measure conduit depthYou know the old saying, “I have some good news and some bad news”.   A lot of jokes start out that way.

It just so happens our industry has a “good-news, bad-news” aspect to it.

Here’s the bad news.  Because the landscape business has a relatively low barrier of entry, there’s a ton of mediocrity out there.  This has caused the general public to view the industry as less than professional.

Here’s the good news.  The mediocrity and poor market perception creates a great opportunity for those that practice the trade properly, and let the market know it.

Commodity Or Skilled Trade?

Some of my design clients change their landscape maintenance contractors regularly in search of a knowledgeable one.  Other homeowners feel resigned to the idea that most companies are the same and…”it is what it is”.

Meanwhile these companies forge ahead competing on price and trying all kinds of tactics and advertising to gain more customers – often to replace the ones they lost.

This can’t be fun.

We all work hard, but these commodity-like companies are doing the wrong hard work.

Do The Right Hard Work

Hard work should result in gain, but smart hard work results in long-term gain. This work has real value that solves problems and helps people get what they desire.

And when people get results and satisfaction from working with you, that starts to build the long-term relationship.  They want to do business with you and they’re happy to tell their friends about you.

More work comes by way of your reputation.

Referrals and word-of-mouth become your sales force so you can focus on what really matters…doing the right hard work.

Help And Advise To Show You’re Different

When I meet with a new customer I talk about the work we have planned.  I tell them why I’m recommending things and how it will help improve their landscape. I’ll then explain how the work will be done.  And if subs are involved I’ll even talk about each contractor.  This is all part of personalizing the experience and showing the thought and care you’re putting into their job.

All the extra steps you take, the systems and materials you use, the other contractors you work with…are all part of your normal workday.  And you may not think to talk about them with your customer.  But these are the things that matter.  These are the things you do work hard at that clearly set you apart from others.

How you operate as a business and collaborate with other skilled contractors speaks volumes of who you are and what you’re all about.  What seems so normal to you is often extraordinary to your customers.

Don’t Sell…Teach

There are two realities in the landscape business:

  1. Most homeowners are just not aware of the “right and wrong” ways of doing things.  (This is actually true with many of the trades.)
  2. Most homeowners think of landscape contracting as a low-level skill.

Fortunately some of the new home improvement shows and magazines have helped educate people.  The internet has also made homeowners more informed.

Here are some techniques to educate your customers and prospects:

  • Talk about what you do and why you do it.
  • Show people before and after pictures of your work and explain the stages of the projects.
  • Describe the thinking that went into your plant selections.
  • Talk about the future benefits to their landscape from the care you’re giving it today.

Educate and build relationships that will grow your business now and continuously.  As a bonus you’ll end up really enjoying these relationships too.

Do you operate your business like this?  If so, does it help keep existing customers?  How about getting new ones?  Let us know what you think in the comments.

  • Jason
    9:57 AM, 24 November 2011

    I operate a small business and try to do everything right. Business is not great right now and price seems to be the deciding factor more and more. I’m glad I only have a couple of guys working with me Hopefully this economy will turn around soon.

    • Roger
      2:19 PM, 25 November 2011

      Hi Jason,
      You are not alone. Generally speaking it’s a “buyer’s market” and consumers are just conditioned right now to believe they can get everything they want at a lower price.

      There’s no arguing the fact that the market is challenging right now. There is a limited amount of work out there which means the best contractors are bidding for that work. My brother-in-law is a building contractor with an excellent reputation and it’s not unusual that he is one of ten contractors considered for a project. Crazy, right?

      Whatever you do don’t deviate from “doing things right”. You’ve worked hard at establishing that reputation and you can lose it in the blink of an eye. Focus on controlling your costs (as we should always do), but be conscious of your numbers so that your proposals are as competitive as they can be, but still profitable.

      The combination of your reputation and the great experiences people have with you (and your company) will always be there. This all “speaks for itself” and is one less thing you have to worry about.

      Don’t hesitate to contact your existing customer base (email, letter, etc.) and put together creative offers and suggestions based on what you know about their property. These site-specific recommendations show your customers what they truly need and that you care. This is where keeping a file/notes on homeowners’ properties comes in handy. Perhaps you’ve noted existing crowded plants that should be transplanted before they damage one another. Maybe there has been a drainage issue that needs attention. No doubt you’ve noticed pruning work that made it to your list.

      The work you do combined with the relationships you create are the assets that will pull you through these hard times. How you present and market yourself is certainly another part of the formula and I want to get into that more in future articles. It’s not enough that you quietly let your hard work speak for itself. There are subtle, but strategic ways to get the word out and let people know what you do, how they can benefit, and what makes you different from the rest.

      Thanks for your comment, Jason. And for caring about your work.

  • Matthew Berberich
    9:18 AM, 6 October 2012

    Hey Roger,
    This is an bit of an old post but am just getting to it. You have great advice geared towards the landscaper! As long as Jason is focusing his business on a demographic that can support the service he is trying to provide there should be work out there (what city/town). And Jason might not be a professionally trained horticulturalist, which is the base knowledge that ALL landscapers should start with and be passionate about.

    • Roger
      4:59 PM, 6 October 2012

      Hi Matt,
      Thanks so much for commenting.

      Great point about gearing your business to a demographic/market that can appreciate and support what you’re offering. And that “base knowledge” you mentioned is very important too. But you mentioned another key component, being passionate. That to me is another word for “caring”. When you care about: 1) the quality and accuracy of what you do, and 2) the people you’re serving, you’re just more inclined to do the right thing…on every level.

      There are a slew of general maintenance landscape contractors in my area. Unfortunately there are very few that practice even the most fundamental aspects of the trade correctly. And the few that do have a rock solid customer base and are rarely (if ever) concerned about having enough work.

      To me the formula for success in its simplest form is to have good base knowledge to start (like you said). Then, enter and work in the market that reflects your level of knowledge and experience. For most it is the general maintenance area to start. Keep your service offerings narrow and focused. Be reliable and consistent. Communicate and be available to your customers. Build real relationships with them.

      When you come across a problem or challenge you’re not absolutely sure of, take pause. Is this problem or challenge something you can research, learn and provide the right solution for? Do you have contacts/a network of others in the trade you can learn from or ask their help. This is the right approach and mindset to growing a successful landscape business.

      And there are always courses out there you can take for those areas you wish to become more proficient at and offer to your customers.

      Just remember, you want every experience a customer has with you to be good. Your reputation (the heart of your business) depends on it.

      Matt, I looked quickly at your website. Nicely done! It really communicates your devotion to your work and your clients.
      Take care.

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