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No Experience - Need advice (excavation)

Discussion in 'General Industry Questions' started by TheBackwoodHustler, Oct 25, 2020.

  1. TheBackwoodHustler

    TheBackwoodHustler New Member

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Tennessee
    I live in Tennessee, near Nashville, and I just quit my job in construction staffing. I have zero experience in excavation, but I believe it's something I would really enjoy doing after walking job sites every day. I like working for myself, and no matter what my end goal is to start my own company within a few years.

    I know that I could get in an excavator and operate it fluently by the end of the day, I'm mechanically inclined and grew up working machines on a farm, but I understand this business is all about experience and things you learn from it. Of course I could start as a grunt with a shovel in my hand, but I want to start in a machine with a company that will teach me, and learn the trade.. all the while saving my $ for equipment startup.

    What route should I take? I was thinking going to school, and finding a company willing to hire a greenie.
    ----
    Besides the questions asked below, simply put- what do I need to know to get started? I know it's no simple question. Just anything you think as an excavator would be good for me to know getting into things. Mainly speaking about when I start my own business.

    Excavation questions:

    Please bare with me, as I said I know literally nothing but the basics of excav.
    -Excavators are expensive, so I'll most likely start in a mini unless I decide to get a loan. What type of jobs can you do EFFICIENTLY with a mini? How do I go about finding and bidding on jobs? (I know a lot of people i'm sure could get me contacts for work)
    -Should I start with a mini and work my way up through residential, small comm jobs? Or is renting midi's and large excavators from the start, eventually buying one, a viable option?
    -What licenses will I need for working an excavtor for commercial and residential jobs?
    -How do you judge a job's worth? I understand that's a loaded question, but I'd be focusing on ONLY excav work. Do you price your time by the hour? By the weight moved? The square feet?
     
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  2. DMiller

    DMiller Senior Member

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    Jumping in blind is not a great aspiration to perform
    Building skills and funds working for ‘the other guy’ a few years where can start out piece working to build a reputation as a preferred source and not just a discount priced noob with a big debt load.
    Great intentions but so many nuances that have to be learned not just explained as well learning billing cycles how to charge where to discount and why as well when to walk away.
     
  3. seville009

    seville009 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
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    Location:
    CNY
    Agree with Dmiller

    In any business, you need to decide what your services and customer base will be before you invest in equipment and such.


    If, for example, you’re going to install septic systems in tight residential areas, that will require different equipment and skills than digging two acre ponds in wide open fields.
     
  4. TheBackwoodHustler

    TheBackwoodHustler New Member

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    Location:
    Tennessee
    Well, I'd like to focus on land moving. Take contracts to dig and get it done. Eventually moving into more complicated stuff. As of now this is all just thought. I'm trying to find the quickest way to get into an excavator. Whether that be schooling, union, etc
     
  5. TheBackwoodHustler

    TheBackwoodHustler New Member

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    I should reiterate-
    Land moving, land clearing, land grading, digging ditches, etc.
     
  6. Old Doug

    Old Doug Senior Member

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    Working for some one to start out is the way to go. Every one here is needing help you may have to start at the bottom as a laborer but if your any thing at all you can work your way up quick. Jumping in the deep end thinking your a good swimmer is a ruff way to start out.
     
  7. treemuncher

    treemuncher Senior Member

    Joined:
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    Occupation:
    eatin' trees, poopin' chips
    Location:
    West TN
    Some of the best business advice I ever got: "Don't try to do everything - select one service to concentrate on and do that well. There will be fewer headaches, more efficiency and more money made in the long run."

    At that time, I was hauling gravel, bush hogging, running dozers, excavators, graders and most anything else I could to make money. I was also running in every direction. I thought about the advice and decided to get into specialty contracting and work alone. Things eventually got better and got me to where I am today. Pretty well paid off and successful on my 24th year of specialty contracting.

    Another older business man told me, "I don't know how to do any of this, but I hire people that do. Hire good people that can do the work and if you can manage the business, you will be profitable." He was another business success that was always busy.

    When I got into dirt work, I knew very little. The old man that worked for me at the time was a retired operator who taught me many, many basics. Why do I need to strip the topsoil? Why do I need to key a dam or levee? Many questions if you want to do it the correct way and do quality work. Reading and the internet helped learn a lot more.
     
