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From Solo to Big Time

Discussion in 'Lawn Mowing' started by mtdman, Sep 5, 2003.

  1. mtdman

    mtdman LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,143

    I would very much like to hear some of the stories of people who went from a solo operation to having employees and crews. What things had to change, how many more hassels, did you really make more money and was it worth it to move up? My business is at the point where I could probably add employees and add more clients right now. I just don't know if that's what I want, if I want to deal with the hassels, etc. I make a good living in the solo business now, I am not sure if being an employer is what I want to do. Running the numbers and doing some forecasting, it doesn't look real profitable to me, at least at first. Speaking to local LCOs, I've gotten two opinions. Either it was a great move and they make tons of more money, or it was a marginal move and they really aren't making more money for the hassels involoved. Any insights, stories, experiences, etc, would help.


  2. cuttingchris

    cuttingchris LawnSite Member
    Messages: 30

    i just added one employee so im still on all the job sites and make sure everything is done right and i went from mowing 3 propertys in 2 hours to mowing 7 propertys in 2 hours i make around 35 dollars a property so with just me i made 105 in 2 hours now with a second guy i make 245 in 2 hours then i pay my employee 7 an hour so it takes me down to 231 in 2 hours big price jump and no more hassle. but i can also say i just started my company after 3 years as a crew leader and the company i worked for the boss was never on site and i no that was a hassle for him. also the guy that i have workin for me had worked under me when i was crewleader for 2 of these years so we are already effecient. but i do think adding one emplyee is a good idea.
    just my thoughts ............chris
  3. trimmasters

    trimmasters LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 264

    well where to start, you need big money to go big time, yes your going to bring in less revenu per person, but when you get to the point of having 20 people doing production every day the money can roll in nicely. we are constently working on expansion plans, we decided to stay with Chemical apps only as it is easy to systemize and roll out in to new markets. we see it as we would much rather deal with smaller branches that can be set up as oposed to a large mantinince operation, that once maxes out its curent location is much harder to systemize and set up in new markets.
  4. GLAN

    GLAN Banned
    Messages: 1,647

    If you already are thinking "hassle" then you that is what you will find.

    As Chris mentioned about hiring one guy. Smart move and good business decision.
  5. Ajays

    Ajays LawnSite Member
    Messages: 133

    I just hired my first employee as well. It bumped me up from a 10 hr. workday making $400-$450/day 5 days a week to $650-$700/8 hr. day 3 days a week. Right now I am making less money because I have to pay my employee $8/hr but only for 3 days of work and I just ride the lazer all day. What an unbelievable difference in my attitude. Now I'm not so burned out and can concentrate on filling my two extra days.
  6. brucec32

    brucec32 LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,403

    If it were simply a matter of placing an ad, filling a position, and working less and making more, it would be a no-brainer. Hire somebody! The math of charging $40 or $50/hour for labor and paying $12 or $15/hour to hire it is simple enough.

    The trouble now is that you have to hire someone who will produce and who will show up consistently. Hiring someone to work 40-50 hours a week requires that a solo operator roughly double his dollar volume of accounts. Hard to do overnight. And what if you do double your workload and Mr. Wonderful employee no-shows on you? You were already presumedly working full time. How are you gonna double up and also find time to hire and train another worker with little or no notice? No-showing a few times a year till you find the right guy isn't great for your reputation. Add in the seasonal nature of the work in most areas of the country, and it makes it hard to find a good solid employee legally who isn't going to just start his own business in 6 months. Anyone with a little cash and English skills will soon be in business for himself if he has much sense, because current wage levels are so low that they can't compete with the self-employment income level.

    It's a tough transition from solo to having employees. I think "hassle" is not just in the mind, it can be a reality. One can wish away all the hassles, but you're not Dorothy and this isn't Oz. They're not going away. Hiring employees in today's environment, especially in a healthy economic area, does have more "hassles" than working alone. Now if we could all clone ourselves as employees, then it might be different.....

    Everyone I see around here with more than 1 employee does it by hiring Latino immigrant workers, with a smattering of "american" supervisors. And those companies usually are concentrating on commercial work, where there is more potential for year-round work and add-ons. A solo operator usually cuts his teeth on residentials, so that makes the transition even tougher if he has to toss out the residential customer base to switch to commercial.

    I personally don't find it worth it unless the conditions and climate are right for it. (weak economy which brings in better candidates, and a warm climate for a longer season) . If I want to hire employees and deal with that (had 40 before, so spare me the "you don't know what you're saying cuz you work alone" comments"), I would do it in a business dealing with educated, reliable, decently paid, articulate, pleasant to be around people in a climate controlled environment, with higher income potential than landscape maintenance. I've spent days in a truck with illiterate ignorant workers...not my idea of a rewarding career.

