Lessons learned from under bidding the removal of 6 holly bushes.

Sure it’s great to make as much money as you can but if that means bidding on unfamiliar jobs, you have to be careful not to lose money. That is what happened here with this landscaper when he underbid a bush removal job. When everything was completed, the job ended up taking twice as long as expected. So be wary that such situations can happen to you and read these lessons from the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum that were learned from the event so you don’t have to repeat them.

One lawn care business owner wrote “I have a new lawn care customer that wanted 6 fully grown holly bushes and one dead hibiscus tree removed. 4 Small crepe myrtles trimmed and her small lawn cut. I thought it was a 5 hour job since I do not usually remove bushes. I did not want to lose this customer as a weekly lawn care customer so I bid the job on the lower side of the range I thought it would take.

I wasn’t real sure on what it should have been worth. This customer seems like she would be a good long term client and would make one hell of a reference. Now though I am getting the idea she feels I don’t know what I am doing. I got that feeling from the way she reacted to my bid price, jumped on it, and said when can you start! Around my area the average sized lawn (3,000 sf) is mowed for $35. I am unsure though of what the normal charge is for digging up shrubs.

I based my estimate on 5 hours of work at $35 an hours with no additional charge for hauling out the waste. When all was said and done however the job almost took me twice as long. It took a total of 9 hours and I bid $175.00. The customer actually paid $200 only because she knew I screwed up and I guess she felt bad, but it was my fault bidding on a job I never did before.

I didn’t take into account the limited space there was to work in and a brick walkway right next to the shrubs that was very old. I had to be careful not to damage the walkway as there was only 6 inches of space between them. The hollies were hard to get out but the hibiscus plant, oh my god these things like to root in there good. It took a heck of a long time to get that out.

To make it all that much more fun, when I started the chain saw it gave out on me and wouldn’t start again, so I had to do all the sawing by hand. Not that the chain saw would have helped that much anyway as there was not enough space. Then at the end I was cleaning up and the gear on the pulley for the blower decided it had enough and that broke. I need to get that fixed tomorrow. Well I guess I will learn from this and should have bid around $500. I also should have spent the extra money on commercial grade equipment and not this consumer grade crap.

Well I guess I am getting more used to how long it takes to do these different jobs. So far no upset  customers. Everyone seems happy and I guess that is because they are getting a good deal on my work.”

A second lawn care business owner said “this is a great example of how when you don’t know for sure how long a job will take, what ever bid price you come up with, double it and then you will have a good chance of at least breaking even when it’s all said and done.

With such a job, I have learned from experience that the first thing you need to get is a pony shovel. You have to ask for them and they are not everywhere. These shovels are very sharp and you need to keep them that way in order to cut through roots. Otherwise you can spend all day hacking through roots with a dull shovel. They will cost $30 - $40 bucks but are well worth it.

I dug up an 18ft magnolia and loaded it solo in 30 minutes last Monday with the help of a pony shovel. It actually took me more time to plant than dig. I charge $35 hr plus $100 a load to the dump. It will take me an hour to dump, $35 a ton charge, and $15 bucks in tolls. So that leaves me with $50+ depending on the weight. If you don’t plan to keep the trees after, you could always dig the dirt around the trunk and saw it under the grade. Unless you are planting on the site, there is really no need to dig a root ball out. If it comes down to saving time for better profit, sacrifice some chain saw blades. Cut the roots all the way around the trunk. It will ruin the blades fast so weigh the cost to time gain. If you have small roots, you can hand saw them as well. I like to cut around the base and tie a rope up in the tree and down to my rider. I use the mower hydros to yank the rest of the bushes or small trees out like that.”

A third business owner said “it sounds like you had rough lesson learned. It happens. Just remember next time how long it took and bid it accordingly. In time you will figure it out and your bids will get better. When I am unsure of the time it will take I simply tell the customer that this is outside of my normal operations and it should take around X amount of hours to complete but to be sure I will work and bill by the hour.

I charge $35.00 per hour for this type of work and as long as you work hard and steady, the customers don’t complain. If I bring a staff member with me I charge $55.00 per hour. I don’t do much of this type of work because I have too much lawn mowing to do. I mostly prefer to do these type of jobs in the off season when I have more time on my hands.”

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