  8. AzIron

    AzIron Senior Member

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    No one got in an excavator and ran it fluently in one day or one month for that matter just so your clear on that

    The amount of learning you need to do is mind boggling to be honest it takes me 3 years to make a turn key operator and they still have things to learn

    The number one thing about dirt work is everyone that hires an excavating contractor doesnt understand the science of dirt and therefore has false expectations the most important thing is to not touch any dirt more than once and dont move it once if you dont have to

    So find a good mom and pop outfit that is willing to teach you the basics like how to find grade and read prints and understand engineers are to smart for there own good and how to maintain said equipment then you will be ready to really learn how to operate

    And from what I understand about Nashville you will experience rock and hard dig that's an education of it's own away from just dirt and its specialized equipment

    Good luck and dont get discouraged
     
  9. Spud_Monkey

    Spud_Monkey Senior Member

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    Should of held onto the job and used it to buy equipment and start learning it inside and out on how to operate it. Then take the occasional weekend job to get your feet wet get acclimated to the profession and then take the plunge.
     
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  10. TVA

    TVA Senior Member

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    My friend moved from Seattle to Spartanburg little more then a year ago still as a small trucking company owner, quit trucking for good around may and went full excavation!
    never worked in excavation before!
    As of today he is pretty good on skills. the only trouble for him, is he is inexperienced on the business side, so he miss quoted couple of jobs and didn’t earn as much money as he expected!

    Another friend, in your neck of the woods - Franklin TN, also truck driver. Bought skid steer for him self, neighbours started asking him to do things and pay for them, then he bought mini excavator, and all of the sudden he got to busy to go on the trucking road trips! Last I heard from him - he only have skid steer and mini ex. and stays busy!

    I guess it is all depends on the talent and pre disposition to do things!

    For example - I don’t have the talent to quickly learn to operate those things, but pretty quick to learn how to fix them.
    Just my 2 cents!
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2020
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  11. John Canfield

    John Canfield Senior Member

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    Ranching
    Location:
    Texas
    My E42 mini weighs about 5 tons ready to work so you are going to need a one ton truck (ideally) and equipment trailer of the appropriate capacity to haul it around. I'm fairly well coordinated and it took me about 25 operating hours to get somewhat productive with the E42. I now have 125 hours of seat time and I'm nowhere near productive like a career operator would be.

    Much luck to you, entrepreneurs are the backbone of our country.
     
    DMiller likes this.
  12. CM1995

    CM1995 Super Moderator

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    Running what I brung and taking what I win
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    This is the reality.
     
  13. AzIron

    AzIron Senior Member

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    Dont take my directness the wrong way this industry is so full of 2 bit hacks that it cant stand much more in my opinion a guy that wants in and is willing to go the distance to be the best will be successful but it's a longer road to get there a lot longer road

    I have customers that will pay 15 percent over market for us cause of the quality of work we provide in the circle I am in especially residential Plumbing digs we get calls for stuff no one else wants or is out of most people's depth to do efficiently

    So take all advice on this thread with some salt cause there is really good advice here

    But in this business it's not enough to not know things you have to know how outside your depth you are to gage the risk and it's a highly risky buissness with huge investments and big overhead.

    Concrete and dirt work really have the same comparable risk so ask yourself if your willing to jump into concrete this green cause for me it would keep me up at night
     
  14. suladas

    suladas Senior Member

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    Yea it's amazing how many people are pro's at excavation yet never spent a second in the seat. Dealing with one right now, he blamed a bank caving in on me because I dug it from the wrong direction. Now he's an expert on how to backfill, texted me a picture of a tree spade telling me it will be helpful to backfill. Patience is definitely a virtue when it comes to excavating and dealing with the knowitalls. The most annoying thing is the contractors telling you there won't be extra dirt, then warning them of how much extra it's going to cost to haul it at backfill, then when the lot is bursting at the seams and you just barely fit it they go "oh I guess there is a lot of extra dirt".

    It is a million times more difficult then it looks. Yea anyone can jump in an in a hour be ok at bulking dirt around, but when it comes to digging a grade, demoing a house, digging up concrete without destroying the machine, etc it takes a long time. I'm on my 4th year of digging basements and while i've got it down good, I still know I got more to learn. And i've got probably 1500 hours seat time in a 200. A mini is a lot quicker, probably 2000 hours there and feel i've got that machine down nearly perfect. However I learned everything I know about excavation by trial and error and a bit of watching others, I didn't learn from someone with experience.
     
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  15. treemuncher

    treemuncher Senior Member

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    Occupation:
    eatin' trees, poopin' chips
    Location:
    West TN
    These guys hit the nail on the head. I've got over 9k hrs of seat time in my PC200 plus numerous other excavators over the past 27+ years of operating. I'm fortunate enough to be a very fast learner on any piece of equipment and I am self taught on almost everything I have ever run. Now, I'm trying to learn the nuances of a Menzi Muck A91F. I feel like I was just sent to the back of the class with this one. There is SO much more to think about but so much more that I can achieve with it. Determination is what makes entrepreneurs successful. Think, learn, overcome adversity and become successful.

