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Author Topic: Transitioning to being self employed  (Read 1135 times)

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Offline mitchstockdale

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Transitioning to being self employed
« on: January 10, 2019, 09:36:31 AM »
Hey all,

Looking for some words of wisdom and your experiences with transitioning from being employed by someone to working for yourself..

I have been having a falling out with my carrier as a draftsman now for a few years, certainly have reached the end of the line as far as advancement goes.  The job pays the bills and has allowed me to build a new house (been working on since spring 2017, no mortgage).  The small company I work for is being acquired by a larger company sometime this year and I see an opportunity to exit the field.  

My passion is working with and building real things, I worked construction for a few years with a company that did high end renovations and learned a ton of stuff working there. I have several hundred hours operating machinery and thousands of hours in building, mostly from single handedly building my own house. 

I am absolutely confident in my ability to work and range of skills... not exactly a professional but i can keep up with the big dogs.  

So all that said I am hoping to get some insight from anyone's similar experience.

Thanks
Do today what others wont, so you can do tomorrow what others cant.

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Offline Southside

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Re: Transitioning to being self employed
« Reply #1 on: January 10, 2019, 09:54:11 AM »
The biggest lesson I can think of is be flexible, in what you do, what you want to do, how you get there, and how long it takes, have a backup plan to keep the wolves at bay, when necessary keep your pride in check, and be ready to pick yourself up by you boot straps along the way.  

The only journey you never complete is the one you give up on.  I have been working for myself since '04 and I am still getting there and making progress, my path has shifted and adjusted along the way but I enjoy what I am doing and just keep heading toward the goals I have set.  

Best of luck with the journey. 
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Offline Bruno of NH

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Re: Transitioning to being self employed
« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2019, 10:13:59 AM »
Don't put your eggs all in one basket.
I have worked for my self since 1984.
Started doing the dirty jobs No one would do in renovations. Sub contracted to some bigger builder's when I was slow.
Got a good name in the area building a house a year then finish work for a high end builder.That slowed did commercial fit ups for a bigger developer learned a ton about business, built him a indoor soccer facility and the stress was to much.Went back to snow plowing in winter and renovations  (happy) then got a mill (happiest).
My point work hard and enjoy what you do,build on your skills and you can do anything. 
Don't let your need to make money turn you into someone else.
Have some friends that forgot where they came from.
That bugs me all ways be honest. 
Bruno 
thomas 8013 mill ,Mahindra 3540 cab tractor loader  Dump trailer  and lot of contracting tools

Offline Resonator

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Re: Transitioning to being self employed
« Reply #3 on: January 10, 2019, 11:49:08 AM »
The hardest part is getting started, learning to manage money, (get a good accountant), and surviving the first year. 
Under bark there's boards and beams, somewhere in between.
Cuttin' while its green, through a steady sawdust stream.
I'm chasing the sawdust dream.

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Offline nybhh

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Re: Transitioning to being self employed
« Reply #4 on: January 10, 2019, 12:06:06 PM »
I have two friends of mine that are both self-employed in construction and I have worked with them both, as the "client", over the years.  They both are hard workers, good guys and good "people persons" with clients so I don't think the differences in their careers and successes can be attributed to those things.  They are also both "generalist".  Sometimes being a true specialist in something is the way to go but neither of these guys fall into that category.

The first guy, let's called him Drew, is in his early 50s and has always run a small crew of guys and taken on "larger" projects.  Mostly residential work, renovations, roofing jobs, some new homes, and some light commercial work, etc.  He does pretty good work, not great, but is dependable, doesn't disappear on jobs before they are done, and gets a fair amount of repeat business.  He generally has to outbid other local outfits unless it is a repeat customer where he will then try and work time + materials at $40 rate for himself and $20-$30 for his guys depending on how good and experienced they are.  He would have a great business IF HE HAD STEADY RELIABLE HELP!.  He is constantly complaining about the guys who work for him, has a lot of turn-over, and when something goes south on a job, it is generally because of something a worker has screwed up.  It's his name however so he has to make it right and that cost him money, time, and sometimes his reputation.  He is constantly hustling to line up the next job and to try and keep himself and his team busy.  I think he does well enough financially to support his family but I can tell he doesn't have much in the way of savings, his credit probably isn't stellar and he drives old beater trucks he's constantly working on.  I swear the guy spends more on truck parts and "donor trucks" than what a new or lightly used truck would run him but to be fair, he does plow with them as well and that is rough on trucks.  

