Going From Lawn Maintenance to Tree Work...How did you do it?

trippintrees

New Member
Hey Treebuzz Pros!

I am a relatively new member to the site. I have so far enjoyed all of the good conversations about the business. Seem like pretty much everyone on here is willing to help each other out. Thus, why I am sticking my hand up, saying I need help please!

So....I am a current lawn maintenance and landscape business owner. 3 1/2 years in business, full time job 1st year, moved 3 hours away the 2nd year for school (traveled back home on weekends to work), moved back home for the beginning of the 3rd year and have been focused on growing my business into a legitimate landscape and lawn maintenance competitor in my market. I currently am a owner/operator, employing 1 full time employee and utilizing 2-3 part time on call guys during growing season. No advertising or marketing campaigns all just word of mouth. My enclosed trailer still doesn't have my company logo or phone number on it. However, because of the spot that I am in with too much work and having to turn down some business, I need to do something with that Rolling Billboard of mine so more people will call and I can hire that 2nd full time guy and I can take a seat back for a few seconds. Business has been good and I am looking forward to another blessing of a year, next year.

However, with anybody with a truck and trailer, can obtain the necessary equipment to underbid any job and bring the profit margins even lower for everybody. Which is why I am wanting to expand my business into other services such as, chemical lawn care and tree work. I will either hire a licensed spray tech employee or subcontract the work out. I have no interest in learning everything I need to obtain the proper license nor do I have the time because I am studying to become ISA certified and trying to run a business.

The problem I am running into, as most of you all can guess, is INSURANCE.

I live in the State of Georgia (extrmely close to Florida, which is a market I would like to pursue) (ANY INFO WOULD BE GREATLY APPRECIATED!)

General Liability isn't that big of an issue although my premium will most likely rise 500% of what I am paying now. $1,000,000 for $5500/year with $150,000 gross revenue is the quote I received last week. Insurance agent just asked about projected revenue. The past two years lawn care side of things has been $115,000 (2014) $125,000 (2015) so I just added an extra $25k to the equation knowing I would make at least that much with lawn care or either hoping to get some business with tree work. (Tree work, for me will be a small start, I don't have any heavy equipment. I will climb everything and rig it down one small piece at a time, therefore I will not be able to handle every job out there.) I still think that premium of $5k is pretty high with an additional $2k for commercial auto policy (covering a 2009 silverado and 2014 enclosed trailer)

Workers Comp is a different animal...
It doesn't make sense for me to take on the a full policy for this type of coverage because of my expected low revenue for the 1st year.
I would like to have the coverage though, I can't afford to be sued and me, as a consumer, would only choose a tree service that is fully insured.

One agent, who is kindly waiting on my paperwork without hounding me, is trying to set me up with a Pay-As-You-Go workers comp. Which sounds great since I am in just getting started with the tree industry and revenue will be low. Kicker is, they want to take over my payroll. Which means roughly 20% for workers comp, FICA, and then their "service fee" of another 5 %. Brings the grand total to somewhere around 35% of wages. For tree work, that sounds about right (I guess so, I don't like that extra 5% but its Tree Work, that is why it is expensive, right?) The kicker is, because I and my employee will be performing both task of Trees and Lawn, every hour that we work will be charged at the Higher Code of Tree Worker. Those numbers simply don't work for the lawn care industry, that will put me out of business in a hurry. I thought about opening up another entity just for trees to avoid being charged that amount for workers comp, however I will then have to have 2 general liability policies, 2 business licenses, 2 workers comp insurance policies, bank accounts, taxes, etc. etc. etc. Also, if I do go with this Pay As You Go service and no employee hours are taken during a week, another service fee will still be charged.

So....with after writing all of this and for the few of you that made it through it all (thank you) the question(s) is/are:

+How did you over come this hurdle?
+Did you start in lawn maintenance and then graduate to trees?
+Did you start from nothing and just did jobs carefully without insurance and then go out and buy one of those policies that want $25k down plus monthly premiums?
+Are you still not carrying Works Comp and just praying?
+Have you used a Pay as you go Comp?
+As an owner/operator are you excluded from the workers comp policy (I currently am from lawn service comp)
+Could I be excluded from policy in the State of Georgia and also Florida?


TreeBuzz- I appreciate the time spent reading and any response to my post.


