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Avoiding pitfalls in business so you can succeed.

3 Handyman Business Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

The way I see it, there are three types of handymen out there.  The ones that make a great income doing something they enjoy, the ones that barely get by, and the ones scattered in the middle.

What is it that separates these really successful handymen from the ones that only bring in $20/hour?  Is it their home repair knowledge?  Is it how many years of experience they have?  Is it their ability to build trust with customers?

The answer is….Yes.

However, even if you are knowledgeable, experienced, trustworthy, professional, and answer your phone on time, you may still find yourself eating Ramen noodles for dinner.  Now I don’t know about you, but I prefer steak.

Do you like steak?  If so, you’ll want to avoid these common handyman business pitfalls

Pitfall #1 – The one size fits all approach

Many beginning handymen (my past self included) think that anybody in need of a home repair is their customer.  This is a huge mistake that can lead to unhappiness in your business and much lower profits.

The reality is that MOST HOMEOWNERS ARE NOT YOUR IDEAL CUSTOMERS.  Sure, all homeowners need repairs.  But, there are some customers that can’t pay you, some that won’t pay your rates, and others that just won’t like you.

As  handyman, you are essentially providing the same services as the next guy – repairing, maintaining, and improving homes.  However, there are differences in how you approach each job, how you charge, quality of work, values, personality, and several others.  These small details define your services and make a huge difference in who will hire you.

If you attempt to make your service fit every single customer’s needs and compromise your prices, quality of work, or values to do so, you are positioning your business for failure.  You’ll likely end up working for people you don’t like, make less money than you should, and not be proud of your work.  You’ll also train those customers to expect the same in the future and build a business based on referrals you didn’t even want.

This can be really hard to avoid because as a new handyman business owner you need all the business you can get.

After operating my business for over a year and a half and making this mistake countless times, I’ve developed a better understanding of how to avoid it.

I’ve found that the ability to avoid this pitfall is related to how well you know and understand both your business and your customers.  First, you need to know which services you are best at and which services you enjoy doing (usually the same).  Then, you need to understand who you work best with.  This is usually a combination of who will benefit most from your services that you enjoy working for.

Defining your services and customers takes time, but it’s something you need to be considering on a daily basis.  As you gain experience, you’ll slowly define your business and customers more clearly.  As you do, you’ll find your income and happiness grow.

Even if you are just starting out and don’t have any experience, simply putting some thought behind what you are best at and who you’d like to work for will help you to avoid this pitfall.

Pitfall #2 – Charging too little

I still think that setting pricing is the most difficult task in this business, especially when first getting started.  It’s tough because you have to find a balance between building up your customer base and positioning yourself for solid profits in the future.

The need for new business leads to most handyman trying to compete on price and dropping their pants in the process.  What they don’t know is that they are training their customers to expect to pay this rate forever.  As soon as they try to raise their prices, the customers resists, and the handyman is stuck believing that they’ve reached their limit.

The scary thing is that it may only take a couple of customers telling you that you’re prices are too high before you start believing it (especially if you are brand new).  If you believe them, it will form limiting beliefs that hold you back from the profits you deserve in the future.  I’ve had people tell me that $40/hour was expensive and others tell me that I was charging too little so don’t let one or two people define your business.

Another thing that can hold you back from charging what you’re worth is thinking about what a job would be worth to you and then letting that determine what you charge.  I did this a lot when I first started out.  But, I finally realized that I’m not a part of my target market and my decision model is very different from my customers’.  My target market either makes more money than I do or has no clue how to take care of their home. I can fix most things myself, so what I’d be willing to pay is much lower than what my customers are willing to pay.  This is a critical concept to understand.

Here are a few other things that help me keep my income at a solid level.

First, whenever I am pricing a service, I always make sure it is worth my time.  Setting a goal each month to have a minimum hourly rate of $60/hour has helped with this immensely.  Even if I think that my price is too high for a specific job, I submit the bid anyway and let the customer decide if it’s worth it to them.  Sometimes, I really have to fight the urge to lower my price.  I lose some business from this, but at least the work I do is worth my time.

Second, I avoid promoting my services to friends and family.  I do this because I know that I don’t have the self discipline to charge them enough.  I actually feel bad if I don’t hook them up with a good deal and end up working for less than it’s worth to me.  So, I just avoid it.

Third, I make sure to communicate my prices with customers right away so I can avoid uncomfortable conversations later.  If somebody calls and asks me to do something really small,  I let them know immediately that my minimum service charge is $75.

