Skilled garden maintenance: hourly vs. flat rate
Okay, so I've been reading these forums for awhile now (guess that makes me a "lurker" - how creepy), and I'm impressed with the knowledge here. So I thought I'd try a question of my own with you guys. Please note: I'm in California (the SF bay area), and as we all know, things are different out here.
I'm interested in hearing others' input on hourly vs. flat rate skilled garden maintenance. I'm talking maintenance by skilled, educated gardeners. Which format (hrly vs flat) is generally more acceptable to a homeowner? Which gives a client a better sense of value? Obviously each client is different in what matters to them most, but I'm interested in hearing the various experiences you all may have.
So, a little about me, and why I ask such a question: I've been doing skilled garden maintenance for just the last 3 yrs, and I've tried various customized approaches to garden maintenance billing (flat rate; flat for mow and blow with hrly for skilled; hrly for all). It's been a lot of trial and error over the last 3 yrs. Hourly is safe (profit-wise) and makes sense in terms of more garden work being needed at different times of the year (dormant pruning; fall leaves; etc). However, for the few clients that get multiple bids from other companies, a flat rate is usually the preferred approach of the homeowner, for comparison. But how do you compare companies when the knowledge of the staff varies so highly? So my question is...since we're talking about skilled garden maintenance, should it always be hourly? The goal then isn't to be competitive on price alone, obviously, so the skill and service of the maintenance company should be the determining factor, right?
(By the way, I often get referred to specialty maintenance from a designer or LA, especially of natives, so I'm typically the only bidder - in which case I often get the job regardless of the billing structure. I also must throw in that I carry full workers comp and 2 mil in general liability insurance, which definitely affect my rates.)
So, here I am. Humbly asking you to share your years of hard-earned knowledge to help out the newbie. I'd buy you a coffee, but...yeah. It's an internet forum.