ASK THE EXPERTS is presented in partnership with PLANET’s Trailblazers On Call program. Trailblazers are industry leaders who volunteer their time and expertise to give back to the industry.
Q. Could you offer advice on running my landscape contracting business on a shoestring budget?
A. Most businesses (and landscape contracting is no exception) need capital. Operating from job to job or from collection to collection or not having the financial ability to support your overhead without getting the next customer payment (the definition of shoestring budget) may be fine as a startup. But, after several years in business, you need to develop a plan that allows you to have a cushion of capital.
Try to set money aside each time you receive a payment from a customer to begin to build a reserve of cash and build the equity necessary to grow. Doing so takes planning and diligence on your part and that of the management team. Once your business has demonstrated several years of fiscal and business success, financial institutions are more likely to start lending you money for your business. But, this will not happen on the first or second year in business.
As the business owner, you will need to have a planning process that includes a strategic plan, an annual budget and financial reports that allow the financial institution to see the path of success for your business. Without these tools and reports, no financial institution will seriously consider lending you capital to grow your business. This planning process should occur each year. Making a profit is also important, especially when you are seeking financing for your business.
Landscape contracting has always been an easy business venture. Buy a pickup truck, wheelbarrow and a shovel and you are a landscape contractor. But, are you really a business person? The most successful landscape contractors work to build a company that is based on sound financial goals and customer service. If you ask a successful landscape contractor what made their company successful, they will tell you luck, persistence and sound planning.
Richard Wilbert, Landscape Industry Certified Manager, SiteSource Business Coaching
Q.: We installed Kentucky bluegrass sod yesterday, and instead of using starter fertilizer prior to installing the sod, my crew used Nutrite 20-0-5, which does not contain phosphorus. There is a ban on using phosphorus in our area. Should I be concerned about establishment or how it will look in three weeks? I want to be proactive in the success of this sod installation.
A. If using fertilizer containing phosphorus is banned in certain regions of the country, phosphorus in potting soil is not. Potting soil can be blended with native topsoil to encourage healthy root development. This blend reduces the chance of phosphorus running into streams and lakes.
Other sources of naturally occurring phosphorus are bone meal, rock phosphate, and even composted fruit, such as banana peels. Before seeding or installing sod, you should first consult with your local cooperative extension office and then do a soil test.
Potassium also aids in root development and maintains turgor, which prevents wilting and rapid water loss that is critical for all plants, including sod. A slow-release fertilizer that is high in nitrogen will keep your sod installation looking green and lush.
Your soil may already contain phosphorus; it takes many years for this naturally occurring resource to be depleted. A soil test will confirm if your client’s landscape has a phosphorus deficiency or not. So, did your crew use the right stuff? Well, only a soil test can provide the answer.
Stating facts and ideas on how other government agencies handle such issues can be helpful to resolve problems.
The state of Minnesota has a phosphorus fertilizer law in place, and you can read how its lawn care providers are able to assist their clients and perhaps it could be helpful to you, also, in your local region.
Go online to bit.ly/phosLL for an article on fertilizing lawns that contains information about Minnesota’s phosphorus law.
Katharine Rudnyk, Monrovia Growers
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