View Full Version : You solo guys.......

06-11-2003, 07:05 PM
I know there are quite a few guys here that are addiment about staying solo because they don't want the headache or responsibility of employees.

But I gotta wonder about all the "what ifs?". I myself would be scared to work solo for the rest of my working career.

What if you get seriously injured?
What if you become sick, and I'm not talking about the flu.
What about when you get up there in years, will your body hold up?

Then there's the whole income issue. Working solo has to limit how much you can earn. There's only so many hours in a day.

What about the times where you really need a second pair of hands or some extra muscle to tackle a particular task?

I'm not talking so much about par time guys here, but those of you that do this full time and work solo with no regular employees.

Don't you ever get concerned about the "what ifs?"?.

Expert Lawns
06-11-2003, 07:35 PM
I was solo for 2 years and unfortunetly this year i lost my license due to a bad decision i made last year. So this year i HAD to hire some help, specifically for driving purposes, but after working together for a few months, we realized that we can handle so much more with us both working, so we took on quite a few more accounts. It is also nice for safety reason if you're cutting down trees or doing landscaping. yes, it kinda stinks that you can reap all the profits, but you have to make due, especially in my situation. also, he is trained enough to where if somehting happens to me, he can handle all the duties.

Richard Martin
06-11-2003, 09:42 PM
I can't let the "what ifs" bother me. Life is too short to begin with and to start worrying about "what ifs" would be a waste of time. Truth is if I became incapacitated I would have larger problems than who would cut somebody elses grass. Right now I am working towards semi retirement in 5 years. Then I can get sick.

David Haggerty
06-11-2003, 10:14 PM
Injuries, illness and age.

I don't figure I would be better off working for someone else.
Companies today show no loyalty to employees and would fire a person for any of the above infirmities.

I hire help occasionally, but basically I am the guy with the green shoes. And that's the way I want it. I can't think of anything I would rather not do than try to supervise a bunch of underpaid laborors who would rather be anywhere else than on the job.
It's true people make money running small businesses. But I'm not a businessman and would only loose my shirt trying to be one.
So I guess I'll content myself with what I can earn on my own.

The pay for me doesn't look better anywhere else.
A devistating illness or injury is going to be devistating no matter where I am or what I'm doing, so I might as well do this.


Lawn Specialties
06-11-2003, 10:22 PM
I know there are issues to being solo like you said however there are alot of benefits as well. First understand that I don't use the words never or always in regards to where the biz might go.As far as man power goes I do have a couple dependable guys willing to work for me from time to time. The main trick to being solo is learning not to bight of more than you can chew. When looking at having staff I think you have to look at it both ways. how much time and money have large companies spent training employees that will never work out or will just use you to start there on own biz. My philosophy right now is to buy bigger equipment as needed. Does bigger equipment cost money to buy maintain and repair? Yes. Does equipment brake down and leave you hangin? Yes. Does equipment get wasted drunk the night before and call on sick or just not be worth a **** all day? No. I know most companies have some great staff and profit from them to a great degree. All I'm saying is there are ups and downs either way.

06-11-2003, 10:29 PM
What if there was an earthquake?

If you live your life worrying about what might happen, nothing is certain to happen.

I have thought about the concerns raised. I have several people who would take over the route in the event of a serious illness or injury.

I figure I can do this until 55. After that I will do it Part time.

Everyone knows someone who can help out from time to time, once in a while I use the someone even when they are not needed. Makes for a short day.

06-11-2003, 10:32 PM
The middle word in "LIFE" if!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

06-11-2003, 10:52 PM
I had a partner from start up to this year, 7 years. I never worried about any of that stuff because he was always there. This year, he quit and I am all alone. Sniff sniff. I have thought long and hard about hiring help, starting more crews, whateva. For me, I just can't make the numbers work or even be attractive enough to me to consider any of it. I am doing 80% of the work I was doing with my partner, and working harder! But I am making far more now than I ever did before. I kinda like being solo, and I have a few sources of part time help if I need it.

There are "what ifs" having employees, as well. What if that kid I hired doesn't show? What if my employee hits someone or damages something while mowing? What if he quits on me in the middle of the season? There is risk in anything you do, you just gotta decide what risk you're signing up for.

I like what David Haggerty said. I just wanna be the guy with the green shoes. I don't want the biggest, best company in town. I wanna make a buck, enjoy what I'm doing, and have fun in life. Supervising employees and the hassel that comes along with it ain't part of that.

Rustic Goat
06-12-2003, 02:14 AM
I make sure she has something to worry about so she'll stay out of my hair.
I'll bet there are a lot of things that everyone does 'solo' that you don't even give a second thought about.
According to the insurance companies, the bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house, slip & fall. Elvis was found after he went to the toilet by himself.

I may not always do things like everyone would expect, but there've been very few things (physical chores) that I've not been able to accomplish solo.

