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Winning and approaching new contracts and deals

hi all

  I’m currently looking to expand my business and I want to go down the road of the commercial side of grounds maintenance, I currently have a nice round of domestic clients and some commercial properties ie a school and a few apartment blocks but I’m looking to get some more. I heard somebody mentioning about going around to estate agents and approaching them that way with a cover letter introducing myself along with a business card and copy of my liability insurance, id appreciate anybody’s opinion of this and some advice on what to write in the cover letter as I’m not sure where to look for examples. Also I’d like to get bigger contracts as in retail parks and housing estates and such but I’m unsure where to tender for these does anybody know any sites to look on? Any advice would be much appreciated 

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  • I work mainly on the commercial side myself, for just short of thirty years now. I’m not sure why you would approach estate agents. A better idea would be to approach Land Agents. They are the ones dealing with not only agricultural, but also large commercial properties. I'm not sure what you mean by 'housing estates' in this context.

    My advice which I have stated on this forum many times before is this. You have to go and talk to prospective clients face to face. I know this is not currently as easy as it normally would be, but hopefully if the idiot politicians pull their fingers out soon and leave us alone, then we can all move on and get on.

    So go and talk to Parish council clerks. Parish councils are responsible for a great deal of the local grass cutting. The Parish councils are much easier to form a relationship with as there is usually just one clerk, one person to deal with and make a connection with. District councils have their own gardening workforce and are so large and bureaucratic that it is becomes very difficult to get anywhere with them, so focus on the Parish councils. Parish councils will probably have a handyman, but won’t have the gear or man power to mow all their playing fields. The Paris council is also responsible for the local cemetery maintenance. I mow four playing fields and one cemetery for a local PC.

    Go around trading estates and talk to the businesses there. Again, you mention Retail Parks, but in my experience there are little if no green areas there at all. Whereas the companies on businesses parks usually have quite large garden areas. I have a very good and long standing contract with a large company on a trading estate because I noticed that the grass was long and so I went and introduced myself. Several years on I am still doing all their grounds maintenance. They have about half an acre of grass, trees and shrubs.

     PCC’s [parochial church councils] are the ones to talk to about churchyards, just ask the Vicar or church warden. I do many churchyards. It’s very good work to have.

    I also do work for Chatsworth estate here in Derbyshire, but again, I got into this by talking to them. I think that a letter is not nearly as good as a face to face meeting. It is that personal approach that makes all the difference. Face to face you can make a good impression. You can be friendly and affable and chat about all manner of things, therefore starting to form a relationship. You will be remembered.

    I have found that one such face to face meeting is often enough to get the work there and then. A letter requires the prospective client to firstly bother to read it, [it’s just more junk mail] and secondly, it requires them to do something, to make the effort to contact you. Talking to them means they can ask you questions and get a feel for who you are and what you can offer them.

    This way you can target the people you would like to work for. This is where advertising falls down. It often attracts the wrong sort of prospective client. It is such a blunt instrument for what we do. The prospective clients you want may never see the advert at all.

    So, go and talk to them.

  • PRO


    I agree with Viv 575 totally 

    a couple of things he didn't mention, you need to be prepared to offer 30/60 days credit and also you should be VAT registered and have at least 5 million of public liability ins and have reliable equipment walk behind and ride on 

    good luck 


  • PRO

    So even if you do just one day onsite once a fortnight you could easily have done the job eight times or more before you get paid for the very first visit.

    I did some work for the car dealership that I bought my van from, they didn’t pay me for four months, if I had anything done to my van they demanded payment before I left their premises.

    Twice I helped them out when they were absolutely desperate and twice they didn’t pay in a reasonable timescale, I decided if they phoned again I wouldn’t not respond unless someone paid a deposit using a company credit card using my card reader or transferred a deposit into my bank account, preferably the later.

    My wife had also bought two cars off them, some businesses don’t actually see contractors as potential or real customers and realise they are actually doing themselves down 

    I used to do work for a pub with a car very whose landlord also has a nice riverside pub restaurant, I learnt to take payment in cash out of the pub till and give them a handwritten receipt on the spot whenever possible then bank the cash, it a far more efficient system!

    You are in danger of working hard, laying out money then not having any money in the bank.


