Snow piling up is great if you’re a skier or snowboarder, or if you’re a kid who wants to build a snowman. Snow piling up in your driveway or parking lot has far fewer fans. And not everyone is equipped to remove his own snow. If you know your way around a snowplow or snowblower, and are willing to put forth a little effort, you could make money snowplowing. Whether that money adds up to spare change or a dependable source of income depends on a number of factors.
Before you start passing out business cards for your snow removal business, consider how much snow your area receives each winter. A couple of storms a year might help you earn a little cash, but you can’t count on a snowplowing business for significant income. But if you live in a part of the United States where the white stuff covers the ground for four or five months, you could have a ready market of people who need your services. You also need to know your competition. Landscape companies often offer snow removal in the winter. Look in the local phone book and count the ads for snow removal. Check the local paper. Talk to friends and neighbors and local businesses and find out who plows their snow. If you don’t find a lot of competition and you hear people lament the lack of a reliable snowplow service, you’ve already found potential customers.
Removing snow takes heavy-duty equipment. A snowblower designed to manage a residential driveway isn’t likely to survive a winter of heavy use on multiple driveways. Pros use truck-mounted plows or Skid Steers with blades to efficiently move large quantities of snow in little time. If you already own such equipment because you have a landscaping business or a construction company, you can start snowplowing with little additional investment. If you have to purchase commercial grade equipment, you’ll be out tens of thousands of dollars before you’ve earned one dime from plowing.
You can bill for your snowplowing services by the job, by the hour or by the season. Residents often pay by the job, while businesses prefer a set fee for the season. Ask your neighbors, or call the competition and pretend to be a potential customer, and find out what they're charging. You don’t want to charge more than the going rate, but dropping your prices too low can backfire on you, too. Some people are suspicious of a too-low price, and you need to make enough to cover the cost of your overhead.
Even if you already own the necessary equipment, you’ll need fuel for the machines, money for repairs, since equipment will invariably break down over the course of the winter and insurance. If you’re going to come onto other people’s property to remove snow, you need liability insurance to protect you. If your snowblower throws a rock into a picture window or your plow runs over a prized garden sculpture or your truck dents a client’s car, you need insurance to pay the damages. You’ll also need money to advertise your services, even if this is only a small ad in the local paper and some fliers handed out in the neighborhood.
Once you know how much you can charge for your services, multiply this amount by the number of customers you can reasonably expect to service. If you’re doing residential work, remember that people will want their driveways cleared before they have to leave for work, so you’ll need to start your day early. If it takes you 15 minutes to clear a driveway, plus 10 minutes between jobs, you know you can do two drives an hour. Longer drives will take longer, while a group of drives on the same street will lessen the commute time. Doing the math will help you figure how much you could potentially make the day after a big storm. Weather records will give you an idea of how many storms your area gets, on average, each winter, but remember, averages are just that -- they don't reflect the weather every year. You need to have money in reserve to tide you over during periods of no snow. And remember you’ll likely have less business in the beginning, thus less money coming in.
Cynthia Myers is the author of numerous novels and her nonfiction work has appeared in publications ranging from "Historic Traveler" to "Texas Highways" to "Medical Practice Management." She has a degree in economics from Sam Houston State University.