Always carry a charged cell phone and be aware of address you're working at.

To maintain the same % of profits earned when working solo, you must increase your total income a lot more than you'd think when you start adding crews and helpers.
You have to make a decision on just how big do you want to get, you want to own the green industry market in your town, stay at the office all day, write crew schedules and payroll checks. Worry about who showed up for work and who didn't, and will they be there tomorrow. What quality work is that crew really doing, and what about that call you just got from a lady screaming something about your man, a lawn mower, and her dog?
If you want to make maximum dollars, then yes that's the way to go, just don't do it half way, take the whole apple, not just a bite.

On the other hand, if you want to maximize your individual income, percentage wise, solo is where it's at.

But, the what ifs in my life have to be spent thinking of the smart/safe way to do things without causing damage to property or myself. Don't have time for what ifs about, sickness or injury.

06-12-2003, 03:58 AM
If you want to be solo, or are stuck that way, you have a good reason for networking on a local level. In my 23 years in business, I felt most confined during the three years I tried employees. I could not get away from the business.

But when I'm working solo, I have taken up to 2Ĺ weeks off, by having one or two other operators mow my lawns. A few years ago, when my truck broke down just before Memorial Day weekend, a good friend who was done with his mowing lent me his truck and an afternoon of his time to help me get my lawns done.

06-12-2003, 09:19 PM
I think some people might have got the wrong idea by my "what ifs".

I'm not sitting around worrying about every little thing that MIGHT happen to me. I have a friend that does that. He won't participate in any hobbies or sports where he could get injured for fear of not being able to provide for his family (even though he has benefits at his job). That's a bit extreme.

I'm just talking about looking at the bigger picture beyond just the one that's in front of me today.

There was a member here (can't remember his name and not sure if he's still around) that posted a year ago or so about how he fell off a ladder while trimming hedges and broke his back. His post was about how depressed he was because he was losing all his customers. He was losing his business that he worked hard for.
I think to simply say "well, I just won't get hurt or sick then" is kinda foolish really (no offense to anyone!). It's just not being realistic.

I realize my post isn't going to change anyones plans. And I realize it's "to each his own". Just sorta thinking out loud (as I often do here).

Best of luck to all of ya.
And be safe out there!!

06-12-2003, 09:55 PM
:sleeping: As I get closer to old age, I remember when. Now almost 63, yes 63, I still like to cut lawns. Not necessarily for the money but I like to be outside. You can make it IF, IF

Bob Minney
06-13-2003, 12:51 AM
If I was out for a short time I could count on few guys to bail me out. If it was long term I would split the business between them and rebuild best I could when I was ready. Would just have to take my chances on these guys helping me re-build.

I use day labor for the jobs I don't want to do by myself.

As far as the body holding up, seem to be doing ok especially after all those early years and miles on a bike plus I played semi-pro football until I was 38. But the physical aches from this work are not near as bad as the mental pain caused working a job that you cant control.

06-13-2003, 01:43 AM
OK, first of all don't laugh at me for what I'm about to say, because I only have around 10 customers. One reason I only have 10 customers is that I was in a car accident and broke my right collar bone. Since I'm right-handed this made working impossible for a while, and I had no help to bail me out. Anyway, the point is that I have to start with what I have, which right now isn't even a truck! I was out of work and I had only $200 and a beat-up car to start with this year, so I'm glad to have 10 customers.

I like mowing grass because I like the challenge, the unlimited potential, the flexibillity, and the control. As some of you have mentioned, I see this as a much better alternative to the work place, especially since I haven't finished my degree. However, I do not like working out in the South Texas sun all day. This is one reason I would like to expand my business so that one day I can sit in an office or at least an air-conditioned truck (doing estimates) and let employees do the hard work.

I agree that more equipment is preferable to hiring more help, but I think that once you have good equipment, and get enough customers so that even with that good equipment you would have a difficult time doing more, your business is ready to expand. One person is limited in what they can do, and we should all know that there's alot more work that goes into it than just cutting the grass.

Personally, I think expanding from a solo operation is the best bet in the long-run and can be the most profitable. Can you be successful by yourself? Certainly. But I feel if you can run a succesful business by yourself and are determined enough to overcome all the obstacles you will face without any help, you can also expand it, and do even better.

06-13-2003, 01:49 AM
Simple, I have been sick and hurt and everything still gets done by the employees!

The what ifs are not what they think about.

06-13-2003, 02:51 AM
I have two buddies (both solo operators) that I trust implicitly. We have an agreement that if someone is down (sick, breakdown, backlog, etc.), and a few customers have ďlawn emergencies,Ē then one of the other two will service those accounts. Whoever does the work gets to keep the payment, but the account remains the property of the original guy. None of the customers have complained, but we havenít had to use it much either. Weíve all agreed that even if asked, we wonít bid or even discuss taking over another account with a customer. Of course this arrangement wonít solve a major problem, but itís some help anyway.

