“I’m new to the industry. How do I learn to price lawn mowing jobs so that I can win bids and be profitable?”
Pricing is really difficult. When I got started in the business I didn’t have the faintest idea how to price commercial or residential. I was clueless. I remember the challenge and the difficulty. I remember struggling to figure it out.
Learn how selling your landscape company may not be the best way to create wealth and provide you the freedom you are dreaming of.
There is so much talk about people wanting to sell their company, or the dream they have to sell their company some day. It’s sort of the American dream to build your company, sell it, have all this money, retire, whatever. My argument is, and you’ve heard it before, why is that necessary?
Jonathan shares a fool proof plan to prep your seasonal business to have enough money during winter months.
As you’ve probably heard me say in the past, I’m not a big fan of contracts in the residential business. Commercial’s different. I’m talking specifically about residential. One of the big arguments for contracts is that you receive your revenue over a twelve month period because the argument is during the down time, during the off season, during the slower months, there isn’t as much money coming in and those contracts provide for great off season revenue to keep things running and smooth out cash flow. My basic argument is that it doesn’t make sense to put yourself under a contract with a client so that they can be your savings account and make sure you don’t overspend in the months that bring in a lot of revenue and therefore not have enough money in the slow season.
This video explains why there is a discrepancy between your tax return and take home pay.
When it’s time to pay taxes and you get back your tax return from your accountant, does it ever feel like your tax returns said you made a whole lot more money than you actually put in your pocket? If so, I’m going to give you a really elementary example to show you why. And again, like so many of my other videos, if you judge the video based on the accuracy of the numbers in my examples, you’re not going to like what I have to say.
I didn’t put a lot of thought into this. I put some quick numbers into a spreadsheet. They’re solely for example purposes. Don’t get caught up on anything else. Let me show you why a couple things happen in your business that just frustrate the heck out of you and then have you asking why in the world am I not making as much money as my tax return says. Let’s use this example to set it up.
You did $200,000 in revenue. You had a $110 in expenses, and again fake numbers. Don’t make any assumptions based on these numbers about what you might be able to or not be able to do within your business. In this year at different times throughout the year, you had to buy some trucks and equipment. So, you buy your first truck for 20 grand, your second truck for 12 grand, and you had to buy $15,000 in equipment. If you look at this on a cash basis and let’s say paid cash for everything, that means you should have about $43,000. So, just imagine you didn’t take a cent out of the business all year long.
In December, you should have about 43 grand sitting in your bank account, okay. For my examples, let’s just imagine you don’t get paid a cent until year-end, okay. Now, let’s talk about this. Here’s how your tax return looks so much better than your actual bank balance. We’re a year 1 business, and just imagine that magically on day 1, January 1st, you started to accrue revenue, and as a result by the year end, you had made $200,000 in your first year. You had a $110 expenses, same as I showed a moment ago, but here’s what really happens.
You go out and you … oh, let’s jump over here to the right. If you can see versus 20 grand, you go out and you buy a truck for 20 grand and you buy another truck for 12 grand and you buy equipment for 15 grand. Please keep in mind this is throughout the year. It doesn’t all have to be January 1, but you had enough cash to pay cash. At the end of the year, we’re talking my same example as on the other sheet I’ve just shown you, you have $43,000 leftover theoretically in your bank, and actually that should be the case.
However, when your accountant does your tax return, you’re shocked to find out that you should have made $82,000. The reason for that is because when you go to deduct your trucks and your equipment, your accountant has to depreciate these assets over time. She can’t fully depreciate them. If you’re thinking about the $179 deduction, just forget that for the moment and follow me here if you’re familiar with that.
What happens is, your accountant has to classify these three things as fixed assets, and she has to depreciate them on an IRS depreciation schedule defined by the IRS, and the stuff changes over time. As a result, let’s just … I can’t remember the depreciation tables but let’s just say a truck is depreciated over 7 years and equipment over 5. I doubt that’s exactly accurate. If that were the case, then in year 1 you would only be able to deduct $2800 and then $1700 on truck 2, and $3000 on your equipment.
