It's mid-April and I'm uncertain whether to find a crew to climb for this summer or go-it alone, need advice/counsel!

eyehearttrees

Active Member
Location
Tampa-Area
I'd ultimately like to work with the more prestigious groups in my area but have had horrible luck with "Joe Schmoe Trees" companies so far and need to decide whether to place my hopes on working with an unknown crew (literally just going by craigslist and hoping for the best, only good crews I know of are not needing climbers), OR just work for myself :D

I reallllllly want to do things myself here and am hoping to know what obstacles I could be unaware of... I've spent summers as a groundie about 5-6yrs ago, and from then have been solo doing both handyman & landscaping work including basic arbor work, it was beginning of last year I got proper equipment and began doing smaller jobs for my long-term clients (have >30 "in my rolodex") and later in the year I started also doing jobs for 2 local, small-scale tree-specific companies. I'm able to get easy help (brother) for a groundie when needed. I don't have a chipper and my truck died so am in a sedan now but the guy I was a groundie for years ago is "mostly-retired" now at 45 and just wants to make-$$ from owning his shredder&trailer and he's eager to "be my lumber-trashman" so to speak!

So now I'm basically thinking "Find what insurance requires, get it, begin!", heck I've got a LOT of walk-on work once-insured (many of my clients were/are eager for my help but w/o insurance you can only go so far w/o it being gross negligence/unethical yknow), in fact I'm writing this post when I'd come to the computer to "get insurers' #'s to see what the deal is" lol but am approaching it blind... From what I've been able to gather it seems there's an "in-between" type of insurance that's Trees *and* Landscaping and is cheaper, and since I'm still very much doing landscape jobs as well I figure I'd qualify there....but past that I just know "$1M policy is lowest you should get", and that I need a license---this is where I'm confused because ISA is only real accrediting body I knew and so far as I understand it you do *not* need ISA to get insurance, but what else? Will be calling the permit/licensing "board"/agency after submitting this and see what I can glean from their clerks but *any* insight you guys can give would be greatly appreciated :D
 

eyehearttrees

Active Member
Location
Tampa-Area
Working alone is a great anti-covid-19 strategy.
ROFL touche!

FWIW to be clear my brother always helps me on ropes when needed, and my ultimate goal is to be doing projects that'll require 2+ good/competent parties but for now, in deciding between solo & gambling on a random company, am seeing solo as being an easier way to segue into contract-climbing w/ better companies....ideal position in 2yrs would be doing most of my work solo, and like a quarter of my work helping-out others w/ larger/more-difficult job...Fear going to a local company and wasting a year finding out I'm not going to be able to progress much w/ them *and* didn't pick up much practical experience, would feel like a waste of a year, while if I go solo even if it's messy it should be one hell of a learning-experience and help me much more w/ where I want to get!
 

TreeVB

Well-Known Member
Location
Boise, Idaho
I would first figure out what kind of tree work you enjoy/want to do. Is it the "manly" giant work with mostly removals, smaller pruning or a mixture in the middle? Then find out what your market is in those areas. Can you compete with them in an efficient manner? Also, you are talking about plans 2 years down the road when you should be thinking even further than that. How comfortable are you with the business end of things? Is there a time of year that slows down that you have to "float" through?
Just a few questions to ask yourself. Running your own show can be awesome and the freedom that comes with it is unbeatable compared to being an employee. But, if you set it up wrong it can eat your life away.
 

