So you’ve decided to make the move to build your own company and be your own boss. The freedom to select the types of jobs you love and the flexibility to create your own schedule are attractive to you. Perhaps you can out-climb any of your contemporaries and you’ve hit the payroll ceiling at your current company. Perhaps your felling skills are beyond compare and you’re ready to manage private tree stands. Maybe you’re just tired of your co-workers asking where you bought those motocross pants. Whatever the case, make sure you’re truly prepared to form your own business.
The foundation of your company must be stable for the long term, and there are components of this foundation apart from the knowledge and skills needed to engage in physical tree work. Furthermore, the fact that another entity will be hiring you to perform work is indicative of many things.
Whether they are in the swamp of a backlog or engaging in work over their heads, don’t compound the situation by allowing anything to land on your shoulders beyond what you agreed to. Consider the points laid out in this article, as they’re all important aspects of creating the peace of mind that allows you, and those around you, to work safely.
First – Coverage
Insurance coverage is the paramount component of being in business and should never be overlooked. Without proper coverage, you, your hirer and all potential clients are exposed to liability should any problem arise. Don’t jeopardize all you’ve worked so hard for by neglecting proper coverage. It is simply not worth the risk.
Types of coverage may include General Liability, Workers’ Compensation, Health and/or Disability Insurance and, in some cases, Payroll Insurance. Understand that not all are a requirement, depending on your particular market, so be sure to know the laws you must follow in the states you plan to work in. For instance, a homeowner may be happy if your General Liability is set to $500,000 per incident, but a city contract may require $1 million. You may also have to contact your insurance agency from time to time to request copies of your policy for a client or to add an entity as additionally insured. Usually, a simple call or email to your insurance agent is all it takes to create a change or addendum to your policy.
While the list may sound overwhelming, the actual cost of your requirements may surprise you – in a good way! The security you provide yourself and your clients is actually one of the best values there is in business. By holding proper coverage, you also are displaying your commitment to the industry, which is attractive to many potential clients.
Second – Contract
Make sure everything is upfront and clear before the throwline comes out. Define and document terms that work for you and your market. You may be hired along with a co-worker of your choosing. Ensure that anyone you bring into the mix is covered as well as you are. If you expect to work with the regular employees of your hirer, you may include compensation clauses for damage to your kit due to another person’s mishandling.
Obviously, your compensation needs to cover a particular percentage beyond your operating costs, so take some time to determine the rates you offer, as they may vary from client to client. Your travel time and expense should be a component here as well.
Selling work by the hour has its potential benefit, but selling in volume can be good as well. Thus, offering a reduced daily rate may be a strategy. In regard to a daily rate, define what a “day” actually is. If you’ve decided on eight hours of production, define the time at which the day begins. Also, avoid the 10- or 12-hour days without adjusting your compensation.
To create these contracts, use an application for your mobile device to make paper management smoother and less stressful. There are many free and paid options that allow syncing with all saved contacts, maps, calendars and so on. Choose an app that’s right for your needs and adjust the settings for your preferences. You can easily create “fine print” that comes along with every estimate you create and send. When the client replies with their digital signature, the terms you’ve created to protect your side of the bargain are now clear and bound.
Global-search features on your device also make quick work of referencing information. You are backed up by the specifics in your work order. Make job descriptions that are clear for you and the client. If a significant amount of time goes by from the date of estimate to the date of production, memory may not serve you as well as you’d like, and this could lead to a discrepancy between you and the client. Imagine you are creating the work orders for someone else to use without your presence. This technique will help you in the long run. If you’ve completed what was on the work order and the client wants more, you can safely show there will be an additional cost.
Most applications can convert an estimate into an invoice, which can be sent via email once the work is complete. The option also may be available to receive payments online by linking your business account to the app. Many clients appreciate this convenience, and you may, too.
Your application also may be handy for quarterly tax payments and creating profit and loss forms when tax time comes along. Reduce the burden each April and be ahead of the game.
Third – Communication
While coverage is first and foremost, communication is still one of the most important pieces of the puzzle, since it is an ongoing aspect. It begins before the work and continues well beyond actual production. Don’t be surprised if good communication is what gets you hired, even if a competitor has some type of edge on you. There are enough challenges in the world of tree care. Solid communication can truly smooth over these variables, while a lack thereof can certainly exacerbate them.
Consider the individuals or entities that may hire you. For many of them, operating their company is demanding enough, even when there are regular employees showing up for work on a daily basis. Add a subcontractor into the mix and the orchestration is even more difficult. Make it your concerted effort not to leave a company hanging if, for any reason, you are unable to meet your part of the bargain. No matter how close to the job date, it is beyond a courtesy to contact those who may be affected. People need time to react and adjust, and if their job is hinging on your presence, you’d better either be there or convey ahead of time that you can’t make it.
It’s also important to consider whether any of your kit’s components are out of commission. The efficiency of the job may be at stake if you are not providing the equipment that is expected. Did the pigtail keeper break on your lowering device, leaving it in need of repair? Did your lowering line melt to the bollard on the last job, leaving it too short to handle that tall pine tree tomorrow? Are you sick and in need of rest? No matter the size and specifics of your operation, be sure not to waste anyone else’s resources, especially their time.
The fourth “C” of this article isn’t necessarily to summarize, but to insert a perspective. While your ability to generate income doesn’t hinge on the three C’s above, it wouldn’t take much to lose all you’ve earned should something go wrong. Accidents do happen, job specifics do change without notice and miscommunication is a reality we all face. Make every effort to keep these things to an absolute minimum, and “you’ll be wearin’ diamonds, kid.”
Eric Brendan Whipple is owner of Whipple Tree, LLC, based in Westport, Massachusetts.
This article was based on his presentation on the same subject at TCI EXPO in Charlotte, North Carolina, last fall. To listen to an audio recording of that presentation, go to this page in the digital version of this issue online, under the Publications tab, and click here.