the critical component that grows your landscape business

Did you ever think about where you and your landscape business will be next year, in 5 years, or even 20 years from now?

I don’t think many of us think much beyond the work of the current day or job.

You just go out everyday with one main goal — get work done.  Whatever it takes.

So you “wear many hats”.  You’re a salesman, designer, foreman, machine operator, laborer… You’ve got attention-to-detail covered and your crew is learning things correctly from you.  Your customers love the work.

It’s all good.  In fact it’s necessary if you’re going to stand out.

The most respected people I know in the trade have a background of hands-on involvement.  It’s what’s given them real problem solving skills — something this industry sorely needs more of.

But what about down the road, when you’re older, have back-problems, or just feel “worn-out” from the actual work?

Myself and many of my owner/operator friends are beginning to fall into one of these categories.

A reality to face and plan for

As much as you enjoy the work, there will come a point where you’ll want to or need to take it a little easier.

So the question becomes: is your business on the right path and positioned for a transition like this?

You might be thinking by then you’ll have a well-staffed business that will let you step back a bit.  That scenario is rare.  And if you manage to get your business there, how long will it last before you have to get back into the thick of it?

Or maybe by then you will have built enough equity and goodwill into the business that you can sell it for a substantial amount.  The reality is very few landscape businesses end up worth much.

Why reputation and positioning matter — now and for your future

We’ve talked about reputation and how important it is to any business, especially our owner/operator model.

Reputation is what people say about you when you’re not around.

You’re earning that good reputation by doing great work with fairness and integrity.  You’re dependable.  You always do what you say you’re going to do.

Positioning is related to reputation, except that it carries your unique identifier with it.

Smart positioning shows what you do “differently”.  And it’s not being different by having bright colored trucks or cool graphics on the side.

It’s being different with an advantage — where customers have a clear reason for choosing you over others.

As owner/operators we have a real advantage here over bigger companies.  We have more control over our reputation.  We have more control over people’s perception of us as individuals.

Combine a reputation for doing great work with genuinely caring, and you build trust.  And as we all know, trust is what makes for great, mutually beneficial relationships — both personal and professional.

[box border=”full” style=”rounded”]In business, when you’ve earned people’s trust and respect they naturally look to you for advice and guidance.  This is the reputation and position you want… a “trusted advisor”.

A carpenter I know has an excellent reputation for doing great work — both the actual work he does and with every tradesperson he brings on the job.  His clients know that anyone he recommends and associates with must have the same work and quality standards.  Same goes for the products and services he recommends.

My brother just remodeled a bathroom.  He used his plumber of course.  But the plumber handled the entire job along with his network (“team” is the better word).  Carpenter, electrician, tile-contractor … all like-minded, independent contractors.

The relationship homeowners have with contractors like these is built on confidence and trust.  They won’t do anything on their home without consulting first with these guys.  They’ve become trusted advisors.  They’re problem solvers.

Why should you work towards becoming a trusted advisor?

As an owner/operator here are some of the advantages and benefits of being a trusted advisor:

  • Your loyal customer base gives steady referral business.
  • Pricing for your work is less likely to be a deciding factor.
  • Contractors you recommend from your network will often be chosen.
  • When clients follow your recommendations you have better control of outcome.
  • Your business is more agile and diverse when needed.

Working towards and becoming a trusted advisor is a key component to our owner/operator model.  As you build that trust and respect you’ll see you are able to produce more quality work without growing a big company.

And when you decide to or need to scale things back, your reputation as a trusted advisor will let you do that confidently.

My landscape business has evolved over the years based on this principle.  Today, after 35 years in business, I run it as a solopreneur — a one-person shop.

How to start becoming a trusted advisor

First, be a good person.  I think we all got that one covered. 🙂

Then there are two traits you must consistently focus on as a trusted advisor.  They are what most consumers look for — including ourselves!

1. Competence

“Fake it till you make it” is not an option here.

The more knowledge and experience you have the broader the scope of things you can advise on.  Start early.  You can begin giving bits of advice as soon as you know things that will help benefit people.

Here on LandscapeAdvisor we cover a range of topics.  But you know how diverse the landscape field is.  That’s why we’ll all keep learning.  Together.  Everyday. 😉

And here’s the other trait.  But since you’re a good person this comes naturally.

2. Empathy

This is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.  Or “putting yourself in their shoes”.

When you show empathy, it helps build trust.  It tells people you really do care.

Think of it like a filter that you run things through.  Ask yourself: How does what I’m doing make that person feel?  What would they like to see happen?  Do they understand what’s going on and why?

And competence and empathy don’t just build trust with customers.  But also with your network.  It’s what makes your business work so effectively with everybody.  It’s also a rush — and a big reason we have our own businesses.

[quote]One thing I’ve noticed too is that having one trait without the other does not necessarily mean failure, but it severely limits the success.[/quote]

Here’s the interesting thing — competence and empathy go together really well.  When you’re good at something you naturally want to help others who are not.

Bring that same mindset into your business and you can expect the same outcome.  Appreciation, loyalty, respect … and trust.

It just becomes part of your day and the way you do business

We like to create things.  We also like to fix things and solve problems for people in a way that looks good and lasts a long time.

When customers see you do this for them, a relationship forms that’s different from the typical business/customer relationship.  It’s special.

And most anything you do throughout your day can be done with this mindset.  Things like:

Communicate good news and bad news to people.

If I had to pick the easiest thing to do that helps build a relationship like this, I’d say “let people know what’s going on”.  And yes, bad news too.

Customers can understand problems and mishaps when they’re kept informed.  They know you.  They know #@*! happens.

And with text messages, email, and yes, the phone — communicating could not be easier.

Give advice when people don’t expect it.

It feels good when someone says, “I got your back”.  Knowing someone is looking out for us is reassuring.

This can be as simple as when you’re at one of your maintenance accounts look for things on the property that need attention or could pose a problem.

  • The lawn or plantings are too wet or too dry.  Does the sprinkler controller need adjusting?  Is a sprinkler line broken?  Is there a drainage or grading problem?
  • Have planting beds become too small because plants have out-grown them?
  • Are any plants or trees struggling?  If so, why?
  • Are the hardscape features in good shape?  Any cracks, settling?  What can be done?
  • What condition is the landscape lighting in?  Are all fixtures working?  Are any out-of-plumb or need to be re-positioned?
  • How’s the house itself?  Are gutters and leader pipes working?  Is any trim or siding peeling or rotting?  Do post lights and lanterns need cleaning or bulb replacement?

And if you’re giving design and/or contracting services you can also do the above and things like:

  • Send customers pictures and messages of ideas, examples, advice… anything that shows they’re not just a job, but someone you’re thinking of — even when you’re not on the property.
  • When you’re near a past project, make a quick stop.  Check the work you did and then give the property a scan.  A note, email or text lets the client know how things are doing.  The message can also have advice on what could (or should) be done.
  • Keep a customer file with all their information, including ideas & recommendations you’ve made.  The advantages of doing this are endless.  And today’s apps, like Evernote, make it really easy.

All of these examples are smart and strategic from a business standpoint.  But there’s something else common to each one.

Each task, each gesture shows a concern for the customer.

If you think this way in all aspects of your business, the benefits will begin to show immediately.

Plus, you’ll personalize these experiences because there’s only one you.  And nobody can copy that.

How are you building that trust and loyalty in your business?  Pop it in the comments along with any questions you might have!

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