As a result, you spent a lot of cash leaving you with $43,000 in the bank. And maybe you paid yourself that $43,000, and that salary took all the money out of the bank to pay yourself. That was your salary. But, your tax return now says you made $82,000. That means that you have to pay taxes, and again my magic goal made up 25% tax rate. You would have to pay 25%, again not accurate, on your $82,000 which would be the equal amount of $20,000 in taxes.
You’re paying $20,000 in taxes, but you only took home $43,000 so theoretically that 20 is going to come out of your 43 and you’re going to make about $22,000 for the year. That’s highly frustrating. That’s the first example of how you make far less than what you actually take home. Yeah, you make far less than what your tax return says. It’s because depreciation will get you over time.
Now, let’s continue on with the second example. Now in year 2, nothing in your business gets better. You do the exact same accounts for the exact same revenue with the exact same expenses, but you now own your trucks and equipment, so you don’t have to actually buy anything.
Now in year 2, you have the same exact depreciation as year 1 because you’re depreciating in the second year of your fixed assets, so your tax return should show that you made $82,429. And so you think, oh great, I should have $82,000 left in the bank this year. Well, actually no. Because what happened is on April 15th of the second year of your business, you did your taxes and you did your taxes for year 1. You owe $20,607 and so you had to pay the $20,000 out of the company.
The reason I use this example is, a lot of times many companies in their first couple of years don’t actually report their income as payroll, so they don’t pay payroll taxes. So then what they do is, they take the money out of the company to pay the taxes. So you’d have to take out $20,000 to pay your taxes for the prior year because, remember you took $43,000 the first year which depleted the accounts and then the second in which your tax return showed $82,000. Now, you got to pay tax on year 1 of $20,000. In year 2, you were actually doing really good except, oh, you have to pay the $20,000 from the prior year, so you only got to take home $61,000 that year. Again, all fictitious, but this is the effect of depreciation and this is the effect of taxes.
Most companies, even if you are on payroll, you might be getting some form of distributions, or you have sort of phantom profits. That’s really the wrong word to use, but you have profits that you never actually put in your pocket because you’re investing in trucks and equipment, or you may be paying cash for those things and so things never line up between your tax return and how much money is in the bank and how much money you have. These are two examples of why.
Now, the inverse of this would be an alternative, and I used this approach for many years. Now, unfortunately the IRS is really making this difficult because tax laws changed quite a bit in the last many years, but what I did in the years priors, I used the Section 179 deduction.
In early years of my business under President Bush, they had really made the 179 deduction generous. I don’t remember the number now, but you could depreciate up to like 500,000 in fixed assets in one year.
Let me explain. Using our same example, what I did is instead of paying taxes, I made payments. Actually, let me rephrase that. Instead of paying my trucks and my equipment in cash, I financed them. What happens is, at some point in year 1, I bought a truck and I made about $1600 worth of payments. Maybe on this $20,000 truck, that’s 3, 3-1/2 months of payments. Then, on my $12,000 truck, I made some number of payments. Let’s call 6 or 7 months. Then, on my equipment, I made some number of payments. Let’s call it 6 months as well of payments. So, on a cash basis if you were to look at my bank account, I’ll have about 82,000 leftover within the year because I didn’t pay cash for these things. Remember they are 20, 12, and 15,000, but I didn’t pay cash.
I actually have $82,000 dollars left in the bank. But, thanks to the Section 179 deduction, I was able to fully depreciate 100% of my trucks and 100% of my equipment. On my tax return, I only showed that I made $43,000, when in fact I actually made 82 because I had 82 left in the bank. As a result, the difference between these two numbers saved me $9857 in tax. So, had I paid cash for my trucks and not been able to fully depreciate them, I would not have saved this $9800 in taxes. But, I was able to save the taxes because I was fully able to depreciate them this year.
Now in the year 2015, when I’m recording this video, these deductions have been severely pulled back. I mean, there’s a lot of limits placed on how much you can straight line depreciate under Section 179, so it’s changed drastically. But, in years prior, I was able to use something like this.