The second guy, let's call him Greg is late 50's/early 60s , works all by himself on residential renovation work.  He is super detail oriented and has a great reputation.  Because he works alone and is super detail oriented, a perfectionist really, he is SLOW, but the quality is always top notch and he doesn't have to rely on inconsistent  "help".  He doesn't bid jobs - charges $350 per day for a 7 hour day and will give an estimate about how long a job should take but makes it clear that is only an estimate and it takes how long it takes.  Materials are the responsibility of the client and he gets paid weekly.  Seems like a big ask but "Greg" generally stays booked up 6 months to a year in advance and his clients are generally willing to wait and are all word-of-mouth.  When he shows up on your job, he is there every "business" day until the job is 100% finished.  None of this bouncing around and disappearing towards the end of a job.  He will often have shorter 1-5 day projects in the queue that he can squeeze in when the inevitable delay happens due to waiting on an appliance or some custom order or something to come in so I think he probably works about as close to full-time as one can expect.  Last time I spoke to him, a client had put him up for a month or so in their guest house in Nantucket to do some work on the main house and he said he was charging them extra (50% extra) because he had to be away from his family but had full use of their pool, hot tub, private beach, etc.  This client was willing to  pay whatever for Gregs work and he built that reputation.   "Greg" drives a brand new truck, has money for Festools, and has a Z-series convertible BMW weekend car he and his wife cruise around in on the weekends and I don't believe he is one of these guys that lives off of credit cards beyond his means.  

Anyway, I've always found their two styles really interesting.  They've both been at it now self-employed for probably about 20 years but where they are each at now in their 50s-60s is SO different.  Sometimes the guys that try to get big end up struggling so much to "feed the machine" while the guys that are content to just stay small but do consistent, top quality work end up with a lot fewer frustrations.  

Good luck!
Woodmizer LT15, Kubota L3800, Stihl MS261 & 40 acres of ticks trees.

Online Old Greenhorn

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Re: Transitioning to being self employed
« Reply #5 on: January 10, 2019, 12:52:10 PM »
I was self-employed for 6 years owning and running a machine shop. One thing I learned was no matter who you worked for, the boss was usually a jerk at least part of the time. No different when you are self-employed. I wound up working a lot of holidays, moving vacations, etc because a client had an 'emergency'.
The one thing I did not consider when I took the plunge, and I believe a lot of others make this same mistake is not understanding how much time must be devoted to running the business (books, ordering, hiring/firing/training, planning, estimating, customer visits, etc. They all add up and eat away at your productive (billable ) time. Between all that, the overhead costs, insurance, time from family, etc. I finally gave up and took a 'regular job with benefits. I could now walk out the door at the same time each day and forget about the work issues until the next morning. For me, that has worked out and I now know 'what I am missing'. When I retire, I can see me doing it again, with a whole new set of rules and goals for myself.
Best of luck to you!
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I ain't the woodcutter, but I can cut wood 'til the woodcutter gets here.

Offline mitchstockdale

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Re: Transitioning to being self employed
« Reply #6 on: January 10, 2019, 03:04:12 PM »
Wow this is some solid stuff so far guys, thanks very much.
Do today what others wont, so you can do tomorrow what others cant.

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Offline SawyerTed

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Re: Transitioning to being self employed
« Reply #7 on: January 10, 2019, 03:16:22 PM »
First find your local small business center, here they are connected with our community colleges. They provide small business startup and operational guidance. 

