Even during the turmoil of 2020’s pandemic, the entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well for 18-year-old Henry Zellerhoff.
After last year’s initial shut down of schools in his area, Zellerhoff says he spent his first week off doing exactly what all the other students were doing: watching TV and playing video games. However, he soon grew bored and knew he needed to find something more productive to dedicate his time to, as well as save up money for college.
The idea of starting a business had always appealed to him, and with a little more time on his hands, 2020 seemed like the opportune moment to move forward with his plans.
Having had previous experience mowing lawns in the summer, Zellerhoff says he was familiar enough with the green industry to feel confident expanding his business plan with this line of work. Thus, Henry’s Affordable Mowing was born.
“This line of work just seemed like a realistic business for an 18-year-old to start,” he says. “It’s unlike a lot of other businesses that require you to immediately invest your whole life into it or have a lot of start-up money. This is something I could actually do.”
As of 2021, business has slacked off, but with the winter months soon coming to a close, Zellerhoff says he’s already started reaching back out to clients to get them on the books for spring.
In 2020, however, Zellerhoff says business was booming.
“I’ve been able to save a considerable amount of money for college, and at the same time, I’ve also been able to maintain a social life, do well in school and I’ve found my passion,” he says.
When he first approached his family about starting up the business, Zellerhoff says they were completely supportive, and his grandfather actually purchased his company mower for him.
“My grandfather was the reason I was able to start the business because I didn’t have enough money to purchase a lawn mower, and he bought it for me,” he says. “In return, I give him a lot of free labor.”
After graduating, Zellerhoff plans to pursue a degree in business to learn more about growing his business into all he wants it to be.
Getting your name out there
To get his name out into the community, Zellerhoff says he conducted research on different successful marketing tactics for green industry companies. Through this research, he found plenty of ideas he plans to implement after college, and he found a few he could utilize now.
“I did a lot of research into professionalism because I wanted to set myself apart from the other kids doing similar work,” he says. “I wanted to contend with the competition.”
For starters, Zellerhoff says he utilized the app Nextdoor, which is where he’s gotten the majority of his work. He says he began posting to the app every two weeks and would get one or two calls from each post.
He also handed out introductory packets to the surrounding houses that contained a pack of flower seeds, a business card and a business postcard telling potential clients about the company.
He also made a point to inform those receiving the packets that they had been safely put together while wearing gloves and a mask, as he wanted to ensure everyone felt safe receiving the packets.
Zellerhoff says he also created a company logo with Fiverr and invested in truck decals and polo shirts emblazoned with the logo. When combing through green industry YouTube channels, Zellerhoff noticed that uniforms with logos were a common occurrence among professional landscapers.
“I wanted the name to make you instantly know what I do,” he says. “I also like having green on all of my marketing and my logo to represent the green industry.”
As with most green industry professionals, Zellerhoff says word-of-mouth and referrals have played a huge part in gaining clients.
Learning from failures
As a whole, Zellerhoff says the public has been very welcoming to him as a budding business, but he has had his fair share of unfortunate run-ins with clients that were dissatisfied with the way he performed a job.
Overall, Zellerhoff says the biggest challenge of starting his company has been learning how to deal with these failures and see them as learning opportunities.
Zellerhoff says he doesn’t like to fail, and he can vividly recall the first time he cut a lawn as a business.
“It was my friend’s lawn and I was doing it for free to practice, but I was doing it under my business name,” he says. “I have never failed so hard. It took me an hour to mow their tiny lawn, I accidentally scalped the lawn because the mower deck was too low and I filled up the yard waste completely and had to bring some home.”
Although he’s seen his fair share of failures, Zellerhoff believes it’s ultimately shaped his busines into what it is today. Each failure, he says, has taught him valuable lessons that he could then take into future projects, but in the moment, he admits it was very hard to deal with them.
Looking to the future
Starting out, Zellerhoff says he only offered mowing (which also included trimming and edging), but he has since branched out to offer leaf removal, spring and fall cleanup, hedge trimming and pruning, core aeration, overseeding, fertilization and more.
While the idea of studying horticulture has occurred to him, Zellerhoff says he plans to study it in an informal setting by using books and videos, as opposed to college classes.
Before heading off to college, Zellerhoff says his goal is to earn $10,000, as well as really push his additional services to help him gain more industry knowledge outside of mowing.
Unfortunately, Zellerhoff says he won’t be able to work during college, as he’s attending an out-of-state institution, but upon graduating, he hopes to pick back up in a new location and put down some roots.
In the meantime, Zellerhoff says he’ll conduct market research to find the best areas of the country for landscaping professionals. Overall, Zellerhoff says he’s open to whatever possibilities come his way because as 2020 taught us, a lot can change in a short amount of time.
For other students interested in pursuing entrepreneurship, Zellerhoff says it needs to be something you pursue seriously. He says his business was something he wanted to go all in on and it wasn’t "just a side hustle.”
Before attempting to start a business, Zellerhoff encourages students to figure out how much time they are willing and able to spend on it. He says to ask yourself if it’s something you want to put a lot of time into, or is it something you just want to put a few hours toward each week?
Second, Zellerhoff says to be ready to fail and fail often, but when you do fail, know that those failures will fuel your success.
Third, he says to be thankful for every little victory and milestone, and don’t constantly search for the next best thing.
“I remember how happy I was when I got that first client and it's important to remember that even right now, there's issues in my business, but I'm really thankful for where I'm at and it's quite a blessing,” he says. “This business has surpassed my widest imaginations. It has been one of the greatest learning opportunities of my entire life.”