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The Dangers of Bidding Landscape Jobs

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Business Advice

If you’ve ever hear the words, “Congratulations – you’ve won the bid.”… and then thought to yourself “Oh Sh*t!”, then you know all about the dangers of bidding landscape jobs

In my entire 35 years, I have never bid on a landscape project. All right, that’s somewhat true. Of the dozen or so projects that I did bid on early in my career, thankfully I never “won” any of them. What I did do was manage to waste an extraordinary amount of my time for work that I was never going to get, and cause myself to lose out on true design/build work, all because I was caught up in the excitement of “winning” a bid.
I must admit that I find it humorous that we use the term “winning”. Acting as though your lottery ticket was chosen or that you won an academy award. What they should really do is congratulate all of the other companies for not winning, since 1st prize is the opportunity to work like a dog for an indefinite period of time hoping that you don’t go broke.

Before you find yourself bidding landscape jobs again, you need to read this weeks Trade Secret. It might just save your business.

Congratulations, you’re the winning bidder!

As any bid winner will tell you, the millisecond of excitement that you experience after learning that you’ve been awarded the contract, is instantly replaced with the gut wrenching feeling of “Oh shi*t, how am I going to get this done.” This is typically followed by the fear of wondering what you forgot to include in your bid, which morphs into that nagging question of “how much money you did you leave on the table”?

As you shake hands with the company that awarded you the bid, your competitors are giving you the “stink eye”, making you feel even more insecure about winning. In your current state of euphoric panic, you listen as the “losers” call you a low-baller and talk openly about who is going to buy your truck and trailer when you go out of business. Not quite the applause, high-fiving adulations typically associated with being a winner.

So I ask all of you, why do it?

Now before I get too far into this week’s Trade Secret, I want to make one thing perfectly clear (I’m not a crook). Actually, what I want to make perfectly clear is that there are many companies, both large and small, that are very successful in the challenging world of bidding and estimating, and could easily dismantle my thesis as they run over me in their 2013 SLS AMG Mercedes, flipping me off and yelling “Bid this, Jody”.

As you might have guessed, this article was not written for them. It is for landscape companies who are slowly bidding landscape jobs their way into bankruptcy. Those entrepreneurs, both young and old, who are following the business owner’s playbook of “How to Go Chapter 11 in Just 3-5 Years”. Don’t worry, it’s not just for landscape contractors, the book is available for every industry.

What I want all of you to take away from this Trade Secret is that bidding landscape jobs can be a very dangerous game of high stakes poker. There is one winner and a lot of losers; and even if you do win, chances are, that in the end, you will still lose.

Maybe you missed something in the bid docs or your supplier can no longer honor their material prices, because they themselves bid too low not accounting for rising fuel costs. Then there’s the whole liability thing of a sub-contractor being uninsured or underinsured when there is an accident on the site. Oops!

And of course, let’s say that you actually survive the entire bid/building experience and somehow manage to eke out a profit, oh what’s this; you can’t get your final payment because the money is in escrow and won’t be released by the bank, because other contractors didn’t do their work. Or maybe someone decided that they just don’t want to pay and now any profit that you may have had (on paper) will now be lost to legal fees as you try to recoup your pennies on the dollar. Or wait, what’s this? The general contractor has gone bankrupt three times before, under three different names.

While I may be painting the worst-case scenario, I can guarantee that this is not a fictional story and these are not fictional characters.

Therefore, the next time you are given the “opportunity” when bidding landscape jobs, I want you to think about this Trade Secret and ask yourself one very important question. “Do I really want to bid on work, knowing that the odds are completely stacked against me? Or do I want to be a design/build contractor and work in a world where the chances of succeeding are significantly better?”

See you in the 3-5 years. I hope.

Jody Shilan is a former landscape contractor and award winning designer. He has sold tens of millions of dollars of installation work throughout his career and now uses his 30+ years of experience to teach other landscape design/build contractors how to dramatically increase their sales and standardize their landscape design/build/sales process. He does this through private consulting, public speaking, group workshops and his “exclusive” members only website

Jody Shilan appears as a guest blogger for LMN Blog, Landscape Management Network’s resource hub for all things related to building a better landscape business.  For more on the Landscape Management Network, check out the website at

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