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Optimize Your Landscape Business This Year

| Topic:

Business Advice

Spring is just around the corner, and it’s like New Years for most contractors I know. It’s time to make resolutions in your business that will make you better, bigger, faster or cheaper – whatever your goals may be.

But most contractors will take on more than they can. The year starts with a grand plan of fixing all kinds of problems. Then suddenly, you find yourself in mid-May and everything’s gone back to what you did last year – and some things might even be a bit worse. I could almost circle the date in my calendar where I knew I’d look around and think “What happened to everything we set out to do this year?”

So this year, I’m advising you to make changes, and make improvements, but to focus on simplifying your business. Take a careful examination of what’s causing the chaos and systematically eliminate it through better processes. Here’s a few ideas to get your ideas flowing.

Reduce Available Options

When you’re growing your landscape business – and hungry to add clients to feed your growth – you can develop some habits that can really stunt your future growth. One of these bad habits is offering too many options.

Maintenance and Snow Contract Structures

There are an almost infinite number of ways you can structure a maintenance or snow contract. While you’ve grown your business, you’ve likely come across customers who want things all kinds of different ways. They might want to be invoiced by month (or by occurrence). There could be requests for specific invoice dates, for specific additional services, and even for specific occurrences of those additional services.

Each new contract seems like only a small change but as you grow the business, the result is potentially hundreds of different style contracts – each requiring careful attention when it comes to execution and billing.

  • Sales/estimating take longer to negotiate the options
  • Operations has to carefully ensure each property gets all of (and yet only!) the services they’ve paid for
  • Foreman have to ensure they perform all of (and only!) the correct services on each site
  • Each different property and service must be accurately tracked to provide each customer with the necessary information to be able to substantiate your invoices
  • Accounting must ensure each contract is billed correctly

Using a simple example of a contract that includes just basic services like mowing, edging, fertilizing, beds and cleanups – you can come up with over 12,000 realistic, but unique variations of services, frequencies, and billing styles!

Mitigate risk

As you continue to add jobs with new and custom structures, it takes more and more time to manage these jobs. And every job carries with it a greater risk of mistake.

  1. You’ll need more overhead time and, eventually staff, to manage the extra planning and tracking
  2. You’re far more likely to perform work where you shouldn’t
  3. And you’re just as likely to miss invoicing for work that was completed

Your customers are not the experts

Additionally, your customers are not the experts. Often, they’ll make budget-driven decisions that reduce overall quality, resulting in both a frustrated customer and a frustrated contractor.

One of the easiest ways to avoid this scenario is to define the contracts that work for your company and stick with them.

  • Clearly define a few of the most popular contract structures
  • Ensure there’s a good mix of budget and quality in the options you define
  • Sell those limited options

Operations, billing, quality control, profitability, and customer satisfaction all get much simpler when there are less options to plan, manage, and execute.

Automate Data Entry

One of the simplest ways to simplify your business this year is to just simplify the way information flows from the field to the office. Good communication here is essential to a well-run landscape company.

LMN Dashboard

Enormous time savings

Someone needs to sell the job – and make commitments to the client. Someone needs to plan and manage the work. Someone needs to perform the work, and then someone needs to manage what was performed and be able to track and invoice it accurately.

In all but the smallest companies, these roles are taken on by different people — and communication is vital to ensuring success. However, communication is also time-consuming and it’s one of the first things to fall off when things get busy.

Automating communication/tracking will save hundreds of hours each year. Of course, what kind of business you run has a big influence on the time it takes to enter information – maintenance will have far more clients, and far more services to track vs. an installation company, but either way, the time savings are enormous. Using software and apps to manage daily tasks like timesheets (payroll), service tracking, invoicing, scheduling and more, you can eliminate all kinds of headache-inducing paperwork each week.

Take a minute to examine the chart below – think of how many hours per week are spent just sorting through data manually versus using technology to enter and manage your data.

Weekly TaskManual HrsAuto Hrs
Entering/updating schedules51
Entering hours for payroll30.5
Entering hours for jobcosting60
Fixing mistakes/omissions20.5
Invoicing31
Entering information into accounting81
Generating reports for customers or operations40.25
Generating reports for owners/decision makers40.25
Total Time Spent354.5

Condense time

Manually, you’re looking at a full-time job just managing your information – but with technology, you could condense that time into just a small portion of someone’s week. And because technology validates the data as you enter it (e.g. you can’t submit your time without am or pm, or you can’t leave an important field blank), the information is far more accurate.

The only companies that don’t benefit from automating their data are those who aren’t tracking it. If you’re not jobcosting your jobs, or you don’t have the reports to help the owner make better decisions, I’ll guarantee you’re losing far more time in mistakes, re-work, missed billing, payroll mistakes and more.

Just Focus on the 20%

There’s a really common rule in life called Pareto’s Rule. Pareto’s principle states that 80% of the effects of something come from 20% of the causes.

Pareto’s Principle in action

The paperwork example below is a brilliant example of Pareto’s Principle in action. Instead of looking at all the fixes you could be making in your business each year (and sure, they’re endless), just laser-tune your focus to the few big items that are causing most of the chaos.

It’s better communicated with a few examples.

  • 80% of your breakdowns come from 20% of your equipment
  • 80% of your losses come from 20% of your jobs
  • 80% of your time is spent managing (and fixing) 20% of your staff
  • … and so on.

You can run around like crazy trying to solve each problem individually:

  • Time (payroll) theft
  • Daily logs being handed in on time
  • Payroll done accurately
  • Jobcosting reports
  • Invoice accuracy
  • Customer communication
  • Quality control
  • Scheduling
  • … etc., etc

You can use an service/time tracking application that will solve most of these problems for you. In one elegant solution.

Solve a lot of your problems with clear and complete estimates

It could be that you constantly fight battles from jobs being unprepared, crews showing up and not knowing what they’re doing, jobs taking too long, schedules getting constantly messed up, crews waiting on materials… etc. etc. You could tackle each problem individually – or you can step back and realize that each one of these problems could be solved with a clear and complete estimate.

Estimates that clearly spell out hours, materials, equipment, notes and more are invaluable tools for managing the job once its sold. Good estimates take a bit more time to put together, but they save hundreds of production hours (and mistakes!) per year – resulting in all kinds of extra revenue by completing more projects/contracts in the same amount of time.

Mark Bradley is the CEO of LMN (Landscape Management Network) software and the former CEO of TBG Environmental, one of North America’s top 100 landscape companies. For more information on Mark or how you can simplify your business with technology, check out www.golmn.com.

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