For landscape companies located in climates like New England’s where the growing season ends abruptly with cold, frost and snow, November represents the beginning of the end of the active landscape season. As a business owner, chances are you were knee-deep in installations and maintenance all year long, focusing your time and energy on the work at hand in the field. If sales and production went well, you might be looking forward to a little breathing room before you transition to the next season. If things didn't go so well, you might be wondering what the heck happened!
Either way, the autumn season is a perfect time to take a hard look at your business to identify the strengths and weaknesses, the successes and failures, and ways you can enhance the former while minimizing the latter.
A common mistake many business owners make is thinking that building a business means merely adding on to it to grow it. However, adding more services and more clients may not be the only solution. If your company has weaknesses that aren't addressed, then adding more work on top of them may make them worse, doing more harm than good. A little leak in a system can become the weakness that sinks the ship if not repaired.
A better idea may be first to identify areas where your business needs a little shoring up, a small improvement, and then schedule the time to work specifically on those weaknesses. Yup, I said schedule time! I like the autumn season for this because even if you can work year-round, it's the 4th quarter of the year everywhere. A great time to get a handle on your business function and performance.
First off, building a business is not easy (for most of us), so take it on one step at a time. A series of smaller actions, done over time, consistently, can have a more substantial, collective impact, transforming your business in a more manageable and sustainable way. I’d like to suggest that the key is to look at the most profitable services you already have in play and optimize those so that you are more efficient and productive and can expand with more of that type of work. This strategy enables you to add business easily and effortlessly because you’re optimizing it.
Here are three tips that can help you build off of this season’s successes and work to minimize its weaknesses:
Increase your strength, not necessarily your size
When you think about building your business, sometimes it’s a question of refining, not increasing. Wait….what? Think of it like skimming off fat and throwing it away. Assess your services, your client list (location and activities) and consider what you may be doing that you don't want to do, don't enjoy doing, or struggle to do.
In this case, losing the services or projects that don't make money or that weigh down morale in your company could be a really smart move. It will free up time and energy to focus on the jobs and services that truly work for your company and uses the resources it has available. It’s easy to get spread thin doing the work that’s in demand at the moment, but that may not be the most profitable work for your company. The real money-makers might be languishing for want of attention, resources, and a little effort from you. Hyper-focusing on what you do best could go a long way in making that the star services they should be.
For example, if you’re a lawn care service, you may find yourself being asked about renovating gardens or adding new features, but you find it hard to get to that work or do it well because you’re focused on the mowing and lawn care which are your central services. Now, you may have the experience and equipment to make money at lawn renovations, over-seeding, aeration, dethatching, and compost applications. So instead of waiting for someone to ask about those services, you could start actively selling them. Then push the renos off to a design or gardening partner. You’ll be surprised at the increase you’ll see in the kind of work you love and are exceptionally good at once you start to promote it. Try this call-to-action (CTA), "Is your lawn lackluster and in need of a boost? Fall's the perfect time to renovate!"
The same applies to a company providing fine gardening services. Perhaps the bulk of your business is in small plantings, pruning, and bed maintenance, but you can renovate and edit gardens by transplanting, dividing and spreading plants. Why not actively sell that service to current and prospective clients as a perfect complement to what you already do? Try a simple call-to-action (CTA), such as “Is your garden overgrown and underperforming? Then it’s time for a garden edit!” You, too, will be pleasantly surprised at the interest you can create and the new business you can generate with the right CTA.
Take advantage of momentum
When things get busy it's easy to say "hey, I'll just hire more people," but sometimes that's not the answer. Believe me, I've "been there and done that" and had it bite me in the backside! Instead, solidify and optimize your current team. Ask them what’s working and what’s not. Identify specific fixes and improvements you can make to take advantage of what’s working and jumpstart areas that might be stalled.
As an owner, the idea of asking workers to tell you what’s not working might make you wince. Again, I’ve felt that fear, followed by the sting when the feedback isn’t what I’m expecting. However, that's precisely why this kind of questioning is useful. You can't fix what you don't know is broken. However, asking those kinds of tough questions can help solidify your team by demonstrating that you care about what they do and how it gets done. Sometimes the key is to take advantage of momentum is developing working teams within your company that can move the needle in the right direction. It could be hiring one new individual with a missing skill set – not just a bunch of warm bodies. It could be investing in one select piece of equipment to close a working gap. Sometimes a smart team, a single, skilled resource, or a piece of well-chosen equipment is just the action you need to take full advantage of a new influx of work. This is strategic growth.
Going back to our lawn care company example, that might mean purchasing an aerator and slice seeder and hiring someone to head up lawn renovations. Bam! You’ve just upped your game and catapulted your business to the next level by digging into a service you’re great at more deeply. For our fine gardening company, it might be sending a dedicated, motivated employee or two to advanced horticultural training or hiring someone with a specific skill set that may include horticulture and design to facilitate garden editing on your team. Taking advantage of momentum and building a better team by making relatively small, specific actions can yield exponentially greater results.
Indulge in a little shameless self-promotion by using your successes as part of your marketing and brand-building. Toot your own horn by sharing this season’s successful projects and highlighting the contributions of your hard-working staff. Use your website and social media to be creative – for example, this year we featured “Meet-the-Staff-Monday” every week on Facebook to introduce our team to our clientele. Employees enjoyed being recognized individually and appreciated for their work; it’s a great way to celebrate them and promote your brand at the same time.
Go a step further and share positive experiences with other clients online by asking for reviews on Facebook, Google, and other online platforms. This might seem a little risky because you open yourself to criticism as well as praise. But keep in mind that it also provides you with the opportunity to hear the good, the bad and the ugly and address any current or potential problems head-on. Many people appreciate when businesses tackle problems openly and honestly. Especially, when they give their feedback and ideas, and you take them up on some of them. It can build respect and loyalty and earn you more business, not less.
Planning for success
Business-building is not just focusing on adding more clients and projects, but focusing attention inward to look at your operation. This enables you to identify individual skills, team strengths and weaknesses, areas of your business operation that need improvement, and momentum that can be built upon. All things that will be critical building blocks for growth.
For small owner-operated businesses, this may seem like an odd suggestion, because you can see and hear everything on a daily basis since it’s just you and maybe two or three workers. However, if you’re successful, you’ll start to grow, and you'll eventually need more people. As you add more people, moving from 3 to 6 to 12 or more employees, you’ll realize that YOU can’t control everything. You can’t decide everything. The teams you develop, and the systems you put in place will be the foundation for sustainable growth.
When you add more landscape work to an already weak set of systems, you may do more harm than good. A little leak in business productivity may become the weakness that sinks the ship if not repaired.
Sometimes it can be easier to chase the outward elements of growth and slap more things onto your business in an effort to improve it – more people, more equipment, more services, more stuff. In reality, the best thing you can do is first shift your focus to the inner workings of your business, optimize the skill sets of your current employees, streamline how you operate, increase efficiency and optimize your resources. It’s not as sexy as getting that big job, and it can certainly be challenging and a little frustrating too (not that I have any experience with that!). But here’s what I know -- through all the struggles of growth that I’ve endured it has been when I’ve focused on strengthening the foundations of my business that I’ve experienced growth and improvement. And not just for my business, but also for me personally and for my team experience.