Monique Allen is NOT a landscaper, she is a lifescaper! What does that mean? As the owner of The Garden Continuum, she doesn’t just plop down some shrubs or add a water feature, she works with her clients to develop a plan that enhances their life through nature and their outdoor living spaces. Oh, and when not running her super successful business she also coaches OTHER landscapers how to grow their business!
We also discuss…
- How to differentiate yourself from your competitors
- How to build a great team that loves the work they do
- How to build a sales and marketing process for any service business
- What her favorite plant is and why!
If you are a passionate gardener, you may find this eBook insightful.
Narrator: [00:00:02] This is the hub of success the Boston Business podcast with your host Dave Elmasian.
David Elmasian: [00:00:08] Today I’m excited to have Monique Allen on the show.
David Elmasian: [00:00:10] She’s the founder and create director of the garden continuum a design build gardening company with an innovative approach to land development and care the garden continuum provides landscape design land development planning installation and fine gardening for home and business owners. Interesting incorporating ecological and sustainable solutions for their landscape that goes beyond the common approach of feature escaping Monique’s innovative approach is called Life’s shaping which follows a process of reading land and unique environments presented to her along with a specific needs wants and wishes of her clients in order to come up with a customized solution that not only can be constructed but also pays a lot of attention to the realities we face in planning for the long term care of a living system. Monique has been in the landscape industry since 1986. She’s a certified landscape designer and holds numerous industry certifications. She’s a Massachusetts Certified Conservation Commissioner and served on the Franklin Conservation Commission since 2006. She is a legislative liaison for the Massachusetts Association of Landscape Professionals actively working on improving sustainability of our resources and professional ethics.
David Elmasian: [00:01:24] Monique holds a high bar for excellence that her company and her staff strive to meet on each and every project. Welcome to the podcast Monique. All right. So, what in the heck is a life scape.
Monique Allen: [00:01:40] That’s a great way to start a Life-Scape is it’s really an outside environment that you live in experience. Interact with. And the term really came to me when I was trying to figure out my differentiator. You know as a business owner part of our job is to really understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. What’s your purpose mission all that. And what’s your differentiator. And it took me a while to get to this but what I was realizing is that the industry gets really sucked in to trends and fads you know like any industry. And what I was noticing was something that I call feature escaping which is you know I want to firepit Where do I put it. You know I want a pool where I put that I want this Where do I put that.
David Elmasian: [00:02:28] You listen to the conversations at home, right?
Monique Allen: [00:02:32] I want a hydrangea. You know let me buy one bring them to the bring it back to the house and then have no idea where to put it you know. And that’s feature escaping it’s really more about the stuff than the experience. So, what I started to come to is the idea that landscapes while beautiful and awesome are really something that you will look at. They’re a visual thing that you stand back and look at. Whereas a life scape is something that pulls you in draws you in and has the power to really shift you, you know, to make you feel better and excited and kind of wowed.
David Elmasian: [00:03:02] So give me some examples of like compare and contrast. So, I know what you said about the stuff right. Yeah like you said I want this I want this I want this. And then you know the traditional method or the common method is sure we can do all that and we should put this over here we’ve put over that oh that would look great over here blah blah blah. So how is it that how do you look at it that’s different than most other people in this business.
Monique Allen: [00:03:28] So that’s a great question because the difference really has a lot to do with the synergy that you create between the land that you’re presented and the client that you’re presented. Right. And you know you can have similarities in land but you know incredible differences of client or similar clients with really different land. And so, to be able to like apply a pool to every piece of land the same way it’s just not possible. But when you’re a pool company you kind of got to, right? You have to do it. So, when you bring in somebody like me, I use pool companies I use fence companies, you know, so I partner with lots of different companies. The difference is that I’m looking at the land in a really long view and I’m looking at it through the lens of the client and their life. So how is their life unfolding at the end? And what are the things that they want to do now let’s say before kids with young kids with teenage kids right? And how is all of that synergy rising into this long-term vision because the landscapes are expensive you don’t you know they’re not throw away things.
David Elmasian: [00:04:38] Well I think you hit on something that I was going to ask you which was which is exactly that nowadays. A couple in their 20s is going to be have different needs than a couple in their 40s or 50s or a single person in their 40s 50s.
David Elmasian: [00:04:53] They’re sure there’ll be some overlap some similarities but because of those age differences we’re in different stages of our lives so the priorities are different the budgets to be different the things you want to get out of it are going to be different. So, like you said that one size fits all approach doesn’t always really fit the lifestyle. I think that’s kind of what you’re talking about lifestyle right.
Monique Allen: [00:05:12] Yeah, it’s lifestyle and life stage. So, for instance, I’m doing two houses right next to each other right now. Both were tear downs. One is a previous client that I worked for you know 20 years ago. And interestingly the one that I worked for 20 years ago is building a very different flavor of landscape than the person next door who is in the place he was 20 years ago with a young family. So, this is the key to really understand. I always talk with clients whether this is their interim house, a stepping stone house, or a forever house. That interim house is you know, we’re here so that we can get someplace else like we’re just not going to be here long enough to put that kind of money. In a stepping stone house it could be 10 to 12 years, it could be while the kids are in school and then they know they’re going someplace else. That forever house is you know that investment house like mine. The one where they’re taking me out a pine box. Right! So, the things that I would choose to do in a forever House are going to be different than a stepping stone house or an interim.
David Elmasian: [00:06:13] So how do you come to the plan. Meaning. I’m sure that you people are surprised by the questions you ask. Are people like, why is this person asking me how you know this kind of stuff you know. So, what is your process for that.
