Learn How To Start Or Grow A Handyman Business
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Insights from a California Handyman

Last week I had the opportunity to interview Steve, a successful handyman in California with over 20 years of handyman business experience.

It was certainly eye opening  to get an inside view into another handyman business.  It really made me realize the potential and I’m excited to share his insights with you.

Steve’s journey as a handyman started when he was just a kid, helping his father re-plumb the entire house.  Since then, he has been a city electrician, a union journeyman carpenter, high end furniture designing business owner, and finally a handyman business owner.

“I’m the poster child for ADD”  Steve mentioned.  “This business is the first business I’ve ever been happy in as well as the most lucrative business of all my ventures.  I just can’t do the same thing everyday.  This business provides me with the variation I need to keep me happy.”

I’m with you on that one, Steve!

Steve requested that I keep his personal information confidential, so I will only be sharing his first name.

Hourly Rate?

I initially met Steve through an e-mail that he sent me after reading one of my monthly reports.  He mentioned that I was making a huge mistake and that I should be charging $75/hour minimum.  He also mentioned that charging by the job instead of by the hour is the way to go.

So Steve, what is your hourly rate?

“I try to get between $75 and $100 per hour.  But, I don’t tell my customers this because I always charge by the job.  Even though customers are getting charged well over $100/hour in some cases, if you tell them this, it seems like a lot.”

The more I think about this Steve is probably right.  The truth is that most people work regular jobs and $30/hour is considered a really solid wage.  People that have never owned a business just don’t understand the costs that are involved, the extra taxes, or the work that is done behind the scenes.  To these people, $75/hour seems very high.

On the other side of the argument, I have had some clients that expect to pay at least $60/hour and are surprised when I tell them $40/hour.  They actually think this is cheap.  Even so, It’s difficult to know how customers are going to react to your pricing and it’s just seems easier to give them a flat rate without mentioning an hourly rate.

Steve also has a minimum charge of $75 which he makes sure that his customers clearly understand.

How to weed out the price shoppers.

Quoting customers can take a LOT of time, especially if you’re new to the business.  Not only that, but some people are just price shopping and will waste your time without thinking twice.  Charging by the hour can help, but this comes with other limitations.

When Steve mentioned that he only works by the job, I had to find out how he deals with quoting customers.  Here is his response.

“If somebody immediately mentions price on the phone, don’t even waste your time.  The best way to handle these customers is to say ‘are ready to get the job done?  If so, I’ll schedule you in and show up ready to do the job.  I’ll give you a price when I get there and if you like it, I’ll go ahead and do the job.  If not, you are not obligated.’  This weeds out all the people that are price shopping because they won’t schedule a job.”

This is by far the best piece of advice I got personally from Steve.  I can’t believe I haven’t implemented this earlier.  This tip alone can save several hours a month and save the headache of having to deal with lousy customers.

In fact, I’ve already used this technique with three separate customers.

Usually I would schedule a time to quote the job, then schedule a different time to actually do the work.  Now, I have eliminated a trip and just let them know that I’ll give them a price before I start and if they like the price, I’ll do the work at that time.  I’ve noticed that this really puts the pressure on the customer to make a decision.  It also helps you only deal with customers that are ready to do business.

Marketing Insights

Steve said some things that verified what I’ve already experience with marketing, but also shed some light on other marketing opportunities that I haven’t used, or that just haven’t paid off for me.

Here are the highlights of what he said.

What are your top marketing methods?

“Google, my van, and you can’t beat word of mouth.  Word of mouth will always be the best form of advertising.”

“I’m famous in town because of my vans.  The logos are huge which is why I get so much business from them.  I also stick to a small area so customers see my van all of the time.”

I was surprised to hear that the logos on his van were so effective.  I have still yet to receive a single call from somebody seeing my truck.  Steve attributed the effectiveness of his van to two factors.  One, he stays in a relatively small area so is constantly being seen by neighbors.  Secondly, his logos are huge.  His van really gets peoples attention and it’s easily read from a distance.  I currently cover a larger area than Steve and my logos are nowhere near the size of his.  Hence, the reason it hasn’t been effective for me while it’s one of Steve’s best tools for marketing.

