All posts by Jeffrey Scott

business owner and client meeting

How Would Your Clients Describe Working With Your Firm?

As a company grows larger, sometimes the clients suffer.

We all know that successful owners rely on their people, their systems and a great culture to hold everything together.

But is that enough?

As your company scales, who is truly looking out for the clients’ best interest?

  • Sometimes clients get lost in the shuffle when a company grows too fast and takes on more clients than it can handle.
  • Sometimes a company becomes overly complex and clients can fall between the cracks.
  • Sometimes the jobs you take on become so complex that your systems cannot handle them well.

Who’s job is it to ensure the ‘client experience’ is optimal?

There is a trend for large corporations to hire a Chief Experience Officer to ensure the client is being well served, but that seems overkill to me.

At your current size, this job may be yours, or you may have a second-in-command whose job is to integrate your company’s sales and operations.

Which means it is their job to protect and enhance the client’s experience.

Are they hard-wired to do that?

Back in the days of running my landscape firm, once or twice a year I would take time out to meet with a few important clients, to understand how they perceived working with us from start to finish, as they touched all the divisions of our company.

Here is the process I followed: I loved doing this because I found it eye-opening to see my company through their eyes and learn how well all the pieces of our firm were working together (or not).

Improving Your Customer’s Experience

1. Meet with both decision-makers: I set up an appointment with both spouses to meet them on their property for a couple of hours. (Commercially you would meet with the property manager and possibly the property owner.)

2. Chronological questions: I would engage them in a conversation about their experiences with my firm, taking them through the process from start to finish.

3. Start before the beginning: I would start with questions like: “How did you hear about us? What did you think you were looking for before you called us, and did you find what you were looking for?”

I want to hear it in their words, so I can do a better job of thinking like they think and using words that they use.

4. The initial impression: How was the initial interaction with us, as you emailed or called to get more information?

Make sure to ask open-ended questions and remain curious even as you hear things you don’t agree with.

5. How was the buying process? Tell me about the salesperson (or designer) you worked with, the response times you experienced, the details of what we provided you, the contract, etc.

What was helpful and what was confusing?

I generally did these interviews for my largest design-build clients because I wanted to talk with people who touched the most parts of our company. You could also do this for comprehensive maintenance accounts.

(Note: If your services are more commodity based, I would advise doing a focus group with 5-7 clients at once.)

6. The big pause: How was your experience between signing the contract and starting the work? Was it made clear to you what to expect? How was the communication you received?

Russell Landscape Group: Two years ago I held an event at Teddy Russell’s company in Atlanta; his client on-boarding process was some of the best I have seen. You can bet he lives and breathes what I am laying out here. You are never too big to obsess about this. He spends a large amount of time with customers, both networking and keeping tabs on the largest clients.

7. How did the work unfold? Was the process clear? Any hiccups along the way? Where did our people serve you well, and where did we drop the ball?

8. Closing out the project: Did anything linger? Were you as happy as we finished as when we started? Any workmanship issues we still need to fix?

9. Billing and admin: What about the billing process?

10. The handoff: At the end of the job we handed off the relationship to our maintenance team, how did that go? Did you feel embraced and immediately taken care of? Did our maintenance people show you as much love as your original salesperson?

It is important to not fear asking the questions that expose your weaknesses. Be bold and be willing to “step into the poop” as you go through this interview. Your clients will respect you more for wanting to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly.

It’s also important to not use this anecdotal information to bash anyone in your firm, but rather to focus on improving your processes.

Your Challenge:

Even if you are working day to day with your clients, you can still miss the bigger picture. This summer, go through this process once or twice to learn what your company looks like from the outside.

Remember, your brand reputation is the sum of all your clients’ experiences with your firm. Make sure they are telling you what they are telling everyone else.

These client interviews taught me many things, including:

  1. To identify the weak spots and dreaded holes in our processes.
  2. To better understand my client’s priorities, by getting inside their head.
  3. To better speak their language by hearing them describe their needs in their own words.
  4. To develop ideas for new products, services, and marketing techniques.

Over to you — go talk to some important clients…

jeffrey scott and bob drost

Episode #155 – Growing from $5M to $15M with Bob Drost

As the founder of Drost Landscape in Petosky, MI, Bob Drost has been reinventing landscaping since the company was founded in 1991.

