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Going Solo?!?!

Discussion in 'Lawn Mowing' started by Integrity, Dec 31, 2000.

  1. Integrity

    Integrity LawnSite Member
    Posts: 24

    This year will be my second full-time year in "the business". Last year my business grew to just over 100 accounts and I hired a helper, but there were a lot of times when I wish I hadn't. I went through three different helpers in one season. My question is: HOW MANY ACCOUNTS CAN YOU SOLOIST DO IN ONE 10-12 HOUR DAY? I would like to go solo, but I am not sure whether it is possible with this many accounts. I am looking at the option of cutting some accounts and keeping the ones that give the biggest bang for the buck. Your advise and wise counsel in this is appreciate. Have a Happy New Year!
  2. 1MajorTom

    1MajorTom Senior Moderator
    Posts: 6,074

    Our first year we thought it was the number of accounts
    that we had.
    We now know that this is not true.

    Here's how we feel accounts should be:

    Weekly customers, the more in one little neighborhood the better, easy terrain, customers who actually CARE about their lawns, and customers that get the extras done. Hedge maintenance, aerations, mulching etc.

    Those are the ideal accounts. So the number accounts is irrelevant. Build your business so you can obtain those good paying accounts.

    So go thru your 100 accounts. Decide which accounts are the "gravy" customers. Those are the ones that you want. Then for each of those customers, begin to target their little neighborhood hoping that you can pick up few more in their area to make the stop more profitable.

    Out of those 100, drop the losers. The ones that don't pay on time, the ones that take longer because the yard is all hilly, etc.

    If you are able to build your business to have the majority of accounts really profitable, you will find that you will be pulling in more money without having to work 10 to 12 hour days.

  3. cclllc

    cclllc LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 903

    I agree with MajorTom1.Keep it simple.Try to concentrate in one area even if you have to adjust the price.Better than driving all over town especially the way gas prices are.Make a deal with your customers.Give them a free mowing for every lawn they get you in their area.Put some signs outin that neighborhood.Knock on doors.Whatever it takes.
  4. Guest
    Posts: 0

    About 7 yrs. ago I too went Solo under the same conditions you are in now. What I did is formed a network of subs and it has worked for me. You just have to remember that you can't do it all yourself. Do what you can and sub out the rest of your less desirable work. Just be careful of who you sub your work out to. I also " Constantly " check with my customers and the work being done under my name. Hope this helps.
    Fellow Soloist, Rick
  5. accuratelawn

    accuratelawn LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 922

    It looks like I will go solo this coming year also. I helped two of my helpers get into the business over the last 3 three years. My thaught was to have great help that cared and wanted to learn the business. If they made it I knew I would have subs I could count on.
  6. Vandora Lawn & Landscape

    Vandora Lawn & Landscape LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 386

    I definitely work better with another person there. I find having someone else there to make work go quicker. There's the atmosphere of competing with your partner to get done first, not consciously, but ya stil do it. Also, it the horrible case I get hurt, there is someone else on the job to help me. Plus, I hate driving around all day by myself.
  7. mowerman90

    mowerman90 LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,491

    I agree wholeheartedly with Major Tom. But instead of dropping those accounts. Just raise their price. If they drop you that's fine, if they pay the higher price that's fine too. Either way you come out a winner. I do about 75 lawn per week by myself. I start a 7:30 every morning and am home usually by 3:30 every day. I do it by keeping my route concentrated with little or no driving time between accouonts. Find a good neighborhood and concentrate on it by giving free cuts for neighbor referrals etc. Good luck.
  8. Grassman

    Grassman LawnSite Member
    Posts: 203

    I agree with Vandora. I worked solo for five yrs with nobody to depend on but myself. Those 5 yrs sucked! I have 2 employees now, 1 full time for the last 7 yrs(this guy kicks butt with a weedeater!), and my stepson(16) who is invaluable. I'd sell out before I went solo again! Best regards, Russ
  9. TGCummings

    TGCummings LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 773


    Start thinking about how many lawns you can get in a 6-7 hour day, and the profits you can make with a smaller operation. If you're going solo, don't make up the difference in added hours, or burnout will be your inevitable reward. Remember to keep time each day for maintenance, for breaks, and lunch! Remember to keep a day/week or two aside for big maintenance chores.

    Remember that holidays will come, and so will necessary appointments (like dental checkups!), and if you have a schedule of 10-12 hour days, 5 days a week, you've got nothing but burnout and behind accounts. No amount of fat wallet can make that worthwhile.

    Trust me. ;)

  10. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 6,839

    I agree with Russ. I worked solo for only a year and a half before I figured out that it sucked. And I wasn't doing anywhere near 100 accounts.

    First of all, I want to address the real issue here. You tried to hire some helpers, none of them turned out to be very good so you have now decided that maybe it's just better to go solo. I think a lot of people, after having bad luck with help, have come to that same conclusion. The reality is that you CAN find good employees if you want to. And I am assuming you want to otherwise you would have never tried in the first place.

    My goal here is to demonstrate to you that if you did want to have good reliable help, you can. Take it to the next level; if you ever wanted to have employees do all of the accounts and you manage things and still make some great money, you can do that as well. If you really want to stay solo, that's fine too. But you have to admit that there must have been some thought of NOT staying solo otherwise you wouldn't have hired those 3 guys in the first place.

    I will address the issue of how to find good, reliable employees a little further down. But first, I want to give you something to think about. There are some major disadvantages to staying solo forever. For one, what would happen if for some reason you were incapacitated for 6 months because of an injury? Or even a month? At this point, your entire income is made by only your efforts. You'd lose all of that money. And even if you had good disability insurance, they only cover about 75% of your income (if you claim all of your income) and even then, you'd still lose all your clients. So you put your financial future at major risk by staying solo.

