You probably wonder what’s the next step for your landscape business. I think we all do.
And if you’re just starting out — what’s the first step?
It’s great to think about expanding operations and maybe starting new services. That’s part of the reason we got into our businesses. Freedom and control.
But decisions like that can be unnerving. Like most of us, there might be a few serious “what-if’s” running through your mind.
This is where understanding your market is so important, and also where you fit into that market at this point in time.
If you appreciate these two factors it’s just going to be easier. You’ll be more apt to make the right decisions for your current and long-term goals.
Think about today, but tomorrow too.
You’re going to look back at past decisions. We all do.
It could be things are going well right now. And that’s a great feeling.
It’s easy to get comfortable when something is working — just as long as nothing changes.
The reality is things do change. The economy, market trends, competition, labor force, etc.
And, of course, we change. Age is certainly a factor. But also our experiences and personal growth play a huge part in how we feel at a particular time in our life.
Early on I was focused on what was working and making money. Period. I was not thinking about things changing or any of the “variables” that were part of what I was doing.
Frankly, a lot of landscape businesses — and other businesses too — focus mainly on the present. And it’s understandable. You have something that’s working, and you’re totally occupied just keeping that something running.
But if you plan to be in business long-term, build a true asset that grows with you, and adapt to changes that will likely happen — then there are questions you need to be asking yourself.
Let’s list some of those questions. But you want to dig deep. Look past your present circumstances and consider the possible changes that may happen.
And think about the variables. These are the things that will change everyday — like employee issues, equipment wear and tear, quality and workmanship.
Run through as many “what if” scenarios you can come up with.
You’re not trying to be negative here, but smart about what you do today. Because it will impact the position you’ll be in tomorrow.
4 questions to ask yourself about your business plans — and you
1) What’s the market like for your product or service?
New ideas are great!… when there’s a market for them.
I produce these landscape care guides for my design clients. They’re site-specific instructions on what they need to do and when.
At one point I thought I’d offer these care guides as a separate product.
Well, not many people were interested. But just about everyone was interested in an actual service that did what was in the care guide. I was not appreciating the market and what people actually wanted and needed.
You’re safest bet, especially early on, is enter a market where others are making money.
Of course, that market could change too. For example: If you install hardscape features like outdoor kitchens and fireplaces, it’s likely business will slow down if the economy weakens. How will you handle that?
2) How’s the competition?
Remember, competition tells us there’s a market and money being made. It also tells us customers have choices. And that’s OK.
In addition to qualifying a market, competition gives us important information. Not only who’s doing the work, but you can drive around and see what’s being done — and how good they’re doing it. Talk about market analysis!
And with a little investigating, pricing information is also out there.
With an eye on the competition you can carve out a piece of that market. This is called positioning — a key principle in our owner/operator model.
And the real differentiator; the thing that really sets you apart — and that nobody can match or copy — is you.
Your business will grow organically through the experiences and outcomes people have with you.
3) What’s needed to be in this market?
You know it’s a viable market, but what are the parts and processes to do business in this market? What’s it take to produce the product or service?
For example: What tools and equipment do you need? Parking? Storage? What kind of employees do you need, how many, and at what skill level? How about licenses or certifications?
Break it down as much as possible. Then, come up with as many “what-if” scenarios as you can for each part & process. What are the potential challenges?
I go through a review like this before starting a landscape project. It lets me know everything and everyone I need. And the what-if scenarios help me anticipate problems and how I’ll deal with them.
4) What role do you play in the business?
Sales, business & accounting, customer communications, supervisor, machine operator…? Like many of us you’re probably wearing many hats.
For me business and accounting were not my strong suit early on. A few hard lessons taught me that.
First and foremost, are you knowledgeable and experienced enough to offer the product or service?
And not average — you really want to be good at what you do. And then keep getting better.
Be so good they can’t ignore you. — Steve Martin
Can you learn what you need to know? How about hiring someone?
The great experiences people have with you build a foundation of trust and credibility.
And if you decide to move into other markets, your reputation of being capable and caring will make it that much easier.
You know the market. You know yourself. What’s next?
