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View Full Version : Help!, Trying to Lose My "Scrubness"


bilbo7021
07-15-2002, 09:20 PM
Well, short history of mistakes by me, who didn't even know he was a scrub till I got here.

1. Figured this would be a cheap way of making some money doing something I loved to do. I like being outdoors and working in the yard, and the last time I did anything like this it bought my first car and paid for my first year into college. I thought I could do that well again......WRONG

2. Thought I could go with the "little or no investment" mode. I put an ad in the local classified that said if people didn't have the time, but had the equipment, I'd do the work. It worked, but it also backfired........OUCH. I got the yards all the real LCO's wouldn't touch like the almost dirt, half rock, bumpy, cramed with stuff, people let grow a foot high type lawns. And of course they were all owned by the people who wanted it all for cheap.

3. Went and charged $10/hr. cause I thought since it's only the labor, that would be a good rate.......and after seeing what I was working with, I realized how badly I underbid myself. :(

4. Went and listened to the people who said "everybody is doing it under the table, why worry who knows". I got noticed by two LCO's working nearby some of my jobs......and they didn't look happy. Kinda like the contractor watching Uncle Ed slap up a deck on the neighbors house, and just taking a few bucks on the side.

5. Thought I could go on without any real equipment........until the people started asking me "where's YOUR mower?" Ooops.

Now mind you I've been doing this for about a month now, and before I found this site. When I found LS I read through it for about a week, and then it hit me........Duh, you're not running a business, your running a wanna-be. So I said, ok, if I'm gonna do this I gotta do it right. And then I went on to read as much start up advice as everyone here offered. Then I started figuring out a plan for myself. Hopefully I got it right.

Friday I went down and picked up all the "paperwork" I needed from the local state reps office (man is there alot of it). Today I mailed out my EIN form, my tax ID form, and went hunting for a good bank. I already have an accountant and a lawyer who's willing to help.

Am I going in the right steps?

Oh and you guys weren't kidding about new equipment....another OUCH. I could make a downpayment on a house with that kind of money! So I figured I'd take the money I've made so far and pick up some good used equipment to get started with. So far I've got the blower/vac., trimmer, and mower (not a Crapsman). Guess what, that sorta backfired on me today. My trimmer goes duh and I'm in the middle of a two day job. The lady said bluntly "either go get a new trimmer or don't come back to finish the job". So I plopped down $96 for a new chordless B&D. Now mind you this is only a $150 job (cause I went with the $10/hr deal)

Anywho, after figuring out all the costs I'd have going legit..... com. insur. for a truck, liability, gas, mait., taxes etc. I almost got sick. Break even for me would be either 35 accounts/wk. at $15/hr. or 25/wk. at $20/hr. That's bare minimum for me to live. Thank God I'm single.

Now for the questions........if anyone is willing to answer.

1. Should I raise the minimum to $25/hr. since most of the LCO's here go up from there? I don't want to lowball anyone, but I have a low overhead right now.

2. How soon should I start looking for "new" equipment? And what do I go after first?

3. Is 25-35 jobs a week a good number for a solo operator? Or did I miscalculate.

:dizzy: :dizzy:

And just a note......for those of you who wonder if people are getting "trade secrets" off this free site, the answer is yes. If it wasn't for reading all your posts, I would have no idea how badly I've been screwing up! So thanks in advance.

65hoss
07-15-2002, 09:32 PM
Sounds like something Stone would be messing with us about...but I don't think he could come up with something like this. :dizzy:

65hoss
07-15-2002, 09:36 PM
I would say your on the right track. Forget the hourly mentality. Start thinking about profit by the job. Look for real customers and get away from the **** ones. Anything worth having costs something. Time, money, sweat, tears, etc. Go out and get with it.

Brickman
07-15-2002, 09:52 PM
Bilbo I think you are on the right track. It is no joke that it all costs a lot of money. Every where you turn there is some body holding out a bill.

One thing I would do right off the bat on your pricing is do not underestimate your self just because you are starting out. Try to do good work, and charge accordingly. Other wise you will get customers trained that this is an OK price and they will never want to leave it. Whether it is for YOU or the next guy who wants to charge more.