-Tripp
 

rfwoodvt

Well-Known Member
First, let me welcome you to the Buzz, Tripp.

You are asking great questions...don't stop asking them!

I'll try to address your questions in turn, just keep in mind, this is just my story, not advice!!!

I sort of "fell" into the trees. I had been a financial programmer for years when I walked away from my desk to save my soul and life. I started out seal coating asphalt driveways, got into snow-plowing and eventually lawn maintenance. Pretty soon customers wanted this pruned, that pruned and another taken down. such work accounted for about a quarter of my revenues. Since I worked alone, and Vermont does not require WC on a sole prop, I had no WC. But I always carried GCL.

I also made sure that all my emails and other correspondence with my insurance people were filed and kept as they told them exactly what I was looking for for coverage and what I did for work, that way if they got me the wrong policies I had some leverage should something go south.

Anyhow, after 6 years of lawn work with occasional tree work we had a massive winter ice storm that kept me busy. We talked about what tree work could do for the business and decided to make it an equal component of our operations, not just an adjunct.Within 2 years tree work was the bulk of our sales and we dropped lawn care followed by snow removal a few years later.

I still worked alone and hired loggers to help with the ground work. Since they were already established as sole-props with their own insurance I played the game of them being independents. In retrospect,that probably crossed back and forth between legal and not.

Eventually I had the opportunity to chase some hurricanes and took my show on the road to Florida. At that time I was still operating alone but found I would need regular help to keep things moving down there. I brought in a mountain rescue instructor to work with me.
Since he came as a "consultant" I treated him as an independent, again, probably technically legal, but in enough gray area I might have had to spend some time and money defending my position.

Anyhow, since Florida did not require workers comp for fewer than 4 employees at that time, nor on the principle owner, I didn't carry it.

After a while I kept the consultant on but he stopped being independent and more clearly became an employee. it was at that time that I decided to deal with all the payroll issues and WC.

Since I was a financial programmer in the past, and since I abhor paying a percentage of my work to anybody (even flat fees are problematic in my mind!) doing my own payroll was the only way I would go. Especially since it was just me and a couple part timers.

Keep in mind, though, if you have a large enough payroll paying a service or even an employee leasing agency may be well worth the pennies.

Anyhow, for my Insurance I contacted Farm Family insurance (http://farmfamily.com) and they hooked me up with WC, GCL, IM and other options. They were most reasonable and solved my WC problem. Most importantly, they had no minimum premium which, though the rate was high (24%), made it affordable from the get-go. I still don't carry it on myself though as the premium for that is beyond my tolerance.

I have been with them now about 10 years and have had to file only a couple of claims. One IM and one WC. The IM was handled without question and quickly. The WC claim is still being paid for ongoing treatments (over a year now) and I'm still finding it affordable with no apparent change in rates as a result.

Anyhow, be diligent, play above board, and if you are going to ride the razor's edge, don't lose sight of your integrity! Your integrity in the small things will make you better equipped to handle the large things. Not to mention, your customers will find out if your integrity has holes and that will kill your business.
 

tomthetreeman

Well-Known Member
+How did you over come this hurdle?
+Did you start in lawn maintenance and then graduate to trees?
+Did you start from nothing and just did jobs carefully without insurance and then go out and buy one of those policies that want $25k down plus monthly premiums?
+Are you still not carrying Works Comp and just praying?
+Have you used a Pay as you go Comp?
+As an owner/operator are you excluded from the workers comp policy (I currently am from lawn service comp)
+Could I be excluded from policy in the State of Georgia and also Florida?
I started much the same way as Rick. I had GL and worked with subs and family. The DAY I got employees I had WC in place, for the correct rate. It's a real drag that you can't split up your policy, it's the same way here. Some states allow it, but that's one of the issues with the deregulation of the insurance industry (thank Reagan for starting it and the subsequent congresses under Bush, Clinton and Obama for not fixing it.). If I were you, I would look at having two entities, especially if you have a decent profit margin from the landscaping work. Or perhaps you could have your seasonal lawn guys obtain liability insurance and pay them as subs. You could even help them with the up front costs if possible, to make it more palatable. Then you could exclude yourself and only have one employee on the tree WC payroll. This wouldn't be 100% legit, but it's the lesser of two liabilities. Just thinking out loud here.

-Tom

PS - Pay as you go is THE WAY TO GO!
 

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