My situation isnt much different.  Ive got skills to do many things but I lacked the knowledge of running a business.  The small business center has been invaluable.

Next dont create a business that prevents you from being flexible. Im a lumber service but I do several other things - remodels, furniture building, barn and out building construction, lawn seeding and farm services.  I do what pays the bills. 
Woodmizer LT35HD25, Kubota MX5100, IH McCormick Farmall 140, Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill, Husqvarna 372XP, Husqvarna 455 Rancher, Ram 3500 6.7 Cummins

Offline Bruno of NH

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Re: Transitioning to being self employed
« Reply #8 on: January 10, 2019, 04:11:09 PM »
If you end up doing this
Try to put away a nest egg for when times are slow it's very hard to do sometimes.
Even if it's just 25 or 30 bucks a week at first.
Also take care of your health because when you lose your good health things get much harder to do.
thomas 8013 mill ,Mahindra 3540 cab tractor loader  Dump trailer  and lot of contracting tools

Online Old Greenhorn

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Re: Transitioning to being self employed
« Reply #9 on: January 10, 2019, 06:14:51 PM »
IN my post above I had meant to comment on what @nybhh said. I have seen the same thing in several different forms. We all go into a business thinking we know the best way to approach it and what we want to focus on. Some focus on developing their own nitch, some focus on making money, some focus on getting the best equipment to do the job easiest and fastest, some focus on providing a good service or product that always leaves the customer happy. All of these things have merit and value, but you also have to think about what YOU want for yourself and family and more importantly, HOW to get there. As with anything else, once you are 'into it' you are going to look at things differently and you can get tunnel vision, especially if it is not going the way you imagined. Here is where I made my mistake: I was way too hesitant to make 'course corrections'. That is, to step back, look at what was happening, weigh it against the original goal, and then make changes to get back on course. SO I suffered along and worked 80 hour weeks (or more) to make it work and pay the bills. I think the other thing that caused me to 'fail' was that I was very unwilling to take a bank loan to help me up to the next step. Buying machines for a machine shop is no small thing and for a sole proprietor it is really scary when you are talking about $75-100k just to get started with a single machine and no tooling.
SO think things through and on a regular basis take a hard look where you are at. Then don't be afraid to make course corrections. When I finally shut my shop down, I was making money, just not enough, and I had lost my main customer (they went overseas for cheap stuff, and go it:)). I had a wife, a house, and a baby on the way. I was looking down the road a few years and not seeing anything different except for me working harder. So I switched to part time, and took a union job making good bucks. Eventually, 5 years later we re-located to the Catskills along with a 30% pay cut and I have never looked back. My kids grew up straight, clean and healthy and we have hunting and hiking and fishing all around us. I have no regrets, and no matter what YOU choose to do, you shouldn't have any either.
All the responses I have read here have value, take your time and glean what you can from them. Then sit down and WRITE out your business plan. If you can't write it down, in detail, you have no plan. Everybody needs a plan to succeed, no matter what you are doing.
I truly do wish you the best of luck.
Tom
[EDIT:] that main customer I lost to cheap overseas goods, they had to order a years supply on everything I made for them (high quality solid brass hardware for high end markets), it took them almost a year to get their first shipment and when they did, they found it was all hollow formed and stamped brass 'junk' that they could never sell to the high end designers that were their clients. They called me up and begged me to make parts for them, by then I had moved on and could not handle their demands as a part timer. I declined. They finally found a shop to make the stuff but at twice the price I was charging. SO you have to ask, how did THAT business decision work out for them? In that instance, being able to say "I told you so" did not give me the slightest satisfaction. I knew it would happen and I knew it was killing both of us, I just had to let them do what they wanted and watch the aftermath.
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I ain't the woodcutter, but I can cut wood 'til the woodcutter gets here.

