2016 Update: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of starting a Social Enterprise in Knoxville


It’s hard to believe 2016 has already come to a close. Just one year ago, I (Ian) was meeting with investors and mentors discussing an idea called Seeds of Change, a lawn care and outdoor services company focused on 2nd chance employment. Looking back, I see now that creating an impact is impossible. Impact is only a result; a result usually of faithful hard work and steady influence over the long haul. However, with enough help from beside and above, the resulting impact can be surprising in a short period of time too. This seems to be the case with Seeds of Change, and I’m excited to share with you a few of the details that highlight the 1st season of a business that directly reflects a redemption narrative.

First Year of Starting a Business

This year has been a huge learning experience. In many ways it has looked like launching a typical-looking lawn care business; learning the elements of a successful system of clients, service routines, employee management, and pricing structures. As we progress, we will build toward our primary target markets, which consist of larger government, commercial, and non-profit contracts. But it has been most enjoyable to me personally to serve residential clients and we will continue to do so, very appreciative of the relationships built along the way.

Persevering through the Trials

How did Seeds of Change start? 12 months ago the idea was ready to launch, everything was being set in motion. Then obstacles started. 11 months ago, (all within a couple weeks) my investors backed out, my bank rejected my loan, and I still had zero customers and no infrastructure- not even a push mower. “God, are you really calling me into this business?” I wondered.

But I put together a basic website, printed some flyers, and started marching around North Shore neighborhoods door-to-door, in a suit, waxing eloquently about my vast knowledge of landscape design, hardscaping, and expert irrigation installations. Okay kidding…I did market door-to-door, but it was more along the lines of offering a free mowing service to anyone so I could ascertain my costs and determine a price structure.

This marginally successful effort combined with my friend Jack Human handing off his mowing client list to me in North Knox, provided enough momentum to get the ball rolling. The bank loan came through thanks to Andy Dovan being willing to co-sign a loan for his little brother’s first big endeavor, Kirk Naler saved the perfect pickup truck for me, Will Littlejohn gave me his old push mower, Rick and Bev Kuhlman let me try out just about anything on their well-groomed yard…the list of folks that have made this year possible goes on and on. And then the ball just kept rolling.

Perspective of the Customer

Very quickly I learned that unless our product is top-notch, people won’t jump on board just for a positive mission. Pity is a poor motivator. Excellence, surprising care and attention to detail are much better motivators for customers to spread the word. In other words, the fact that we are a community-development focused social enterprise is icing on the cake, not the foundation of the house, in the eyes of the customer. And man does it feel great to bring fresh satisfaction to a proud homeowner.

Learning Experience and Growth

The entire season was a learning experience (Am I repeating myself?). We went from a company that started because of a nebulous desire to help people to an enterprise that is experienced in not just mowing and maintenance services, but in lawn care, landscaping, hardscaping, and irrigation installation. We went from one man and a truck in March to serving over 120 customers in the Knoxville area by the end of 2016!

Before I keep going, I need to take a really important pause here and say that though you may be pleased or impressed with this growth trajectory, that the glory of this growth must go to God. From day 1, the “coincidences” were incredible. I have journal entry after journal entry of encounters, clients, and stories that drip of a heavenly imprint. Subscribe to this blog to follow the specific stories as I begin to share them, such as rescuing a cockatiel and adopting him as our mascot for a day.

Whats Next in 2017?


I am excited to on-board leadership and management help this coming season, which is now becoming sustainable financially, especially with some 2nd-round investing potential. This will allow for considerable expansion next year, including serving a growing list of larger contracts and the City of Knoxville directly.


We have been continuing to build relationships with many non-profits in town, and hope to begin to not just be an employer but also a connector to many blue collar workers in the city as our network has grown tremendously of reputable companies and pools of potential employees. I am excited to continue to leverage these connections to address the need for bridges between employees and employers.


For now, we will focus in 2017 to solidify our lawn care and outdoor services pilot program and seek to continue to provide excellent landscaping, hardscaping, gutter cleaning, power washing, and expand maybe even poop cleaning services to our neighbors in Knoxville. Why are we specializing in this expansion? That’s for another post.

Raise the Tree 2017

One highlight of 2016 was helping James Trimble and Russ Walker with Raise the Tree, a mission-minded entity that “delivers Christmas trees while raising support” for our mutual non-profit partners. Appreciating the simplicity and direct impact of the dollar this catalyst creates, Seeds of Change is excited to continue this next year, with a goal of delivering 350 trees, and donating $5,000 to our community, and helping with the issue of seasonality that lawn care inevitably encounters.

Want to play a part in 2017?

If you would like to be more involved in supporting Seeds of Change, follow us on social media, leave us a review, or share our website to your social circles using the links found about every single place you can turn on this whole website. Also, follow this blog to receive updates on how to care for your lawn, and to stay in touch.

The next level of support would be to inquire about price estimates for landscape services or refer us to a friend, business, or neighbor in need of lawn care.  Just send a quick text to 865-465-5296 or contact Ian at seedsofchangelc@gmail.com, and it will help us tremendously. As a big thank you, for the first 10 successful 2017 referrals we will give away $25 gift cards of your choice to Chick-fil-A, K-brew, or REI!

Thanks for all of your support.