Njdelaney

Well-Known Member
Location
Detroit
I'm not a tree professional, I'm a nurse. However, before that I was a masonry contractor for 12 years. I worked for a small but high quality outfit for 5 years before being let go due to the criminal banking/mortgage crisis that hit many people. I decided to go it alone and was self-employed for the next 7 years. I worked alone 95% of the time which can get tedious and physically demanding as a mason(setting up all your own scaffold, mixing and moving your own mortar, pouring sidewalk or a floor alone, cleaning up all the mess, leaving the job to get materials if you forget one thing, doing all your own bidding, etc) but what you can't beat is the complete control over the quality of every part of your work, the lack of pressure to provide income for another person(s) and the freedom to take the jobs you want and say no thanks to the ones you don't based only on your own risk/benefit and needs. You'll also get really good at time management. I was never insured, which I realize is less than ideal but I just flat couldn't afford it for the first few years. I was always honest with clients about this if they asked, and that honesty alone was enough for most people. I also worked as a sub for many residential builders and none of them cared that I wasn't insured because my work was excellent, reasonably priced, and I didn't act like a neanderthal on the job site. By the time I decided to go to nursing school I had built my business up enough that it was actually very profitable and I was getting alot more calls than I could handle on referrals alone. Tree work and landscaping are very competitive and largely undervalued as skills by the general public and people readily go for the cheapest guy, even if he will not be in business in a year because he underbid everyone and ended up broke or messed up a job big time, so make sure you have other stuff to do while you build your tree business, like the landscaping clients you mentioned. You can't count on having a job if you go to work for someone else, no matter how solid something seems and even worse you may end up really frustrated or unhappy. If you focus on investing back in to your business and living lean for the next 5 years, getting really good at your trade and learning how to bid to be profitable rather than worrying about getting the work no matter what, you can do this. A nice compromise would be to work as a hired gun for an established business or two on a part-time or piecemeal basis so you can continue learning, make some money and leave time to do your own jobs. My .02
 

Mowerr

Well-Known Member
Location
Ny
You definitely need to get on a legitimate tree crew. Please I beg you. You need to be willing to work the ground a lot if your gonna get any air time with your little experience. Do whatever it takes and listen to whatever your trainer says(certified arborist).
Leave them fusion rings at home if you do find a job with a legit and certified crew. Most will do a gear inspection and are not going to risk a law suit because your pinching pennies.
 

rope-a-dope

Well-Known Member
Location
Asheville
I think the missing link is probably the existing companies/crews and the quality there. I do hope there is someone qualified to offer mentorship, training, or apprenticeship. Or even a high caliber crew doing frequent technical work, just to befriend or give referrals. There is also the possibility that the only game in town is a bucket butcher with a crew of gators. There is probably a reason eyehearttrees is always askin questions on tree buzz, amiright?
So it may be the best course to forge ahead into the unknown, posting questions with your porta brother, and fill the local arborist vacancy....
IdK
 

swingdude

De' Island Buzzer
Location
Barbados
It is a hard call. With little experience and no training you won't get airtime on any crew. Best to stick with the landscaping and tackle trees you are comfortable with. Use the forum here a pick folks with their knowledge. As you get more climbtime you can tackle more technical jobs. Stay humble and always know youf limitations. Rec climb a fucking lot. Get to trust gear and use proper rope access. Learn tree biology. Read and absorb. You can make it.
 

eyehearttrees

Active Member
Location
Tampa-Area
I would first figure out what kind of tree work you enjoy/want to do. Is it the "manly" giant work with mostly removals, smaller pruning or a mixture in the middle?
I prefer sprawling canopies, and limbing to removing, but no specific sub-genre of climbing-arborism would be undesirable :) Am relying on a guy (I was his groundie years ago :D ) for my grinding/hauling as I don't have a chipper, he's early-retired and kept his chipper & F250 and is eager to make $$ w/ them, already spoke to him and he's 100% on-board :)


Then find out what your market is in those areas.
Luckily ~5yrs of handyman work got me a small but 'loyal' client base around low-30's, and when I was uninsured-but-eager last spring I found (as-expected) that most were psyched I had the ability now (because I'm cheap/'good-value', have always had a "repeat business" mindset when it comes to pricing & conduct) but when push came to shove a good ~50% weren't OK w/ uninsured jobs (some of it was stuff I simply wouldn't consider w/o insurance anyway!), at any rate the moment I have active insurance I already have jobs-waiting, and I've always been "lucky" insofar as finding clients for instance if I spend 2d doing a front-lawn tree job, so often a neighbor/passerby/etc ends up wanting me as well in fact I've got a lil street by me where all-but-1 house are my clients :)