    But if you want to build an empire providing relatively low paying dead-end jobs to people you have little in common with, for merely average income potential, go for it.
  7. tierralawn

    tierralawn LawnSite Member
    Messages: 19

    mowing,blowing and going, is one thing.but when you have to trim,pullweeds etc. it is hard to do it all by yourself. thats my reply.
  8. GLAN

    GLAN Banned
    Messages: 1,647

    Sorry Bruce

    I understand that is your opinion

    but you lost me some where in the second paragraph, sorry.
  9. lennonpaul

    lennonpaul LawnSite Member
    Messages: 28

    I agree with Bruce to a certain extent. Good lawn care employee's are hard to come by and once they do come, three months is normally the limit of their stay. I personally believe one helper is necessary if you want to maintain your sanity in the business. Most employees will probably be intellectually inferior and good conversation will be hard to come by, in fact i pretty much just smile and nod to my guys when they make comments do to their juvenile behavior and immoral life style, as a christian, it has been hard to deal with.
    Hire one guy anyway just for the sake of blaming mistakes on when the customer complains, she's more likely to forgive you, a couple times.:blob3:
  10. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,872

    That is true. And that's how we do it too. Bruce is correct in saying that it's tough to find good reliable, honest, workers with a good strong work ethic. As far as guys who are raised here in the U.S., very few have the work ethic and character you need. And the few who do [rightly] want to be supervisors and get more pay. So that leaves imigrant hispanics as a great source of good, high-quality laborers.

    That being said, I see nothing at all wrong with having mostly hispanic laborers. In fact, I think business that don't do it that way (at least in my area) are pretty stupid because I can almost guarantee that my workforce is more productive in every way than theres is. And I don't see a downside to hiring these guys. The only potential downside is the language gap. But a decent amount of them speak pretty good english. And those guys get the crew leader positions. The ones who don't are mostly stuck in laborer positions.

    NOW, on to the original question:

    I can only tell you my experiences and observations. Obviously, my experiences and opinions will vary from people like Bruce. But that's cool. You're asking for a wide range of opinions so that's what you'll get.

    I started out in this business dead broke and with the scrubbiest set-up you could ever imagine. (If you want to read the whole story of my initial set-up do a search for "camaro" and my name. There's an old thread about it.) And from that set-up and being dead broke I've built a pretty sizeable business in a little over 7 years. We're not what I call "Big Time" but we're well on our way.

    My opinion and experience is that it has been well worth it to have expanded and hire several employees. I reap the rewards daily. But it hasn't come without headaches and hard knocks. Has it been difficult? At times, yes. Stressed out, money strapped, employee problems, all that. But has it paid off - Yes. And if you learn from your experiences you eventually learn to prevent the stress, prevent and prepare for employee problems, plan your finances, etc.....

    See I started my business with the realization that I couldn't do it by myself for very long. Mowing lawns 40+ hours per week, day in and day out, just isn't something I could do for years on end. I am just not built that way. In fact, hard manual labor of any kind every day isn't my dream. And I intend to live out my dreams. So knowing I am not the kind of person who really enjoys hard work indefinitely, I had always planned in my mind for expansion, employees, several crews, etc. I thought about it constantly. To me, that was my only option. I sure as h3ll didn't see myself mowing lawns and doing yard work for another 30 years. That didn't excite me one bit. But owning and running a successful business where others are doing the work and I am reaping the rewards (freedom of time and money) definitely DID excite me.

    So to me, the "hassles" have always been just an acceptable part of realizing that dream. I didn't care about the hassles so much because nothing is going to get in the way of me eventually creating the business I have always wanted. And when that's your attitude, the hassles are viewed more like hurdles than hassles. I think that's what GLAN was trying to say above.

    This business - and specifically having multiple crews - has definitely been a big start on me and my family realizing our dreams. 8 years ago I was dead broke making $8 an hour in a stupid going-nowhere office job. Nowadays, I am just moving into our dream home, my wife gets to stay home and raise our family, I have a lot of the luxuries and toys I've wanted for so long. And I have pretty decent control of time. And - perhaps most importantly to me - I don't have to bust my back every day.

    These are all things I couldn't have ever had working solo. So yah, it's been worth it. And I expect things to keep getting better. We continue to have record months and every year we grow by a good 20-30% (both net and gross) and it's good!

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