I started mowing when I was 15 years old.  My (very first!) business partner had his driver’s license so he could drive us from lawn to lawn.  We constructed loads of flyers and hand delivered them door to door.  Not too long after our marketing efforts, we received our first call from a woman named Mrs. Zetooney living on Manzanita Lane.

My partner and I drove to speak with her and explore the yard.  At this point, we were at a complete loss as to what we should charge.  We told her $15 a mow and she accepted.  Our first lawn!  I soon found out that $15 was only about half the going rate, but still, we had momentum.

The second call we received was from a man named Fred Wedow on Sapphire Circle.  Little did I know, in our short meeting, Mr. Wedow was about to teach me one of the best lessons in business I could have received at such a young age.

Me and one of my trucks in ‘88

Mr. Wedow was in the military when I met him, and his discipline showed in his immaculate house, garage, and yard.  You could eat off his garage floor.  But he was not a warm and fuzzy person.  He wouldn’t put up with anything other than superior work.  Nevertheless, I came to learn that he really cared about us and our success.

Rather nervously, we arrived at his house and rang his doorbell.  After meeting with him and surveying the yard, my partner and I told him we needed to talk about it.  We walked off to the corner of the yard to strategize on how much to charge him.  This was likely a five-minute discussion because we had no inkling of what we were doing.  Once we had our figure, we mustered up enough confidence to go back and break the news to him.  We thought we were charging a very expensive price. His lawn was about half the size of Mrs. Zetooney’s.

“Mr. Wedow, we will mow your lawn for $15 per week,” we declared.  We held our breath for his answer because we were sure he wouldn’t hire us for that ridiculous amount.  Then the words we knew were coming stated exactly that.

He said, “No you won’t,” and paused long enough to let it sink in.

You are going to mow it for $20 per week because $15 is not enough.  You will eventually figure that out and not be motivated to mow anymore.  All I ask is that you do a good job every time.”

As you might guess, I did do a good job every single time!  I never wanted to let him down.  I took immense pride in mowing his lawn and loved doing it.  That lesson stuck with me every time I was there and has with so many other aspects in my business life.

This is how it started to feel mowing Mrs. Zetooney’s yard for so cheap

Things rarely come easy.  There always seem to be more complications than expected and more work than anticipated.  Knowing that you are being compensated fairly helps you get through those tougher times.

What is more important than anything is knowing that people are willing to pay for good work, quality, reliability, integrity, and other quality characteristics.  Many times, people think they want it cheap but in reality, they really don’t.  It rarely works out.  What they really want is the value.  He taught me to not be shy, charge a fair price, and give a fair value in exchange.

Meanwhile, in the middle of my second year of mowing, I was slogging through Mrs. Zetooney’s backyard with the grass five inches tall.  I had finally had enough, and I literally quit halfway through her mow job.  I walked up to her back sliding door where she was watching us every time, and I demanded to be paid $25 per mow or we couldn’t keep mowing for her.  She accepted, but we always felt that she got the best of us.  It was another lesson in business.

Being a savvy business person means understanding the value of good work. I hope this lesson I learned as an entrepreneurial youngster serves as a reminder that a job well done is worth its weight in gold. Whether you are the one doing the work or hiring the worker, don’t sell yourself short.