Offline low_48

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Re: Transitioning to being self employed
« Reply #10 on: January 10, 2019, 11:23:43 PM »
I ran my own custom woodworking business for 8 years. I closed it in 1999. I still have nightmares about no working showing up, late delivery, etc.... I hated the paperwork. Sending employee withholding money to the bank was a killer. Just when I thought we were getting ahead at the end of the year, taxes brought us back to even. I worked too hard, and worried too much. 60 hour weeks became a short week. I'd work a 10 hour day, then go visit a client at their home after dinner. So I'd work 7 to 5, then 7-9 at night. Kids hardly ever saw me, except for dinner. Often I wouldn't turn on a machine until noon since I had paperwork and bids to get out. I was offered a woodworking job with 40 hour weeks and benefits at Woodworker's Journal Magazine. I almost broke down their door running into the place to get that job. The magazine was sold and closed, and I went back to my original corporate job. Now I'm retired with a pension and living quite comfortably. I would have had to work till I died if I stayed self employed. No way was I making the money on my own to save this much for retirement. Make sure to figure all your taxes, insurances, self employment tax (nobody to pay your Social Security when you are self employed except you) and retirement plan. How many in your family to provide for? I would have definitely not made my business work for 8 years if my wife didn't have a good job with medical insurance. As crazy as this world is these days, I always feel like the duct tape holding it together could tear at any moment. Notice any changes with the stock market lately? The last thing I would suggest is keep your day job until you have at least 1 year of living money in the bank. It's an American thing to convince yourself that you can always do it better than everyone else. If being self employed was so *danged easy, who would work for a boss? 40 hour weeks, insurance, and stability are the reasons we work for someone else. Do some part time jobs for money to make sure you have any kind of estimating skills that can support your lifestyle while making a profit. 

Offline nybhh

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Re: Transitioning to being self employed
« Reply #11 on: January 11, 2019, 02:40:19 AM »
IMHO, The previous posts have a LOT wisdom in them.  Wow.  Ive had my own business since 2004 and do alright these days but I have no shame in saying I would have never survived the 2008 recession if my wife wasnt steadily employed with a good salary and good benefits that she was able to hold on to. During the recession, my partner and I were making 1/2 of what the few employees we were able to keep were making and felt super fortunate just for that.  Our most senior and valuable employee we actually made a partner (without a buy-in) to hopefully keep him when we couldnt afford to pay the salary he deserved and Im happy to say he does pretty well these days and his loyalty has paid off.  There are plenty of businesses out there that are willing to bend over backwards for excellence but that often means very different things to the person running the business than it does to the employees.  
Woodmizer LT15, Kubota L3800, Stihl MS261 & 40 acres of ticks trees.

Offline mitchstockdale

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Re: Transitioning to being self employed
« Reply #12 on: January 14, 2019, 09:15:00 AM »
I wasn't going to post this thread but i am some happy i did.

My preference would be to work solely for myself and not have any employees. Only take jobs that i can finish within a couple weeks.  As the core of my business I would like to do excavating/property maintenance.  Small 3 ton machine, trailer and a small dumper (GMC Topkick) are fairly cost effective to get set up with, all used of course, already have a tractor.  

In addition to this I would like to take the odd small renovation job (already own an extensive array of tools).  I see both the property maintenance and renovations as two sides of the same coin with potential for additional work either way (ie: do some grading around a house...notice that their decks are looking fairly shabby and starting to rot out and mention that they should think about replacing the things and vice-versa.)