If your business is relatively small, you’re not depreciating much. You still may be able to take advantage of quite a bit of depreciation on a truck or a couple trucks under Section 179. But, it’s nothing like it was 5, 6 and 7 years ago.
Again, in summary, these are a couple examples of why your taxes and your cash balance in your bank account or your take home pay will never line up. They’ll never match. This is a great example why.
Jonathan answers, “How much money do I need to save to retire and still be able to keep my lifestyle?”
Hello. I’ve got a question that I’m going to answer, and first I’ll read it to you. My question is, “How much should I sock away for the future when I retire? I’m 40, and I will be starting a lawn care business part-time next spring. I know there are a lot of factors here. Thanks.”
This is another one that with a lack of information, it makes it very challenging for me to answer it, but let me throw some stuff out at you and give you some ideas.
Probably when you were younger, you’re imagining, and I was this way, I thought, “Man, if I could just make $90,000 a year, and if I could save a million dollars, boom, life would be first class, like, I’d be set.” Then you make ninety grand and then you’re like, “Uh wow, this ninety grand doesn’t buy nearly as much freedom and fun as I thought it would, and oh man, now I’ve got a wife and kids, and wow, that’s not as much as I thought it was.” And, a million doesn’t pay so well anymore, so let me give you an example.
Back when I was in my early 20s and I had money market funds with Vanguard, I think I was making like 5% in my money market fund, maybe 6, it was great. I don’t remember the exact amount but it was really good. It was like 5%. I still have that same money market fund today, it’s one of many, and in that fund, I think I make .018%…not even a quarter of a percent. I have another money market fund that they’d only let me put so much money into it, it capped out, and I earn 1% on that. It’s my best by far. In fact, I think they use as a loss leader to get business, because at the end of 2015, I no longer will get 1% of my money in that anymore. Just think about that math. Let’s just say it’s 1%. If you saved a million dollars, what’s 1% a year on a million dollars? You can’t live on that.
Now you can’t even keep a 1% return on money right now in a money market fund. Not that you’d keep all your money in a money market fund, but it’s just very conservative. If you go to something like Treasury Bills with the US government, super, super safe, because I believe by law, if they can’t repay them, they tax the public, so they’re considered ultra-safe, but they don’t pay. The return is horrible. A CD with the bank…horrible returns. None of these things on a million dollars would pay you enough money to even live. You could not survive. You probably couldn’t even pay your rent or your mortgage with the money on that.
So you have to have your money in assets that are growing, and they have to be diversified across a bunch of different stuff. They can’t just be in ultra safe things; which brings risk into the equation, that something could go wrong. That money that you had spent years and years building, something bad could happen to it; it’s not there when you need it. Or 2008 could happen and the absolute worse time to be pulling money to live on, is ’08 when everything’s been cut down by 40%. Now you’re pulling your principal when it’s only got 60% of the original value. I could go on and on. There’s all these factors to consider.
The million dollar dream is flawed. It’s not enough. So what I would suggest at a minimum, which for most people they’re going to throw up their hands when they hear what I’m about to say, but for me, the minimum number is $5-million. But it also comes back to, “What do you expect out of life, and what is the lifestyle you want to live, and travel, and cars, and homes, and things of that sort. Five million, truly is not an extravagant lifestyle, but it’s a pretty good one. It’s a really good one, but the return on that if invested in a somewhat safe fashion is enough that you could continue having a pretty good life, that might be equivalent to the times when you owned a company and it was making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in profits.
For me, the $5-million isn’t enough to do what I want to accomplish, but for most people, it truly could be enough. It’s just I kind of have a little bit bigger goal than that. But that could be flawed. You may say, “Boy, that’s crazy!” But $5-million is kind of that number. What happens when you hear $5-million? You hear $5-million, you’re like, “I’m never going to get to $5-million. I mean, that’s impossible. It’s going to take me forever. I’m 40 years old. How am I going to save $5-million after tax?” And some of your money could be pre-tax.