    • Andy

      Your right about the not getting paid and just becoming a credit service.  I used to be a manager for a few of the national GM compainies and getting the money from firms was the hardest part of the job.  60 days often used to get streched to 180 days.  Now i've set up on my own  I just do private work and usally collect a cheque at the end of the day or i'm paid on receipt of invoice.  Sure you might make less but I'd take less than having bad debt and VAT to deal with.

  • PRO

    The carvery pub is now permanently closed, the lad who did the regular grounds maintenance charged £300 to go once a fortnight throughout the year, he maintained the beer garden, outdoor play area and car park with big hedges all around them, it was a lot of work throughout the year.

    If he hadn’t taken payment from the till on a “pay as you go” basis he would have been owed around two and a half thousand pounds at any one time just for that one day a fortnight.

    It takes a bit of thinking about, because before you know where you are you can be owed twenty five thousand pounds for work that has long since been completed and needs doing again.

    Before you know where you are you’re under immense pressure to keep turning up to do work for people who have not actually been paying you for completed work, because if you break the cycle there will be someone else doing the work in a blink of an eye and your chances of getting paid have diminished severely.

    You really have got to give serious consideration to how credit worthy potential customers are. 

  • PRO

    Further to my previous msg

    wuth great respect to Andrew regarding commercial work 

    don't be out of by his experience there is good work out there but don't be to ambitious build up slowly and get used to your clients and get to know the accounts dept particularly the person that actually does the paying

    managing agents in the main are great after all you could be there saving if that have emergency 

    admittadly there are some which are bad but you'll find out 

    stick with it  you eventually will be surprised how much there is there to do

    good luck



    • PRO

      I don’t disagree with that, but just be wary that if you are operating as a small business which collects payment upon completion of the job you will need a different mindset and cash reserves to move into a market where customers assume they can have extended credit and in many cases pay you as and when they want to.


  • Actually, you don’t need five million public liability insurance and you don’t need to be VAT registered to do commercial work. I operate with one million PL and I am not VAT registered.

    Chatsworth Estate usually requires £5m PL as a minimum, but they were more than happy to make an exception with me because as they said, it is unlikely that I would ever need that level of cover just mowing grass and cutting hedges.

    All the PCC’s, the Church of England, Derbyshire Education Dept., all the businesses I do work for and pretty much everyone else, have never even asked about my insurance, ever.

    So the only two clients to ask for the PL documentation is Chatsworth and a local Parish Council. The parish council asked to see it three years ago when I first got the contract and have never asked to see the renewals since then.

    Of course you have to nave P.L insurance. I wouldn’t dream of operating without it. It’s just that you will almost never be asked about it. I have also never had or made a claim in 30 years of business.

    What you do need for the larger commercial work is good equipment. You will definitely need a good fast ride on machine of some kind and the means to carry it about.

    I have a Stiga PWX 740 [4x4], a John Deere Z535m, a Toyota Hilux and a trailer.

    As regards credit or payment options, you are usually dictated to by the body you are working for with commercial work. Chatsworth have their own payments system, which is very fair. All the work done this month is paid in full at the end of next month. The PCC’s are pretty much immediate payment. The Church of England often pay me within one week of the invoice. Most companies have two payment days each month and it depends when you send in the invoice as to when you get paid.

    You can’t go in being too pedantic about how and when you want to get paid as they will just get someone else to do the work. It isn’t possible for me to dictate to the county council how they should pay me is it. They have their own system and that’s how it is.

    I always appreciate how good it is to have all this well paid work. I wouldn’t rock the boat and start demanding faster payments. Of course, if some firm is taking the mickey and making you wait months then walk away. Most commercial clients aren’t like that.

  • Out of interest Vic, roughly in what ball park are you charging?





    • Commercial grass cutting is between £60 and £80 p/h.

      Occasionally a little more.

      But that is only time actually on site. It doesn’t include travel, time taken at the fuel station, loading and unloading at each end of the day or nipping back to change machines, or time spent on breakdowns, sharpening blades or servicing.

      It doesn’t include time spent with invoicing and emailing clients, or trips to the bank with any cheques that I still get. Neither does it include any time spent looking at other work or occasionally drinking tea with the clients.

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