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Re-Landscaping Older Homes, Gardening for Extra Money.

Thursday, November 3, 2016 2:57
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(Before It's News)

This came up in A Discussion in Our Members Area and I thought I’d share it here because it’s valuable information.

In this bed, two Japanese maples, some Table Top Juniper and Coral Bells.

In this bed, two Japanese maples, some Table Top Juniper and Coral Bells.

What most people don’t realize is that there are thousands of people that will happily pay you to do yard work for them.  Those customers come in all sizes and shapes and have different reasons for hiring a person like you to do yard work for them.

Some are seniors and just can’t do what they used to do.

Some are busy families and just don’t have the time.

Some hate doing yard work and would rather pay you the going rate than having to do it themselves.

There’s a ton of good information in this post, so didn’t get bored too quickly.  It gets better. How I got started doing yard work.

Right out of high school I bought a 8 horsepower, front tine rototiller.  Nothing fancy, just your basic rototiller and not even a brand name.  I paid $250 for it and looking back that seems like a lot of money considering what they sell for today.

Same Bed, Different Angle.

Same Bed, Different Angle.

The next thing I did was print up some small fliers and passed them out in a semi upscale neighborhood.  Even though it was upscale, almost every house had a small vegetable garden in the backyard.  I offered to rototill their gardens and since this was 40 years ago I don’t remember exactly what price I advertised but as I recall I had different prices for different size gardens.  I think the prices ranged from $8.00 to $12.00.

The Phone Started Ringing Like Crazy!

Seems that people liked this idea and lots of people wanted their gardens rototilled in the spring.  The hardest part of the job was pushing the tiller to the backyards.  The tilling part was easy.  Often times neighbors would call and since the gardens are always in the back corner I’d till two or three gardens in one spot.

I offered Up sells!

I’d carry with me on the truck bales of peat moss and bags of garden fertilizer and lots of people bought the up sells.  The fertilizer was very profitable because one bag would do many gardens!  Back then I think I paid about $3.00 a bag for the fertilizer and charged $5.00 per garden for fertilizer.

That First Weekend I made $250!

Let’s put that into perspective.

  1.  It was 1975.  $250 was a hunk of money back then.
  2. I paid off my rototiller the first weekend I used it.
  3. On my day job I was earning $3.00 per hour, pretty much the going rate back then.
  4. $3.00 an hour is $24.00 per eight hour day.

So was my crazy idea a success?

You bet it was!

A Laceleaf Weeping Japanese Red Maple and a Lavender Twist Redbud in a bed with some Coral Bells.

A Laceleaf Weeping Japanese Red Maple and a Lavender Twist Redbud in a bed with some Coral Bells.

The following year I went into the landscaping business and in 1979 I went into the landscaping business full time, and I made some mistakes and it cost me dearly.  I bought a lot of equipment and ended up broke.  I Tell that Story Here, because I Think People Deserve to know Who I Am.

If I was able to make $250 in one weekend back in 1975 how much do you think a person could earn today just doing some yard work?  Plenty.  Not get rich money, but extra money goes a long way and it’s pretty easy to earn a few hundred dollars doing yard work.

After I got into trouble and ended broke I started over with no money and no credit, but in that ugly process I discovered that I could make really good money re-landscaping older homes.  Recently in The Members Area, somebody asked me about doing landscape jobs and this is what I shared with them;

She had some specific questions so I addressed her questions.

Mike:  This is a fantastic idea and a great way to build your business.  I landscaped and re-landscaped homes for over 20 years, did well over 500 houses, probably closer to 1,000 houses.  I loved every minute of it!

Same bed, different angle.

Same bed, different angle.

Now I’m probably going to make your head hurt but I want you to know how good this really can be.  What I like most about this is at some point you’ll need help to do these jobs.  If you try and do them yourself that’s okay for a few, but eventually, pretty quickly, you’ll burn yourself out.

But with help, you can utilize those same people to get things done in your nursery and get a lot done in a short period of time.  When I quit landscaping the thing that I missed the most was having those extra bodies (my awesome crew) around to get things done in a hurry.  Three people can move 10 yards of soil in an hour or two!