To summarize my potential ways to produce income would be:
- Excavation / snowplowing (small scale not big machinery) 
- Renovations (small)
- New home/reno priming/painting (own a Graco paint sprayer...had a drywall finisher ask me if i was interested is painting his jobs)
- Sawmilling (fairly close to cottage country, always someone looking for lumber)
- market gardening (more of my wife's wheelhouse - long term project)
- christmas trees and wreaths (no trees yet, have only made wreathes in the past which is fairly rewarding - long term project)

On a personal note i have been trying to structure my living arrangements to be self sufficient cause you never know whats coming down the pipe (nybhh mentioned the 2008 recession above).  To clarify I do not have to rely heavily on outside means to keep my house operating and family fed.  Built my own house no mortgage only owe about 1/3 of its actual value should be able to have it totally paid off in 5 years.  Installing an outdoor wood boiler to essentially have unlimited heat.  Developing vegetable gardens (wife loves this) and raising small livestock for food. By taking these actions I alleviate some of the need to bring home a "good" living, although not a reason to not put the same effort forward to produce income. 

All of these endeavors I can do while still working my current position which is likely the route i will take and only go full time for myself once I start to establish some traction.  Just gotta get rid of this winter
Do today what others wont, so you can do tomorrow what others cant.

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Offline florida

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Re: Transitioning to being self employed
« Reply #13 on: January 14, 2019, 10:55:50 AM »
I've been self-employed contractor for almost 50 years and it's a rough road.  There probably hasn't been a single one of those years that I haven't considered doing something different, the grass is always greener thing. I've discouraged my children from following my footsteps because generally construction is a terrible business. A one man show isn't a business, it's just a job that you created and has no value to anyone else. The most successful samll construction businesses are the specialties, AC, electric and plumbing.  Another big issue with a physical job like construction is that as you age you won't be able to work as hard so you won't make as much income. Construction is very hard on the body so you can't count on on having the same number of working years that a guy in an office will. I'm 72 and can outwork any of my guys, for about 2 hours! My body is shot, my joints ache enough to wake me up at night, my hearing and vision are both horrible and my skin looks like worn out boots. I left a nice office job for this. I wish I hadn't.
 
General contractor and carpenter for 50 years.

Offline Bradm

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Re: Transitioning to being self employed
« Reply #14 on: January 14, 2019, 05:34:57 PM »
@mitchstockdale, before you start take a full accounting of your needs, from a financial perspective.  Make sure you differentiate between needs and wants.  This will set your minimum income (break even point) required if you have no variable costs.  Include a reasonable salary, including payroll taxes and the CPP double whammy, for yourself as part of your breakeven numbers.  Though you may not be able to actually pay yourself the full salary starting out, it will be a good barometer to the real health of your business.  Too many new businesses don't do this and the "profit" that these people think they are making is really a "blue sky" figure as it barely covers an owners salary.

Don't be scared to pivot if the market dictates and don't be scared to invest in technology to make your work easier - especially if your set on working solo.

A one man show isn't a business, it's just a job that you created and has no value to anyone else.

As a generalized, blanket statement this doesn't mean anything.  In fact, this forum has members that prove this wrong on a daily basis.  A business's value is in the profit, assets, and work type.  With that said, at least you didn't call it a hobby.

Offline terrifictimbersllc

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Re: Transitioning to being self employed
« Reply #15 on: January 15, 2019, 09:23:29 AM »
I've often sawn for guys who work in offices.  Some told me they're jealous.

Once went to saw one log for a guy who I found out afterwards was a CEO.  Anyway I told him that if I was going to saw his logs he'd have to be there to give me instructions and help out.  He got a good workout.  After it was over he said that's the most fun he's had in years.  :)

IRS and a number of govt agencies think I'm a business.  Haven't been able to disabuse them of that notion.

In our society we sometimes hear "job creators" being praised.  I like to think I created one job, which is  better than none.  :D :D :D


p.s. that being said, Florida has good points and knows what he's talking about I think. 
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Offline low_48

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Re: Transitioning to being self employed
« Reply #16 on: January 15, 2019, 02:46:32 PM »
To summarize my potential ways to produce income would be: - Excavation / snowplowing (small scale not big machinery)  - Renovations (small) - New home/reno priming/painting (own a Graco paint sprayer...had a drywall finisher ask me if i was interested is painting his jobs) - Sawmilling (fairly close to cottage country, always someone looking for lumber) - market gardening (more of my wife's wheelhouse - long term project) - christmas trees and wreaths (no trees yet, have only made wreathes in the past which is fairly rewarding - long term project)


It's going to be extremely difficult to market all those businesses. Advertising as a handyman, but with a list of narrow jobs accepted will make it even harder to make a living over the crucial first 3 years! It takes social media and a website with professional photography to make a decent living. It's really going to be tough when you have to turn down work because it's too big.

