You’ve heard of Murphy’s Law, right? That is to say, anything thing that can go wrong will go wrong. While that’s not always true, it illustrates the importance of planning for the worst so you can enjoy the moment when everything goes right.
A snow removal plan is your best way to combat Murphy’s Law when it comes to the business of snow and ice removal. A snow removal policy of this nature is two-pronged. We categorize each component as either macro (company-wide) and micro (specific to clients). Let’s break down a step-by-step strategy for both.
The Macro: Creating a Company-Wide Snow Plan
Keep an Inventory of Your Equipment
A successful business is one that runs lean and light. That means knowing your equipment front and back and being aware of what you have, how often you use it, and what shape it’s in. The truth is, inventory can grow out of control if you don’t keep it in check.
Inventory and track your consumables (the things your employees use on a day-to-day basis, like rock salt) so you can understand how much of it your team is using. You might find that a few people are over-utilizing your supply of rock salt, which is both costly and ineffective. Most of all, inventory every piece of physical equipment your business owns; track its location and its maintenance schedule.
Create & Enforce a Staff Work Log
Even if your business hasn’t yet increased its workload to the point where you require a large team of employees on your payroll it’s still important to understand how long and how hard your current employees are working. Enforce the keeping of an employee work log and set boundaries to avoid overwork.
We suggest that an employee not work in the field for longer than 8-10 hours. Snow removal is labor-intensive, so working beyond those boundaries is dangerous.
Have a Comprehensive List of Required Documentation
The last thing you want to do is send a plow driver into the field only to have them come back because they don’t have the required documentation. Depending on your client you may need to have site authorization, which can require some communication with the site operator.
Beyond that, you need to ensure you have a documentation checklist for each employee so you’re sure each of your operators is legally allowed to be on the road. That means checking their CDL certification at the very least.
Develop a Blizzard Contingency Plan
Blizzards are great for business. However, if you cannot get your crew out there and into the elements, then you’re already too late. A blizzard contingency plan is just that; a snow and ice management plan in place should the weather take a turn for the worst making it harder than usual for your plows to hit the road.
To start, create an “A, B, C” map of your clients to strategize the priority of who to plow first based on the size of the property, its proximity to your drivers, and the complexity of the job. Plan for crew members’ breaks so you can stagger the workload to minimize pauses. In some cases, you might even want to put crew members up in a hotel so they are close to the site they are servicing. This cuts down on road time but always helps with safety of driving while conditions are dangerous. If safety becomes an issue, pull the crew offsite until conditions improve. Also making sure to have extra product on hand (salt supply, fuel, etc.) as you will be using much more than normal. And you might not be able to replace/get more of these products if the conditions are bad.
Think of Rare Situations & Expect Them
It might have been a while since you last went to a Boy Scout’s meeting. However, the mantra of “Always be prepared.” Still rings true even into adulthood, especially when it comes to snow and ice removal.
Part of your company-wide snow removal plan should involve brainstorming those rare, once-in-a-century situations that could make or break your business. Having a strategy in place for these situations means you’ll impress your client and not get bogged down in the chaos of a strange situation.
Prepare for Maintenance & Repairs
By now you’re tracking the maintenance and repair requirements of your equipment, right? If you are, then it stands to reason that you should be able to go without that equipment while it gets the TLC it needs.
Understanding your operations workload and consequent equipment needs means understanding how to work without. That usually means having backup equipment at-the-ready when a truck needs to go into the shop.
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The Micro: Creating a Client-Facing Snow Removal Strategy
Communicate with the Site Manager
We call this process “onboarding”. That is to say, your first step when communicating with a new client is to get all of your ducks in a row. Get the contact information (cell phone, email, office phone) of whoever you’ll be communicating with, especially if they’re managing the property.
Most of all, discuss billing expectations upfront so there are no surprises when you send an invoice. Find out who to send them to, what information they require from you, and what their billing terms are.
Ask the Important Questions
Don’t get so caught up in the excitement of finding a new client and forget to ask the detailed questions that you’ll need before your plow ever drives onto their property. Establish upfront what time you should arrive, how much snow the property receives on average, the conditions of the property (is it hard to traverse?), as well as their operating hours and whether or not they want you there when they are open for business.
Create a Snow Removal Map
You have the lay of the land in a general sense; you’ve asked the client a bunch of questions to understand what they expect of you and what you can expect when you’re removing snow and ice from their property. The next step is to sit down and draft a comprehensive map of the property. It should show your drivers where they need to put their snow and what to do during a “snow emergency” when snow locations might change.
Establish who will be plowing the property and work on the map with them. Keep a copy in their truck and, most of all, keep an alternate somewhere for a situation when another driver has to substitute.
Explain the Process & Take Your Time
You know the details, you have your map, and your client has completely bought into the service. However, it’s still important that you explain the entire process of snow removal to your client so they know what to expect. It might be second nature to you, but your client is more than likely unfamiliar with snow removal and might not even know what questions to ask. This deep-dive into your service will inevitably bring up questions that will get everyone on the same page. We suggest you discuss the following:
Pre-season inspection: when will you come on-site to inspect the property before it’s covered with snow?
Staking & property marking: when will you begin staking the property to denote things like curbs, mailboxes, and other structures that could otherwise be damaged by a plow blade?
Seasonal strategy: is it looking like a harsh winter is on the horizon? Sit down with your client beforehand to discuss your current-year expectation and the resulting strategy.
Damage responsibility: what if one of your drivers causes damage to the property? While it might feel like a downer, discussing this reality with your client will make that situation a little less awkward if it ever arises. This is also a great time to discuss your liability.
Explain equipment removal: for many of us, it makes more sense to keep some of our equipment on-site for some of our most frequent clients. However, it’s important to discuss boundaries and let your client know when you will remove that equipment once the season ends.
Create a Plan for Success
The way your snow removal plan looks is up to you. However, university snow removal plans are some of the most comprehensive and informative ones out there. We especially recommend this plan from Vanderbilt University. It goes over some often-overlooked details and serves as a good jumping-off point when it comes to figuring out what information you should be conveying to your clients.