The money?  The money is fantastic.  Once you really learn how to do this, how to price it, how to do the jobs efficiently, it’s easy to make $1,000, $2,000 a week or more.  I used to re-landscape three homes a week while still working a full time job.  Way back then that meant about $1,500 a week of spare time income.  And we didn’t work Sundays.

Question #1.  Do I price it per area, i.e. per square foot or square yard? Or do I price it per hour? What should I charge for this project?

Mike:  What I taught my son when he was doing some landscape clean up jobs in high school was to look at the job and break the areas up into small sections and then decide how long it would take you to trim the plants, remove the weeds and prepare the area for mulch.  Each area is usually about 30 to 50 minutes worth of work.  So take each are one by one and write down the time for each.

The crazy looking tree is a Harry Lauder's Walking Stick trained into a single stem tree. The weeping tree in the background is Variegated, Laceleaf Weeping Japanese Maple.

The crazy looking tree is a Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick trained into a single stem tree. The weeping tree in the background is Variegated, Laceleaf Weeping Japanese Maple.

When you are all done add up the time and figure out how long you expect it to take you.  Over estimate the time!  It usually takes longer than you think.

Then establish the hourly rate that you want, but do not share that number with your customer.  That’s none of their business.  But you should be looking at a minimum of $35 to $50 per hour for clean up type work.

That will give you your labor, but don’t share that number either.

Then calculate the materials.  You buy the plants wholesale and sell them to your customer at retail, which is pretty double the wholesale price.  Don’t share that information either.

Once you get it all figured out, give the customer a detailed proposal of what you are going to do, what areas you are doing, so they can’t later expect you to do an area that you didn’t even discuss originally.  Add all of those numbers together, add on the sales tax, in Ohio landscaping is taxable, including labor, then quote them one price for the entire project.

This person who is trying to hire you, she lives in the real world.  She knows what this stuff costs.  You might shock yourself with your price, but she should be prepared for the price that you quote.  If she doesn’t like your price don’t negotiate, just walk away.   Once you give any they squeeze and squeeze and squeeze.  Once I learned to walk my life was so much better.  Once I learned to attract customers that are willing to pay a fair price every job went perfectly.  Customers were delighted, I was happy and I made money.

This is an Orange Dream Japanese Maple lost among Coral Bells.

This is an Orange Dream Japanese Maple lost among Coral Bells.

Attracting the Right Customers is Key.  In My Marketing Book I Go into Great Detail about it.

I truly miss that business and if I ever needed to generate a few thousand dollars quickly that’s exactly what I’d do.

Question #2.   Are liners an appropriate size plant for gardens in this type of project?

Mike:  No, liners are not big enough, you should be using mostly 2 and 3 gallon plants, maybe one gallon perennials.  Liners will get lost in the bed and you’ll have a disappointed customer.   A rooted cutting is exactly as it sounds, a cutting, pretty much a stick, with some leaves and roots on the bottom.  A liner is a rooted cutting that has been grown out for one growing season.  It is starting to branch out and has a much heavier root system than a rooted cutting.

Question #3.  It would also include edging, weeding, trimming maintenance. Would this be priced at a different rate.

All one price.  Just quote X dollars for the entire job.  Take your time calculating the time, you most certainly don’t want to underestimate the job.

Goshiki Shidare Japanese Maple. This is a laceleaf and weeping variety with variegated leaves.

Goshiki Shidare Japanese Maple. This is a laceleaf and weeping variety with variegated leaves.

Question #4.  How would you price your plant material?

At full retail, but never let the customer see individual plant prices.  A nice landscape will have some $5.00 plants, some $25 plants and some $50 plants and usually at least one $250 Japanese maple.  But don’t give them plant prices, they’ll start messing with the design to save money.

Bargain hunters are terrible to work for.  I can spot them a mile away and I just tell them I’ll get back to them and I never do.  They get mad because I don’t call them back, but for 100 really good customers that are great to work for there is one cranky, impossible to please, bargain hunter in the group.   Spot them and run, don’t walk.

Like anything else you don’t learn this overnight.  But if you are committed, it’s a great way to make some pretty easy money if you like to work and are willing to hire a couple of strong backs to do the heavy stuff.