Monique Allen: [00:06:29] My process is it’s definitely it’s unique but it has worked out really, really well. And again, I’ve been doing this for 34 years so had a long time to develop it.
David Elmasian: [00:06:40] You started this at 3 years old, right?
Monique Allen: [00:06:41] Yes, I would. I would say yes. Basically, what we do is we start out with a conversation so I do something that’s called a landscape discovery session it’s a conversation it’s on the phone. And I have a wonderful automated system. You know I’ve sort of gotten everything so that digital is doing a lot of value for me.
David Elmasian: [00:07:03] You geek you!
Monique Allen: [00:07:03] Yeah, I know that’s why I like people like you. Right. I.T. people.
But so, we start there and it really gives the prospect the ability to have a conversation with me so that they don’t make an investment before they have a real conversation. I say to them, look, you’re exploring and I want to help you explore so that when you’re interviewing people, you’re actually interviewing them ever smarter and smarter. From there we have a really low price point entry right. We’re going to do what’s called an onsite landscape assessment we’re going to walk around you’re going to pay me to do it but I’m going to hang out with you for an hour, an hour and a half, to two hours and we’re really going to dig into it. I’m getting personal really fast because to me this is all about relationship. If you’re going to have me work for you all you need me to get into a relationship and then from there it unfolds. They do homework for me. 90 plus percent of my clients get really into it. You know they get excited about the development and create a plan.
David Elmasian: [00:08:11] Yeah well you know I think that’s kind of the way that progressive companies are nowadays in that it’s not just about a commodity. It’s about what’s good for that particular situation person and all that. It’s really customization right. In a sense. So, it’s you know I think that’s a very innovative approach. And I mean now you know now we know why you’ve been so successful. So, let’s step back and I know you and I joked a little bit about this but how did you get started in the business now share with everybody that that’s listening. When I when we talked about this a little bit what happened okay.
Monique Allen: [00:08:51] Yeah. So it’s really funny you gave me a few questions just to think on and one was how did you get started in business and right away you know I’m thinking I’m thinking landscape and then I cycled back a little and then I cycled back and back and… you know …eight pages later …because you said jot down a few notes. Ok. Eight pages later!
David Elmasian: [00:09:14] If I knew you were going to take the instructions so well, I would’ve put some other stuff write a check make a contribution but no no. All kidding aside.
Monique Allen: [00:09:22] It was funny so I realized that I was writing this really long narrative and then I thought OK well maybe what I can do is I can just look at it like based on dates right. And so, the narrative for me was going as far back as my father’s family in the Middle East owning a business and my father coming here and starting that business and then me remembering that my maternal grandmother opened a nursery school back in a time when women didn’t own businesses. You know so I realized wow like somehow or other owning a business is in my DNA on both sides. And when way back like generationally back and then I think the thing that I came to that I think was really cool was a kind of a fun aha moment for me was I worked for myself for so long but I’ve definitely worked for people too. And one of the things that I realized that I think you know if I had to give advice to my younger self type of thing is that I’m one of the things that ended up being really instructive for me was every time I worked for someone I was really interested in that someone. Like I found myself finding you know a path to be shoulder to shoulder with the owner. I wanted to understand what they wanted not because I wanted kudos because I wanted to help make it happen for them. And that what I realized is that for me in business that’s been a common theme. It’s just been this really common theme. And I think that’s why I partner so well with other businesses and why the coaching has gone well it is because I’m really interested in business for business sake. And, for this idea that small business is the lifeblood of our economy.
David Elmasian: [00:10:59] Yeah well you know I’ve heard this from other people and one of the things I find always interesting is that people that are successful in business all come from different backgrounds different environments. But having that curiosity and having the ability to kind of analyze and do it for the sake of doing it really is the common thread. And I’m sure you see that a lot as well too. And again, we’re all different you know different ways of how we all get there and we all define success differently. But one of the things I learned too is that after a while and again maybe this is more me than it is you. After you’re self-employed for a while you realize you could never work for someone so far like an hour. I think in my case probably like 10 minutes! I’d never make an hour. But there’s a lot of good in that because you know you’ve designed things and you’ve setup things your way with your personality. But I think what you’re trying to say also and correct me if I’m wrong you’ve taken some of those traits in those personalities from other people that you’ve worked for or worked with and kind of made it your own in a sense your own spin on certain things. I know I find myself doing that too. I recall times when I’ll be saying something to you know somebody on my team and I’m like Oh my God, that was from someone so 15 years ago when I worked for that person you know.
Monique Allen: [00:12:27] Yeah, I think there is this is really interesting thing. This idea that like innovation is it has to be brand new. It has to be. The truth is there are there are very few new ideas right. So the key is how can you take information and transform and expand that information. And I think about all of my working experiences whether it’s with clients or with associations. I’ve done thousands of hours of volunteer work. Or with employees that I’ve had. And you realize that like what really is happening is you’re taking the good and you’re taking the bad and you’re saying, OK, how do we repeat, and further express the good? And then how do I not repeat it and avoid the bad by navigating differently? Right. The things that didn’t happen go well and little by little I think what starts to happen is you realize, as you said, when you’ve been in business so long the fact that I’m a, quote unquote, landscaper is not as relevant as the fact that I’m a business owner and I’m an employer and I’m a service provider. Yeah, those things cross all businesses. And so, anything and everything you learn about interpersonal relationship about leadership about time management about all of that all of those things come together to little by little amp your success, right, not just because you’re a good landscaper right. Yeah. And those are the things that I think are so cool when you interact with other business owner.