What tips would you give to someone looking to start a handyman business?

“Always do excellent work and always answer your phone and eventually it takes a life of it’s own.  The number one mistake people in this business make is not answering their phone.  The first person that answers the phone professionally will get 99% of the business.”

“Make sure to have the word handyman in your business name.”

“It doesn’t take very many people to make you busy.  Stick to small area so you can eliminate driving all over a large city.”

“Tell your customers to call you for everything.  If it falls outside of your scope of work, then you can refer somebody else to do the job.”

What kind of services do you offer?

“We do everything (he’s referring to him and his son) except for tile work.  Every once in a while I’ll do that snap together flooring, but I stay away from tile.  I’d just prefer doing smaller jobs like changing out a faucet.  I tell my customers to call me for everything and if I can’t or don’t want to do the job, I’ll refer it to someone I know.”

“I make a lot of money from my electrical experience.  I also make a lot from smaller jobs like changing out a garbage disposal.”

Who is your ideal customer?

” Old people.  Old people have class.  I like working for old people and home owners.”

“I hate doing commercial jobs.  They take up all of your time and they won’t pay my rates so I don’t deal with them.  Costco wanted me to do some work earlier today and I turned them down.”

What do you think are the limitations of this business?

“The one downside is that you have to do all the work yourself.  It’s hard to find people that you can trust.  I wouldn’t consider hiring anybody other than my son.  That’s why I think franchises are misleading people.   They sell you on the idea that you’ll be able to easily find retired handymen to do all the work for you.  But, this just isn’t realistic.”

Some words of encouragement

As mentioned above, Steve’s handyman business has been his most lucrative of all of his endeavors.  At one point in the interview he mentioned that $100k/year or more can be achieved in this business fairly easily.  And, even more depending on how much you want to work.

While I have yet to achieve anything close to this, I agree with Steve.  Once you have a solid customer base that and word of mouth starts to take hold, the sky is the limit.  Just remember that it does take some time to get to this point.  After all, he has been in this business for 20 years.

Steve obviously knows his stuff and I highly respect his insights.  It was a pleasure interviewing him and I know I learned a lot in the process.  I hope that you were able to get some useful information as well.

So, what are your thoughts?  Do you agree with Steve’s outlook on handyman business?  Please share in the comments below.

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  • Dean December 9, 2012

    Great information from a veteran handyman.
    I picked up on his favorite clients being the older crowd and will be advertising a
    10% discount to seniors age 65 and over in my area which might help
    generate some business.
    Thanks for sharing the helpful interview !

  • steve December 28, 2012

    Steve was spot on. Being handy around the house can save money too.

  • Keith June 7, 2013

    The first time I ever bought car insurance, I snivel end to my agent about the premium. So, he rolled his chair back and asked me what exactly I wanted. I told him I was on a tight budget. He pulled out a sign from his desk, which 3 words were written: Quality, service, and Low Price. He said: “choose any Two. ” . I thought about it and said, “we’ll, one has to be Low Price”. In a very kind way, he told me that I’d have to keep shopping. It was a valuable lesson, and he did us both a favor. He didn’t have to deal with me and my naive mindset ( was in my 20’s) and I learned that you get what you pay for. Steve’s interview was a good read. Thanks

  • Eric June 25, 2013

    These are gold nuggets of information. Steve echos a lot of my sentiments on dealing with the wrong type of customer vs. the ideal customer. I have two clients that I’m doing business with currently. One is a retired military man and his wife who are enjoying life and traveling. They don’t squabble about my rates. The other is a rental owner who is not only super frugal but he already knows how to work on houses himself. This is the kind of customer who doesn’t value your skills just the convenience and if push came to shove, he could always just do it himself. You do NOT want this kind of client. I’m dropping him after this project.

    • Big D June 27, 2013

      Good call. You’ll be so happy when he’s gone. I’ve had a lot of similar experiences. Some customers are amazing and some customers are really hard to work for.

