Thursday, 3 July 2014

Home Based Business - Pressure Washing

I have decided over the past few years that one of the things that has most hindered me by living in apartments or condos is the lack of a suitable working area with which to work on projects or start a home-based business. About a dozen years ago now, I left my hometown for the big city lights and I haven't had access to a decent work-shop ever since. I used to do all kinds of things with the shop, and it paid over and over again to take on projects.

Oops! Forgot it was a truck, not a boat!
I don't know how many beater 4x4 trucks or old dirt bikes I've bought and fixed up over the years to clunk around in the bush with. Almost every single one of them was profitable for me, plus provided activities for me. For example, I once bought a very rough and beaten up 1981 Toyota 4x4 PU with a blown clutch for $550. This truck had been ridden hard and had a dent in almost every panel, but it also had a lift kit, a winch bumper and a roll bar with lights. It was the perfect bush truck. I always kept two vehicles - one for daily driving and then one for fun that I didn't give a crap about things like scratches or dents, so I could bush-whack way out into the toolies and get to all the cool lakes and other spots way back in the mountains. A new clutch would have cost me about $1,100 to have installed and this truck would only have been worth around $1,500 even if it had a good clutch... but I knew that on the old Toyota trucks, you could just buy the clutch disc, crack open the housing, slide the old disc out and slip the new one back in. Forget about having it brought to be properly turned etc... sure, you will lose about 10% the life of the new disc as it breaks in (and it will be a little jerky at first), but it brings down the cost of replacing a clutch from $1,100 to under $300. I was into the truck for $850 and kept it for the next three years.

Damn! Didn't look that deep and muddy going in!
During that time, a friend borrowed a fishing rod and broke it, and in return he gave me some old rims he had lying around. Heh, it was a crappy fishing rod anyways, and not worth more than $50 used, so I got a good deal. A cousin of mine had some old 33" Mud Tires with about 80% tread left on them, and he sold them to me for $250. I spent another $150 buying relays and wiring to get the off-road lights working, and I also came across a guy who had an 8,000lb Warn Winch that worked mechanically, but was missing the electric plug in box. I bought the winch for $150 and spent about another $150 buying the missing parts for it, after calling all over the countryside to auto-wreckers until I found what I needed. In total, I was into this now pretty mean little bush truck for $1,600. After three years, I took out the roll bar & lights, replaced the 33" mud-tires with the old 29" tires it came with, and I took out the winch... and sold it for $1,150... then eventually sold the tires for $300, the roll bars & lights for $300, and the winch for $400. So, I was into it for $1,600 altogether, and sold it half parted-out for $2,150. A profit of over $500, plus three years of beating the living hell out of it in the bush in any way I damn well pleased. All in all, a very good deal.

Notice the street-bike helmet and the steel-toed gum boots!
I've done this many times over. I once bought an old Kawasaki KE175 dirt-bike for $200, ran it for a year, then put another $200 into it buying some parts and a new rear tire, and ran it for a second year... then I bought a new dirt-bike (a Yamaha IT250 I bought for $800, put in $500 in parts, and ran for 6 years before selling it for $1,000 - an awesome bush bike!) and kept the old KE175 around for a "lender bike" for another two years... and then sold the lender bike for $200. Not bad. Having an extra dirt-bike kicking around for 4 years and only costing $200. It sure seen far more use than the $50/yr it cost to own.

I bought another dirt-bike once, an old Yamaha YZ100, for my then girlfriend to use. I paid $300 for the bike and $180 for parts to rebuild the motor. She rode it for a year and we broke up. I went in to the Yamaha shop and put an ad up on the bulletin board asking $600, and I had a flood of calls almost instantly from dads looking for a good starter bike for their kids. I got the full $600 from the first guy who came to look at it. I should have asked more for that one!  

But, I can no longer do things like this because I no longer have access to a shop or a garage.

It sucks.    

Another thing that sucks about not having a garage is that it knocks away a lot of other small business opportunities that one may want to try out. Even small little jobs like painting a house can be quite profitable, but you need a place to store your crap. I have painted a few houses over the years - a few of them for money. The last one I painted was in 2001, during the summer when I was working in agriculture while doing some "continuing education." Anyway, it was July, and everything was up and running fine at work, so we had a couple of slow weeks before the harvesting would begin. My boss's mother-in-law needed her house painted, so I offered to do it - outside of my boss's employment - and basically contracted it myself. In five and a half days, I had the house and the garage painted. I hired a kid to help me for two days for $9/hr, and walked away with $750 for myself. Not great, but not bad (it was all under the table, as it was only one job). I'll bet if I did it on a more regular basis, I could get it done in at least a day less, and with a bit more experience, I could also have charged a little bit more. In other words, I am pretty sure that with just a pick-up truck, a paint brush, a roller and a ladder, I could create a job for myself that pays $20-$25/hr, simply by owning a garage that I could store my equipment in and just do a few simply chores in. Get busy enough to be able to afford a paint-sprayer, and perhaps a fellow could knock another day off the length of the job and be making $30-$35/hr. But, it all starts with being able to have a proper place with which to base yourself out of. An apartment and its parking lot is a poor substitute for a garage at your place.