Below is the landscape business “roadmap”.
I call it a roadmap because each of these “stops” can be a destination — a place where you can build a smart business that’s better prepared for inevitable changes. Changes in the business and changes in you.
The roadmap will also guide you through the correct order of progression if you decide to expand on what you offer.
First up is “Maintenance Contractor”. This is a great model to keep things simple. And although there’s plenty of competition, you can build a customer base that would never want to lose you.
- Be well-versed on all the “Landscape Contracting Fundamentals“.
- Have a “repeat” customer base with at least 3 days/wk. of recurring service work.
- Begin to perform simple, additional work that’s within your skillset and capability. Continue to grow your knowledge. Begin to meet & connect with other tradespeople you might recommend when needed.
At this point your customers love how well you take care of their property. You can tell they’ve never had a service like this before.
Some of the simple, additional work you do for them is fun and different. But it does complicate things a bit.
Should you do more additional work? Should you offer new services to your basic maintenance program?
- Keep servicing your “repeat” customer base; gradually replace undesirable customers.
- Create profitable upsells for your existing customer base. Some upsells can be one-off jobs (planting, drainage, etc.). Other upsells can be repeat services (seasonal color, mulching, year-round pruning, fertilizing & soil conditioning programs, etc.)**
** This is where companies can get in trouble. They take on work that’s out of their ability — this could be skill-wise, knowledge-wise or logistics.
A bad or poor experience hurts the customer and your reputation. Better to recommend someone (start building your network) or learn & prepare to do the task well.
Now, you’re taking on more additional work while keeping your best maintenance clients. This work really interests you. And it’s adding to your bottom line.
Your reputation and recommendations are growing because you’re being strategic — learning to do things properly — and connecting with other tradespeople where you know you need help.
You might decide to do more landscape contracting.
- Continue to keep a select “repeat” customer base where clients and recurring services are consistently profitable.
- Other “contracting” work begins to fill the schedule. These jobs come from your existing customer base and new jobs from referrals and marketing.
- On-going job-costing & analysis helps you build systems, improves estimating formulas, and identifies areas of profit & loss.
- You’re actively deciding what work to do (or learn to do) in-house, and what work is best handled through your network.
You’ve been focusing on the contracting work for some time now. Your experienced crew and network have been involved in a wide variety of jobs.
Now you’re considering whether to take on bigger projects.
- It’s smart, if possible, to continue recurring services to a select customer base.
- Other work now coming in requires “professional” design and construction ability.
- You have an experienced crew and the equipment to handle the general landscape contracting tasks on larger, design/build projects.
- You have an established network that can handle any of the work that you or your crew don’t do. Your network is what makes our owner/operator model 100% capable & professional at every level. Your success and profit does not only come from in-house production.
The communities you work in know and respect you — not only as a professional, but as a good person. And people in the industry do too.
This reputation you’ve worked hard to get presents different opportunities all the time. And so you have options.
Maybe you decide to reduce the size of your operation — do less in-house work. Or stop the in-house contracting all together.
- You have years of “real” experience in most areas of landscape contracting. Ideally you’re an accomplished designer.
- You have a well-established reputation, substantial customer base and a complete network of tradespeople and other professionals.
- You are providing solutions to all clients’ landscape needs through your design ability and through your network.
- You could operate by yourself or have employees.
The Landscape Producer model can be a destination on the roadmap, just like the others.
But being a “landscape producer” is more than just a destination. It’s how we think about the work we do no matter where we are on the Landscape Business Roadmap.
At any point (on the roadmap) you’re providing services and solutions to customers. You’re a “producer”. That’s the reputation you want to develop — and build on.
And when you’re not sure how to handle a customer request or whether to offer a new service, take another look at the 7 Owner/Operator Principles. They’ll help you decide what’s the right thing to do — for the business and for you.
Here is a PDF version of the Landscape Business Roadmap and the 7 Owner/Operator Principles.
Print it out and keep it handy for the times you’re just not sure you’re in the right place or heading in the right direction.
And if you want help sorting out the situation you may be in, leave a comment. Conversations like these help us hash things out and solve problems — so we can all move forward and do great work.