His pioneering spirit helped build Drost Landscape; and his integrity, innovativeness, and commitment to quality have ensured continued success with each passing year.

Jeffrey and Bob discuss how he grew his company from $0 to $5M, and then speedily from $5M to $15M.

Bob shares his newest growth plans and his biggest passion that has powered the company’s growth, along with a bit of name-dropping of those who have contributed to their success.

Panoramic image, Man hand holding piggy bank on wood table. Save money and financial investment

Is Your Landscape Company Financially Accountable?

Financial accountability doesn’t need to be a bad word.

The definition of accountability means to calculate or give an accounting of. With good people on board, you merely need a process for  taking an account of the situation, then making decisions based on that.

In the past week I have worked with three different landscape business owners on the challenge of improving their financial results.

Each conversation circled back to what the leader was doing weekly with their team.

This year (more than past years) raises the important question, ‘What is the role of the leader?

Your single most important role is to be a strong, effective communicator.

What should you be communicating?

Communication comes in many flavors, but financially it means this:

  1. Engage your team in setting the goals,
  2. Give your people constant updates on their results
  3. Identify where they are ahead and behind.
  4. And in those places where you are behind, identify the gaps and ensuring your team takes ownership of closing the gaps.

It’s called financial accountability. Here is how you do this.

7 Steps for Financial Accountability

(Note: This is based on my comprehensive 14-step plan…these are the first seven most critical steps.)

  1. The company and each division are following an accurate monthly budget, based on ’time tested’ billable and non-billable hours assumptions.
  2. Crews are given daily feedback on their results regarding their hours and efficiency goals.
  3. Divisions review their results weekly with their crew leaders, making use of group sharing strategies like ‘forced ranking’.
  4. The leadership team reviews a company dashboard weekly. Each leader on your team has their own set of numbers to report on.
  5. Job costing is reviewed frequently and consistently, with feedback given to both crews and estimators.
  6. Sales goals and actuals are reviewed with your sales team weekly, based on monthly goals (broken into weekly goals as needed).
  7. Your P&L is reviewed monthly; with all the mainline items assigned to leaders in the room to track and report on.

Even though incentives may be part of your financial game plan, they are only important after you set up this foundation…first things first!

Your Challenge:

Don’t get distracted by the current hullabaloo going on in politics and the papers; keep your team focused on the daily and weekly habits needed to win!

Plan these meetings I have outlined in your calendar right now.

You may feel that you only have an average team, but I guarantee you will achieve above-average results when you raise your game as the financial leader.

And if you tell me your team is actually above average, then I guarantee you will enjoy stellar results with these seven steps.

Some people say to keep your head down and grind it out. Not me. I say, keep your eyes on the scoreboard, and keep communicating the score to your team.

After you have done this, hit reply and let me know how it works out.

Episode #154 – The Magic of Zingerman’s and the Art of Diversification

Paul Saginaw is the co-founder of Zingerman’s, a highly diversified food enterprise known for its innovative high-end service and out-of-the-box management practices.

Paul and Jeffrey discuss what makes Zingerman’s truly unique, and how other business owners (in the green industry) can copy and learn from the Zingerman’s model. Paul shares his current struggles and how he is pivoting. He tells all and doesn’t hold back!

Zingerman’s started as 1300 square feet of combined restaurant and specialty food retail space, run solely by Paul, his partner Ari and two employees. The Zingerman’s Community of Businesses now has 23 partners, employs over 750 people and generates over $60 million in annual sales from ten separate businesses: Zingerman’s Delicatessen (including Zingerman’s Catering), Zingerman’s Mail Order, Zingerman’s Bakehouse, Zingerman’s Training Inc., Zingerman’s Coffee Company, Zingerman’s Roadhouse, Zingerman’s Creamery, Zingerman’s Candy Manufactory, Zingerman’s Corn Man Farms, and Miss Kim.

Paul believes that he has been successful in spite of the fact that he has limited natural talent and abilities.  He believes that the only real limitations are a lack of vision.

person walking forward

You Have Two Options To Grow Your Landscape Business This Year

Has it felt like a roller coaster to you these past two months? 

Every day there is a myriad of updates on what you can and can’t do. 