    My "learning" excavators lost glass and took a few hard hits. I came close to getting myself killed a few times learning the dangers of clearing work but that was what I liked the best. This leads to the question, "how much of a hit can you afford to your wallet?" This is basically a question of repairs but you should also consider health and accidents within this question. Hospital time is costly and there is no income during recuperation time.

    With what I run, I have to be prepared for a $50k+ hit at any time if I trash a hydraulic system on one of my larger machines. I also have to be without any income from that machine until it is operational again. Friday was a light hit - blown hose and lost over a barrel of oil from the hydraulic system before I could shut it down. Experience told me what the sound likely was and the smell confirmed it. The good was that I was able to move it out of the brush/swamp and get it loaded on the truck before the hydraulics were totally empty. I got it chained down and out of the woods (1/4 mile+ to road) just before 3" of rain hit. Had I not gotten the machine out of the woods, I would likely be down for over a week with the forecast and the fact that the job was an hour from the shop. Not counting my labor, I will likely get out of this one cheap at a grand, but certainly several days off for repairs, cleaning and chasing parts. Now if I could not repair it myself, THAT in itself would be a totally different story and likely $3k-$5k in costs. Always keep enough buffer in the account to make it through winter and take the worst of hits in repairs.

    I'm not trying to discourage the OP from getting into the business but to be aware of what some of it entails. I started out much the same: a dream of a trackhoe and a business. My first business did not fare so well. My second business started with a junk excavator ('65 Hein Warner) that was given to me and a single axle dump truck to start hauling gravel from the pit on my property. I had a tractor and box blade to spread the product and I took off from there.

    Anyone with enough drive and determination can be successful in business. Money management is key and 12/7/365 is mandatory to get things up and running properly. If you have the stomach and drive for it, it can be done but it will not be easy. This is the land of opportunity where anyone with a dream can achieve if they work hard enough at it.
     
  16. aighead

    aighead Senior Member

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    I like that OP is asking about this route before diving in, but I also like the thought of diving in (while learning here and elsewhere). Depending on how the bank is doing and after reading through suggestions above it sounds like it's possible to get started easily, if you are willing to learn some tough lessons and you have some financial runway.

    I'm pretty confident that I could make a business of backhoeing, just in the neighborhood, where I think I'd eventually make enough to get a truck and trailer, so I could move out of the 'hood. Is that the ideal way to go about it? Probably not. Understanding machine maintenance is huge, as is the cost for parts and repairs.

    My thought (and keep in mind I'm nowhere near as experienced as probably the next, least experienced operator here, so this advice, admittedly, kind of sucks) is that if you itching to go, and you have the funds to do it, go for it but learn to say no to a huge percentage of jobs that you aren't ready for yet. Remember insurance for your jobs. Understand what you are capable of, maybe dig around in your back yard for a few weeks, moving dirt, grading, trenching, etc. I've found, again, just in the neighborhood of about 20 houses, that a lot of people could use a trench dug or want this thing moved over there, and who knows how many other things. Word of mouth travels fast when you have equipment but learning how to charge people for your work can be challenging. I typically trade my work for less money than it's worth and for favors. That's great but it doesn't pay for a backhoe tune up from doing said work.

    @treemuncher that Menzi Muck A91F looks like fun!
     
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  17. cuttin edge

    cuttin edge Senior Member

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    Occupation:
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    Location:
    NB Canada
    It's not just about moving the controls. As a guy told me this summer," I drive truck, I'm not a truck driver" I'm a grader operator. I've gotten so I can drive onto a site and pretty much plan what I am going to do, and how I am going to do it. I'm not quite to the place where I can guess tonnage without measuring and doing the math. I can also run a loader, backhoe, excavator, dozer, but don't consider myself an operator of any of them. I can drive an asphalt transfer vehicle down the road, I can load the asphalt spreader on the float. I can compact material with a dirt roller, but I do not know how to read asphalt good enough to be able to roll it without bumps. I asked the guy on the back roller why he walks the asphalt mat all the time. He feels it with his feet, and can tell when it is ready to roll to get the rubber tire roller marks out. All these guys have years under their belts, and they can read the machine, and the materials they work with. That being said... you'll never get rich carrying a lunch box for someone else so.....
     
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  18. InsleyGuy

    InsleyGuy Well-Known Member

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    You should carry the lunch box to school for awhile though.
     
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  19. AzIron

    AzIron Senior Member

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    Good point but most operator schools are way over rated and those basics you can probably learn in 2 weeks in on the job training

    Most guys well into a career wont take the pay cut required to go to a company that will train a guy cause it will take while and for the first 3 to 4 months of learning a guy is not worth much more than entry level
     
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  20. InsleyGuy

    InsleyGuy Well-Known Member

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    Loosing your butt or causing damage to some ones property due to incompetance or ignorance of proper procedeures won't pay very well either. Digging a hole is sometimes the easy part.
     
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