That gets into what I really want to mention. Here are a couple things: One, the way I believe you think about this is, this is the beauty of building a company, and this is the beauty of building a company where you’re not the person doing the work, because imagine being the person doing the work when you’re 60 or 70. It’s not going to happen. Then you better have that money to live on. Another thing to keep in mind is as technology and medicine, everything continues to improve, I think it’s realistic to believe that we’ll live longer; five years, ten years longer than the average.
I don’t know what that is, but we will continue to live longer, even at 40, you have plenty of time in terms of time horizon for a tremendous number of things to improve in society, that it’s possible that the average life expectancy will have increased by five or more years, by the time you get into your 80s. That requires more money, so back to my point. If you don’t commit to learning and doing what it takes to build a real company that has a team, and it’s not just you, at 60 and 70 years old, how much energy and motivation will you have to keep up with the ridiculous amount of change that’s happening in society, as you’ve got to continue to think creatively about your business, and as you have to continue to year after year, mold your business to keep up with all the disruption and the change.
So you want to build that team around you to help you. If you do that, this totally changes the amount of money that you have to have saved. Totally. This $5-million requirement isn’t the same, because really the reason for $5-million is so that when you invest it, it can return to you some amount of money. I didn’t do the math, but let’s just say it’s two hundred grand a year. The real focus here, is not the $5-million, the real focus is the return you get each year; the money that you make each year, so that you can live.
Your investment is spinning off cash. That cash is what you live on. The real goal is the two hundred, not the $5-million. So what you first do is you figure out how much money do you need to live on in the future? Remember, there’s going to be inflation and things in the future, so the value of money continually declines, so in the future, how much do you need to live on? That’s what you’re trying to get to. Five million just is the principal that you need, so that after your return on investment on that $5-million, it returns to you $200,000 to live on.
Now could you create a business with a team that runs itself, that doesn’t require all of your time, that maybe when you get older, you only have to work in that business 15 hours a week, and that business returns to you $200,000? That’s the same thing. Your business is an asset; it’s an investment. What I think the real approach here is, how can I build a company that is a real company, which is very different from what most people build, because they’re unwilling to learn, do the work, or go through the short-term pain to better themselves, to grow, and to solve problems?
If you’re willing to do that, then this business could make you, let’s call it, $150,000 a year. It could be way better than that, but let’s just call it $150,000 a year. And you have decided that you want to live really well into retirement, and so you want to make at least $200 a year. Now the amount of money you need invested is way smaller. Maybe it’s a million and a half. I’m making up numbers. If you do my math, it’s going to be screwed up; I’m making a point. Now maybe all you need is a million and a half, because the million and half will spin off another fifty. Or maybe you need a couple million, so that that couple million will spin off a hundred a year, and you can use fifty of that to live on, and another fifty keeps getting saved; so that you’re still saving every year as you go into your retirement.
When you think about it that way, that your business is an investment, and it can generate a big portion of your retirement income, and then your money saved can make up the difference, or if you could accomplish it where your business pays for all of your retirement, and your investments just continue to grow, and grow and grow, then you’ve really built a security blanket, in a sense. You’ve really set yourself up to be somewhat protected. Then too, when you’ve done that with your business, you don’t have to take as many risks on your investment to get a big return. You can play it a little more safe. Yes, you’ll get lower returns, but that the probability of something happening to your stash is way less.
That’s the way to really think about it. Don’t just think about, “Yeah, I need to build this big amount of money so I can be done, and I’ll live on that money.” What if your business is thought of just like investing in stocks, or bonds, or real estate, or whatever, and it’s spinning off cash that you live on.
A couple things. I read a book awhile back that will do a better job explaining this. I read this book, I was like, “Hm, yeah.” I was kind of nodding as I was reading it. It did a good job of explaining some of what I just said, which I had learned years and years ago, and I think that Tony Robbins, he wrote a book called, “Money: Master the Game,” and he does a really good job of explaining that.
In fact, he has a calculator you can go to to put in some things about your home, your cars, your vacations, all these different things you want. He’ll say, this is how much money you need to make per year, and then it will say, “This is how much money you need to save.” I think it even gives the business analogy in there that I just gave. He does a good job explaining it. I recommend that book. I thought it was good.
