Here’s the easiest way to make money shoveling snow.
You might think that making a buck removing snow is as simple as picking up a shovel, heading out the door early on the morning of that first big snowstorm, and seeing who needs help in your neighborhood.
You’d be right. It is that simple. At least, that’s how you get started. If you really want to turn snow shoveling into a simple, consistently profitable side hustle, read on.
Level 1 – Getting Started making money shoveling snow
Buy or even borrow a shovel. Watch the weather. When it snows, get out there bright and early, knock on your neighbors’ doors, and ask to help them on an hourly basis.
Start with an hourly rate 20% higher than what you get paid at work. If you get paid $15/hr at work, charge at least $18/hr for your first snow shoveling gigs. Otherwise, it’s just not worth it.
Many people will tell you to avoid hourly rates as a contractor (which you are – you’re a freelance snow removal contractor here). But I disagree, for one reason: when you’re first starting out, you have no idea what to charge and how long gigs will take you. More often than not you’ll overbid and lose the job; or you’ll underbid and wind up working for free, which is even worse.
I learned this lesson the hard way when I started landscaping, which is much the same as snow removal – snow removal is just cold season landscaping.
On my first gig job, I made $28 for an entire day. By the end of the season, I made $520/day for essentially the same work, simply because I learned how to estimate and pitch customers. This is the same for any kind of gig work.
But don’t tell the prospect your hourly rate outright. Give them an estimated cost for the job based on your hourly rate. In order to do this, be sure to evaluate the property before you knock on the door, so you can give a customer an accurate estimate.
You can say exactly this if you’re tongue-tied:
YOU: Good morning Ma’am [or Sir]. I’m [your name]. Would you like any help clearing off the snow today?
PROSPECT: Well, I might. What’ll it cost me?
YOU: I work on an hourly basis, since I find it’s the most fair for everyone involved. I figure you have between an hour and two hours of work here, so the job could be between $20 and $40.
PROSPECT: That’s fine. I really didn’t want to do this today, honestly. You’d actually be helping me out a lot. Do you take checks or cash? Hey, you like coffee? Muffins?
Be friendly, not salesy. Just be you. Once you get a yes, don’t overtalk the sale. Just get right to work.
If you really want to make money shoveling snow, you have to push through the rejections. Expect to get at least five rejections for every “yes,” and probably more. Work through the rejections until you get that first yes. Shovel the property. Collect payment.
BUT WAIT! Don’t move on yet. Before you leave each property, ask the homeowner, “Who else do you know who could use my services?”
Notice I didn’t say, “Do you know anyone else who could use my services?” Don’t give them an easy out. Encourage them to think of specific names.
Hopefully they’ll give you some local leads. If so, go straight to those addresses. A “hot lead” is always better than cold calls. If they didn’t give you any leads, continue on down the block and repeat the process.
That’s it. In run-down neighborhoods, guys down on their luck do this every time it snows, and they get business. Start wherever you live, but keep in mind: the wealthier the neighborhood, the better chance you have at getting yeses, and the more you can charge.
Level 2 – Getting organized
When you come home with your first big wad of cash, resist the urge to spend it all. Save it! This is your seed funding to expand your hustle. Plant that seed in the right soil and it will grow into a larger profit. Here’s how you use it.
Acquire more efficient tools for the job. You’ll likely have noticed that making money shoveling snow by hand is a heck of a workout. You may have noticed your boots don’t grip icy sidewalks well enough. Maybe your jacket isn’t warm enough to be outside for hours at a time. This is where you spend your seed funding.
Here’s a suggested lean-startup-snow removal company loadout, assuming you are ultralocal and on foot. Borrow everything you can. Buy everything else used. Purchase new as a last resort.
- Sturdy steel-tipped snow shovel
- Flat-bladed icebreaker bar
- Light push broom or push-style car brush
- Gas operated power shovel (MAYBE – more on this later)
- Ice scraper for cars
- High quality work jacket and coveralls (I love Carhartt and Duluth Trading)
- Down vest
- Easily removable gloves or mittens
- Synthetic or woolen long johns
- Waterproof, high grip boots, broken in well beforehand
- Removable crampons
- Lightweight utility sled for dragging tools through the neighborhood. Get one that isn’t a cheesy, childish color. Black is good.