It’s all critical information, but the real purpose of your business goes far beyond this crazy back and forth.

Your company’s main purpose is to fill market needs and make your clients’ lives easier…all while protecting your employees and building your company to provide better opportunities for their growth.

But what’s the best way to grow forward during these busy times? 

It may seem chaotic, but it boils down to two choices:

  1. Doing a better job servicing your clients and competing with everyone for the same business, or
  2. Creating new products and services to attract new and better clients.

Ironically, you need to be good at both of these. 

Here are some examples: 

Competing Leads To Innovation

A few weeks back for my podcast I was conversing with Bob Grover, President of Pacific Landscape Management in Oregon. He shared with me that during the crash of 2008, some/many of his commercial clients wanted him to do the same level of service for less money. 

They were in a bind and they needed help, it was up to him to figure out how to provide the same or similar level of service in a more efficient manner. 

But in 2008 he missed this ‘opportunity’ i.e. he didn’t read the writing on the wall, and he subsequently lost more business than need be. This time around he is embracing the innovative challenge of figuring this out now in real-time.

He is much more financially prepared this time around having paid down his debt, and he plans to lead his clients through this mess as best he can. 

By embracing this challenge, he is forcing his company to become more innovative and build a stronger more efficient company.

How about you? What competitive challenge are you asking your company to step up to? 

But wait, there is more to growth… 

You also need to be good at recognizing and creating brand-new products, services, and opportunities.

Gardens of Babylon in Nashville, Tennessee has done an excellent job of pivoting their garden center and putting it online, which has allowed them to keep serving their clients and to keep growing their business. They got hit by a tornado this winter and then by the pandemic, and yet they have survived and grown by shifting how they go to market. 

Their company growth has been non-stop, driven by their willingness to experiment and try new things. I have worked with the owners, Matt and Marcus Kerske, for a while and I am astounded and pleased how they implement many changes quickly, such as:

  • rebranding
  • restructuring their leadership team
  • revamping their overhead with the use of freelancing
  • flipping their sales processes on its head
  • and now, putting their garden center online

In private talks, they have told me that they see this online strategy as a seed for creating their new normal (stay tuned to learn what that is…).

The Reactive And Proactive Muscles

To thrive in 2020 and beyond, you will have to exercise both muscles: 

  1. Reactively doing a better job shifting to client needs and competitive pressures, and
  2. Proactively developing new markets and methods to grow your business.

Your Challenge

In these crazy times, your challenge is to take enough free time away from the day to day, so you can reflect clearly on how well you are doing, and where you need to pivot or reinvent your services.

If I polled all of your clients, what score would you get from 0-10 for reacting to their needs and maintaining positive relationships with them? 

If I polled all of your top leaders, what score would you get from 0-10 for proactively and quickly developing new products, markets, and business approaches?

Ask your team to answer both of these questions, and then take the initiative to plan your next move.

Andy Grove, the past CEO of Intel wrote a book around his belief that Only The Paranoid Survive. I would update that to Only The Innovative Will Thrive.

Your move…

jeffrey scott and phil key

Episode #153 – Staying Small While Scaling to $200M+ with Phil Key

Phil Key, President and Partner of Ruppert Landscape, and board member of the National Association of Landscape Professionals, has a unique impact on our industry.

Phil started working part-time at Ruppert Landscape when he was 15, and full time for over 22 years with 30+ years industry experience. He and Jeffrey Scott discuss what makes Ruppert so successful, how the new normal is impacting Ruppert Landscape, and what strategies they have put in place to continue their growth curve.

Phil also shares his biggest professional regret and his biggest business challenge.

Ruppert Landscape is a giant in the industry, doubling from $110M to $210M over the last five years.

radio on air sign

Become Your Employees Favorite Radio Station

Over the past two months, I have been coaching leaders on how to inoculate themselves from the predictable bad news. Your employees need the same.

If you have watched my videos you have heard me talk about becoming a radio station  for your employees.

They hear so much bad and confusing news…they need a constant source of constructive and believable news.

Many of you have told me this advice has been extremely helpful, so here is a follow up on why it’s so critical and how to implement it.