Pitfall #3 – Aversion to Sales/Marketing

Many handymen out there have the idea that if they just do good work they don’t need sales or marketing.  Or, they just hate the idea of sales and marketing and think it’s sleezy.  Either way of thinking is going to limit your profits significantly.

If you area willing to do great work and be massively underpaid for it then marketing is not necessary for you.  But remember, we want to eat steak, not Ramen noodles.

The reality is that sales and marketing are necessary for any business, even a one-man handyman business.  Customers will come and go, and if you don’t have enough coming in, you’re business will die.

Sales and marketing is especially important if you want to charge more than your competition.  This is true because the more you charge, the less people will be willing or able to pay you.  Not only that, but it will take more convincing to close the sale.  Naturally, this creates the requirement to reach more people and be able to sell to them once you have their attention.

Avoiding the pitfall of allowing lack of marketing effort negatively impact your business is simple – put consistent effort into sales and marketing.  You may suck at first, but you’ll get better.  The skills you learn in the process will empower you and give you a ton of confidence in the future.

Another way to avoid this mistake is to build a solid website and online presence that sells your services for you.  This way, all of the selling happens on your website and all you have to do is get to work when they call you.  Once built,  a good website is like a full-time salesman that requires very little pay.  It takes some effort to keep it up, but the benefits are more than worth the effort.

So, there you have it, 3 handyman business pitfalls.  Hopefully this will help you avoid making some of the mistakes I made when I got started.

What do you think?  Are these things that you currently struggle with or have struggled with in the past?

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  • Fred July 21, 2013

    Thanks for bailing me out of the widow jam I was in. You are a great handymannorwichcy and even better business man. I hope to learn some of your skills to getting my hourly rate up to 60 an hour.
    I work maybe 80-90 hours a week doing handymannorwichcy stuff but do not make near what you are. Maybe I should…. learn something

    • Big D July 22, 2013

      No problem Fred! It was entertaining for me to get a call from one of my readers. You are the first to call me!

  • DARIN July 22, 2013

    Thanks BIG D for all the good business tips.

    • Big D July 22, 2013

      You’re welcome Darin!

  • Victor July 22, 2013

    Thanks, Big D
    Great info! Some of this I figured out myself when I had my interior trim business several years ago, but it was reasuring to see your confirmation of these points.

    • Big D July 23, 2013

      Thanks Victor. Good to hear you have come to the same realization.

  • Ron July 23, 2013

    Thanks D , I totally agree working for family is not a good idea they all want breaks . I give free advice over the phone only. Thanks for the reminder that we should do some kind of advertisement and not depend the same customers all the time. Pit fall #2 is dead on with me ,not charging enough .

    • Big D July 23, 2013

      Charging what you’re worth is really hard to do! I struggle with this everyday.

      I was talking to a customer the other day and his previous handyman only charged $20/hour. To make matters worse, that handyman had discussed several times with the customer that he hated how so many handymen didn’t charge enough for their time! That blew my mind because I don’t think $20/hour is near enough money for a quality home service. I stuck by my guns and told the guy I charged $60/hour. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. 🙂

  • Brandon July 23, 2013

    These articles are golden. I literally gain confidence by reading them! I had one way of thinking when it came to starting up a business; cheap prices=more work. Work I wouldn’t want. My perspective has changed quite a bit and going in I’m feeling better and better.

    • Big D July 24, 2013

      Thanks Brandon. I’m glad they are helpful for you. I definitely wish I had this same understanding when I first started out.

  • Michael P. July 26, 2013

    Hi there Big D!

    I’m a new follower to your “Handyman $tartup” Blog. As someone who’s very serious about starting up my own business in the very near future “within a couple of weeks”. I would like to THANK YOU, THANK YOU and THANK YOU!!! For the Priceless information you have provided. The topics are so relevant regarding the Handyman Profession, especially for a startup. I have studied ALL your information to this point and will continue to be a Fan Follower. Your writings from the “About Big D” truly are inspiring, because I could not have said it any better myself. I’m sick and tired of working for the big life sucking corporate America and stupid people. I’m 49 and very capable and anxious to start my own Handyman business. I’m as green as it gets coming into this profession. But, I come alive when I’m doing and learning how to do new activities.

    Peace, Your Follower Michael P. from Reno Nevada

    • Big D July 26, 2013

      Hey Michael,

      I love the enthusiasm! Your welcome and thanks for reading! It’s seriously awesome to hear that you have enjoyed my content and that is has helped you.