    Also most guys who stay solo for years have nothing in the way or retirement. You may be young, but how are you going to retire? Building a company offers great financial security in assets, company value, etc. Staying solo limits your assets, company value, etc.

    It's a great security to me to know that if something ever happened to me at this point, my company would continue to exist for some time with just some minimal supervision that my wife could probably handle. Sure, the company would probably not grow as fast as if I were here. It may even slide back a little in sales, but we'd still exist for many years. And my employees, wife, family, etc. would still benefit from what I created.

    Furthermore, even if for some reason the company didn't conitinue, it's reassuring to know that I have a decent amount of assets that are of some value. We have many trucks, a large client list, tons of equipment, trailers, etc. And I own them all, even the trucks.

    There are a lot of benefits to creating a business as opposed to staying solo. There are also headaches with running a business as well. But I believe the benefits to running a business with several employees vastly outweigh the benefits to staying solo. And same for the disadvantages for each.

    Finally, I will add this. By staying solo you limit your income. You can only do so much work. Sure, you may be able to make good money. Maybe several thousand a month. That's great. But that's all it will ever be if you stay solo. With a company, there is no limit.

    So to address the issue of hiring good employees consider this; If you want good reliable employees you have to have a company that good reliable employees feel secure with. Most people aren't too excited about being someone's grunt. And even if you pay them well, if they think all they are ever going to do it be your grunt, the results will not be good.

    Now I should pre-empt this by saying that there are some bad apples out there. Especially in today's economy. It's hard to find good help right now. And it's not just you. We are all experiencing it. That's one of the downfalls of a low unemployment rate. Right now, our unemployment rate is below what ecomomists call the "natural rate of unemployment". Which means that everyone who wants a job or can work, already has one. So who's left? People who really don't want to work that badly. And immigrants. Sure, there are a few good apples out there, and I can help you find them. But realize that it does take a while to find one.

    That being said, you need to act as if you have a legitimate business going on if you want to attract legitimate employees. That means having some letters on your truck (s). That means having a few T-shirts printed up with your company name on them. Maybe a few hats too. That means advertising in the employment section in the newspaper, like real employers do. That means conducting real interviews, having them fill out a real application, checking with their previous employers, etc.

    If you take yourself seriously, they will too. Some things you have no control over. For instance, you probably work out of your home or your appartment. This isn't much of a "real company" look. That's ok. As long as the other things above are in order, if this one thing is a little unconventional, you'll be fine. I built my business out of an appartment for the first 4 years or so. Albeit, they were the nicest apparments in the city, it was still an appartment. But we made it work. At times, I had up to 4 or 5 employees working for me. But employees want to know that they are working for a legitimate company. So I always treated everything like a legit company, even though I didn't run it out of some fancy building or house.

    Employees also want to know that they have a future in the company. If you talk as if you are going to double in the next year or two, hire more employees, maybe make them a crew leader or eventually a foreman, they have hope! They see themselves going somewhere.

    Here is a tip that I've most contractors ignore; DON'T HIRE THE FIRST PERSON WHO YOU INTERVIEW! This sounds obvious but I am constantly amazed by my friends who are contractors and they need someone really badly and so they hire the first guy who applies. I don't care how honest, hard working, experienced they appear to be, you should interview several people (at least 4-5) before making a decision. Sometimes it takes 10 before you find a good one. But you'll be glad you did.

    Here's another tip; address every issue during the interview. I have a huge checklist I go through during every interview. I want to get rid of any possible challege before it arises. Things like this;

    1) I tell them about the work they'll be doing. Pulling weeds in the rain, mowing lawns in the hot sun for hours on end, long hours, lots of overtime, etc. I want to make sure they're cool with that kind of environment. And I watch their reaction to what I say.

    2) I make sure there is no challenge with my age, if they are older than me.

    3) I make sure there are no challenges with my income or perceived income. They should understand that they will be paid fairly for there work but that at times, it will seem like I am making a lot more of the money then they are.

    4) I tell them I am looking for someone to commit.

    5) I explain that attendence and promptness is key to this job. I will not tolerate tardiness and we can't afford to be sick or absent much.

    6) I make sure there are no challenges with my schedule. Sometimes I may sleep in while I send them off to work. Sometimes I may leave them at a job to finish while I go do errands.

    7) That We don't have health insurance

    8) That we almost never take spring and summer holidays off (4th of July, Labor Day, Memorial day, etc.)

    Then there are a whole host of other things I ask them or inform them about. Driver's license, pay scales, bonuses, raises, that they'll have to sign a non-compete agreement, that we have no health insurance, that I am still interviewing, etc.

    I also discuss the benefits of the job. That they will get a company pager and/or cell phone, a company truck (to the crew leaders), winter holidays off PAID, 2 days of personal leave, a 1 week paid vacation after one year, commisions and/or bonuses from time to time, etc.

    By doing all of these things above, you will likely end up with very good employees. Assuming you are paying them well and that you are not a jerk to them.

    Now you may go through this process and still find a bad apple or two. But eventually you will find some good guys who are great workers. I know because I have 4 such guys all year. More in the summer. But I have finally found guys who are loyal, happy, hard workers, and don't have any challenges with what I do (which involves mostly office work, banking and talking to clients).

    Anyway, good luck. I just didn't want you do go off thinking that employees were not worth the trouble. They are. And there are some good ones out there. It just takes some doing. But for me, the results are worth it. I'll get to sleep in tomorrow, maybe go to the driving range, and maybe do a little work in the afternoon. It's a great life. And if you want it, it's out there.


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