Can you compete with them in an efficient manner?
I charge $20/hr flat right now....I'd be OK taking a pay-cut to $15/hr when all's said&done so I think I can be VERY competitive perhaps the most-competitive because $$ isn't much of a concern right now (so long as food's still on the table I'll be happy, wouldn't be sore if I spent 1/4yr and found I'd hardly netted more than I do now, would simply start changing rates & altering as-necessary once that time comes!), I mean it'd be different if I had kids/mortgage but thankfully(?poor word-choice!) that's not the case, I'd be happy to work trees all day even if I had to take a hit in my 20/hr pay, I think that puts me in a real strong position in this regard, pretty much EVERY quote I've been privy to I think "wow I would've felt weird quoting 75% of that" lol! Maybe insurance premiums are far more expensive than I've been led to believe (had been informed it's around $100/mo for a 1M policy, will have to look into that today)


Also, you are talking about plans 2 years down the road when you should be thinking even further than that. How comfortable are you with the business end of things? Is there a time of year that slows down that you have to "float" through?
In FL the slow period is like 2mo and I can fall-back onto a lot (in fact I expect I'll still be a handyman, as-needed, for at least a handful of my "vulnerable" clients, til they croak or til I'm incapable)

For business experience I've run silly "businesses" (had an ebay business selling students' stuff in college, would take 1/3rd of the selling-price), was a full (hiring/firing/annual-#'s/etc) manager for GNC, I dislike the admin-end of things but am capable.

Would love any clarification on "Also, you are talking about plans 2 years down the road when you should be thinking even further than that"! I'm mid-30's and f'd up by not planning at all, even a 2yr-plan - if serious & something that's real (not "goals") - is probably an improvement! But..
- For over a year now the plan has been that, in a couple years, my brother & I split the down payment on an undesirable, wooded parcel of land (and fell the trees/build a house - his experience isn't as broad as mine but it's specialty fine-wood-working so happy to have his skillset here), sadly in my thread on using the lumber for it Tom Dunlap told me about building regulations that may disallow me to use the lumber so have to get final word on that!
- Realty will always be the end goal. I don't want/intend to stop messing with trees until my body tells me to, but all profit is meant to go to realty, first & foremost goal is a free&clear I can know I'll always have, then start attempt-#-2 at flipping (I got *flayed* in late 2007 when the market flipped, so lame I had no excuse not to be ready / knew it was coming / still got caught & lost everything :/ So Round-2 is a long time in the coming, thankfully this time I've got real solid experience w/ building/tradeswork, can't help but laugh at my former self when remembering all the 'rookie mistakes' I'd made on that renovation!

Thanks a lot for replying, didn't expect to get so nervous over all this am grateful to be able to discuss it / get advice from others :D
 

eyehearttrees

Active Member
Location
Tampa-Area
Whoops missed last part :p
Just a few questions to ask yourself. Running your own show can be awesome and the freedom that comes with it is unbeatable compared to being an employee. But, if you set it up wrong it can eat your life away.
Well-put! Yeah my prior failure in realty in late '07 did eat my life & everything I had and cared about (excepting my awesome dog, and my terrible self-destructive compulsions :/ ) Took a couple years to even get myself ready to start things over (that whole episode had me losing my fiance of 9.5yrs, I'd never learned *anything* administrative she'd handled that for me from senior year HS til 27y/o, was an adult-teenager basically)
Have always worked (not working, when able, is almost an ethics thing to me) and definitely moved-towards, and found I was very comfortable in, self-directed/self-managed operations - their hurdles have always been easier than having to work w/ someone you don't work-well with (whether it's poor performance, or just hating being on-job which is basically most of your waking hours/consciousness, so IMO it's a biggie! I know some - like my father - would only care about wages and not conditions "because work is work" but I don't see it that way)
 

colb

Well-Known Member
Location
Florida
I prefer sprawling canopies, and limbing to removing, but no specific sub-genre of climbing-arborism would be undesirable :) Am relying on a guy (I was his groundie years ago :D ) for my grinding/hauling as I don't have a chipper, he's early-retired and kept his chipper & F250 and is eager to make $$ w/ them, already spoke to him and he's 100% on-board :)