Why it’s important:

  1. Facebook is full of conspiracy theories, political potshots and fake news that can distract and shake one’s faith.
  2. The news outlets fight for eyeballs by using headlines that scare and create fear.
  3. Your team’s lack of knowledge can create fear of the unknown. These are stressful times for your team.

What it means to be the radio station:

  • Be on the air every day; don’t let a vacuum get filled by nonsense.
  • Use a variety of ways to communicate: video, email, or group text. Get creative by using them all. Mix fun and serious.
  • Share the communication duties among all the leaders of your team. A good radio station always has different announcers. Too much of one announcer can get boring.
  • Share facts and figures about how you are doing. People would rather know the truth than have to guess. And their guesses are usually slightly or terribly wrong.
  • Keep future focused plans on track, and share updates. (Are you experimenting with automowers? Keep on that plan, and tell us how it’s going)
  • Describe the sacrifices you are making, in line with what you are asking of your team.
  • Share the new goals and protocols you have set for productivity, and also tell them why it’s important.
  • After your weekly leader’s meeting, share a few relevant decisions or discussions. They have seen you meet behind closed doors and always wondered and even worried about what you discussed. So tell them!
  • Emphasize your staff’s most important radio station WIIFM (“What’s in it for me”.) Let them know how all this impacts them, and ultimately helps them. Connect the dots for them.

Your challenge:

You are super busy selling and managing, and so you usually communicate just enough to keep things moving. Yet poor communication is the biggest issue I am asked to solve by employees in their companies.

The true proactive leaders out there understand that communication is actually your main job.

So treat your entire team as your inner circle, and they will begin to step up and act like it.

Of course, you do have to parse out certain information carefully, so have different reports for different groups as you grow larger.

Give out trust and respect to all, and you will get it back in abundance.

3D illustration of two rubber stamps with words global and local over kraft paper background, Concept of consumption

Why Thinking Local Is Critical To Your Recovery

After much research and deep discussion with contractors everywhere I have developed a more nuanced economic projection for you.

Two key factors will drive the economy.

The first is based on how this virus plays out. To gain a better understanding of the pandemic, I researched the “source” information that all experts are looking to for guidance: the past pandemics.

The great influenza of 1918 was literally the worst the world has ever seen with deaths from 20M to 50M, at a fatality rate of 4% to 10%.

However that influenza, called the Spanish Flu, affected mostly people in their prime!! While Covid-9 preys on older and unhealthy people. Strange.

This leads me to the recognition that perhaps we have two parallel pandemics going on.

  1. The one preying on the older retired people. (with 2% passing away, and probably much higher),
  2. And another preying on the working class (with under a 1/2% passing, and probably much lower.)

Based on my research I do believe that we will have subsequent waves and the next one could be worse. We don’t know, but with any luck it won’t be that bad for the healthy working class, as long as we protect the less healthy and elderly.

This bodes well for our economy pulling through this, especially if the experts wrestle with and come to terms with this conundrum (over protect everyone vs save those in need). That’s my hope anyway.

The second factor is how the economy is playing out now.

Even though we are technically in a recession, some parts of the country are still booming.

Others hope to keep even compared with last year, or at worst down 10%. A few other parts of the country will be down even more compared with last year, especially those who are still shut down.

Based on this patchwork and current info. I predict the recovery will also be patchwork. For some there could be no dip or a slight dip. For others, it could be a V recovery, and others a short or long U recovery. (Things keep changing so keep an eye on the second half of the year.)

Even the type of client niche you focus on (residential vs commercial) does not guarantee you protection from the ups and downs. In some parts of the economy commercial is up while in other parts of the economy commercial is weaker. Same goes with residential niches.

My conclusion based on current info, the economy and its recovery will be localized. Every locality and niche will experience it differently.

I remain optimistic overall based on the reality of this pandemic, and the huge monetary response.

The TRUE KEY for your success, as in all economies, will be the confidence and gung-ho spirit of entrepreneurs and how you positively impact your team and community. We can’t afford to freeze with fear, otherwise it will become a self fulfilling prophesy.

