Start a Business
Building Concrete Sidewalks

(Last updated: April 27, 2010)

This page shows how to start a business building concrete sidewalks.

Use this information together with the Business Plan for Simple Services page.

You are assumed to have the skills and equipment needed to perform this service. You may have performed this or similar types of activities in the past. Thus, you may have learned the skills and accumulated most of the required equipment from those prior tasks.

The methods and procedures described on this page can be used to help satisfy your needs, and the needs of likely customers.

Here are the topics:

Introduction to idea
Estimated startup costs
Putting idea to work
Main procedures
Background information

Other useful information

The Vital Guidelines for Novices page helps beginners who want to start a business. These guidelines provide focused advice and useful insights.


IMPORTANT

Before using this information to start a business be sure to read the following notice: Disclaimer

Introduction to idea

This topic provides an overview of the business idea so you can decide if it suits you.

Basic idea

Owners pay you for building concrete sidewalks for their houses or apartment units. In some cases, you may have to demolish existing sidewalks and haul away the rubbish.

Concrete sidewalks increase the convenience and value of homes. However, the owners usually are unable to build these sidewalks themselves.

Getting these jobs usually is just a question of making yourself known to potential customers, being qualified to do the work, and quoting the right price for the job.

This activity is performed by the job. Once one job is finished you will have to find another job. However, if you do a good job for a large property owner, you may be called back when other units need these services.

This is an outdoors activity that is best performed in good weather that is not too hot.

Suitability of idea

This idea is best suited for people who are physically fit and enjoy working with their hands.

Skills and equipment required

Primary skills -- You must have construction or handyman skills that allow you to do a good job building concrete sidewalks.

Other skills -- You must have driving skills and a valid driver's license.

Equipment owned -- This business idea assumes that you own the following equipment:

Pickup truck or van -- You will use this vehicle to travel to job locations and haul any equipment, materials, supplies, and protective gear needed to perform the work. Also, you may have to haul trash away from the job site.

Job equipment -- See the typical equipment to use while performing this service.

Protective gear -- Goggles, rubber boots, and work gloves.

Other items -- You need to own or purchase other items, such as office equipment and job supplies. These items are listed under the startup costs on the next topic.

Also, you will need to purchase some or all of the materials needed for each job. The customer will repay you for these materials when you finish the job.

Profitability of idea

In order to show a profit, you will have to sell enough of your services to cover the startup costs, job costs, and operating expenses. The more income you collect over a certain time period the larger your profits. Therefore, you want to have substantial sales, along with low costs and expenses.

The fees you charge pay for your labor, job materials, use of your equipment and vehicle, and your ability to perform the work in a professional manner. You might charge an hourly rate for your services, or a lump sum for a particular job. Your fee also should include any miscellaneous out-of-pocket expenses you have, such as dump fees.

How much should you charge for your services? This depends on how well off the customer is and how anxious both you and the customer are to make a deal. The economic conditions of the local area might also influence these negotiations.

See the Setting the Sales Price page in another section for more detailed information.

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Estimated startup costs

This topic discusses the estimated startup costs for this business idea. Startup costs are what you need to pay in order to be ready to begin business operations. The amount of these costs also helps you decide if the idea suits you.

List of items in startup costs

Note: I am only showing one month for certain expenses. You should be able to get your first job or two in a month. Then these items become operating expenses, not startup costs.

The assumed startup costs for this business idea, using a frugal style of business operations, consist of the following items:

Advertising and promotion (1 month) -- Small classified advertisements, or flyers delivered to likely neighborhoods.

Business insurance (1 month) -- Business liability insurance. (Talk to a local insurance agent to see if you need this coverage.)

Governmental requirements -- Local fees and business license. (Note: You might also be subject to state and federal deposits and registration fees, but these will vary. So I have not included them in these startup costs.)

Job supplies -- Marking pen or pencil and trash bags.

Office equipment -- Business telephone; desk accessories (stapler, paper clips, pen and pencils, etc.); and listing adding machine.

Office supplies -- Check blanks for business checking account, file folders or large manila envelopes (for filing papers), lined writing tablets, pads of accounting journals and ledger, and pads of standard job bid forms.

Other operating expenses (1 month) -- Business telephone expense.

