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Regular Joe
02-28-2007, 11:20 AM
I have been monitoring this site for about 6 years, but have not posted, just read. I would like to tell everyone how great I believe this site is. I am in a period in life where I desperately need some personal questions answered, and business has been a learning experience like I never imagined. I will give my story, and then I will ask my questions. I apologize for the long post in advance...

I am 30 years old, from a smaller town in the Carolinas. I am married (almost six years) and have a 4-year-old little girl. I have an associate’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, and an Associates degree in Engineering Graphics. I was an engineer for approx. 6 years out of technical college, and I have worked in retail, high-end sales, machine design, tool and die, and have general knowledge in a variety of smaller fields.

Working in the design/eng. fields, I started hating the corporate world, the politics, the day-to-day BS. I went to a smaller company and found it to be similar in more ways than you would believe, so I went into sales because everyone around me says my personality lends itself to sales. People are supposedly drawn to me in an unusually trustworthy manner, although I am not sure why.
I worked for a company that sold the movie theater rooms like you would see on Cribs. Big film screens, seating, upwards of $60,000 per room. It was fun, and I was a good salesman, making it to the top of 5 guys within 2 years in sales, and having no previous experience. Then the company changes to a retail environment, with retail hours, Saturdays, and my family was feeling the ripple of my unhappiness.

Then, I like so many others on here, decided that I wanted to "be my own boss", and I was tired of working for someone else, making someone else all the profit. I decided to start a Landscaping business because I had side projects from friends, and others, and had interest in landscaping since I was 15. I had the mentality that as long as I could make as good of a living as I was making at all the other BS jobs, and I could call my own shots, I would be happy...I do not have to tell some of you where this is going, but for others, I will finish.

I am about to turn 31 years old, and I made a decision that I need to evaluate some things about my business before I spend more time than I need to do the wrong thing. Most importantly, I realized that my company is my "job" and not my "business". I have to be there almost 75% of the time, and that was not my intention. I decided to start educating myself more on money and business, and less on how to install irrigation. The results have floored me. Over the last six months (winter is really slow here) I have read several books that have totally changed my viewpoint on life itself, both in business, and in my personal life. I have recommended these books to every single person in my life that I care for, because of the impact they have had on me. The list of books for your reference is:

How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie (Author)
Rich Dad Poor Dad Robert T. Kiyosaki (Author)
Why We Want You to be Rich: Two Men - One Message by Donald J. Trump (Author), Robert T. Kiyosaki (Author)
Seven Secrets of Great Entrepreneurial Masters: The GEM Power Formula For Lifelong Success by Allen E. Fishman (Author)
Guerrilla Marketing: Secrets for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business (Guerrilla Marketing) (Paperback) by Jay Conrad Levinson (Author)

This brings me to the questions that I have from the Business side of my dilemma. I feel like the first thing I need to do is evaluate some sort of statistics on my area. Populations, incomes, spending, habits, etc. to get a better feel for my market. How do I find out all I can about the population and market in my area? How do I know how to measure what my business could actually make, if I do not know how much is out there being spent right now on landscaping?
Problem number 2...My market. How can I truly measure what my profit margins on installations are so I know what kind of jobs I should try to get. I think there is more money working with builders on new construction installs, with higher profit margins on plants, mulch, irrigation, plus less traveling because you are at one job site the majority of the week. We can successfully complete irrigation, 100 shrubs, few trees, 30 yds. mulch, 9000 ft. of sod in a 5-day work week (5 guys during season). That is pretty much a house a week (if we had that much business). Grass is a lot of loading and unloading, and the crew's labor really raises the cost per hour of the grass cutting side of the business.
I am aware that I have not really given any specifics on my business, but I am trying to get some of the clutter out of my head onto paper. For reference, last year was year #2 and the company had roughly $110,000 Total Gross, $65,000 GP, and $20,000 net. I am not even sure how to tell if this is good for a second year business.
I took no salary all year, as my wife has taken on the financial responsibility of our normal lives so that I might find us a better life one day through business ventures down the road. She's wonderful to me, and I have had a horrible time emotionally with the winter months. The fact is that I have been working to pay my way since I was 14, and now I feel guilty because my wife is "keeping me up". I often wonder if the Landscaping business is ever going to provide a decent income for my family.
We have made the decision to take our future into our own hands. We know that the luxuries all of our friends are enjoying now, are not an option for us until we get some passive income coming in from investments. The plan has shifted, and now any income generated by the company will be invested in some sort, real estate, IRA, or other business ventures that have a low start up, high profitability.
I feel like the "big picture potential" of my business ventures has been limited. Maybe I will change my company to a non-profit organization that is involved in Global Warming efforts somehow. Maybe I will have to use the investments and Landscaping is a stepping-stone. I am constantly looking for LEVERAGE. I am going to be successful in business, but I am not too proud to know that it will take a strong support group of people to get me where I want to be. I need to continue learning, and asking people who know is the best way to do this.
I am asking for ANY and all advice (please keep it serious) that you guys can offer me, business related, other business ideas from your area, researching methods, marketing ideas, tax advice, etc. Does anyone recommend using a business planning/consulting group, or growing large scale vs. staying smaller. Also anyone going through the entrepreneurial struggles of trying to be successful, please advise me on the lessons that you have learned so that I can achieve my goals. I will gladly answer any and all questions you all have if I can be of service to you in any way. I also am sure you will have questions because this post has been all over the place. I apologize again for the length and boring details. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR TIME.