Luckily ~5yrs of handyman work got me a small but 'loyal' client base around low-30's, and when I was uninsured-but-eager last spring I found (as-expected) that most were psyched I had the ability now (because I'm cheap/'good-value', have always had a "repeat business" mindset when it comes to pricing & conduct) but when push came to shove a good ~50% weren't OK w/ uninsured jobs (some of it was stuff I simply wouldn't consider w/o insurance anyway!), at any rate the moment I have active insurance I already have jobs-waiting, and I've always been "lucky" insofar as finding clients for instance if I spend 2d doing a front-lawn tree job, so often a neighbor/passerby/etc ends up wanting me as well in fact I've got a lil street by me where all-but-1 house are my clients :)


I charge $20/hr flat right now....I'd be OK taking a pay-cut to $15/hr when all's said&done so I think I can be VERY competitive perhaps the most-competitive because $$ isn't much of a concern right now (so long as food's still on the table I'll be happy, wouldn't be sore if I spent 1/4yr and found I'd hardly netted more than I do now, would simply start changing rates & altering as-necessary once that time comes!), I mean it'd be different if I had kids/mortgage but thankfully(?poor word-choice!) that's not the case, I'd be happy to work trees all day even if I had to take a hit in my 20/hr pay, I think that puts me in a real strong position in this regard, pretty much EVERY quote I've been privy to I think "wow I would've felt weird quoting 75% of that" lol! Maybe insurance premiums are far more expensive than I've been led to believe (had been informed it's around $100/mo for a 1M policy, will have to look into that today)



In FL the slow period is like 2mo and I can fall-back onto a lot (in fact I expect I'll still be a handyman, as-needed, for at least a handful of my "vulnerable" clients, til they croak or til I'm incapable)

For business experience I've run silly "businesses" (had an ebay business selling students' stuff in college, would take 1/3rd of the selling-price), was a full (hiring/firing/annual-#'s/etc) manager for GNC, I dislike the admin-end of things but am capable.

Would love any clarification on "Also, you are talking about plans 2 years down the road when you should be thinking even further than that"! I'm mid-30's and f'd up by not planning at all, even a 2yr-plan - if serious & something that's real (not "goals") - is probably an improvement! But..
- For over a year now the plan has been that, in a couple years, my brother & I split the down payment on an undesirable, wooded parcel of land (and fell the trees/build a house - his experience isn't as broad as mine but it's specialty fine-wood-working so happy to have his skillset here), sadly in my thread on using the lumber for it Tom Dunlap told me about building regulations that may disallow me to use the lumber so have to get final word on that!
- Realty will always be the end goal. I don't want/intend to stop messing with trees until my body tells me to, but all profit is meant to go to realty, first & foremost goal is a free&clear I can know I'll always have, then start attempt-#-2 at flipping (I got *flayed* in late 2007 when the market flipped, so lame I had no excuse not to be ready / knew it was coming / still got caught & lost everything :/ So Round-2 is a long time in the coming, thankfully this time I've got real solid experience w/ building/tradeswork, can't help but laugh at my former self when remembering all the 'rookie mistakes' I'd made on that renovation!