Reference book -- Bookkeeping for Dummies (Paperback) available from Amazon.com or other online bookstores. (Note: The "for Dummies" series of books are easy to read manuals for normal people, not dummies.)

Dollar amount of startup costs

Here are the dollar amounts for a frugal business operation:

 

Estimated Startup Costs

  Advertising and promotion (1 month) $ 75
  Business insurance (1 month)   50
  Governmental requirements (local fees and business license)   50
  Job supplies   15
  Office equipment   120
  Office supplies   100
  Other operating expenses (1 month)   50
  Reference book   15
     
       Total estimated startup costs $ 475

Note: See the Planning costs and expenses subtopic in the Business Plan on another page for ways to reduce these startup costs.

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Putting idea to work

This topic satisfies the Starting business operations subtopic in the Business Plan page.

Preparing for business operations

Completing the startup requirements -- This is the last step needed just before you start business operations. See the Listing the startup requirements subtopic in the Business Plan for the items remaining to be completed.

As a minimum, you should have discussed the business idea with your family, set up your business entity, and satisfied all governmental and insurance requirements.

Local information needed -- You need the location of local dumpsites, fees charged for dumping, restrictions on materials allowed to be dumped, and rules for hauling trash.

You also need to see if a building permit and/or contractor's license is needed before you start working on a job in your local area.

Operating the business

Soliciting customers -- Place classified advertisements in your local newspaper and/or the newsletter of the local property owners association. You also might want to deliver flyers to likely neighborhoods (where rich people live). Use a simple, honest description of your services. Once you become well known in the community, you should benefit from word of mouth advertising from satisfied customers.

For additional ideas on soliciting customers, see the Sales Methods page in another section.

Getting jobs -- Hopefully, some of the people who read your advertisements and/or flyers will inquire about your services. During this initial telephone conversation, you should determine if you are willing and able to provide the desired services. If so, you may want to discuss the tentative cost of the job. However, in most cases you probably want to inspect the job site before quoting a price.

I recommend that you meet with customers in their homes or offices, or at the job site. Your neighbors may object to having a stream of strangers arriving at your home. Also, meeting with customers in your home may violate the zoning rules in your town or city.

See the preceding Profitability of idea subtopic for my thoughts about setting your fee.

Job procedures

Preliminary job activities -- After greeting the customer at the job site, you need to ask for the dimensions and location of the sidewalk. Also, determine if the sidewalk should slope slightly to one side to help drain off rain or sprinkler water.

You also should determine if you would need any helpers. Then you can arrange to bring them with you to the job.

The customer may want you to demolish an existing sidewalk and haul away the rubbish. So, you need to agree on the fees for any such extra services to be performed.

The customer may be in a hurry and want you to work on a holiday or weekend to get the job done soon.

You can use your job bid forms to estimate the costs of building the concrete sidewalk. The cost of materials (felt expansion strips, lumber for forms and stakes, plastic sheets, and ready-mix concrete) can be estimated, subject to actual retail cost. This bid should include the fees for any extra services to be performed, such as working on weekends and hauling away any trash. The bid probably should include a completion date, subject to availability of materials. If the customer accepts your bid, you both can sign the bid form.

Obtain any needed building permit or contractor's licenses before doing any work.

You need to set the time and date for beginning work, and arrange for access to the property. You also may want the customer to pay you for part or all of the estimated costs of materials before starting the job.

Main job activities -- See the Main procedures topic below.

Final job activities -- Inspect the premises to verify you have finished all required tasks. Remove all your equipment and supplies. Gather up all the trash you have accumulated.

Collect your agreed upon fee from the customer. Haul the trash away, if part of your agreed upon services.

Other information

Job equipment -- Typical equipment needed: Assorted drill bits and screw drivers, Axe or hatchet, Broom and dust pan, Cut off saw, Carpenter's squares (regular and small), Claw hammer, Concrete finishing broom or patio broom, Concrete rake or steel yard rake, Concrete trowels (including edger, flat, and groover), Electric drill (3/8 or 1/2 inch), Electrical extension cords, Hand saw, Levels (short, medium, and long), Shovels (curved and straight), Sledge hammers (large and small), Tape measures (12 and 50 foot), Water containers (for drinking and other uses), Wheel barrel (heavy duty), and Wood hand float.