David Elmasian: [00:14:01] Yeah. You see those common traits. Now you said those patterns are a process whatever time you want to use. So, let’s roll back and again. We won’t do eight pages worth. OK. So, what led you to owning the business that you’re in right now.
Monique Allen: [00:14:19] Well it’s interesting. I you know I struggled to figure out what the heck I wanted to do. And I was just invited one time to go out and mulch like doors spring clean-up and mulch. I was a dancer growing up and at that point in my life I was dancing less and bodybuilding more so exercising was really important. And I was just depressed as all get out because I was doing jobs I didn’t like, you know, clothing store, hostessing, whatever. And so, this guy just asked me and I looked at him and I’m like, you want me to mulch with you? What is mulch? And, long story short, I ended up working a Saturday with this guy and his crew mulching. And I thought I died and went to heaven. It was so cool like I’m shoveling mulch into a wheelbarrow and then I’m realizing I’m totally over the right side. But I put a wheelbarrow on the other side to balance it out. And, I’m like getting paid! I’m getting tanned! I’m working out! Like it was just so cool, So, I went home, I told my mom. I was completely stoked and my mother’s boyfriend for a lot a lot of years was a developer and so he connected me with his landscape architect who connected me with a designer. And you know, then they told two friends and so on and so on, and low and behold, I landed a job with a garden designer. And my life just like that was turned on a dime. Everything changed. She and I hit it off. She and I are still friends today and she became my mentor and I just I just never looked back. Head and shoulders, lats and quads were all in! Yeah that’s great.
David Elmasian: [00:16:03] I mean you know it’s what I deal with a lot of younger people and you know one of the big issues that or dilemmas that a lot of younger people have is you know what are going to do you know why don’t they know what they want to do because I think we’ve all seen it. There are some people that when they grow up, they’re like hey I’m going to be fill in the blank. And that’s the way that it is and that’s what they do. But a lot of other people they know they started doing something else they change they switch. And I think that like a story with yours is very inspirational because, like you said, if you look back you kind of could see the writing on the wall the physicality the outdoors the other stuff the things that you really enjoy but then it wasn’t until by, like you said, happenstance that you got this job and I know what you did.
Monique Allen: [00:16:51] Yeah, it’s like I had no idea. And I think you know there’s two things I have to say about that. So, I loved dancing and I loved creativity my mom thought I should have been more in sort of arts or something. But you know I looked at it and said on air and I make no money doing this right. So I was interested in a career that would pay now the average parent isn’t pointing their kid to landscape because it does it first it’s dirty work and it’s kind of the lowest of the low in all this. I mean it’s it can be lucrative. You can make money but the more important point really is that there is something to be said for following what lights you up, you know, what makes you feel good! You have to think. You have to look at the money as an aside. Like when I’m designing a landscape, I say to people look at there’s two sides of this. One is the creative one. What are we going to create? The other is, how you going to pay for it? We can’t talk about them simultaneously but we have to talk about them. And I think that getting really clear about what lights you up and how you’re going to stay lit up in your life is important. Sometimes people do that through volunteer work and then work the job that pays the money. So, there’s a lot of different formulas, of course. I think getting to a place where you really allow what lights you up to be in your life is really important. All right.
David Elmasian: [00:18:15] Oh definitely. Yeah. And I think it’s a lesson you know that is common. And it’s one that a lot of people that would be listening to something like this because maybe they just started a business. They’re thinking about starting a business and that kind of plays into it because we’re always motivated financially, right. You know we always want to say, hey I want to make a million bucks and all that stuff and absolutely nothing wrong with that. But at the same time like you said if something’s not really interesting you it doesn’t get you excited and motivated. You know eventually going to lose interest. All right. You know. And you know that’s no fun to go through life that way.
Monique Allen: [00:18:53] It isn’t. And one of the things I have to offer is a video course called the Landscapers Freedom Formula. In the beginning, we talk about mindset. It’s interesting because I’ll tell you… Do you know what the best way to kill passion is? Turn it into a business! Right?
Because, it’s a double-edged sword because you can be really impassioned by it. But then I’m sorry... It is a business and you’ve got to do all the pieces. I think one of the failure points I see as a coach is that people will start a business because of passion or a drive because they think they can make more money doing it for themselves. That’s a great way to start right now. There’s a lot of motivation behind it. It’s a really hard way to grow a business because you’ve got to get down in the trenches you’ve got to do the foundational structural work, you know. You have to deal with the obstacles, the financials, the paperwork, the culture building. I mean there’s this whole other level of work and that’s not sexy. It’s really sexy to say you’re a landscape designer. It’s not so sexy to say I’m a culture builder. But it’s really cool because when you when you do have a passion for it you can actually slog through the harder parts. Right? And so that’s why trying to follow a path that excites you is usually a good idea.
David Elmasian: [00:20:18] Sure. Well because you said that long term sustainability is crucial. Yeah. Like you said that we all get that zip of motivation at the beginning but then as you get beaten up and obstacles and challenges that also challenge you. Oh, all right. That’s scares too many people off. Yeah. You need that and you need that belief and be able to be able to be almost idiotic in your beliefs right. And we’ve all been there.
David Elmasian: [00:20:42] I know I’m certainly one insight into the trenches. Yeah right. Yeah. So, you know that brings up another thing that you know I had the good fortune of meeting you and your team recently. And I walked into a lot of businesses just the nature of what I do. And you know because I’ve done it so long and so often, I’m certainly no expert but you kind of get a vibe when you walk into a place and when I walked into your place the vibe was so positive. It was like people were smiling. They were happy. And I don’t I don’t always see that. And I’m sure you see this as well too. And so, I know those things don’t just happen by accident. So, tell me how you’ve built you know such a great team. One of those common elements that you’ve made when you’re talking to other business owners and your coaching or the business owners you know what did some of the things that you tell them.
