Jason Creel Shares His Strategies for Starting a (Third) Lawn Care Business
Jason Creel got started in the lawn care business in Montgomery, Alabama around 2007. He’d always wanted to be self employed and working for others just didn’t seem to fit.
“I’m just an entrepreneur by birth. I didn’t really have a lot of lawn care experience, but it just sounded like something I could do and I like even being outdoors,” he says.
Looking back at business number one
Creel’s first lawn business was doing residential maintenance work and it spread fast. “About five years after starting that, I sold it, but kept a small portion of it, and switched over into weed control and fertilization,” Creel explains.
By then, his family had moved back to near where he grew up.
“At least here in the south, lawn care maintenance is a weekly job. That’s a lot of cuts per year. But with weed, you’re servicing a customer’s house a lot less often. You’ll need more customers, but you don’t have the same labor cost either,” says Creel. “If you’re one person, in one truck, and you’re all-in, you can go a little harder, have less overhead, and do better.”
I'm just an entrepreneur by birth. I didn't really have a lot of lawn care experience, but it just sounded like something I could do and I like even being outdoors.
Say hello to businesses number two and three
Creel has built his current business, Alabama Lawn Pros, to service 325 customers in about two and a half years, all on his own. “I’m looking to hire somebody next year to make that jump,” he says. “I probably get 100 or 150 calls a year for cutting business but I like to offer something different with the weed and fertilizer control. A big part of our marketing is exchanging referrals with the mowing guys.”
Creel says his latest venture focused on weed control is very different from running a mowing business. “On the weed control side, it takes longer to get going. There’s a lot bigger learning curve and you got to have licenses,” he explains. “There’s continuing education, more hoops to jump through…but in the long run I do think it can be more profitable.”
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Online marketing for the win
Having built two lawn care businesses from scratch, Creel has become a YouTube’r, starting the Lawn Care Life channel, and creates educational series and marketing tools for other lawn care entrepreneurs.
“It has tremendously helped my local business that I have a strong internet presence. Because of my YouTube channel, the website ranks very well on Google locally. So, Youtube is overwhelmingly the number one way I get customers.”
On the channel, Creel answers a number of subscriber questions, often stuff to do with what equipment they should buy to help start, operate and grow their own business.
Advice on buying equipment in the early days
“When you’re starting, buy all new handheld equipment, because you’re really not saving much if you go used,” he says. “If you need a string trimmer, backpack blower, edger, or whatever, just go buy all that new. $300 new versus $150 used for a string trimmer that may not work well or last long isn’t much savings.
For larger items, like commercial grade residential mowers, Creel advices you go the opposite way and buy used. “I don’t know I’ve ever bought a new mower,” he says. “For not much more than you could go buy a brand new residential model, you can get a slightly used commercial one. Last time, I think I paid less than $3,000 and they’re maybe $7,000 new, and it worked well.”
When you’re starting, buy all new handheld equipment, because you're really not saving much if you go used. $300 new versus $150 used for a string trimmer that may not work well or last long isn’t much savings.
To get into the weed control niche and operate the way he needed to, Creel decided he needed an $11,000 sprayer. “It was a lot of money, but I felt good doing because this is my third lawn care business now, so I had confidence that I could get the thing going quicker.”
“There was no turning back for me. I knew I was going to do it and I had some money from when I had sold my previous business, so it wasn’t a huge financial deal.” But big up-front investments add risks that can make or break a small business.
Creel says he has seen too many others start a lawn care business, buy a brand new $8,000 to $10,000 mower and then end up selling it a year later on the cheap to try and cover their losses. “Either they just go bust because of all the payments they’re making, or they don’t get traction, or they lose interest. Instead, just get the used, and get the revenue coming in. You can always upgrade your equipment later.”
Creating a revenue stream from his online efforts
After nearly 3 years of building a strong reputation, Creel has started to monetize his YouTube presence. There’s a small but growing stream of revenue from the Lawn Care Life and Alabama Lawn Care Pros YouTube channels, and the company website appears among the top Google search results for the Montgomery area.
Always seeking to grow the business, Creel has recently added video courses to his offerings for others starting a lawn business and created his learning site, start-lawncarebusiness.com. “The feedback has been super positive, whether it’s people that just want to watch the free videos or the people who maybe want to buy the products.”
He even held his first one day conference in November of 2017. “We talked about marketing specifically and some of the marketing strategies I’m using.” The idea is to get more people thinking about a vision to grow their business.
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“It takes a certain personality crazy enough to want to start their own business and put everything they have into it,” says Creel. “You have to be real committed, like ‘I’m going to do whatever it takes to get the first customers and get past the survival point with this thing.’
“The lawn care business is is very competitive, but there’s no trouble getting customers and that’s not just me. It’s just getting going.”
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