Job materials -- Typical materials needed: Assorted screws, Concrete from a ready mix truck (or bags of concrete mix and water), Double headed nails (8 penny and 12 penny), Felt expansion strips (the ready mix truck may bring these out for you), Heavy cardboard boxes, Lumber (2x4 and other widths as needed), Roll of strong twine, Rolls of plastic sheet (narrow and wide), Water (may need to bring to the job site for use with bags of concrete mix or sand mix, and for cleaning tools), and Wooden (or steel) stakes (about 18 inches long).

Related activities -- Building concrete driveways and patios. (This would require experience in working on larger concrete jobs and the use of more elaborate concrete working and finishing tools.)

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Main procedures

Preparation work

Use stakes and twine to outline the sidewalk. Dig out existing material down to depth of sidewalk base, or further to reach a solid base.

Digging out the base can be exhausting. You may want to rent a sod cutter. You may need an axe or hatchet to cut any roots. You probably have to haul away any sod and dirt dug out. The best way to handle this may be to rent a trash container and have it hauled away and dumped.

Normally you want the top of a sidewalk even with the top of freshly cut grass. This way the water drains off the sidewalk, but the sidewalk doesn't appear too high.

The customer may want one side of the sidewalk slightly lower than the other to help drain off rain or sprinkler water. If the lawn has dips, the customer may want the sidewalk raised so it won't get flooded in a heavy rain.

For curved sidewalks, use two or three pieces of flexible hardboard cut to required width for the side forms. (Don't use the expensive hardboard, use the cheap stuff). For straight sidewalks, use 2x4 (or wider) boards as side forms.

After you and your helpers have dug out the base for the sidewalk, drive wooden or steel stakes into the ground every three feet. Attach the side forms to the stakes with screws or double headed nails. The inside distance between the side forms should be the desired width of the sidewalk.

If gravel is needed for drainage, place it on top of the sidewalk base and tamp it down vigorously. You need from 2 to 4 inches on top of the dirt base.

If control joints are needed in the sidewalk, mark their position on top of the side forms. They should be spaced evenly apart every four or five feet.

I always like to backfill around the bottom of forms with dirt or sod to keep the wet concrete from oozing out.

Placing the concrete

Don't order more concrete than you and your helpers can pour and finish before it sets. Better to pour concrete on two separate days than to have some concrete ruined.

It is best to avoid pouring concrete in hot or cold weather. It sets up too fast in hot weather. It won't cure properly in cold weather unless special precautions are used. The best temperature for pouring concrete is between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

After you have ordered the ready mix and before the truck arrives, spray the area to receive concrete. Just get the area damp, don't leave puddles of water.

Lay down plastic sheeting to protect areas next to where you will pour the concrete.

You should pour long sidewalks in alternate sections. Then you can place expansion felt at the joints before pouring the intervening sections. Use rocks or other items to hold the felt in place until the concrete is poured against it. (You probably can have the ready mix truck bring the felt strips to the job site on the first trip.)

If you have to use a wheelbarrow to haul concrete to the placement site, start pouring concrete away from the ready mix truck. You want to be fresh when making these long trips with a wheelbarrow. Trucking concrete in a wheelbarrow is hard work. Don't fill it more than half-full. Besides, you don't want to spill the load because it is too heavy.

As the concrete is poured into the forms, use the concrete rake or steel yard rake to distribute it evenly. Jab the wet concrete continually with a shovel to make it settle onto the base and against the side forms. Run a flat shovel along the side forms to minimize voids.

Use a straight 2x4 about two feet longer than width of the sidewalk as a screed board. Place this 2x4 on its edge on top of the side forms. Then two people saw the screed back and forth while pushing the excess concrete slowly forward. A third person can use a shovel to fill in any depressions in the concrete surface. (Yes, pouring and finishing concrete sidewalks usually requires at least three people.)

Finishing the concrete

As the concrete starts to set up use a wood hand float to level it out and bring the fines to the surface. You also should use the hand float to cover up any exposed aggregates (rocks). Make the first pass of the groover and edger trowels at this time also. You need to knock the rocks out of the way while the concrete still has some give in it.

When using the groover trowel, lay a straight 2x4 flat on the concrete surface, where the side forms have been marked for a groove. Have your two helpers hold this board steady. Then place one side of the groover trowel against this 2x4 and cut a straight groove into the concrete.

