Solo Operators...Rolling in the dough???

Discussion in 'Lawn Mowing' started by Lovingreen, Sep 17, 2006.

  1. Lovingreen

    Lovingreen LawnSite Member
    Messages: 147

    I have read allot of posts lately about owners scaling back and running solo. How much does the average Solo Operator take home after all expenses in a season compared with the average operator running a crew and maintaining a larger scale operation?

    I could probably tweak my business and make a little more Solo, but I feel like I am capped at about 50K coming home after all is paid and that is with no room for slacking. As I turn 30, I feel as though I have no chance of sustaining this business into the future without taking it to the next level.

    I am crunching numbers and fairly certain that my gross income will grow as company grows into employees next year with the increase in the number of properties maintained and another slight price increase, but will the bottom line grow? The job changes completely from a labor oriented position to more of management role. But why are so many downsizing? Are they just poor managers or is the market such that the extra expenses make the costs per stop such that they just cant compete and maintain the number of properties needed?

    What is your story? I want to hear from as many operators as can reply about you success or failures related to the growth of your company. What would you do differently if you were to start over?
  2. LindblomRJ

    LindblomRJ LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,570

    When you hire employees, you open a whole new can of worms...

    Workers comp, payroll taxes etc. Now that you have a employees, one assumption is quality control will be more difficult. The owner will spend more time behind the desk with administration. Some will hire an office manager, again one more person on the payroll.

    Then you have to wonder if the employees will show up. Will they be just as productive as you. Will they adhere to the assigned route. Will the do a job at the customers that is up to your standard and be consistent.

    That is the reality of having employees.
  3. AL Inc

    AL Inc LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,209

    I started my business 12 years ago as a solo operator. Pretty much ran that season by myself with some help when I needed it. I finished that season with 20-22 accounts. Not much work, I was working a part time job with a pool service as well. I really never wanted to be a solo operator, and started building my business to get to a point where I didn't have to do the physical work anymore.
    There is the beauty of being self run your business the way you want. I can completely respect the guys who are solo and make a nice living for themselves. Solo is just not for me. And looking to the future, I doubt that I could keep up the pace that I have worked the last 12 years. I guess there is good and bad to either end of the spectrum.
    If there is one thing I would change about the way I ran my business in the past, I would have focused less on growing the maintenance end of my business, and focused more on hardscaping and landscape install work. I was so focused on being a big maintenace company, I turned down a lot of really profitable landscape work. Now I just have one three man crew for maintenance, and a crew that does the hardscape and install work. My life and my bottom line have never been better.
  4. YardPro

    YardPro LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,570

    you are seeing the light....

    YES there are the associated problems with hiring employees, but lindblomrj's post is not really accurate.

    having employees is the only way to have something that you can retire with.

    Your income is about where i see others maxing out. The first few years you could possibly make a little less, but the payoff will be worth it...

    look at it this way. If you can make and keep $50K and YOU are carrying all the overhead, simply adding one more person will dramatically increase your income.

    Even if you only add $35K per year in business, you will be paying at the max $20K ( more realistically $12-16K). You will not have any significant overhead added. You will be working with the same equipment and truck....

    like AL said, i think the construction is a better way to make money....
    Two guys and I doing construction generate as much revenue as 2- 3 man mowing crews, and 2 pool tecs.
  5. indy2tall

    indy2tall LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 417

    I have been a part timer my entire 3 years in business so I have never attempted hiring an employee. However my experience at my full time job really makes me wonder how the big companies do it. At my full time job we are union with full benefits making well over $20 an hour and we STILL have trouble getting more than 75% of the work force to show up on Mondays and Fridays in the summer. If a company can not get people making $20 an hour to show up how do you get people making half that to show up?
  6. Turfcutters Plus

    Turfcutters Plus LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 391

    I tried it for 3 years and didn't like it one bit.I knew i had to be solo.:hammerhead:
  7. Josh.S

    Josh.S LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,085

    I would only hire people if you could trust them, maybe a long time friend or something. My business is just ran with me and a friend, I do about 50-70% of the mowing by myself, and I also do all the paperwork and billing. Next year I am hoping to expand by buying another trailer, and another mower, so he can mow a certain route and I can mow a certain route. Since it is somebody I can trust, I know he will show up, take care of my equipment, and do a good job. I wouldn't just go hire a random person that wants a job and then sit in the office doing billing...
  8. LindblomRJ

    LindblomRJ LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,570

    Having had employees that is one thing I don't miss.

    How is having employees good retirement planning? Prove it.
  9. YardPro

    YardPro LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,570

    first off you will make more money,

    second, once you have GOOD people in place you will have to do very little with the business.. It can basically run itself, still providing you with a paycheck.
    lastly when you build a business, you HAVE SOMETHING TANGABLE that you can sell.

    both of the above worked out pretty well for our previous owner.. drew a $65K/year salary, plus A LOT of perks. He just sold the business for well into the 6 figures. I have been running his business for the last 7 years for him (after merging my business of 9 years with his company). He only did the a&P's and payroll.. and was still able to make a living.

    what are you going to do when you are 70 is you have no employees to do the work???? Looks like you'll be looking for that door greeter job at walyworld.

    if you are not able to have sucess with employees, then you are just an independant mower jockey, and not a business person...
    It takes a lot more than being skilled at landscape work to run a landscape business. Running a business can be stressful, etc.. but the payoffs can be more than worth the stresses.
  10. Green-Pro

    Green-Pro LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,420

    I agree with AL, if you want something that will continue to generate an income for yourself without ALL of the physical work being done by you than employees are for you.

    I started my business in 2005 as a solo, quickly mushroomed into one full time employee by mid June, and two more by seasons end. This year we Started with two part time and two full time. We are now down to one full time and one part time, not by choice but rather poor employees. Hiring after the season starts seems to be a real headache as nobody wants to be employed for 2 or 3 months then no work. The two remaining employees are well worth the money and I am planning on providing payroll over the winter for them in order to retain them.
    We have doubled our sales from last season and then some, this has been a real challenge considering we lost the other two employees.
    Like Al and Yardpro have already stated, don't let opportunities to work landscape and hardscape projects pass you by. I can tell you that this has contributed a great deal to our bottom line. Lawn maintenance is about 40% of our business, with pretty much the remainder split between the hardscape/landscape end.

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