  • Kev August 15, 2013

    Thanks Big D for your website, I just left the mining industry, frustrated at the time away from home & being someones offsider (me not in charge-not qualified).

    I googled this morning Handyman charges per hour & found your helpful site after a few pages. I must say I’ve been reading here for several hours now, getting some great advice & Info.

    I’m just starting out, so getting this advice is priceless. Thankyou very much for putting this site together.

    I once heard (might have been Zig Ziggler) there is no such thing as a lazy man, but there are many unispired men. That was my situation, reward for effort wasn’t there.

    Thankyou again Kev

    • Big D August 18, 2013

      Your very welcome. Thanks for commenting. I’ve met a lot of lazy people, so I’m not sure there is no such thing. But, I totally agree that many of them are uninspired and have no incentive to work hard. When you get paid the same no matter how hard you work, it’s tough to care. When you’re working for yourself, your results are a direct reflection of your effectiveness, thus driving you to perform better and stay motivated.

  • Joe Seabolt September 6, 2013

    I’m a lifer to your site Big D, Steve was awesome and very helpful, glad you do what you do, and I don’t know how with only 24hrs in a day. I got a lot of growing to do, and learning a lot right now. This is so cool. So many things I did’t think about. Like keeping to a small area, I too have the magnets, and for right now there on my wife’s vehicle cause I don’t have one. I get to jobs from her, a bike and the bus. It’s tough and people have been so kind and understanding, the work I do is what eases their minds, they are definitely hesitant at first when they learn my situation.

  • Paul Butch Squire March 6, 2014

    Thank you for this imformation two things stand out to me working for seniors I have headed this direction myself as I get along well with them and they just want some one they can trust in there home and to do agood job and they are great word of mouth customers.
    The second is area size I have been debating this for my own business the area I live in is pretty spread out between to separate city’s I think I am going to concentrate efforts to area I directly live in.
    Great info thank you

    • Dan Perry March 6, 2014

      Your welcome Paul!

  • Bill H. July 22, 2014

    Very good article with insightful information. Steve applies many of the same underlying philosophies I used when owning my Architectural design firm. I pre-qualified all potential clients. Typically, this took form in a 1-hour conference held in my office. No children or pets were allowed and I usually had them pegged as “real” or not within the first 10 minutes. If they passed early on we continued with learning details about their project. Otherwise, I gave them 50 minutes to redeem themselves. A few redemption cases turned out to be some of my best clients. A few others, after being dismissed, in turn recommended me to others who became good clients. Don’t waste your time! Spend it wisely so it can benefit the most. Part of what Steve infers, is one’s reputation. In the service business world, reputation goes a long way in making/breaking an enterprise, whether it is architecture or handyman services. Good stuff and much appreciated!

    • Dan Perry July 22, 2014

      Thanks Bill. Appreciate the insight into another industry.

  • Bill December 2, 2014

    Very cool! Thoughts, experiences and premonitions all confirmed in every way. My personal view of a ‘Handyman’ used to be one of a tired and worn out old man with dirty habits, wearing dirty clothes and driving a dirty old vehicle to sparsely scheduled jobs for a handful of change. After the national economy tanked this aspiring artist (Drums/Fine Art Photo) fell into a meaningful income doing something useful to actually help rather than entertain. Years of experience as a DIY’er and doing occasional jobs for friends and family manifested the tools and skills necessary to run a feasibility test. Idea, contemplation, research, confidence, canvassing (1/4 page double sided cards) and BOOM! Two and a half years ago, this clean cut starving artist became a clean cut busy high end Handyman by executing much of what your content suggests. Note: Only six months of marketing, then, Repeats & Referrals. So Sweet!

    • Dan Perry December 4, 2014

      That’s awesome to hear, Bill. This misconception of the dirty worn out handyman is far too common. As long as you approach it in the right way, this can be one of the most rewarding and fulfilling careers out there. Thanks for sharing that.