Your Challenge:

  • Get closer to your clients and markets than ever before! Spend more time with them. Understand their changing needs and desires. For example, if they depend on real estate rents, then get a very good understanding how they are being impacted.
  • Find out what’s selling and sell more of it.
  • Support your real salespeople. This is no time for amateurs.
  • Improve your marketing, off and online, as if your business life depends on it.
  • Learn to read your clients mind (for more info how to do this, listen to my latest podcast with industry leader Bob Grover, CEO of Pacific Landscape Management, here.)
  • Continue to build up a nest egg, in case later this year or next year we have another economic hiccup. Too late now to start? It’s never too late. Including, ignore your accountant’s advice to reduce taxes at all costs.
  • Improve your profit and cash flow strategies now. Push yourself to innovate now even if you are the lucky ones that are booming. Radical efficiency and bottom line growth trumps low margin sales.
  • Keep safety forefront, as you keep pushing forward.

Episode #152 – Growing Commercial Maintenance with Bob Grover

As a true industry leader, Bob Grover, CEO of Pacific Landscape Management has built a business that is one of the fastest growing  privately owned companies in Portland, OR.

Jeffrey Scott and Bob Grover discuss how his company is responding to Covid-19, his predictions for the next 24 months, and what his long term strategies are for growth and innovation in the green industry. Bob shares a few business secrets that will intrigue the listeners. He is a passionate outdoorsman and sustainability remains one of his key goals.

Since starting PLM back in 2001, this is not the first crisis that Bob and his team are dealing with. They strived and succeeded in becoming a debt free company since the last economic downturn in order to be ready for any economy.

checklist

10 Ways to Strengthen Your Marketing Message and Mix

How well your company rebounds this year depends on the strength of your company’s marketing and sales culture.

This is not the time to rely solely on referrals: When the economy drops, so do your leads.

Strong marketing and sales-oriented companies don’t have this problem, even now. They have marketing engines and strong sales systems in place to drive growth.

How about you?

To help you figure this out I have created a checklist for you.

The idea for this checklist came from my recent conversations with companies across the continent.

I have been asking every company owner I speak with, “Where do you expect your revenue to end up this year, as a percentage of last year?”

What I am seeing is a patchwork of responses, depending on where their company resides and based on the strength of their marketing culture.

CHECKLIST: Ten Questions To Determine the Strength of your Marketing and Sales Culture

1. Does someone in the company besides the owner wake up every morning and go to bed every night thinking about sales?

In the smallest of companies, it can be the owner, but in a company with any ambition, this needs to be a full time employee(s), i.e. a salesperson or a sales manager or both.

2. Is someone calling on your clients, no matter the season?

Even during the pandemic, even if your offices are closed, someone should be calling on clients.

For example, I spoke to a client who was hunkered down waiting out the pandemic, he didn’t want to upset his clients. I told him now is the perfect time to call on clients and architects and builders, “because they are sitting around bored and would welcome the distraction”.

“Now” is always the answer to the question, “When is the right time to call on our clients?”

3. Do you engage in both online and offline marketing?

Having a strong marketing culture means that you have figured out what works in both online and offline, and you measure your results in both. It’s second nature: Invest, measure, tweak.

4. Do you have an active marketing plan to stay in touch with existing clients?

Your goal is to keep yourself top of mind and to keep clients aware of what you sell and what they need and to upsell and cross sell new services.

5. Does every existing client have at least one dedicated employee (non-owner) to maintain and strengthen a relationship?

Having a strong relationship allows your client to give you grace when you make a mistake.

6. Do you involve non-sales people In the identification of sales opportunities?

Are office and field employees incentivized to contribute to the sales process? Everyone is a salesperson, or can contribute to the sale!

7. Have you updated your website recently?

Things change every 2-3 years. How old is your site? Are you coasting on past success?

8. Is someone dedicated to network on the company’s behalf, besides the owner?

Or does it all fall back on the owner…not a good place to be.

9. Do you pay sales commissions to your salespeople?

If you don’t, it’s a sign you don’t have hungry salespeople on staff.

10. Do you stretch yourself in terms of how much you try to sell to current clients?

Frank Mariani and I both agree that 150% is a good stretch goal (as measured by the amount of enhancements sold as a percentage of their maintenance agreements).

How do you hit that target? It includes sales opportunities that are handed off internally to your design/install department.

Your Challenge: It’s quite simple, strengthen your marketing and sales culture so you can finish the year strong, and make next year even stronger!