Very good thread outlining the realities of this industry.
About 10 years ago, 5th year in my biz, I just finished signing payroll cheques and checking our account balance to make sure all was cool. It wasnt. I freaked out. Checked our recievables, and we had clients that hadnt paid us in 90-120 days. Now on paper everything seemed like we were covered (more coming in than going out), but the timing was off. It just so happened that we started tracking our times on the properties we kept that spring, and after a few phonecalls, some checks were made ready to be picked up in a couple of days and payroll was made. We kept plugging away (not without problems) for another month or so till the end of the season, and finally we could sit down and make some decisions. BTW-We had 4 crews at that point, doing a mix of small commercial and residential maintenance.
I sat down for a few weeks and first categorized the properties which were most profitable, the ones that paid on time, the ones that allowed for the extras associated with us being their service provider, and the ones that caused us the least grief over the summer.
The end result was almost half of the properties we services were not in all of the categories above. Some actually cost us money, and lots of it. Far from being a missionary, I rewrote half of the renewal letters with increases to justify the service they were recieveing, most left, some didnt even call back. No problem. I got rid of 2 crews, and associated trucks, trailers, and equipment. And guess what....we made payroll every week without a problem from that spring forward.
Profits have been steady, workload has been ample, stress has been reduced, employees are happy, life is great. Since then, we have continued to grow every year, actually picking the type of work we want to do, and who we want to work for. Another lesson learned is the guarantee of the payment outweighs the bigger numbers with no guarantee. Most of work now is municipal. Sure it may be a couple of dollars less a day, but the money is wored into my account every 10th of the month-without any excuses or stories.
The moral of my story (just as yours) is that bigger isnt always better...unless you know your numbers and you manage your assets well.
Get paid well for what you do well, and get paid on time. This has been my mandate ever since, and it has caused me no grief.
If you got the money...I got the time.