I stay pretty busy, even though Iíve reduced my load to about 80-90% capacity. This helps a lot when its time to catch up for rain or breakdowns. Additionally, it costs about 10% of my capacity to make that co-op possible. But even at that, in a relaxed 10 hour day, Iíve been clearing $400. When pushed, $500+ is not out of the question, but itís not possible for me to manage a whole season at that level (100%). Over time, I plan to slow down and weed out all but the best accounts. Working at 75% of my current potential when Iím 60, thatís still a comfortable $300 (not factoring in inflation, etc.). Who knows what the future holds, but thatís the plan. Hopefully the Lord doesnít think itís too hilarious.

By the way, Iíve thought about a larger form of a co-op for LCOís. The larger the co-op, the less amount of your capacity youíd have to keep available. Of course there are good and bad sides to that idea. And there are lots of complications and risks. But that could be a way to encourage LCOís to operate legitimately.

06-13-2003, 06:49 AM
In year 3 I've added 1 full time and 2 part time. Luckily all three of them do fabulous work....the part timers go to a local college so there are available every day after noon. Each works about 30 hours a week. I just found that staying solo and doing all the landscape services we offer plus mowing, was making me crazy from a planning, billing, supply ordering , estimate standpoint. 8 hours of sleep was a fantasy. So I eased the part timers in and they have made me a ton of money already this year on mulch installs. They literally do "perfect" mulching...no mashed potato looking much with crisp clean edges. I gross over $40/hr after paying these part timer wages and expenses..

Yesterday I was laying 1000 ft of landscape fabric and they were in class....while I was crawling around on my old knees I realized how much I like having these guys.

I dont see me using more full timers because of the employee headaches that we all know about...but...I will continue to use part timers when I can find them...like I said they made me thousands of dollars in a few months...yeah I know I'm lucky to have found such good workers...and I pay them well.

Many moons ago when in college, I worked for 4 years for a landscape architect doing installs and I saw how high the employee turnover was with these seasonal laborers. But if you play your cards right, these part times can work well for you.

Like some of us say about being in this business, you;d better like to work in the dirt to stay in this biz....and these guys really like this hard work....and I thought I was one of only a few who truly love this work.....there are other crazy people out there...thank goodness!!

Shady Brook
06-13-2003, 08:08 AM
I was standing on top of my trailer Monday night, and I bent over to see something I dropped....It was dark, and when I steped back, I discovered that there was no more trailer rail. I fell across a steel rail about 4 feet below me breaking one rib, and likely bruising more.

I have two guys help me, and they have been doing alot more of the lifting this week so that I can heal, which does not really seem to get enough rest under the circumstances. This is the first broken bone I have incured, and I never expected it to happen.

Accidents can happen, and this one could have been much worse. I know guys in the business, but could they fully cover for me? No way. I work about 80 hours a week this time of year whether I have workers or not, that would not change. Who could cover for me? I don't know of any business that could cover my accounts of one day, let alone an extended period.

It all comes down to your comfort factor I suppose. A major injury could wipe you out if you are a small business, but it is less likely to do so if you have employees to bare the burden. Employees can be a huge pain, and they never do things as well as you would do them, but the arm of flesh can only extend so far, and if that arm becomes broken....the result may not be pretty.

This is my experience for what it is worth.


Strawbridge Lawn
06-13-2003, 08:17 AM
I have been solo for 2.5 years, but this year I brought on part timers and plan to continue with part time halp. Sure, having help can be a challenging, but the realities of life will one day creep up on each of us and we must be prepared for our family's sake if nothing else.
Comfort zones are grreat places to be, but we shouldn't stay in one too long. There are other comfort zones in the growth process, just not like the one you may be in right now.

06-13-2003, 08:13 PM
I think GoGetter has some realistic concerns there. Yes, you can get hurt and lose your ability to earn. Then again, at least in my state, if I get hurt (off the job) and can't function at my job, I lose my job too. And I suppose you could rush and hire someone if you did get hurt to try to mitigate the damage to your company.

Disability insurance is out there, but is probably pretty darn expensive for an owner-operator in a physical trade.

If I got hurt and couldn't work, I guess I'd go get another job with my other skills.

A two income household also serves as extra insurance.

But there is a certain degree of luck and care required.

As for hiring employees, it's my opinion after studying it and trying it in the past that it's not feasible in today's economy to do so honorably and legally while enjoying any degree of quality of life that I would enjoy. I'm not into breaking the law, exploiting desperate people, hiring and firing 20 people a year to fill 5 slots, or working employees (and hence babysitting them) 70 hours a week. For the amount of financial risk, stress, time, and hassles involved, there are probably better ways to make a living.

I had 6 employees at one job and 40 at another before I got into this, so I'm not adverse to having them. But the market for manual labor ain't what it was 15 years ago, at least in this area.