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.
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.
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.