In 2012 I ran my re-landscaping ad in the paper in May.  I hadn’t run it since 1996!  I really ran it to prove to a mastermind group that it would still work.  The add came out on a Saturday morning and the first call came in at 7:30 am and the phone rang all day.  14 people called and in the ad I told them the price was $1,995.  We only did two jobs, we had way too many other things going on at the time.

But, but, but  . . . 14 people called, prepared to spend $2,000 each.

This is a video of Duston and I re-landscaping a house.  Enjoy!

Now, don’t get greedy, don’t try and sell those kinds of jobs out of the gate.  Do what I did.  Start pulling some weeds and edging beds, trimming shrubs and get paid nicely for it.  But don’t dive in over your head taking on jobs you have no experience with.  That’s just craziness!

$50 per hour is still only $400 for an 8 hour day and today I would expect to earn at least $700 to $1,200 for a day.  But you achieve that by piling on value.

The customer sees the project as completely overwhelming which is why they call you.  If you quote them $50 per hour they won’t hire you because they sees this as hours and hours of work and they are very uncomfortable with that open ended agreement.  They want to know up front what the total cost is going to be.

So you pile on the benefits.  I used to include labor to remove and haul away the old, overgrown shrubs, 4 to 6 cubic yards of topsoil to raise the beds a bit, I offered the design as part of the free estimate, rarely did anybody every steal my design and when one lady did I sent her a very friendly letter thanking her for using my design and a bill.  She paid it.

I gave them a list of the plants that I would be using, told them that I would mulch the beds and clean up the mess perfectly.  Then I promised them a weed free garden for the first 6 months and I’d apply a pre emergent herbicide to keep weed seeds from germinating.  Probably can’t and shouldn’t do that today.  Just mulch heavily.

In my ads I would tell them that I would not send a bunch of knuckleheads to their house, I promised that my crew would be professional.

The way that I get to $700 a day is by utilizing laborers to get the work done quickly.

At the time I was working a full time job. Meter reader by day, landscaping by night.

We could re-landscape a house in about 6 hours, no more than 8 with a 3 man crew.  We’d start a job on Monday evening, finish it Tuesday evening, start another on wed evening, finish it on Thursday evening and do another on Sat.  I took Friday evenings and Sundays off.

There was a lot of showmanship in what we did.  Things moved so fast that the customers were dumbfounded and amazed.  I would hide the plants in my van and not let the customers see them.  There is nothing uglier than a bunch of plants crammed in a truck like sardines.   So they didn’t even know that the plants were on the job site.  Once the beds were ready to plant the plants came out and we’d have them planted in 20 minutes.

By that time the customers usually lost interest in what we were doing so the next time they looked out we were sweeping up.

I loved that business because we did house make overs in one day.  The customers were always pleased.

Years ago I used to do waterfalls, brick patios etc.  Once I started advertising re-landscapes I never touched another brick, another timber, railroad tie or waterfall.  Those things are too time consuming.

Most of the people that responded to my well written ads were 60 years or older, most were retired blue collar, just flat out great people to work for.  I never bid on another new home again!  New homes are a pain in the butt.  New homeowners get 10 estimates, only one person (if that) is going to get the job.

In My Advanced Training Manual I take My Re-landscaping Ad and tear it apart sentence by sentence and I explain why it worked so well.

When I was doing re-landscapes I rarely bid against anybody.

That is a huge advantage!  Bidding takes time.  New home owners often get prices from 8 or 10 landscapers.  Only one can get the job and it gets so competitive that it’s crazy.  Once I started re-landscaping older homes I never did another new home!

There is nothing more satisfying than busting it out for a day and head home with $500 or more profit in your pocket.  But jobs that take weeks to complete?  To me they suck.

When my business was in trouble and I was trying to find my way another member of the trade offered me some advice.  This is what he told me;

1.  Nice guys always finish last.

2.  There are always more customers out there.

In other words, I was trying too hard to please my customers.  His advice was don’t worry about that, you can always find more customers.

I decided to ignore his “very sage” advice and my follow my heart.

My business didn’t make millions but every job was profitable and every customer was satisfied.

My point to this story is simple, big isn’t always better.

Better is always better.


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