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Set price garden maintenance.

Hi all, 

just wondering how people get on with set price garden maintenance, I’m trying to expand my business and want to get away from hourly rates.  I’ve noticed some businesses using a tier system I.e gold/silver/bronze for different levels and duration of visits etc.  What experience do you guys have with this and how do you go about pricing it?  From what I’ve seen there are set prices with minimum hours then an agreed hourly rate for extra hours etc?  I’ve seen one business online advertising one price for each tier but all gardens are different so what happens if it’s huge or if it’s tiny? Or do you gain on one and lose on the other?!

Many thanks in advance, 


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    Set prices are really the only way to do things.

    NEVER, never charge anyone an hourly rate. As you say you want to get away from that and rightly so. All work should always be ‘price per job’. The hourly rate is only something in your own head you use to calculate what to charge for the job/task at hand. So you look at a lawn and think to yourself, ‘that will take me 45 minutes’. You then tell the client it will be say, for the sake of this example, £45 per cut [or whatever price you want to charge]. You don’t tell them that you have calculated that it will take you 45 minutes [they may well think it will take longer], the time you have calculated is something that you use internally to arrive at the price. Then as you become faster on that job, as is nearly always the case, you still get the same money. The efficiency you find should be to your benefit and not the client’s.

     I have just this morning been to meet the Clerk with two Councillors from a local Council and spent two hours with them looking at all their playing fields. The contract will be a price for the year, which I will base on the number of cuts they want, 18 in this case. No contract like this will ever ask for an hourly rate. It will always be price per cut/task/job based.

     An hourly rate is alway deceptive in any case. A hypothetical example - Your hourly rate is 20% less than mine, but you might take twice as long to do the job. Therefore you would cost more than me even though it looks like you are cheaper.

     I also never do package deals. Price per task is always what the client wants and is much better for you. In my experience clients always want to know what it is going to cost them. An hourly rate arrangement leaves it wide open giving the client little idea of what they will get for their money.

    All my work is done in this way [price per cut]. It works perfectly. Both the client and I know exactly where we are with no surprises.

    I would advise you move over to this system as soon as you can. Certainly any new clients you gain can be on this from the start.

    • PRO

      Brilliant advice Vic thank you. I am just approaching the pricing for my new business as well and this really helps. Now the skill to find is how to know which jobs take how long :)


    • PRO

      Thanks Vic,

      totally agree.  I have lawn cutting jobs on set prices but when it comes to taking on a garden as a whole it’s difficult to asses because they are all different.  I’ve tried giving a price per visit but the trouble is people then say ‘what happens in the winter when it gets dark early and you leave at 4 instead of 5 etc’. They don’t like paying 7 hours for the price of 8 etc etc! Or should I be trying to charge a set monthly fee that is averaged across the year? People round here seem to want hourly and like to know where they are, or maybe I’m aiming at the wrong type of customer...?! 

      • I assume that when you say that you are ‘taking on a garden as a whole’, you mean you go and do a bit of everything to keep it tidy.

        Actually, I do have just one unique weekly job on which I do grass and hedges. The price is the same each visit and sometimes I mow and strim, sometimes I mow, don’t strim, but do hedges instead. There is a fair amount of strimming [garden is about ¾ acre] but as it is weekly, this can be missed during summer every other week [or more often] in favour of some hedge cutting. As it is a weekly job for long standing lovely clients [of many years], I work things in for them. I have a time limit, in my head that is, as I have never discussed time with them, ever. They pay me a weekly fee to keep the garden tidy [that is the task in this case] and not an hourly rate. No one is timing me and I have complete autonomy. The rate of pay is still in my head alone though and my fee is very good. The time taken each week varies, up to the time limit in my head, but the fee remains the same. So this type of arrangement can work very well.

        Also, could you clarify a few details? You imply that you are sometimes on one job for seven or eight hours. One would assume that this is a very big garden. What’s the story here?

        Also, when the nights draw in to that extent, at 4pm, there is usually much less work to do in the garden anyway. Grass cutting would normally stop in mid-November at the latest. What is it that you are doing for seven hours in one garden during winter?

        On the limited information you have given thus far, I would be inclined to agree with you that you may be ‘aiming for the wrong type of customer’, if they are challenging you over a little bit of time.

      • PRO

        The customer needs to get past the time element.

        What are they actually paying for; is you.  All that you bring to their garden; reliability, insured, skilled, experience & pro-tools.

        Someone who knows what they are doing = a professional

        And they are paying for your time.

        When I quote, I typically don't mention the time/duration.  Afterall most people want to know; can you do this and when.

        Of course there are idiots, who point out, that I might be there only 5 minutes.

        But that would be pointless, firstly it would'nt be enough 'time' to do the task, and secondly it's highly unlikely they would want me to continue.

        Its a balance of impression/perceived value/your time/trust

        Or you could say in the summer, I work slower 'cos its hot & in the winter, I work faster 'cos its cold => and even tho', the work varies across the seasons, using the magic 'gardeners' calculator, I know that whenever I'm here, I will always be doing the same amount of work :-)



  • The only way to make a profitable business in this trade is by fixed price work in my opinion. If you aren't making a sensible living plus profit, where's the motivation to keep going? How can someone run a long term, lifetime career if the reward doesn't match the risk/effort?

    You'll learn how long jobs take in time. You may lose out now and then, and gain on others, compared to what you guessed when quoting. BUT, a good garden service provider is a busy one, and you'll find work coming in left right and centre. When you get to the stage that you're not financially reliant on any customer, you'll be able to focus on making the business more of a success.

  • I've been in business 29 years , and never charged by the hour , I dont have any system other than looking at the garden and pricing it . Although I do work out roughly in my head how long I'm going to be there,  but that is something I'd never divulge to the client ..as long as the garden looks right , you wont have any problems...its always worked well for me .I would imagine it to be difficult with existing clients to swap systems.  

    • PRO

      I have to say i still i still struggle to get garden care into a quote situation. Grass cutting / hedge cutting / weeding etc - sure easy enough to work out - but in large gardens theres just so much other jobs and many are variable year on year - changing customer priorities or directions. 

      Small to mid sized gardens seem far easier to 'control' quote wise but once they get over a certain size or complexity i just cant see how to break so much down into a quote format and can only see increased ay rate /half day rate as the compromise. 

      • PRO

        Not trying to be contentious but does this highlight an issue between 'gardening' and 'garden maintanence' ? As in garden maintanence is basically just maintaning the current state of the garden and gardening is more than that - as in improving the state of the garden ? Again not being difficult but i do think a lot about the different sectors within the industry and what they entail/ mean and how they relate to earnings/ potential earnings. 

        • PRO

          Interesting question I think imo you can combine the two, you can initially be contracted by a customer to maintaine their garden and then you have the opitunity to point out ways in which you can improve the customers garden even if it’s just via a regular application of mulch to the beds or creating a proper pruning regime for their prized roses. 

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