Regardless of what you think of Tony Robbins, and I actually don’t have a problem with him. I think he does a tremendous amount of good. But some people don’t like him. I think that book is a solid read. I recommend that to everybody. I think he does a really good job of explaining some financial topics at a more simple level, that we all can understand.
One other book, so for Academy, for our elite members in Academy, one of our members asked what I thought of the book called, “Profit First,” by a guy named Mike something. His last name starts with an M. The cover has a pig on it, like a piggy bank, a pink pig. I’m only half-way through the book. I haven’t formulated my opinion yet. I will say that I’m on the fence on a few things, but I’ll have my opinion when I’m done, and I can kind of think through it. I will say, that he has said a ton of things in that book that I completely agree with, that I’ve said, probably on video and to others a million times, and I feel like I’ve agreed with him on a lot of stuff.
The only thing I’m not quite sure about is, can I grow companies as fast using his method as I have with my approach? I don’t know. I’ve got to think through that. Where I’m going with this is, that book is probably a solid read. I can’t say for sure if it’s a great book, or my favorite, but thus far, I think it’s a no-brainer to read it, and think about it. So many of us build these companies that don’t generate a lot of money, or a lot of profit, and I’ve probably said it before, that’s the entire point of the business. It’s gross revenue is not the point and he makes that argument.
If you get your business set up properly, and you build it properly, so that it’s someday sort of running itself, or running very smoothly with minimal involvement from you, and it’s spinning off a lot of profit, you’ll very quickly accomplish the goal I’ve talked about. You don’t have to wait until you’re 65. You can get there in five, 10 years, or maybe shorter, depending on how aggressive you are. So those two books would be good reads to think through your goal of building enough money to retire, and be very successful.
I hope this helped. Good luck with that.
If you are passionate about your business, it will change your life…
It’s January. It’s the month you think about improving your business, and this is the month you set the tone for the rest of the year. Something to think about for this year and for the years to come, you are successful if you cannot distinguish the difference between work and pleasure. I really believe that. For example, if I had 50 million dollars in the bank, I would still be doing Service Autopilot. This is what I want to do. I believe it’s incredibly important. I believe what we’re doing is very different than what everybody else is trying to do, and our master plan is vastly different than what others are trying to achieve. For me, it’s the thing that I’m incredibly passionate about.
Now, it’s been a very, very difficult business. The same was true with CitiTurf. It was challenging and a bit frustrating. I didn’t always enjoy it. I went through a whole lot of pain and things didn’t just come together. But, as the businesses have matured, and I’ve been strategic about where I want to take them, how I want to grow them, and how I want to build them, they have become more and more fun, and more and more pleasurable. That doesn’t mean every day’s fun because there’s a lot of stress that goes with it, but everything in life comes with some level of stress…even a marriage, a relationship, and kids. No matter how great one thing is, the inverse of that is it does come with some element of frustration and stress. Life isn’t pure bliss. I really, really believe this statement, and for me I finally believe that I’ve finally reached a point in life that I’m able to live it. But, it took some work to get here.
Think about how you can create that in your business. If there’s something in your business that’s driving you crazy, that you hate, maybe you hate that service offering. Even if you get someone in place to run it for you, it’s going to be a miserable thing inside your business. Or, if you hate this industry so much that you can’t imagine being in it even if you don’t have to run the company yourself, you’re probably doing the wrong thing. If you are selling inside your business and you hate selling, but you love managing and creating processes, and you’re not going to do the work to get yourself out of selling, to hire somebody to replace you, then you might as well do something else. Because if that’s what you’re going to do for the next 10 years, it’s going to be nothing but misery and you’ll be passionate about your business. You will never achieve a business that is as pleasurable to work on and run as it is to do other fun hobbies in your life.
One thing that I hear all the time is a lot of guys want to sell their company. They just want to build their company. In a million or two, they’re going to dump it. I often ask why. If you’re making a lot of money and you sell the company, once you pay taxes, where are you going to invest it to get a better return than in your own business? The point there is I generally believe in services businesses if you are to build them, build them right and then have somebody else run it for you. It takes a long time to get there. Make sure they’re highly profitable, but build it in such a way that it brings you pleasure and that you enjoy it.