My opinion.

ADMowing
07-15-2002, 09:59 PM
This is my opinion about your pricing -- for what its worth:

Don't lowball or charge less than market. You will be able to afford better equipment faster if you charge market rates. You may not have much overhead now, but don't you want the best equipment for the job????? If so, charge what you should be charging and then you can go out and get the BIG boy stuff! And what about some kind of savings -- someday you may want to get married and have a family. If you really love the LCO business, you might want it to help support your family. Breaking even isn't the key. You want to make some profit like any one else in any type of business does.

My 2 cents!

Good Luck

Scraper
07-16-2002, 09:57 AM
Originally posted by 65hoss
Sounds like something Stone would be messing with us about...but I don't think he could come up with something like this. :dizzy:

Maybe he should contact Stone...he's not all that far away. ;)

JimLewis
07-16-2002, 04:43 PM
Hey, I started out exactly like you. So the following comments come from experience in the same situations.

Should I raise the minimum to $25/hr. since most of the LCO's here go up from there? I don't want to lowball anyone, but I have a low overhead right now.
You should raise the hourly rate to AT LEAST that. I'd go $30 if I were you and plan on raising that to $35 or $40 once you begin to get busier. Trust me, you will still land jobs.

And NO YOU DON'T have low overhead any more. Man are you still in denial. You got equipment to buy, license fees, bonds, insurance, lawyers, accountants, more insurance, truck lettering, shirts, hats, etc.... If you want to stop being a scrub and make some real money in this business you gotta have all of these things. And they aren't cheap.
How soon should I start looking for "new" equipment? And what do I go after first?
Start looking and pricing now. And then buy them as soon as you can afford them. The way I used to do it was I'd by the equipment I needed as soon as I'd land the job. For instance, I'd bid a clean-up job that required a lot of "weed-eating" at, say, $400. Then if I landed it, I'd go buy the trimmer (maybe $275) that morning and write a check. Then go do the job. Get a check and the end of the day and deposit it to cover the check I wrote that morning. This is a little risky but if you make arrangements with the client to meet later that day so you can "go over your job and also get a final payment" then it will work out okay.

But basically, just start out with whatever equimpement you can afford and then upgrade as soon as possible. You won't make a lot of profit the first year doing that. But you'll be acquiring equipment that will last you years and turn into a lot or profit later.
Is 25-35 jobs a week a good number for a solo operator? Or did I miscalculate. I guess it's okay. Depends on the size of yards. In my area, a basic yard takes 30 minutes for one guy. One guy can do 15 a day. When I was still solo I was doing like 35-45 a week and leaving a day or two more for clean-ups, mulching jobs, etc. Then when I got 55 I started hiring help and just sprung from there.

The sky's the limit man. Shoot for as many as you can get.

p.s. In order to make the kind of rates you need to make $30+ / hour, you are going to need to look as professional as possible. That means a decent, clean truck. Preferably with some company lettering on it. A shirt and hat with company name on it. And some professional looking estimate forms. People will size you up in a minute or two and decide if you look like a pro or not.

The Mowerdude
07-17-2002, 02:39 AM
Kudos to Jim Lewis. Let me add a little. Your truck doesn't have to be new, it just needs to look clean and respectable. Same with the trailer. Also, a business like haircut as opposed to ponytails, earrings, tattoos and anything else that looks as though you're being motivated by your desire for your next bag of smoke. I know that we live in a modern progressive world, but we need to remember that many of our customers don't. Many elderly still take their hats off when entering a building and put on a tie or dress up to go see a movie. And yet they can be some of our very best customers. (even considering us in their wills. It has happened.) Also, this goes for the hired help.