  • Bret Green April 8, 2015

    Very great article. I am new to the business and I served in the Army for most of my adult life. Since I have been out I have worked for a HVAC company and a Boiler company serving Commercial and Industrial clients. I have started my own Handyman service in California and I have read many articles and have done a lot of research on how to be successful and be honest, legal and legit. This article was a true eye-opener and very helpful. I just wanted to Thank you for putting this article out here and let you know that it was helpful and inspiring.

    • Dan Perry April 9, 2015

      Your Welcome, Bret! Thanks for the commenting and I’m very glad it was helpful for you.

  • Jim Baker September 5, 2015

    Hi Dan,

    Thanks for all of this great information. I am considering starting an after hours (5pm-9pm) handyman business to provide extra income to my current teaching salary. I live in an area with an aging population of home owners. I have also found that it is incredibly difficult to get a contractor to come out to do the kind of small jobs I would take on. Do you think that this could still be a viable business with my limited availability but unique hours of operation?

    Thanks,
    Jim

    • Dan Perry September 6, 2015

      Absolutely, Jim. Sounds like a perfect opportunity for you to start a part time business. Most customers are happy to have you come out later in the evening or on the weekends.

  • Ken February 23, 2016

    Great Tips! I’m in my second year of being a handyman. I charge 25 an hour, some days I like some days I don’t. Working by the hour has its ups and downs. The worst I can think of is a customer Wanting something strange done making you question all your years on job. Or expecting more to be finished than ever could. Currently I don’t feel my zip code can handle 75-100. Expensive handymen around here are 40-50 an hour. Any advise for me….

    • Dan Perry February 24, 2016

      Hi Ken,

      I don’t know what the cost of living is like where you live, but the important thing is that you charge enough to run a sustainable and profitable handyman business. I don’t know of anywhere in the U.S. where $25/hr is enough to run a professional above the table handyman business, though. If you do the math, after taxes and expenses, you might find you aren’t making much more than you could at a minimum wage job.

      I think you would find my pricing guide to be very helpful for you, too.

      Hope that helps…

      Dan

  • Luis Arcila May 20, 2016

    This was a FANTASTIC article Big Dan…I’ve been reading up on a lot of the stuff you write in here and I find it VERY helpful! Just got a confirmation on my business name yesterday and I should be running my business as an LLC shortly!
    I have been a journeyman carpenter for over 20 years and I’ve done quite a bit of handyman work on the side.
    Just got back to Vegas after spending 8 months in North Dakota and being that I would rather build my business locally then having to leave my family and go out of my state for work, I have decided to give it 100% focus in building my business here.
    The $50 to $100 dollars an hour discussion on this blog makes a lot of sense to me…I value my hourly rate at at least $50 an hour but like you guys mention on this article it is wise to not mention an hourly rate to the customer but give them a quote for doing the job.
    Thanks for putting this info out there for people like us who can really use and benefit from it!

  • Mark October 24, 2016

    Hi Dan,
    I have been reading up on your article because I to want to escape the 9-5 I want to be home early enough to take my kids to sports or what ever it maybe.

    I have been thinking about starting my own handyman business and stubbled into this article and everything seems to tick the boxes.

    however my concern is how do you avoid non paying customers?
    how do you make sure you are paid on time?

    if anyone here can give me some tips and advise that would be fantastic.

  • Bobby October 25, 2016

    Wow Dan. This was a very insightful article. We are a fairly new handyman/cleaning business located in Brooklyn, NY. Steve’s insight on gaining clients as opposed to price shoppers definitely rings true. Even at minimal rates, there will be clients who still aren’t willing to hire. Unfortunately, companies and individuals have to exceed their overhead expenses in order to continue on. Clients do deserve the best possible job at the best possible rate. However, the clients that aren’t willing to work with handyman businesses will usually be a problem that will cost you/the company more in the long run. Long-term relationships are built on trust and a willingness to do good business.

  • Afeez October 26, 2016

    Hi
    I’m a training and experienced civil and construction engineer with large expirience in Project management. I want to develop skills in handyman service. I want an expirienced handy man to Mentor me.
    Please contact me through my mail address.
    Thank you
    Afeez
    enisanus@yahoo.com
    Woodland Hills
    (818) 943-8402

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