Turn the snowfall into a windfall by starting your own snow-shoveling business.
With help from our experts, Mike Stevens, owner of the industry newsletter Snowplow News, and Kevin Arroyo, the owner of R and A Cleaning Services in Staten Island, N.Y., WalletPop offers the following advice to get digging:
Money talks: Charge what the market will bear. "Be opportunistic," Stevens told WalletPop Monday, as the East Coast braced for another storm. "It's pure capitalism. Nothing wrong with it." Asking $40 for a two-car driveway in New York City is acceptable, Arroyo said, while Stevens said that in his Cedarburg, Wisc., neighborhood, you'd have to be prepared to compete against the fit college kid who will do the same job for $10. Unemployment will create extra competition, so you might have to temper expectations. Snow operates in the alternative universe of supply and demand: the greater the supply of snow, the more you're in demand.
The scoop: You're going to need a $14 to $30 snow shovel with a scooped shape and grooves. Most home improvement stores carry snow shovels. When you dig, try to grab around six inches worth, and never raise the shovel above the waist to spare your back and shoulders. Be mindful not to dump the snow in another area that might obstruct humans or vehicles.
Easy on the salt: Use eco- and animal-friendly rock salt (50 pounds for $17). You're probably not going to be insured, so spare yourself some grief. You'll keep your clients in the springtime when damage to shrubbery and asphalt is often revealed.
Word of mouth: Approach family and friends and pass out business cards in the neighborhood you plan to cover. The Internet won't help you at first, according to our guys. You need to build trust through contacts. If you go door to door, be friendly and be careful what you promise. Snowfall can be unpredictable. Remember to offer to clear cars and windshields (wipers up) while you're at it for extra cash. Snowbirds who have gone south could be potential customers as well.
Pick six: Keep your accounts to about six unless you plan to invest in more equipment. "If it snows more than 10 inches, you're going to be a hurting puppy," Stevens said.
Get the drift: Realize that this is part-time work at best. The weather is fickle. Even professionals juggle snow removal with landscaping or gutter cleaning in the warm months. Arroyo has an all-year floor-cleaning service.
Plowing ahead: If you want to graduate to a snow blower, it will cost you a minimum of $300 for a decent one, our experts said. But you'll more than make up for it in efficiency, according to Arroyo, especially when the snow is heavy and wet and the area is large. You'll probably need a truck or van to transport it. If you're determined to grow your enterprise and have a four-wheel-drive, you might invest in a snow plow ($1,500 and up). You can do six two-car driveways in the same hour it takes for you to clear a driveway by shovel, Stevens estimated.