Monique Allen: [00:21:35] Well first off thanks for saying that it makes me feel so good. It’s a show that you felt that coming in. I was on a job site this morning and yesterday we got a tractor trailer load of a huge load of plants. When I left the site yesterday at noon, they were all smiling. Now when I got there today it was cold rainy and gray out, they’re all smiling happy, still. So, it’s just great to know that I’m not the only one seeing it.
So that’s the short version of the story is that you know landscape companies are notorious for revolving door staffing. Part of the problem is that it’s very hard work and a lot of people can’t physically keep doing it. And the revolving door has a lot to do with the mayhem right, like your spring season hits and it’s 90 miles an hour and oh my! More like 900 miles per hour. What happens is, inadvertently, the staff is used up by ownership. I mean they’re just consumed right. And there’s so much loyalty to get the job done for the client that you know the employers kind of have the people behind their back. They’re not seeing the people they’re focusing on the client. And you’ve got to focus on the client. But what I learned probably in the past 10 years now, as I was also dealing with the revolving door, was that if I didn’t turn my sights in to my company, I was going to play this revolving door game the rest of my life! And I was tired! You know, I was 25 years in and I was just like tired you know.
I started to just do this deep real deep dive into what is it what is culture what is culture. You know I’ll never forget when that first word time I heard it and I’m like. What do you mean? I’m Armenian. What do you mean? Huh. What are you talking about? I didn’t even know what it meant. I sort of did this deep dive and started to read about culture. At that time, it felt a little obscure so little by little I started to define my own my own reason for owning a business. My own path. What I have been doing in the past was trying to bend people to My Way which never works. Instead I got really clear on what my way was, and then instead said, hey anybody like the idea want join me? And that’s very different than getting somebody in for a paycheck and then bending them into being what you want. Instead, when you have somebody that joins you because they’re like, Dude, I want to do what you do! Now all of a sudden, you’re doing half as much work. They’re excited right at the get go to be a part of the game. And now I’m surrounded by people who actually want the same things I want. It was hard to get there but now it’s more effortless because even in recruiting, all the recruiting language is geared toward that. Like if you don’t love plants, don’t work here. That would be weird.
David Elmasian: [00:24:44] No. You know it sounds so simple when you say it but as as you know it’s not so simple you know at the time or when you’re going through it. Yeah it’s true and always one of the phrases I use a lot is enthusiasm solves a lot of problems. Yeah and that enthusiasm you know can’t be manufactured. You know the old joke about you know you you know morale will improve as you know then and all that kind of stuff because I said So you know doesn’t work. No but it like you said if you find people that are genuinely enthusiastic and C and excited about what you’re doing and get it there they believe it to you like they the people that.
Monique Allen: [00:25:26] So the interesting me the people that work for me like most of them will do you know 50 55 hours a week. They’ll go home on Saturday. They’ll either do a side job or they’ll work on their own yard. I mean they’re certifiable just like me. Yeah and so they’re already it’s like my mother taught me you know you can’t motivate people. You have to learn their motivations and work with that. And when people’s motivations are all different. As an owner you’re totally out of luck. But if you try to draw people with similar motivations to yours then what happens is you create a culture of similarity of common ground and then you work from there. There’s still uniqueness there’s still differences in all your people. But now you find that the end game for all of them is the same. It just might be the root is a little bit different. And then that’s what makes it dynamic and fun. An employee this morning came in and it was really cute. He had the wrong pants on, and you know, uniform is important, so clean trucks, uniform, the whole thing. And he came in today and he had the right pants on and I’m like dude your pants! I’m like, this is so cool. He goes, I know I’m giving into conformity. And I said No no no no way. I have a better one. Just think of it like this, we are a group of such nonconformists and you finally fit in with us.
David Elmasian: [00:26:55] That’s a good saying. Good. I’ll use that one. Yeah. So, every business every business owner has stuff that they love and don’t love so much. So, what are some of the favorite things about your business or the things that you do in the business. And what are some of things not so much.
Monique Allen: [00:27:11] So I love the creative process. I really, really like it. I love to be out on a construction site. I love heavy equipment and moving stuff organized chaos organized chaos and you know a friend of mine we were talking about how funny it is how people like always like oogle over like puppies and babies and I walk right passed. I have no interest but I’ll be driving down the road and I’ll see a huge articulating loader and I’ll be like Oh, what a cute puppy! You know it’s so funny! I love playing out there and building and that’s that I really love. I am learning to love the interpersonal stuff the culture building. I used to hate it. And so, I really am learning to like it. I’m a high achiever so a lot of times when you have to deal with people and people issues it slows you down. As soon as I feel like I’m going slowly I get antsy. So that’s been hard for me though I have to say I’m improving. I love the transformation process. I love working with clients whether they’re my business clients or my coaching clients or my gardening clients because when you see that wide eyed excited you know I’m loving it.
David Elmasian: [00:28:33] Yeah.
[00:28:33] You realize you’re helping to transform your lives. Like oh my God. And even in my employees when I see them transforming, I find that it’s like the end all be all. I think that the one thing that I struggle with and I’m not sure how I’m gonna solve this but you know the commoditization of our industry is really a slog. Things like you know home improvement tv and big box stores and do it yourself. It’s like everybody can landscape. But I do think gardening is in our DNA and everybody should do it in the sense that having your hands in the soil is a great thing. But the commoditization of it and that everybody can do it any guy with a pickup truck on a shovel like …ugh it’s exhausting.