This is why I think that garage apartments are such a neat idea, like this one I've posted about before.

A home based business that I find really intriguing is pressure washing. There is a guy who comes to my complex every year for about a week to pressure wash the place. The first time I talked to him was maybe five years ago, and at the time he had been in business for around three years. He told me that his first year was pretty rough, and was all about finding clients to work for, but after that he said it got easier because he got repeat business - with some big jobs like the complex in which I lived - and it paid for him by the second year. He said in his third year he was making about $40,000/yr working seven or eight months a year (Mid-March to Mid-October) and he enjoyed having the time off work in the winters.
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Since then, I have kind of become friends with him, and we talk pretty much every year he comes to do the complex. He's expanded quite a bit and now also cleans the gutters and washes the windows - a job he hired a helper to do while he runs the pressure washer. He also goes around, while the pressure washer is set up and already there, and knocks on everyone's door to see if they want their personal sidewalks or decks pressure washed for $20 cash, of which I assume not all is recorded. He also now has a brand new truck and a new trailer which he carries his new fancy-dancy pressure-washer around on. I assume he is making more than the $40,000/yr he was making five years ago, but I don't want to seem too nosy by outright asking him. He tells me he really likes doing the work. He is his own boss and he does everything by contract, so he can work at his own speed without anyone hounding him. Not only that, but everywhere he goes there is a big spray of water, so everyone pretty much leaves him alone. He comes dressed like a fisherman in full rain gear, hat and all, and just let's 'er fly.

I like the idea of starting little businesses like this and would love to try it. I would not piss around with buying a business like this though. I wouldn't be willing to pay very much for good-will and a client list. A good pressure washer can be had for a few thousand bucks, and a decent, used 2wd truck could see a guy being set up completely for under $10,000. So, if a guy is asking $50,000 or $60,000 for his pressure washing business, what exactly are you paying for? A client list. And now you've laid out big bucks and increased your financial risk enormously.

Although it may take a little longer, I've always felt that this kind of business is best done from the bottom up, with virtually zero risk of capital. A used truck and a pressure washer, for example, still have value and can be resold whether your business succeeds or fails. If you outlay $10,000 for the two, maybe you will lose a little money on them, but you could probably unload them for $7,000 and only lose $3,000 plus your time and effort. Pretty minor. If, on the other hand, you outlay say $50,000 for an existing business with ready clients, when you screw up and ruin the business, you would lose the $40,000 you paid for what amounts to a client list/goodwill which no longer exists, and be only able to sell your equipment for the $7,000, giving you a $43,000 loss of capital. There is absolutely no value in used-up goodwill. When doing a risk-reward analysis, I think the first scenario is highly desirable compared to the latter.   

If I had a proper little shop to start such a home-based business out of, I think I would just buy the equipment and hang out my shingle, to see if I could get work. Once you start figuring out what works and what doesn't, you can modify and improve. Does an ad in the classifieds work or do you need to outlay a couple hundred for a professional ad? Could you make up say, 1,000 flyers, go door to door and stuff them into people's mailboxes? (A cousin of mine paid his way through school house-painting, and that's how he got his customers - all by hitting entire neighbourhoods with flyers he made himself). How does a guy go about landing work at condo-complexes? How can I get my foot in the door with these professional strata services? How can I attract strip-malls or other commercial venues? And so on.

If none of it works, sell the equipment and write off the rest to life experience. But, even if it only partially works, it wouldn't be bad. What if, for having a garage, and a truck, that pressure washer brings you in $20,000/yr in income? It's not enough to live well on, but what if you also supplemented it with say, $20,000/yr you made by house-painting... and perhaps you go and do a course for something like chimney sweeping, which is another home-based business that can easily earn you $20,000 in the three busy months from the middle of September to the middle of December. Now you have three different income streams from your own self-employment, using the same truck and ladders for each - and of course, the same little garage to work out of. 

I need a shop!

Here's a couple of articles to read about starting a home-based pressure washing service:
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Starting a Home-Based Pressure Washing Business

Pressure washing uses a pressurized stream of water, sometimes with cleaners or other chemicals mixed in, to clean house siding, decks, sidewalks, pools, and more. Pressure washers can be rented from equipment rental stores, but many people do not have the time to pressure wash their own property, do not have a truck to transport the pressure washer, or just prefer not to bother doing this wet and dirty task on their own. Pressure washing businesses cater to this market and provide pressure washing services to customers at their homes or businesses. (Read more here)

How to Start a Small Pressure Washing Business

Starting a small pressure washing business can be accomplished with a minimal investment in equipment and training, but the work requires physical fitness, stamina and business skills. Operating the pressure washer itself takes only a few minutes, but the skill required to safely and effectively clean different surfaces can only be had through experience or professional training. In many states, you obtain a contractor license and prove your educational and experience claims. Acquire training by working for a power washing company or by taking certificate courses at continuing education or trade schools. (Read more here)

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