Thanks a lot for replying, didn't expect to get so nervous over all this am grateful to be able to discuss it / get advice from others :D
The thing that stands out is that your rate is low. You will not help your clients by being there one year and gone in 3 years. When I started I was charging $250/day, which felt like a lot, but was not, but I was very early-career so it might have been the correct amount. I am charging a minimum of:

$1000/8 hrs. day for me and my van.
$150 for 16 yards of debris hauled
$300/day for an additional employee or mini skid.
$300 to drive over, get out, prune a twig, pack up, and go home.

If my life was standard, this would be fine, but I have financial liabilities that make it barely so. Pay attention to your whole ecosystem - your ratio of income to liabilities, retirement, health care, business development, etc. That is what should inform your rate. Tell your clients what they are paying for if they ask after a higher price you quote them - hand them a list and ask them if they want continuity of care, if they want you to have health insurance, or if they want the next rotating cheap price guy.

Also, elevate your work. Bring better knowledge to bear on your work. Read the ANSI standards, watch Ed Gilman's videos, embark on your own form of elevation that makes you distinct in your market and gives you satisfaction in your work. After fulfilling the ANSI requirements, our work is a performance and every technique you use, garment you wear, website you build, email you send should distill some stamp in the minds of whoever is watching. Be ruthless about elevating your work to bring value to a higher rate.
 

Njdelaney

Well-Known Member
Location
Detroit
Maybe the rest of the guys can validate or correct me but even if you have little or no overhead, you shouldn't be working at height for less than $100/hr. I know there is a gray area here because you're still learning but we're not just talking about the value of a trade and it's knowledge, we're talking about the value of your life. If you're worried about that rate scaring people off, then start doing bids instead of telling them your hourly rate and itemize the additional costs under other categories of overhead that you don't really have yet. Also, you should be making money on your brother's labor in addition to what you pay him so don't forget to charge more than his hourly rate when you bill. So if you pay him $15/hr, bill for $25 as an example.
 