David Elmasian: [00:29:21] Yeah, I know.
Monique Allen: [00:29:23] And that you know that’s something that I feel like I’m always running that uphill on that one.
David Elmasian: [00:29:29] I agree with that in other words you know my wife and I she wants the more than I do those you know fix her up shows type show. Yes. And you know my previous career before I was in I.T. you know before was fashionable or there was a name for it was, I used to flip houses and so I’m certainly not an expert in construction and all that. But having done it hundreds of times you know you learn you learn a couple things along the way. And so you know I remember you know for years we watching these shows and it didn’t matter who it was and you know they start with this ugly terrible house with no landscaping and then in 28 minutes a beautiful place and whoever is the host hits the last nail and we’re all done. And she’s like you know we should do that. And I would say it or I’d say yeah, a little more work involved than just that. But I think that for whatever reason either because of human nature or because the prevalence of these shows there’s a mindset out there that yeah. That’s all it takes. You know in 28 minutes we can transform the whole house or landscape or fill in the blind. And you know what’s involved in the work that you do. Yeah. And you also know what’s involved in creating a quality and results.
Monique Allen: [00:30:41] Yeah. And you’re thinking about you know longevity. I mean so I don’t know if you know this but I did Extreme Makeover Home Edition. No. So I did that show and I did the house in Medfield that had we replicated Fenway Park in the backyard. We did. You know the green monster and you know that’s right. It’s is actually seven days. But it was interesting because there was so much so I was the landscape designer on the show and I now I’m not on the show because I’m a behind the scenes and then a celebrity takes. Of course, you know credit for the design but that’s OK. And we did easily a hundred hours before the show even before the construction even started. We rallied 14 different landscape companies to work with us and we segmented the landscape and then we worked seven days 24 hours a day. So, it was all volunteer and all donated and just you know. And the interesting thing is that that house is in our neighborhood. And upon moving the bus and you know figuring out that we were done and whatever we immediately within probably about twenty-eight seconds realized that this family was never going to be able to maintain this landscape. And so, for the next five years me and I think three or four other landscape companies volunteered to help them manage the landscape they had a boy who needed medical attention all the time and who’s by the way doing great right now. And so, it’s really interesting it isn’t a reality. It’s a fun idea. It is transformational. But the truth is that I think what I’m trying to do and what I’m trying to do with writing this book which is stop landscaping start life’s gaping is to look at the longevity is to look at how do we plan landscapes in such a way that they are in fact long term investments that do last. Because you know when we do apply appliques. They fall apart you know in sometimes a quick fix is exactly what you need and it’s perfect. So, we don’t want to vilify them. It’s just not always the answer.
David Elmasian: [00:32:48] Yeah well and I think there’s no shortcuts in life unfortunately but people want to believe that there are. And I think like in any industry any business there’s going to be companies and organizations or even just like you said somebody with a truck all of a sudden, they’re a landscape company. You and I both know that’s not the case but people want to believe that because they’re just focused on hey this, I only want to spend this or I only want that. And you know unfortunately customers don’t always know what’s best for them or what they really want. They think that they do. It’s not because they’re mistaken. They just really haven’t been educated and I beat them and ask the right questions. Right.
Monique Allen: [00:33:26] And there are levels too. Right. So, one of the things that I always look at is you know landscape maintenance is really important. You know Mother Earth is she’s a powerful broad and I’m telling you everything would get swallowed up if she had her way because everything is moving toward succession right. So, you need landscape maintenance companies you need companies that that pick-up leaves and sticks and that you know push snow around and that mow the lawn and you know these big moves are to basically keep what is natural entropy you know sort of that chaos. We got to keep it at bay. We can’t we can’t I mean there’s I know there’s a lot of advocate for like leave the leaves down and whatever but at some point, that doesn’t work. So, you need landscape mean it’s not everybody needs fine gardening that’s a level up. It’s like anybody can do art. Not everybody does fine art right. Everybody can maybe hammer a nail but not everybody does fine woodworking. So, the idea is that there are levels and it is totally ok to get out there and blow your own leaves mow your own lawn and push your own snow. It’s totally ok to hide the look. Hire a local kid to do that. It’s not saying that it’s bad it’s just knowing which provider is providing what and is that what you need and what’s the value that you’re getting. What’s the value that you’re getting out of it. Exactly.
David Elmasian: [00:34:47] So you hit upon a couple of things and we’ll circle back to the book we’ll talk about the coaching that you do. OK. So those that you can’t see she’s got a whistle around her neck choke striped shirt type Sure. But no. So, tell me a little bit more about the coaching that you do. What type of people how a good start was that kind of thing?
Monique Allen: [00:35:08] Yep. So, my undergrad degree is in Business Entrepreneurship from Northeastern University. I got a degree at Northeastern. And as I said I grew up in family business. So, between Our Cheese Shop and my father’s commercial refrigeration business, I was always involved in business. And I basically started hiring coaches myself ten or so years ago because I realized that I was entirely isolated as an owner that I wasn’t I couldn’t get out of my own way. You know I was smart enough to read and investigate but you know there’s a lot going on in the head. And so.
David Elmasian: [00:35:46] So I always shine always shiny objects in the room. Yes always. Exactly right. Nothing’s ever happened to me yet.
