Starting a snow-removal business is not for the faint of heart. You’ve got a huge outlay of cash to start, at around $60,000 for a good truck and plow. Plus, you’re entering a service industry, which means dealing with consumers, who aren’t always easy to understand or please (and this is at an all-time high because of COVID-related stress). But, if you’re patient and stick with it, you will succeed, carving out a living that makes you your own boss and gives you some freedom to enjoy a (somewhat) flexible lifestyle.
We spoke with a man who has operated a snow-removal business for over 40 years, and he was happy to share some of the things he’s learned along the way:
Determine your target job and get the right equipment for it. If you are doing residential driveways and your equipment is too large, you’ll have difficulty maneuvering. If you go too small, you’ll lose money because you can’t get enough done quickly enough to make a profit. For example, if you have a lot of sidewalks, such as on a commercial site, you may want a snowblower. If you just do residential properties, with a few short feet of sidewalk, a shovel may suffice, if you’re fast.
You need liability coverage for snowplowing. You need a general liability insurance policy with a snowplowing rider. That important. Get the rider. You cannot afford to risk it.
Have a clear but concise contract that states costs, times of service, contact information, and any additional services like salting, so that both parties know what the responsibilities of the snow-removal professional are. There are plenty of free snow removal contract templates out there to help you get started.
If you’re serious about building a business, residential properties and small business properties are good places to start. Do the job extremely well because these are the clients who will become your references for getting those major contracts.
On seasonal-contract properties, stake the property prior to the first snowfall. While not all snow-removal contractors do this, the snowplow operator should take responsibility for damaged yards. Remember, you’re building a reputation, and fixing up a few rough spots in someone’s yard in the spring will go a long way to making you a true professional.
Start with small jobs that allow you to do the best job possible. You need to build your reputation if you want to make it in the business. Accepting a job that’s beyond your ability or accepting too many jobs that must be done by 7 a.m. will destroy you. Be realistic. You will fail if you try to take on too much work at once.
If your equipment fails, you need a backup. If you can’t get the job done you’ve contracted to do, it’s bad for business and may become a liability issue, especially if your customers are businesses. Find a way to get coverage if you can’t get there, whether it’s through a friend who also plows, a subcontractor or a company like Plowz and Mowz that deals with multiple contractors and can find someone available.
Many customers, especially commercial property owners, will want salt and ice control as part of the plowing deal. That’s fine, but it needs to be a separate part of the contract with separate fees and—here’s the important part—make sure it’s worded so that the property owner makes the decision that salt is needed and on what areas. If you get a phone call or text from one of your clients asking for salt or ice control, document that information and keep it.
Learn how to properly stack snow. Avoid visibility issues. Do not pile snow in the last 8 feet of driveways, entrances, exits because you do not want to restrict the line of sight in any way. Pile the snow in a well-drained area as far from the common activity areas on the property as you can. Remember that the snow is eventually going to melt, so you don’t want it running into the property’s basement, septic tank, or onto sidewalks or driveways.
Smart guys starting out contact established snow-removal professionals to see if they’re interested in any subcontractors. It’s a great way to get your feet wet and build your reputation. Working with a company like Plowz and Mowz that helps connect you with customers who need your services is also a major boost for new contractors. Word of mouth is the best advertising, but people must have used your service to talk! Setting up your own website is a good idea, but you need to wait for search engines to recognize your site (and there’s a whole more to keeping a site visible to Google that than just going to a free “build your site” online app).
Finally, be happy and courteous. Smile at your clients. Wave. Look like you enjoy what you’re doing and take pride in that job well done. People will notice!
Posted on October 26, 2021
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