If you’re not building your business in that direction right now then you’re doing it wrong and you should rethink it. Just because your competitor is doing it one way, just because somebody else in your market is doing it another way, just because somebody in your trade association said you should do it one way, does not mean they’re right. Your business is built to serve you and to generate profit. I recommend strongly, and I remind myself of this frequently, build it the way you want it to be. Just because somebody else has an expectation of you or because somebody else said it should be done a certain way does not mean that’s right. Build your business in such a way that it gives you pleasure. You should be passionate about your business. You should enjoy it as much as you enjoy other things.
Be careful though not to move away from the business just because you’re going through some pain having to learn some lessons such as how to sell, how to market, how to manage…that comes with every business. You have to get past those hurdles no matter what you do. You don’t want to run away from whatever you’re doing now to go start something else, because you’ll have all the exact same problems all over again. You have to get through those and push to the other side. Every new thing, every great thing, comes with pain. As you grow you can hire people to do the things that are not your unique ability and your strength so that you can spend most or almost all of your time in the area that brings you great joy and pleasure. When you reach that you’ll have no desire to sell your company and you’ll have no desire to retire.
Good luck building your business that way. It will change your life. It’s taken me a long time to get here and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Jonathan gives his top three ways to raise lawn care prices easily.
I recorded a video some time ago about raising prices. In that video, I talked about how numbers prove that for most companies, depending on your net profit margin, you could raise prices by 10% across all of your clients, lose 25% percent of all your business, and still make the same amount of money. The idea of losing 25% of your revenue because you raised prices 10% is laughable. The odds of that happening are pretty slim, unless your business is just terrible at quality and customer service. The reality of it is that you might lose some number of clients or some amount of revenue, but by raising prices 10%, you’ll make so much more money. I want to cover just a couple quick ways that you could go about raising prices.
One: Rather than raising prices at contract renewal, which is when everybody else is doing it, and all of your competitors are marketing to all your clients trying to steal them away from you, what about raising your prices mid-season? This is one of my arguments against contracts, because contracts are the logical time to raise prices. So, if you don’t have your clients under a contract, it’s so much easier to wait until late summer and do a price increase at that time. What this does is, you don’t have your competitors marketing to your clients anymore. So your client, yes, they could go to Google and do a search and find a new company, but it’s just not as easy and convenient as it is in springtime, or at contract renewal time, when everybody’s pursuing them and trying to get their business.
Two: Raise your prices first on just your under-performers. If you use a system like Service Autopilot, or another system that can do job costing, go through your job-costing report and find your under-performing clients, based on how much money you’re making on that client to service their property, and raise those prices. Oftentimes in business, a lot of what we don’t do, that we never get done, that we never implement, it’s because we don’t know how to do it or we don’t have the confidence to do it. And raising prices is generally a confidence issue. Most of us are scared to raise prices. We’re afraid it’s going to cost us a lot of clients and everybody’s going to get mad and leave. In reality, that’s generally not the case. So, to build that confidence, you could first raise your prices on just your under-performers that you identify using some of your different costing reports in whatever software system you’re using.
Three: Simply raise prices on new clients. You’re unsure about raising prices on past clients, but you’ve at least identified where you’re doing unprofitable work, or where you’ve been under-pricing in the past, and you can adjust your prices that you use to sell to new clients. Then you could raise those prices by 10%.
So you haven’t had the same effect on your business because you haven’t taken a 10% price increase across the board. But, in my example here, taking for example the last two points, one, you’ve gone through and you’ve raised your under-performing clients to make them profitable. Some of them might fall out, but if you lose those, those are the ones that really aren’t so bad to lose, because they might have been costing you money or returning very little profit to your business. Then, the second option that I just mentioned was that you’re now raising prices on new clients, so all work that you sell moving forward is priced correctly at this new 10% price increase.
So, if you don’t have the confidence to raise prices across the board, at least consider those two ideas: under-performing clients and new clients. It’ll make all the difference in your business.