      Big D

  • kevin M July 30, 2013

    Hello D,

    I am new to your site so I apologize if you have this information posted somewhere. My understanding is that you charge $60 to $75 an hour, but how do you charge for materials? Do you charge the customer exactly what you pay for materials, or charge at a marked up price?

    • Big D August 1, 2013

      Hi Kevin,

      Good question. I mark up materials a minimum of 5% all the way up to 100% in some cases. It depends on where I buy the materials and how much materials cost for that job.

      If I buy something online, I mark those materials way up because I have to account for cancellations, my time to order, and the additional taxes. If I’m buying several hundred dollars worth of materials for a job, I’ll mark up materials as low as 5%. Typically, I decide on each job how much to mark it up. But, I aim for an average of 10% minimum markup.

      Big D

  • Glen August 6, 2013

    Big D,

    Once again, a great article. Your #1 pitfall is very important to learn and overcome. I recently received a call about an interior paint job (it came via your favorite lead generator, Home Advisor). It was a courtesy call so I didn’t get charged for the lead. The land lady had just evicted a tenant who trashed the place but less than 5 minutes inside the house was enough for me to determined that they were not going to be able to afford my labor to a quality job, and the condition and location of the house only meant: We want it done cheap!
    I felt sorry for the owner but I knew I would only be facing frustrations and probably getting my trailer tires stolen while I was working!

    • Big D August 8, 2013

      Hi Glen,

      Thanks for the story!

  • Lloyd April 17, 2014

    A really great way to compare your pricing to the market is by going to Redbeacon.com . This site is owned by Home Depot. You then select estimate at the top tab and enter in the job info and zip code and it gives you high, low and average for your market. Based on the curve displayed it also provides information on where the most bids fall on the curve. It also shows you how many bids were included in the analysis. I always “test” me bids against these curves and it has worked really well. If they don’t cover your area just type in a zip-code of a city that they do. If people complain that I am charging too much, I just tell them my pricing is based on thousands of data points published on the internet and it is actually lower than the average. This is the truth so I feel comfortable describing this.

    • Dan Perry April 17, 2014

      Thanks for the tip Lloyd! I am definitely going to look into that.

  • Lloyd April 17, 2014

    When you in the middle of the 10 minute job and it turns into 3 hours , think of this job and laugh it up.
    Honeydew or Handyman

    A couple moves into their new house. One day the husband comes home from work and his wife says, “Honey, you know, in the upstairs bathroom one of the pipes is leaking, could you fix it?” The husband says, “What do I look like, Mr. Plumber?”

    A few days go by, and he comes home from work and his wife says, “Honey, the car won’t start. I think it needs a new battery. Could you change it for me?” He says: “What do I look like, Mr. Goodwrench?”

    Another few days go by, and it’s raining pretty hard. The wife finds a leak in the roof. She says, “Honey, there’s a leak on the roof! Can you please fix it?” He says, “What do I look like, Bob Vila?”

    The next day the husband comes home, and the roof is fixed. So is the plumbing. So is the car. He asks his wife what happened. “Oh, I had a handyman come in and fix them,” she says. “Great! How much is that going to cost me?” he snarls. Wife says: “Nothing. He said he’d do it for free if I either screwed him or baked him a cake.” “Uh, well, what kind of cake did you make?” asks the husband.

    “What do I look like,” she says, “Betty Crocker?”

  • Brian B April 27, 2015

    Its been sometime since you wrote this article but it still holds true today. Thank you for your words of wisdom.

    I have noticed here, ( NE Florida) generally speaking many people consider a “jack of all trades” not more than a high priced janitor . There seems to be a lack of respect for the trade, which is reflected in attitude & willingness to pay a fair rate.

    I completed 2yrs of trade school and became an Air Conditioning Mechanic during my 20’s/30’s but attics & under moblie homes did not agree w/ a height of 6 ‘4″. I learned alot about customer service &the business side of a trade during those years.

    Alot in your article holds true in a board spectum of trades/ industries.

    Thanks again,
    Feedback welcome.

  • Dan Hooke August 1, 2015

    I especially like the emphasis on the phrase “get hooked up”. Story of my life! Get it? But after over 10 years of service people recognize my work and when I bid out a job in the 50-60 rate, so far everybody appreciate the work of a 60+$/hr more than 20-25/hr man, so I try to stick with this higher rate. Because yes those are all the common pit falls that have brought stress into my life, thanks for sharing.
    *Got Hooked?