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Failing Your Way to Success

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Business Advice

Seth Godin, whose blog ( always contains great, quick-read articles on better business practices recently posted some keen insights on How to Fail. We all fail, repeatedly and often, so why not find a way to fail better?

IDEA 1:  Take on specific projects

Seth’s Thoughts: Whenever possible, take on specific projects

The LMN Way:  There are enough variables in landscape and snow contracting. We’ve got unpredictable weather, perishable materials, and very often, uneducated customers. Avoid working without a design and/or without a contract. That’s setting yourself up to fail. Here are a few ways to ensure that your projects are specific.

  • Specific for your customer: Communicate the job deliverables with designs, site maps, and written contracts.
  • Specific for your employees: Your systems (click here to read about systems for landscapers) need to answer the Who, What, When, Where and Why’s.
  • Specific for the owner: Estimate costs and prices using specific labor, equipment, material and subcontractor costs. Forget about pricing by square foot or material cost x 3. Only with a specific estimate can you ensure that you’re priced correctly, and that your crews know the specific details of the project.

IDEA 2:  Make detailed promises about success

Seth’s Thoughts: Make detailed promises about what success looks like and when it will occur.

The LMN Way:  You’ve got to run your business from a plan – a budget. What do you need to sell? How much profit can you expect? What are your employees worth, and how can they measure and improve their success within your company?

  • Specific for your customers: Avoid cost over-runs, customer frustration, and an uncomfortable end to an otherwise successful project by making the specifications of the job clear.  Use designs/site maps, complete contract specifications, and a very clear warranty agreement to communicate exactly what the customer can expect for their money.
  • Specific for your company: Use your budget to forecast scenarios for your season. You can use numbers to plan sales goals, labor expense targets, material expense targets and overhead spending. Once you arrive at a plan that’s profitable, you can use simple ratios to implement incentive programs that reward the company and its employees for better productivity. Click here to watch a video on how a  Plan for Profit will give you a powerful advantage over your competition.

IDEA 3:  Engage Others

Seth’s Thoughts: Engage others in your projects. If you fail, they should be involved and know that they will fail with you.

The LMN Way: Feeling overworked, overwhelmed, and responsible for everything? You’ve got to take what’s in your head and put it in the hands of your crews. Without clear expectations of what’s been estimated: hours, equipment and quantities of materials, your crews can never manage their own work profitably and will always be dependent on you for answers anytime an unknown arises. 

  • Provide your foreman/crews with job planners – clear descriptions of the hours, equipment and material estimated for each and every job.
  • Where possible, review designs/estimates with your foremen before your submit your price to your customer. Save thousands and thousands of dollars by giving them the opportunity to: find a better way to design/build the project, review and agree to the hours estimated, and build shared responsibility and accountability for bringing the job in on time and on budget.  Hold a review meeting twice a month – bring them back half an hour early at the end of the day or first thing in the AM to review upcoming estimates.
  • When jobs go wrong, hold your staff accountable.  Stop the blame game.  Deal with the failure, find the root cause (click here to read a simple method of finding the cause of problems) of the problems, and build a system to ensure you won’t make those same mistakes in the future.

IDEA 4:  Be clear about true risks

Seth’s Thoughts: Be really clear about what the true risks are. Ignore the vivid, unlikely and ultimately non-fatal risks that take so much of our focus away.

The LMN Way: As a business owner, managing risk is what your work life is all about. Reduce your risks with some of the following strategies:

  • Have a pre-job conference with the customer to discuss and cover some of the variables that might pop-up during your project. Click here to download our Pre-Installation Conference form free!
  • Make sure your contract specifically covers your warranty, inclusions, and exclusions
  • Ensure your crews know the hours estimated so they can work to beat the budget
  • Training, training, training.  Untrained people mean you’re rolling the dice every time your crews leave the yard
  • Price your work with a pricing system built for your company. Ensure your prices are covering your costs, your overhead and your profit.  Business is like poker.  Don’t bet your chips on another company’s hand… you don’t know what they’re holding!

IDEA 5:  Concentrate your energy on what you can control

Seth’s Thoughts: Concentrate your energy and will on the elements of the project that you have influence on, ignore external events that you can’t avoid or change.

The LMN Way: In this industry, it’s easy to get caught up with anything and everything going wrong. Stay focused. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Deal with issues you can control.

  • Spend your energy managing and reducing non-billable (wasted) production hours instead of complaining about the cost of fuel
  • Ensure your prices cover your company’s overhead and profit, forget about what your competition is charging.
  • Train your employees on proper care of equipment, instead of complaining about the high cost of repairs. 

IDEA 6:  When you fail, deal with it

Seth’s Thoughts: When you fail (and you will) be clear about it, call it by name and outline specifically what you learned so you won’t make the same mistake twice. People who blame others for failure will never be good at failing, because they’ve never done it.

The LMN Way: When you have the systems above in place, it’s time to hold people responsible and accountable for success and failure.  Blaming people all the time will not fix problems.  Be crystal clear about what the problem was, why it happened and how it’s not going to happen again under your watch.

 … thanks to Seth Godin for his continuous great insights.

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