Did you know that the largest segment of landscape businesses have 1-5 employees?
Why is that?
Many of us are independent types that like things a certain way. We also like having fewer things that can go wrong.
Plus, our work, our trade is important to us.
And we like the relationships that go with it. The loyal customers and like-minded tradespeople we work with make it awesome.
The idea of growing our businesses by getting bigger — well that can be a scary thought. And maybe one you’d rather not consider.
Here’s a huge point in the discussion of big company vs. small company:
What’s important to realize too is that this shortage of good help affects us in many ways — business stability, quality, customer complaints … just to name a few.
So is there a way to have a successful, small landscape business — and keep it small? Of course. But it takes a different way of thinking from how most landscape companies operate today.
A different approach
When I started my landscape company in 1979 it was to have independence and control. I loved the trade and wanted to practice it a certain way. No shortcuts. No compromising.
The decision to stay small was also a way to minimize variables — things that could go wrong. To this day I operate my business based on that maxim.
And small businesses are inherently more agile. This lets you adapt as circumstances change and your business grows.
If you combine a certain set of core principles — what I call the “owner/operator” principles — with sound business practices, you’ll build the foundation that will grow with you.
Let’s go through these 7 Owner/Operator Principles. I should warn you. There is no magic bullet or overnight success formula here.
It takes time and hard work to establish any successful business. But following these principles will start to distinguish you from the majority of landscape companies today. And that’s what we’re going for.
- Your reputation is your success. People get to know, like and trust you because you’re capable & caring.
- Always produce and represent quality in your work and through your recommendations.
- Every experience customers have with you must be great (at the very least darn good).
- Be realistic about work that is not within your skillset or capability. Establish relationships with other tradespeople to provide these services.
- Always look to build new relationships — with customers and your network. But remember to nurture existing relationships. They’re your greatest asset.
- Always be open-minded. Always be learning.
- Share what you know to build credibility & trust. Teach to sell.
As I work with different companies on my projects it’s interesting to see which of these principles they’re practicing. What I see and how these companies are doing just reinforces how important each principle is.
They are so fundamental to our owner/operator model, you’ll see some aspect of them in everything we talk about on LandscapeAdvisor.
What you can expect
When you follow the 7 Owner/Operator Principles, and use sound business practices along with some “smart” marketing, you can look forward to:
- Respect & recognition as a skilled tradesperson
- Referrals & recommendations
- Ever-growing customer base for repeat work
- Infrequent price comparisons from prospects
- Add-ons and other revenue streams
- “Time & Materials” work
If you look at these outcomes closely, you’ll see each one is because of an excellent reputation and trust — the core of any successful business.
Think of the 7 Owner/Operator Principles as your foundation. On it you can build a business that actually grows with you. Opportunities will naturally present themselves.
And over time your physical involvement can and should be less. You become more solution-provider, overseer and project manager. A Landscape Producer.
Putting the principles to work — no matter what stage your business is in
Here is one of my favorite quotes:
You can apply this message to any part of your life. It’s never too late … for anything. Well, almost anything.
Here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter if you’re running a landscape maintenance business, hardscape company or design/build. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in business for years or just starting out.
Your business will benefit immediately — even if you just start practicing one or two of the principles. But this is what you’ll find. One principle leads to another, which leads to another.
It’s a mindset. A company culture. A smart way to run your business so that it grows with you without building a big company.
Some of the businesses I work with I’d categorize as “Maintenance & Landscape Contracting”. That is, they do mostly maintenance with some contracting work (e.g. plantings, some construction, etc.).
One of those owner/operators called me the other day and surprised me. A maintenance client of his wanted to create levels out of their sloped backyard. This contractor asked me if I’d design the levels and layout. And he would build the walls.
Since we’ve been working together he has started practicing some of the Owner/Operator Principles. In this case — where typically he’d be working with me on my jobs — now he’s asking me to draw for him.
His client is used to great service on the maintenance side. And he knows he can’t afford to disappoint them with this landscape work. Principle #3.
He also knows he has the experience and capability to do the work — it’s just the design he’s not sure of. Principle #4.
The next logical step
Have you ever heard the saying, “Business is simple — it’s just not easy”? You hear it a lot from business coaches and consultants. I don’t think truer words have ever been spoken.
You look at the 7 core principles and think how could any business that does these things not do well? I know.
But these principles take work and focus. “If it were easy, everybody would be doing it”. We’ve all heard that one too.
But when your business starts to see the growth, the referrals, the trust, … you’re psyched. You want to see where this all can take you.
In my next article I’ll give you a “roadmap” of how your business can grow and evolve using these 7 Owner/Operator Principles. It will help you realize what landscape business category you’re in, the things you should be focused on, and where you might go next.
In the meantime think about the 7 principles. Heck, write them down if it helps. I think about #3 a lot. Because when I do it seems the others just naturally come to mind.
Which of the 7 are part of your business practices? Maybe you have other principles you operate by. Are you stuck on any — or how your business could implement them? Drop it in the comments and we’ll try to help.