Monique Allen: [00:35:53] So I started hiring coaches myself and then what I started to see was exponential growth. I started to see it was like aha moment after aha moment. And I’m a voracious and fast learner so for me it was like I got it. Let’s move on. Got it. Let’s move on right. And so what was happening is my business started transforming in such a way that other people started seeing it. I was seeing it but other people were seeing it in a different way. I started to get people coming up to me. How are you doing that. What are you doing how are you how are we? And so, one person finally said to me can you just help me. Can you just help me? And so, I started to work with her.
David Elmasian: [00:36:30] Hold on. Yeah. Hold on. So for those of you that can’t keep up with Monique. Yes. You’re coaching other clients and other landscape companies to grow their business. Yes. Now from an outsider’s view doesn’t that sound crazy.
Monique Allen: [00:36:47] Yeah, I can see that. OK.
David Elmasian: [00:36:49] So why do you do that?
Monique Allen: [00:36:52] So first off, I love my industry. You know I really love my industry. I’ve been teaching in the trades for 25 years. I’ve been mostly teaching design horticulture. I teach master gardeners. I teach garden ecology of course that I wrote. And the truth is I love trades people. My brother’s a mechanic. My father was an engineer mechanic. I believe with every ounce of my being that the trades people are what keep America great, quite frankly, because you can’t offshore what we do. You know it’s here right now.
Simultaneous to that. I watch trades people suffer and struggle all the times. I don’t care if you’re a plumber, a builder, a landscaper, or a mechanic. I watch struggle and the struggle is because they’re really good at their craft but they have no idea how to package it, sell it, provide it, make it sustainable for them, to take a vacation! You know they are trading dollars for hours and they can’t get any more hours so they don’t get any more dollars. My feeling is there is absolutely enough landscape work for all the landscape companies. If we raise the bar, if we make better landscape companies, we will educate the whole consumer public. I honestly believe that when I give to my trade, I elevate my trade.
David Elmasian: [00:38:22] You know that’s very unusual very admirable and very future looking because most people can’t see that and they’re afraid of competition. They’re afraid of well what if I give this secret away. Well for those of us that have had some level of success and had some experience you realize they’re not really secrets right. It’s systems and not just that not everybody can do it or not everybody has the will the dedication the perseverance the hard work ethic all that stuff to be able to do it. But from your viewpoint it hits upon a concept that I learned early in my career which is yes you need be aware of your competition and you don’t wanna be stupid about things. But like you said if you raise the bar there’s plenty enough for everybody. Yes.
Monique Allen: [00:39:14] Yes absolutely. And so, the way I’ve constructed my coaching is that I’ve coached people in Massachusetts and I just had a business in Toronto. I’m coaching all around now, and I actually just had a guy from South Africa purchase my coaching course which was really cool. It’s been fun to see how it’s expanding. So, when you think about competition, in my business it’s hyper local. My service work is very narrow so I’m not competing there. If I am helping somebody who’s got a business up in the North Shore, I’m not even competing with them. But what happens, which I think is just really cool, is I’m watching their confidence build up! I’m taking the systems that I’ve built and using that as leverage to help them in their business. Now they’re leveraging what I’ve created and they’re using it in their businesses and then they’re doing better. You know the perception of landscape, right? It is generally not so great. So, if I also help to elevate the perception to be more professional, more accountability, then that’s helping everybody. Yeah. Yes, it’s helping all the trades really.
David Elmasian: [00:40:37] And you know quite frankly it’s elevating you to right. Yeah yeah yeah yeah. It’s such a bad thing. Fun. So yeah, I you know we can’t go into all the details honestly but. So, give me just a high-level synopsis of kind of some of the stuff that you go through with coaching clients. Meaning you know you start a certain place and what are some of the things that you touch upon.
Monique Allen: [00:40:59] So one of the things so I have several levels because I know that not everyone can afford to have a private coach right.
So I write a business blog and that blog has an enormous backlog of articles and I’m writing about things that are landscape business centric. But the truth is if you are any tradesperson you’re going to. It’s all the same. And quite frankly any small business but really talking about production. To people who have a bricks and mortar space, they’ve got trucks, they’ve got equipment, and they need laborers so that’s the business that I’m speaking to. And so that blog is free. I offer several free eBooks that people can consume that help them understand business. I have the Landscaper’s Survival Guide which they can download.
I have a course called the Landscapers Freedom Formula and it’s just a three-part course that looks at mindset. It looks at service positioning so like how do you create your services. And then it looks at conversions like how do you make sales. It’s cheap! It’s like easy peasy. They can just dive in right.
Then from there we have the one on one coaching. We do a deep dive into their business and mostly what I’m asking right at the beginning is, do you have an organizational chart? Do you have a mission and a value statement? Do you know why you’re in business? Do you or your staff know why your customers know what you stand for? It’s going back to that foundational core. It’s rather different than a lot of coaches in the landscape business who focus a lot on money and getting your company ready to sell. I’m focusing on whether if you have built a lifestyle business. Is this business serving you, the owner and the people that work for you?
David Elmasian: [00:42:51] That’s fantastic. How do you make the time for all that stuff?
Monique Allen: [00:43:00] Well time can’t be made right? You can only manage your work so. So, I’m a very calendar driven person. So I I’m really organized about how I drive my calendar for my coaching clients. I usually have four at a time and they’re pretty hand selected. I can be really discriminating about who I want to work with and then we set recurring appointments through the duration of their sessions. Then, I just build my world around my coaching sessions. I’ll tell you, for me, it’s a real escape. Like I go from being owner to being owner support and it’s like I can be so tired. And when I move into owner support, I’m all about you I’m all about helping you get out of your angst, out of your own way. I can pick you back up when you just fell down. I’m really all about you and I can’t even tell you how invigorating it is because I know that when I get off the phone, that the person feels better and is more capable! And that, just lights me up.