Use a flat metal trowel to begin finishing the concrete as it continues to harden. Make the another pass or two of the groover and edger trowels at this time also.

The final treatment is to pull a concrete broom or patio broom over the surface just before it starts to really harden. It's better to make some trial passes with the broom and then refinish the concrete, rather than wait too long and not be able to use the broom effectively. You may want to practice on short slabs first to get the hang of things.

Don't leave rubbish or wasted concrete on owner's property. Wash off tools over a sheet of plastic. Put small pieces of rubbish or concrete in cardboard boxes or trash bags for easier handling. Haul away the rubbish and wasted concrete.

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Background information

Nature of concrete

Wet concrete consists of Portland cement, sand, gravel or crushed rock, and water. The more water used, the easier it is to work the concrete. However, too much water weakens the concrete.

After you have poured the concrete, it starts to set and then harden. This is due to the chemical reaction between the Portland cement and water. Concrete has to cure for three or four days as the chemical reaction goes to completion.

Obtaining the concrete

For very small jobs, you can buy sacks of concrete mix. Dump a sack into a heavy-duty wheelbarrow, add water slowly, and mix together with a shovel. For larger jobs, you normally call a ready mix plant to have a mixer truck come out.

When you order concrete from a ready mix plant, tell them you are using the concrete for a sidewalk. Then they will mix the four ingredients for the concrete in the proper proportions.

Water and concrete

After the concrete has been mixed in a wheelbarrow or poured from a ready mix truck, do not add more water to make it easier to work. The excess water will weaken the concrete. However, you should moisten the area where you will pour the concrete. This prevents the moisture from being drawn out of the fresh concrete.

Soon after you have poured the concrete, there may be some excess water that rises to the surface. Allow this excess water to evaporate. Using a wood hand float as the first finishing tool creates a rough texture, which allows this water bleed to evaporate.

If the concrete is exposed to the sun on a warm day, you need to protect it during the curing period. This curing period begins after the concrete has set and is starting to harden. It lasts for three or four days. During this period use a curing compound, or spray mists of water on the concrete several times a day. However, do not sprinkle water on top of concrete before it has started to harden.

Calculating amount of concrete needed

You order concrete from the ready mix plant in cubic yards. One cubic yard is 27 cubic feet.

If you have a spreadsheet or calculator, you can easily calculate the amount of concrete needed in cubic yards. First, calculate the amount needed in cubic feet. Then divide the result by 27 to arrive at cubic yards.

Here is an example:

Sidewalk is 5 inches thick, 30 inches wide, and 50 and 2/3 feet long.

First, convert everything to feet.

5 inches = 5/12 of a foot
30 inches = 2.5 feet
50 and 2/3 feet = 50.67 feet
Cubic feet = (5/12) * 2.5 * 50.67 = 52.78
Cubic yards = 52.78 / 27 = 1.95

Therefore, the sidewalk contains two cubic yards of concrete. However, you might want to order two and a quarter cubic yards from the ready mix plant, to be safe.

The order would be, "I need two and a quarter yards of ready mix for a sidewalk."

Drainage

If the base for concrete is hard clay or subject to standing water, place a minimum 2-inch layer of gravel on top of the base for drainage.

Control grooves and expansion joints

As the concrete cures, it shrinks slightly. Concrete can also expand when subjected to hot weather.

The solution is to use one or more felt expansion joints when sidewalks are longer than 30 feet. These felt strips should also be used where the sidewalk abuts a concrete doorstep or curb, or any other rigid structure.

It is also advisable to cut control grooves in the sidewalk every four to six feet. The grooves weaken the concrete slab. Thus, any cracks in the slab due to shrinkage will occur at these control grooves. This is much preferable to a series of wandering cracks.

Reinforcing

Reinforcing steel might be needed when the sidewalk is subject to heavy traffic or where the ground is unstable. For reinforcing use 1/2 inch diameter steel bars (rebar) or heavy steel mesh. The poured concrete should surround this reinforcing. Don't let the reinforcing just lay on top of the sidewalk base. It does no good down there. Instead use rocks to support the reinforcing until the poured concrete reaches each such rock. Then remove that rock.

People needed for the job

You need two or three strong helpers to assist you. This is especially important when pouring and finishing the concrete.

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