eyehearttrees

Active Member
Location
Tampa-Area
I think the missing link is probably the existing companies/crews and the quality there. I do hope there is someone qualified to offer mentorship, training, or apprenticeship. Or even a high caliber crew doing frequent technical work, just to befriend or give referrals. There is also the possibility that the only game in town is a bucket butcher with a crew of gators. There is probably a reason eyehearttrees is always askin questions on tree buzz, amiright?
So it may be the best course to forge ahead into the unknown, posting questions with your porta brother, and fill the local arborist vacancy....
IdK
Great post, thanks!!!! Funny you mentioned that, never heard "bucket butcher" but the guy I've done most climbs for in '19 had helped a prior climber of his get a bucket (although he thought the kid was gonna stay with him :p ), am not privy to details but was trying to work-with (climb) him the 1st day I saw him driving it, he wasn't having it as he's a climber / didn't need a 2nd but maybe it's changed, I see working with him as 'when' not 'if' (not long-term as he's not 'pro' in any sense, it'd be like me getting a bucket next year, but in the coming 6-12mo I imagine I'll end up doing something with him but I don't see him as a threat and he's "in my neighborhood" for all intents/purposes!
If I were just arriving in the area of course it'd be different but I've already got a good, loyal client base with many who I'm sure will get work and several who the work is "Ok'd & waiting" for me to have insurance (I think this is why I was dragging my feet, my understanding is I just get a landscape&trees license from county, call insurer, then decide which job I wanna start with....think I'm just realizing time-is-now and if anything I'm a couple months' late here - feeling behind toooootally helps strategic thinking though right? jk :p )

~~~~~~~~~

Am I ignorant in my thought that, because of my circumstances, *I'll be able to under-cut almost anybody*? I work for a flat 20/h right now, and could handle 15/h if necessary (and wouldn't hesitate if it'd let me do just trees instead of, for instance, yesterday was installing a new kitchen-cabinets set, am dying to just get to full-trees!!) Because stumping, shredding & hauling will be done by me *and* my old boss (when I was a groundie ~5yr ago) who's now "retired" in his 40's and just wants to make $$ using his chipper & F250 (he's aware of / happy with my plan), so my ONLY overhead is:
- 15/hr to keep life going,
- insurance bill
- petrol for the saws
[could add "-equipment costs" but I spent a good while now building-up a "complete kit" ie so it'd take some real extenuating circumstances for me to go see a job and have to say No to it, so this cost is already over&done with! I understand that gear is disposable but next-purchases will be in-context of having worn-out my 1/2 and 5/8 polydyne bull lines, all my 3/4 TEC friction-anchors, just so much stuff that by the next time I *need* any gear it'll inherently mean I'd been doing large-enough jobs($$) that replacement will be fine :) ]

I feel silly even writing this but don't want to be under false-impressions, but I've seen a TON of quotes written (and almost universally accepted) in the past 5yr and it's never ceased to amaze me how much these gigs' "market prices" are (could be a regional thing, I was blown away seeing the ads on Craigslist they're offering dental, 401k's etc for climbers and I don't mean pro's/ISA it's for entry-level-climbers it blew my mind, think I'm luckily in a good geography for this!), am truly expecting I could price at like 30-->75% of what I usually see quoted, of what I'd know someone would quote(roughly) and get a Yes on....I think this'll be a massive advantage while-starting, if I'm not missing anything! So far as I can see, all I've gotta charge (over my 15-20/hr) is a fair-proportion of my insurance-bill say 8 jobs a month so 1/8th bill added to my 15-20/hr, plus petrol for the saws....w/ such silly-little overhead I could be VERY low-priced (goal is *fair* pricing, but if I'm right then it's good to know I can quote super-low without taking a pay-cut myself, or just quote a bit lower than everyone else and I'd get a HUGE raise!)


(for context of long-term, my total ideal would be something where I've got 1-2 full-timers working under me, I would make most of my income this way but would also do larger/more complex projects w/ various, larger groups...am friendly/tend to develop good rapport quickly so once I get better and have good stuff to show-off I'll be trying to position myself as one of the better guys to call for "tricky trees". The 1st year feels like it'll be "cowboy arborism" to a degree but I see that as a stepping-stone more than anything!)
 

rope-a-dope

Well-Known Member
Location
Asheville
Its wild seeing "I can manage with 15/hr," and "no one should charge less than 100," so close together.
Pricing work has always thrown me through a loop. I am usually not involved in that aspect at all, so when I get my own jobs for friends I have told them 50/hr and I am UNINSURED. I did a job today with my gf, no cleanup, took 3.5 hrs. Jobs with the company get 5 star service. So I usually feel weird about leaving the whole thing in the back yard and saying gimme Benjamins. But when I said, "how does 300 sound?" They looked at me funny, like, "pfff that's it?" I came back with, "well you could gimme 350!" And I made the 100/hr I am supposed to get on company time!
So I guess I'm saying, people want to pay more than you expect. Especially when they see what the fuck you can do plus be friendly and profesh. So why not ask for a little more than 20/hr? I bet they want to give you more, especially when you are the bottom price...WITH insurance.
 

Peetle

Active Member
Location
Dunedin
Its wild seeing "I can manage with 15/hr," and "no one should charge less than 100," so close together.
Pricing work has always thrown me through a loop. I am usually not involved in that aspect at all, so when I get my own jobs for friends I have told them 50/hr and I am UNINSURED. I did a job today with my gf, no cleanup, took 3.5 hrs. Jobs with the company get 5 star service. So I usually feel weird about leaving the whole thing in the back yard and saying gimme Benjamins. But when I said, "how does 300 sound?" They looked at me funny, like, "pfff that's it?" I came back with, "well you could gimme 350!" And I made the 100/hr I am supposed to get on company time!
So I guess I'm saying, people want to pay more than you expect. Especially when they see what the fuck you can do plus be friendly and profesh. So why not ask for a little more than 20/hr? I bet they want to give you more, especially when you are the bottom price...WITH insurance.
It's a lot easier to drop a price down than to push it up once you realize you have misquoted!
 

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