David Elmasian: [00:44:06] Yeah. I think that if people see that and that that’s why people come back for more. Yeah. It’s not just about you’re selling them something to try to make a buck. No, you’re really trying to transform their business. You have a lot of credibility because you have successful business so it’s not like you’re one of these coaches that says hey you know listen to me. And you look under the cover and you realize Oh this person is just a coach. I mean nothing wrong with being just a coach but there has to be a level of experience knowledge success failures.
Monique Allen: [00:44:37] Yeah absolutely I teach to my failures a lot. That’s I’m glad you said that because you know I have I have messed before. You know even now in, it’s like I’m trying to run three ventures right now and you know and I’m like what am I doing? Once I even decided I’d start a mulch company and then not! Now, I’ve decided to teach through those failure. It’s like you need to learn through your own failures. It’s like that book fail forward. Yeah that’s a great way because when you’re coaching that way and you can say you know what. Me too and I feel you! I know how you feel. I remember when I... And this is how I got out of it and this is how I avoid that ever happening again and they’re like oh really, well that gives credibility, right.
David Elmasian: [00:45:26] Yeah it really does and I’m the same way in the sense that I never loved school. And one of the reasons one of the many reasons I never loved school was especially when I got to the college level, I’d be looking at a professor and I just knew they were full of it. There was just no basis of reality there. You know you and I will compare notes at some point similar background always around business and all that. And so, when I when I was listening to this professor, I’d be like I’m thinking myself this person’s full of it. I didn’t use those words. So, I couldn’t get past that. And so that’s why how it might be like Why are you. Why am I even listening to this person why am I paying to listen to this person? But like you said in your case when you talk about the successes and the failures and they know that you’re talking from a position of experience that gives so much more credibility. They want to listen to you because they know that you know. Yeah. All right.
Monique Allen: [00:46:22] I totally agree and I have to said you know similar you know more for me more in high school I just couldn’t figure high school out. And I’m not sure I figured college out entirely but I will say that you know it was that I was a straight-A student when I respected the teacher right. When that teacher felt authentic to me. Oh my gosh I was like straight A’s it was so easy.
David Elmasian: [00:46:46] It proves we are cousins. Yes, we are. So, you mentioned in the book the rumor has it that somebody is writing or has written a book. Is that true. It is true. So, it is tell me about that.
Monique Allen: [00:47:00] So yeah. So, I’ve been writing this book for like four years in your spare time in my spare time. Yeah. When I started writing I am sure I had no clue what I was getting into and didn’t stop. I didn’t. I kept going. I had helped by writing coaches I had editors I had people who interviewed me then we transcribed the interviews like it was all manner of help to try to get this done. And the cool thing is right now it’s in copy editing so the book is done. It’s really cool. It’s completely through developmental editing which is the part where you have to like rewrite a bunch of stuff. Now. I’ve got a few things to work on. But then it goes into copy editing which is you know making sure that it’s actually readable. Yeah. And I have my copy-editing meeting soon. And then from there we go into layouts. We start doing the layout but so what’s the other name.
Monique Allen: [00:47:58] Now it’s called it’s called Stop Landscaping, Start Life-ScapingTM . It’s a guide to moving past this what I call sort of rush-rush landscape that gets you to feature-scaping inadvertently. Let’s stop doing that! It’s for people who really are trying to build an environment. A place like the Arnold Arboretum. That place wasn’t built, rush-rush. That place was developed over time. You know there was there was a vision right. And the truth is that a lot of the most beautiful places that we go to that have been around for a long time. They they’re visionary processes and some people may say hey for a house or office park who cares but you know what, for some we do care we actually care a lot! And, why not, right. Why not?
Because here’s the cool thing right now. One of the landscapes that I’m building right now, it’s so awesome because the clients really didn’t understand why I had so many plants and I had to just teach them, hey look at we had to clear cut a big swath of land so we actually need to put an ecosystem back together and a lot of times people don’t think about the house and the driveway and the utilities and they don’t think of that as part of the ecosystem. But it is! And Mother Earth is going to swallow it all up, but we don’t think about that. They’ll find out about solving the right problems right. They’ll find out about it.
So Stop Landscaping, Start Life-ScapingTM is just an invitation for people who are interested to learn the ins and outs of how you take a piece of land, a homestead, an office park, whatever it is, and look at it with a visionary glance so that you can then design and build toward that vision. It’s not going to be for everybody but it’s going to be for people who want that as their end result. And I had to really dissect everything I did because you know I’d be writing about something and I made total sense to me and somebody would read it be like well. You know so I had to dissect it a lot. Yeah.
David Elmasian: [00:50:05] So let me share a very quick story when we go to wrap things up about what exactly what you just talked about for about six years I lived out in California I live in the Central Valley Kelvin born and raised in the Boston area but my wife and I moved out there for us for a while. And you know the landscape is a lot different on California as we know. And so, in the Central Valley particularly it’s very much different because there are no native trees there’s no one of the things I discovered which was very strange to me is there’s no rocks. You dig into the ground you don’t hit the rocks. Sal growing up in here you know you just look can you see rocks right.
Monique Allen: [00:50:42] Right. Doing so.
