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Well you got the choice of hourly or by the job. If your just starting out I would suggest that you do it hourly for the first few jobs just to get an idea of your time. When you do it by the job your still going to figure in how many hours it will take you. Then you have to add any material into that and give them a price. Most people charge in between $40 and $60.
There is a lot that goes into figuring out what to charge. It depends on your specific overhead costs, what your plans for the future of your business are, and what your local market will bear.
First part of the equation is your overhead costs. Even if you're a small operator just operating out of your home or garage and have no employees, there are still overhead costs involved that you need to account for. Things like vehicle maintenance, equipment maintenance, advertising costs, cellular phone costs, fuel, etc. Start by figuring out what the average cost for those things are per month. Then assume the average month has about 180 hours of work, if you work 40 hours per week. Divide your total overhead costs per month by 180 and that would be how much you need to make each hour you work - just to cover overhead. But even that is a little inaccurate because even though you may put in 8 hours in a day, you can't bill customers for things like drivetime. So you're billable hours each day are more like 6 hours. So take the overhead figure and add 20-30%.
That's only part of the equation. That figure above only gives you enough money to just cover current overhead. The next step of the equation are your future plans for the business. Some guys say, "I make plenty of money charging just $35.00 per hour. I am a small operation with little overhead." Fine. That may be true. But what are your long term plans? Do you plan to grow the company? Do you always want to operate out of your garage? Or would like like to have an actual shop one day? Do you always want to use the equipment you have currently? Or would you like to buy some new, better equipment one day? Do you always want to drive that one truck you have now? Or would you like to add another truck and possibly an employee one day? If you plan to grow at all, then you need to charge AS IF you already have those expenses. That is, if you need to make $15 per hour to cover your current overhead expenses, you'll probably want to really figure in another $15 per hour for future expansion money.
The third part of the equation is what your personal expenses are you need to cover each month. Rent, groceries, etc. Let's say you need to make $1800 to cover your part of the rent (or mortgage), groceries, clothing, etc. So divide thhat 1800 by 160 and that's how much you add to your hourly rate just to cover your own expenses.
Now you add part 1, 2, and 3 together and that's the hourly rate you will need to make if you plan to work 40 hours each week, be able to afford to grow your business, and be able to afford your current lifestyle.
The final part of the equation is what the local market will bare. People on the rich side of busy metropolitin cities are willing to pay a LOT more for yard work than people in a small country town. So you have to figure out what people in your area are paying or willing to pay. In addition to that, you have to realize that small operators generally can't make as much per hour as established, well-known companies. So you won't be able to bring in as much as the landscaper who has a well established firm in the area. He might be able to get $60 an hour for his work, while you may find it hard to get even $45.
Now that we've established your hourly rate, you should never bid jobs by-the-hour. The way you figure out how much to charge is figure your expenses relating to the job (dumping, fuel, chemicals, etc.) and then figure out how long that job is going to take you. If your hourly rate is $45 and you figure the job will take you 6 hours to do, and the only expense is $20.00 in yard debris disposal costs, then you charge $45x6=270, plus $20 = $290. If you want to play it safe, just in case you are underestimating the time it will take, maybe try $350.00 That's how you bid maintenance jobs - give the customer a total job price.
As for weekly maintenance, that's similar. You don't charge by the hour. You charge either by-the-week or by-the-month. Figure out how long it's going to take and add it all up. If you figure Mrs. Jones lawn is going to take you 30 minutes each week, that's basically 2 hours each month. At your rate of $45 per hour, that's $90.00 per month. Figure in a little for disposal costs and charge her $120.00 per month, or $30 per cut (per week).
Addressing jimlewis' most excellent and detailed post, I'd add something to the "plans for the future" comment: Make sure you add in some overhead for an owner's "off the tools" salary - in other words, the salary you'd need for managing the business, above and beyond what you'd "pay yourself" for the actual income producing work. For example, I work an average of 10 hours of less a week on the tools, but pay myself average of $500 per week, which is a combo of my "billable" work and my "owner" pay. When you're small, you won't be able to pay yourself too big a salary for "owner pay", but as you grow, add some in, little by little.
It's a way of keeping things "honest" too. In other words, if you aren't making enough to pay yourself well, then something is wrong.
Kenneth LaVoie III
LaVoie's Landscape Mgmt. Inc.- Winslow, Maine