grassmonkey0311: We are a mow-and-go operation that also does maintenance work like shrub pruning, mulch application, cleanups and aerations. We don’t do design work.

This past year, I got flooded with quotes for maintenance work (not mowing, but rather shrubs, mulching, spring cleanup, weeding and aerations), but only landed 30 to 40 percent of the work. It seemed like as my business grew, I got more quotes. But along with more quotes came a lot of price shoppers. I want to manage it so I stop wasting my time and start getting work from people who are serious and not just shopping.

I was thinking about charging for quotes for maintenance work only, and if they accept it, take the quote charge off the total bill, just like plumbers and electricians do.

Does anyone do this? What are your thoughts?

AL’s: I like it, but I don’t like it.

Pros: You make money off of estimates that would have otherwise been costly trips for no reason—other than to waste your time.

Cons: You don’t gain as many new customers because most people expect estimates for lawn care to be free and will call the next company in line that says “Free Estimates” in their ads.

Let’s break this down.

  1. Based on your numbers, you’re closing 35 out of 100 properties on average. How much did it cost you to do the 65 quotes you did not land? Let’s say $10 for gas plus an hour of your time. If you want to put a dollar amount on your time, add it on. But at least $10 per property or $650 for 65. I imagine that all of the people who did not accept your bid from the free estimate would not have called you to begin with had you charged for an estimate, which is kind of a good thing because you don’t waste time.
  2. This is where it gets tricky. How many of your 35 paying customers would have called had they seen they would be charged for your estimate if they did not accept your bid? My guess is 50 percent, but let’s be generous and say 75 percent of them would have still called. That’s 26 customers. Now, on average, what are your customers worth? You’ll have to take your own number and do the math but for here we’ll say $1,000 a year to make it easy. So 26 X $1,000 – estimate fee example of $10 per property = $25,740.
  3. Subtract $25,740 from $35,000 and you get $9,260, and that’s a generous (yes generous, not general) idea of what you’re making by dealing with free estimate junkies. If giving 65 estimates costs you less than $9,260, stick with them. If they cost more, drop them and start charging.

These are example numbers obviously you’ll need to use your own plus add a dollar value to your time. I’d do this before deciding to charge for estimates.

TPendagast: Just tell people over the phone you have a minimum for work—say, $35—and half of those price shoppers won’t even have you come out. Problem solved.

You could also only offer weeding and shrub care for people who are already your mowing customers. Sell the whole package or nothing at all. That would also send price shoppers packing.

BLC7: I agree. Rather than charge a fee for a quote, set a minimum amount you need, depending on the type of job they want. Then tell them your minimum on the phone and ask if they’re OK with this because you don’t want to waste their time by coming out for a firm quote. If they say “yes” to your minimum/price range and want you to come out, then chances are greater you’ll land their business.

Overall, if you start charging for quotes, expect word to get out and the calls to slow down. But also expect people to be completely turned off by this method.

“In Your Own Words” is contributed from the landscape forum at LawnSite.com. Check it out and join the discussions.