David Elmasian: [00:50:43] So my wife and I bought our first house and we were in typical you know development where all the houses are very similar and all that. And so, we brought in a landscaper – “I’m doing air quotes”. And he suggested that we put a little mound in front because everything’s flat and put a little tree and bring a rock in. Now my wife’s That sounds great. And so, I’m thinking myself again growing up in this area. I’m going to pay for somebody to bring a rock in? All right. Now again we won’t go into all the detail but growing up in the household my family is into real estate. So, I was always the one outside doing the artwork because I was cheap or free labor. So, I’ve done I dug up my share of rocks over the years so I’m thinking myself I’m going to pay for a rock. Now obviously you know no matter what I felt my wife decided we were gonna get her wrong we’re getting a rock and we’ve got a rock. And so, as I get to know the neighborhood better, I realized this is a common thing. And so, I’m thinking all right. Yes, this is the way people do stuff around here. So just by happen stance I meet not my next-door neighbor but two neighbors two houses down and his house was completely different. His house was what I learned later to be called more native. So, the grass wasn’t Bermuda grass. It was what’s what grew in that area. You know naturally didn’t have a rock didn’t have this. It was very what I considered like almost kind of shaggy. And so, I struck up a conversation with them and the guy was very blunt. He said Oh so you’re one of those rock people. I said Yeah. He goes That’s nice. He says but it’s not native to this area it looks stupid and he even use exactly those words. We kind of get the essence and so that was kind of my first lesson and of this was a feature. But it really wasn’t natural. And so, when I started looking at his house I realized it wasn’t the Grand Canyon. It wasn’t you know. But this there’s a beauty in nature and it’s just like when they do remodel when a house has an addition made and you say oh there’s the addition. That’s not a good addition. When you see a house and you say oh look at that beautiful house and then some. Oh yeah. We added on this this and this. You realize huh. This is the way to do things. So, I think this is kind of what you’re. And again, I know I’m all way oversimplifying everything. Nobody. But isn’t that kind of what you’re trying to say. So. So when the book comes out. Get the book. Don’t be a rock guy like I was so you know I know you and I go on for very much longer. We need to wrap things up. And you know we’ve talked a little I.T. but I got to throw a little bit in and I know you listened a couple of the podcasts so we’re gonna do our little tiny tech segment called Check your tech.
David Elmasian: [00:53:31] So I know you’re fully prepared for this but I’ll throw you a few curves at you if I might try. OK. I’ll try. So first off are you a macro piece and I I know some of the answers but I’m going to ask them.
David Elmasian: [00:53:41] Are you a macro P.C.
Monique Allen: [00:53:42] Person personally Mac.
David Elmasian: [00:53:44] Okay. iPhone or Android.
Monique Allen: [00:53:46] iPhone.
David Elmasian: [00:53:47] Facebook Instagram Twitter LinkedIn.
David Elmasian: [00:53:49] Oh wow. No hesitation whatsoever. All right. Now this is a big one.
Monique Allen: [00:53:55] Ok.
David Elmasian: [00:53:56] Netflix or Hulu.
Monique Allen: [00:53:59] Netflix. I don’t really have one but Netflix. No. I guess Netflix because I had Hulu and I got rid of it.
David Elmasian: [00:54:05] Really. Yeah. And like I mentioned Hulu I always pull it off because nobody ever says it. Yeah. Okay. And this may be none of that none of the above but I’ll ask anyway.
David Elmasian: [00:54:14] Roku Apple TV or Chromecast.
Monique Allen: [00:54:17] Apple TV. All right.
David Elmasian: [00:54:18] Well I know you’re going to say that because you’re an apple. Yes.
David Elmasian: [00:54:20] Gmail or outlook.
Monique Allen: [00:54:21] Gmail.
David Elmasian: [00:54:22] OK. Now this one. Yes. What is the one plant a tree that finds its way into almost all your projects.
Monique Allen: [00:54:32] Boxwood Vardar Valley makes it into most of my projects it’s the best Boxwood out there. Tree.
David Elmasian: [00:54:42] That’s OK. The box was fine. Yeah but it’s I. So is this a specific type of boxwood.
Monique Allen: [00:54:46] It’s just as I say that word. It’s a pacifier. It’s a specific type of black box. It is like having the success you had. You do that.
Monique Allen: [00:54:58] And I like it because it handles our winters and it doesn’t get a lot of the bug problems. Some of the other box when I use the other ones. But that’s one.
David Elmasian: [00:55:08] Well we’ll talk after the show because.
Monique Allen: [00:55:10] I know you guys I can just keep going because like I like the know you’re all coming in my essay I was like I said I can ask the hard questions her eyes are all in the back. This was a bench. Now when you get all excited. That’s OK. You’ll like give me one. No like I know. That’s OK. You know.
David Elmasian: [00:55:26] Well when you know you told a great story I really appreciate you having been on the show. Thank you. For people that are interested either for coaching or want to buy your book or maybe you want to become a customer of yours how’s the best way for them to reach out in the best way.
Monique Allen: [00:55:43] Is the garden continuum dot.com remembering that continuum has to you. There’s a GET STARTED button. It’s orange. Everything with The Garden Continuum is orange. I have a bright orange T-shirt on right now. There’s an orange get started button on the right that you can click on and fill in a form. If you’re looking for coaching you can just note that right in the comments section. You can easily follow the blog. Yeah just very easy very easy.
David Elmasian: [00:56:09] Well thanks for joining us here on the Hub success and sharing your story. Thank you very much.
Narrator: [00:56:14] The Hub of Success podcast is sponsored by Tech Help Boston. The top rated local one stop. Tech solutions company. For all of your computer home and commercial technology needs visit tech help Boston dot.com.