If you're worried about underbidding, then start analyzing your yards. When you arrive at a customer's yard, write down the time and when you're back in the truck after picking up the gate, write down the time again. Do this with each and every yard. Keep a log. If you can get some kind of idea what it costs you to run, and what kind of profit margin you'll be happy with, then you start getting an idea of what to charge. Then knowing how long it takes to cut each yard, you can start adjusting the price to fit the formula. Every yard man has his winners, break-evens and losers. Leave the winners were they're at, bump the break-evens a little and bump the losers a lot. This system is self cleaning. Your winning yards will never know the difference. Your break evens might squawk a little but will usually go with you. Your losers are so often losers because they know that you underbid and they've been soaking you. They've also been telling their friends so that their friends could soak you too. Once you start adjusting your prices to fit your new formula, the customers that have been soaking you will go away and soak your competition. :D The hard part is getting the courage to make this jump. It's unnatural to turn away work. But I have the attitude: "I'd rather sit at home and watch T.V. if I'm going to lose money anyway. I don't need the practice." In the end you'll end up with a customer list of all winners. What that means is that you'll stress yourself and your equipment less, you'll have fewer expenses and your profits will go through the roof. While you're analyzing, factor in the drive time between yards, too. You might find that you're giving in too much of the time to the desire for a cold drink, a quick break and a chance to scope out the short skirted, high heeled scenery.

While your in the analyzing mode, take a measuring wheel and start a record of the square footage of all your yards. I know it takes time, but if you know what yards are winners, and you know how much time it takes to cut AND THEN you know the square footage, you can measure the square footage of a new potential customer's yard and give an accurate bid right from the start. Then if the customer says that your price is too high, you can leave with the knowledge that you don't need any more losers. It's a confidence builder and confidence is key to success.

JimLewis
07-17-2002, 03:46 AM
Let me add a little. Your truck doesn't have to be new, it just needs to look clean and respectable. Agreed. We don't use new trucks. All of ours are older trucks. But they all look sharp. When I get them, I paint them with our company color and letter them up the same way. They are always kept looking nice, clean, and professional. That's all that's necessary.

You don't even need to give an old truck new paint. If it already has a decent paint job and you can't afford new paint, then just keep it clean. Truck lettering helps too. Makes you look more professional. Plus it lands you jobs.

strickdad
07-17-2002, 12:43 PM
Originally posted by 65hoss
Sounds like something Stone would be messing with us about...but I don't think he could come up with something like this. :dizzy: i dont know eric, ole stone is pretty slick..

bilbo7021
07-17-2002, 12:48 PM
Thank You Everybody for the help so far!

I started telling my customers (the few I have right now) that I'm probably going to raise rates next year due to equipment and overhead etc. Looks like I'm going on a "per job" basis for mowing and an hourly rate for anything else. So far, I think I've lost half my customers :( But, here's the weird part......I've got three who are already planning on what they want me to do next year! I've already got one retired teacher talking about fertalizing, another lady thinking of airating, and the third wants to know if I can plant lilac bushes next year! So I guess I'm just losing the PITA's that wouldn't have done much anyhow. It still hurt to see half my list dry up due to I raised my fees.

Speaking of "drying up", does anybody have a rain cloud I can borrow out there? :)

JimLewis
07-17-2002, 01:23 PM
FYI, it's "Fertilizing" and "Aerating". Even little things like spelling will make a difference on how a client looks at you.

Also, I'd be cautious using "an hourly rate for everything else". Not usually a good idea. IMO, it's always best to bid jobs by the job, not by the hour. There are a lot of people out there who have no idea how much we make. And it's better that way. For some reason, they don't mind hearing that a job will cost $500. But when you tell them it's $35 / hour, they freak. I don't know why that is, it just is. At least with a lot of people.

Another reason people don't like to pay per hour is because you could just slack off and work slow. They won't be there to watch. They are afraid you'd waste their time.

If you are unsure about how long a job will take you then you can give them a range. Quote the job like this, "Well, this clean-up will cost between $250 and $400, depending on how long it takes me to do. It's difficult for me to tell how long. But I can guarantee it will be within that price range."

This still isn't the best way to bid. Eventually, you should be bidding everything with one fixed, firm, price. I started doing it that way from day one. I lost my ass on a few jobs. But I learned really quick how to bid jobs doing that. It was all worth it.

Nowadays I can look at just about any job and bid it out perfectly every time. I can tell exactly how long it will take a crew to do a job. That just comes with experience bidding jobs at flat rates.

Tex1836
07-17-2002, 03:22 PM
We've got enough rainclouds to spare here in Texas. Seems like it's never gonna stop. Really strange.