations by state.

Get insurance

What if a stray rock flies out of your mower, and you break a homeowner’s window? You’ll need insurance. You can find general liability coverage for as low as $100 a month. If you offer other services like pest control or tree service, you might need a more specific, more expensive policy.

4. Get customers

This is the hard part, but you’ve definitely got this, especially with the expert tips we collected from our massive survey. Be strategic, though — you don’t have to do everything at once. You can start small with the tips at the top of the list below and work your way down as you get more skill.

Easy lawn care marketing techniques

Start here when you’re just getting your feet wet:.

  • Tap your network: Ask friends and family for your first few lawns. You’ll probably be able to get one or two this way.
  • Start cheap: Set your prices super low or even free at first. Get a couple of high-visibility lawns (think corner lots) and do a great job. Ask if you can put signs near the road with your phone number. Don’t work cheap for long! This is just to get things rolling.
  • Be friendly: Work hard, but smile at people who go by, and be approachable. You can pick up lawns just from chatting with people in the neighborhood who see you working.
  • Ask for word of mouth: Do great work even if it cuts into your hourly rate at first, and ask for referrals to people in their network.
  • Be honest: Undersell and overdeliver. Humble integrity blows people away, and they’ll recommend you naturally to other homeowners they know.
  • Target distressed lawns: Drive around your area and find neglected lawns. Drop a business card or flyer on their porch or in their mailbox, with a super cheap rate. Then, ask to put a sign up on their property. This marketing trick isn’t a money maker; it’s a way to break into a tight lawn care business market.
  • Start small: Target small lawns within 15 miles of you at first. You’ll maximize your time this way.

Next-level lawn care marketing techniques

Do these when you’re already seeing some success but you want to scale:

  • Pass out flyers: If you go running to get exercise, map out routes in your area and bring a backpack full of flyers. If not, drive. Put them on porches or in mailboxes. If there’s a lower box for junk mail, use it. One pro in our survey passed out 1,000 flyers in a week! You can also get snazzy instant-quote door-hangers from LawnCareMedia.com.
  • Get a tee shirt and magnetic signs: Print up a t-shirt with your business name, as a conversation-starter with potential customers. Get magnetic signs for your vehicle too, with your phone number clearly visible.
  • Contact groups: Call real estate groups in your area and join them on Facebook. Also call resorts, country clubs, and HOA presidents in gated communities. Don’t waste time on small jobs for too long if you want to scale.
  • Reach out to realtors: Approach a few realtors near you and offer to mow lawns at properties they’re listing. This is a great source of new clients.
  • Try to get good Google reviews: Create a Google business profile. Then, mow lawns for friends and family in exchange for a 5-star Google review or at a discount. Do a Google search for “lawn care” in your area, and see how many 5-star reviews the top results have. You’ll need to get the same amount before you pop up first. See more in our article on Google Ads for pest control.

Here are a few tips to start a fast-growing lawn care business

  • If you can work full-time during the busy season, you can make good money.
  • Once your company is running well, consider adding other services, like aerating, power raking, and pest control. 
  • In the winter, tree spraying is a fantastic money-maker in some areas. One worker can make $2,000 to $3,000 per day.
  • You’ll have to battle other lawn care pros who are constantly undercutting your prices. Do super high-quality work — always — and be professional, punctual, and friendly. This is the only way to compete for the real money.
  • Spend some time figuring out how many lawns you can realistically handle. It’s one of the hardest things to do, but it’s necessary if you want to grow a roster of high-paying customers. (If you overestimate your ability, you’ll have unhappy customers.)
  • Check out Lawnsite.com for pro tips.
  • Set a minimum price for all your work, and don’t haggle. Once you’re up and running, don’t waste time on customers who are impossible to please. Work hard for your higher paying customers, and cut the time wasters free.

Starting your lawn care business: Key takeaways

There are over 85 million lawns in the U.S., and a typical small town has about 1,300. With 634,000 lawn care companies in America, there’s one company for every 134 lawns. But while the competition is stiff, high-quality work can easily carve market share.

For the right kind of person, it’s not hard to start a profitable lawn care business. With a little elbow grease and some grass stains on your shoes, you can pull in $20,000, $50,000, or even $130,000+ per year.

As soon as you can afford it, make your life a lot easier with a lawn care business app like GorillaDesk. GorillaDesk is a full-featured field service software that can trim your workload, tame your schedule, and handle your invoicing.

You’ve got this. You’ll soon be out there guiding your zero turn around the grass, trimming, edging, and blowing while you watch your monthly earnings grow. Good luck!

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