- Highly visible vest with SNOW REMOVAL FOR HIRE emblazoned on it.
Get visible to make more money shoveling snow
Buy a vest, jacket, or pay for silkscreening on your current jacket that plasters in HUGE, high contrast letters something to this effect:
SNOW REMOVAL FOR HIRE
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a gig while out landscaping and a neighbor hired me because they saw me working. This is also why trucks have company names and phone numbers on them, too.
Be your own best billboard. Buy a flaming orange jacket if you want. Get noticed while you work.
What’s more fun than making money shoveling snow? Shoveling with a crew! Gather up your friends and hit the streets together. It’s way more fun; you’ll be much bolder as salespeople with backup; you’ll get more work done, faster; and you’ll be more visible.
You can hire your friends or work as partners. When you’re first starting out, I recommend you grab a friend and split the profit 50/50. But if you choose to hire people, make sure you’re making money on their labor or it isn’t worth the hassle for you.
I used to charge $50/hour for landscaping by myself and $25/extra for each additional employee I brought with me. The employee cost me $15/hr, which means I wound up with $10/hr extra for each guy I added to my crew.
Level 3 – Getting serious about making money shoveling snow
Without writing an entire business plan for a snow removal startup, here are a few things you’ll want to do after you’re established:
- Create a company name – you don’t even have to register it, just make up a name.
- Get a very basic business card. Leave these at every door and with every client.
- Get that SNOW REMOVAL FOR HIRE emblazoned on your jacket. Wear it everywhere, even when you’re not actively removing snow.
- Make sure your tools are clean, and so are you.
Basically, the more legit you look, the more seriously people will take you; the more yeses you’ll get; and the more you can charge.
My first professional landscaping gig was for an older gentleman who saw my brother and I as kids, and paid us fifteen bucks an hour (which in New Jersey, isn’t much). I was 25 years old. Six months later, I was charging $50/hr for exactly the same kind of work (and even that isn’t enough in Jersey!)
Remember, you want to feel like the kid in the photo for this post (having a blast outside and getting paid for it); but you don’t want anybody else to treat you like a child playing around when money is concerned. Avoid being somebody’s “kid I hired to do the driveway.” Present yourself well.
Look up the competition
Find out what other people in your area charge for snow removal. Chances are it’s considerably more than your starting hourly rate. Raise your rates to a level at or just below the local average.
Acquire better equipment to make faster money shoveling snow
At some point, you may consider investing in a handheld power shovel or even a snowblower. Beware, however. Power tools are not always easier for you in the long run. Machines have higher price tags, cost money to run and repair and include many unforeseen and unbillable hours of maintenance.
Take steps toward mechanization with caution, and raise your rates accordingly.
Offer more services
Include driveway and porch salting/sanding, clearing off cars, removal of snow from rooftops and gutters (ice-dam prevention) even pre-snow salting/sanding.
Consider purchasing liability insurance
You might not think you need insurance to make money shoveling snow. You’re right, you don’t. Unfortunately, lawsuits a fact of life. I highly recommend that if you want to take your hustle beyond the point of a one-man/woman show with a shovel, you look into liability insurance. It hurts to pay money for “nothing” each month – it hurts so bad, I know – but it hurts much less than someone taking your house and car because they slipped on stairs you were supposed to have made safe for them.
Also, do a good job. Don’t let any of your elderly customers slip on stairs you were supposed to have made safe for them.
Set up recurring contracts
Sell your services before they are needed (hey, just like a real snow removal company! Look at us, moving up in the world). Set up relationships with clients so that you are on call when the snow comes.
Follow the same process you would on the day of a snow event, only this time you’re doing it before it’s necessary. Leave cards with people who say no. They may just call you back when the big one hits. Beware though – the big downside of the snow removal business is that you must monitor the weather every day in season, and be prepared for some extremely early mornings and very long days. Be sure you charge enough.
This method means no time wasted looking for business on valuable snow days. You just get right to work.
There’s lots more you can do to expand your business, but I hope you’ve learned enough here to get at it and start earning money! When you’re ready to take your hustle to the next level, check out our article on transforming your informal hustle into an official business.