Offline Lko67

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Re: Transitioning to being self employed
« Reply #17 on: January 15, 2019, 04:44:02 PM »
My only word of advice I s get short term and long term disability insurance. I was a auto tech at a Ford dealership then bought a garage and went on my own. My wife also worked as the service writer. Made it 9 years. About the 7th year started getting sick and had to sell at 9 years. Ended up on disability and possibly now getting hip joints replaced all because of Lyme disease. Long story short the short term kept us floating until we sold and my long term pays for 10 years hoping I can get back to doing something by then. It is relatively cheap and may just save you from losing everything. I try to tell everyone this hopefully I can save some people.

Offline moodnacreek

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Re: Transitioning to being self employed
« Reply #18 on: January 15, 2019, 07:13:09 PM »
There are 3 things you need to know: first you must learn the proper way to do whatever it is you chose to do. This way nobody can come back and say you did it wrong. 2nd. you must produce and deliver or make ready to. And now the hardest part; get paid.

Offline mitchstockdale

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Re: Transitioning to being self employed
« Reply #19 on: January 17, 2019, 11:04:30 AM »
To summarize my potential ways to produce income would be: - Excavation / snowplowing (small scale not big machinery)  - Renovations (small) - New home/reno priming/painting (own a Graco paint sprayer...had a drywall finisher ask me if i was interested is painting his jobs) - Sawmilling (fairly close to cottage country, always someone looking for lumber) - market gardening (more of my wife's wheelhouse - long term project) - christmas trees and wreaths (no trees yet, have only made wreathes in the past which is fairly rewarding - long term project)


It's going to be extremely difficult to market all those businesses. Advertising as a handyman, but with a list of narrow jobs accepted will make it even harder to make a living over the crucial first 3 years! It takes social media and a website with professional photography to make a decent living. It's really going to be tough when you have to turn down work because it's too big.
Absolutely agree that it would be difficult to market all those services under a single umbrella since they are mutually exclusive and would likely be confusing to most people.  Offering this broad range of services would not be my intent anyway.  Since I am most interested in excavation/property maintenance this would be my core business with the other endeavors being more like side hustles to act as fall backs.  Note I used the words "Potential ways to produce income" and did not refer to them as businesses, as i see a clear distinction between a 'business' and 'producing income'.  To me a business does (hopefully) produce income but you do not require a business to produce income.

Since excavation / property maintenance is considered seasonal I will require fall back positions to continue to produce income. What I have taken away from some members posts so far is that if you are a specialist at something and work slows down, or is not available, then times are not going to be good or fun... but if you are a generalist, remain flexible and keep overhead low and being willing to adapt to change then you will likely have a better chance at survival.

I agree and disagree with your point about a professional website to make a decent living.  Websites have no real value, they don't produce anything (unless they make ad revenue which is outside my scope) a website for me is essentially a fancy business card...for the most part an up to date social media page would be adequate.  IMO, word of mouth is far more powerful than any website or social media page for a small business.

In regard to turning down work... if big work is all that is available then yes that could be bad but its not likely.  As far as small excavation goes there is always someone looking to have work done.  I know this because I have worked for a friend that has a small side business doing this very thing and he is constantly turning down jobs because he is too busy...he only accepts jobs close to home and of certain size and refers bigger jobs to other contractors which in-turn gets him smaller jobs from the bigger guys.
Do today what others wont, so you can do tomorrow what others cant.

Kubota MX5200 / Woodland Mills HM126 / Stihl MS361


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