mattfromNY
02-28-2007, 11:36 AM
Wow! That post hit home! Too many similarities! last year was only my first year, but I have a wife of 5 yrs supporting the family until things are running, 4 yr. old daughter, the whole college education (Agriculture school), working in a dead end job, then going to sales and doing well but not enjoying it, starting the business and wondering when things will come around!!
I've been reading as much as I can also, but I've sat down and first Written a business plan, starting with the first year, then 5 yr., then 10 yr.- thats as far as I've gone so far. Then I created budgets based on solo with 40 lawns (thats what I mowed last yr.), solo with 60 lawns, then made budgets with myself and employee mowing 40, 60, 80, 100 lawns.
Its a pretty grim picture, at least for the next yr. or two, but as long as I am as accurate as possible, then monitor my progress, and make adjustments accordingly, I think I can do it. Give yourself a short term goal to work toward, then when you hit it, you feel good. Work toward the next goal with just as much desire as the last, and so on.
I was able to find out a lot of info. on my county's website as far as statistics, population, spending habits, age breakdowns, how many own homes, rent , How many are employed per household, etc.
I know I'm not the veteran LCO you were looking to hear from, but man, I saw too many similarities in your post, and hopefully this will help a little.

Regular Joe
02-28-2007, 11:40 AM
I am not looking for a specific response, and yours was great to hear. I cannot stress enough the literature I mentioned. The "Seven Secrets of Great Entrepreneurial Masters: The GEM Power Formula For Lifelong Success" by Allen E. Fishman (Author) book is an awesome book on setting goals and action plans and strategies to achieve the goals. I definately recommend it to you if you are just starting out in self employement of any kind.

mattfromNY
02-28-2007, 11:42 AM
Another would be 'the E myth'. I read it before starting and didnt really follow a lot of it, now I'm reading it again, and I'm floored by how accurate it is.

Regular Joe
02-28-2007, 12:07 PM
a quiet group. I know I have no credibility becasue I only have a few posts, but I feel as if I have been a part of this group for a while, so I will try and validate why you should offer me your time. Please let me know what you need to know from me to feel comfortable talking with me about these things which plague my life right now......help is all I ask for.

Lawnworks
02-28-2007, 12:57 PM
How many employees do you have? What kind of structure... # of crews? What are you concentrating on?... maintenance or landscaping? How much debt? What kind of advertising are you doing?

I think the question of big vs. small co, is a personal decision. I think you can be successful either way. I am leaning toward staying small... 600k-800k, and really concentrating on the profit margins, excellent clientel, and doing the landscaping I want to do. For me I want to have the least amount of stress possible, but excellent profits. I guess if you manage correctly and delegate the workload and supervision correctly, you could do millions w/o the stress... I just haven't figured it out yet... or don't have the guts to go in that direction.

It seems like Rock Hill is a great place to be... from the few times I have been there. Looks like it is growing and the market man hour rate from what I hear is pretty good.

I just read "The Wealthy Barber"... it is has some sound personal financial advice. I also like Dave Ramsey's books on finance. I have also heard good things about guerilla marketing... prob next book I will read.

Regular Joe
02-28-2007, 01:43 PM
I will definately check out the books.

My company is as follows:

DEBT - $13,500
Loan to buy Trailer and equipment

ADVERTISING - $4000-$5000 /yr
in the local yellow pages mostly, and local newspaper. Flyers were tried, but I had a low response rate, and I can touch more people with less money in our paper, so I figured being in front of more peopole would gain me some visual brand name trust eventually.

CREWS- I had one crew of up to 5 guys (6 with me).

CONCENTRATION- We have 2 accounts with clients that pay on the monthly. Both accounts equal around $1000.00 total. This is enough to pay all my monthly debt MINUS the labor (because right now I have one part timer only). Labor is only needed in the season, and then there is all kinds of other work that the crew does which, in essence, generates enough to pay for themselves. We do work with homebuilders on new instals as I mentioned before, and I would agree with your preference.


I am leaning toward staying small... 600k-800k, and really concentrating on the profit margins, excellent clientel, and doing the landscaping I want to do. For me I want to have the least amount of stress possible, but excellent profits.

Ithink this is also my preference. The question is, how do you get enough business to justifying have crews, and paying out all the labor and workers comp., and still make enough money to call it "worth it". I feel like I could hire good people, pay pretty good, and get away from it being my "JOB" and focus it into a "business" by focusing on creative business ideas, but I find it hard to market to the large commercial grass cutting accounts (less travel time), and home builders who are always putting out fires and needing it yesterday.

Thanks for the responses so far guys, I am not the kind to let the fall on deaf ears.

toac
02-28-2007, 02:00 PM
How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie (Author)

best book i've ever read! highly recommended

Lawnworks
02-28-2007, 02:08 PM
I will definately check out the books.

My company is as follows:

DEBT - $13,500
Loan to buy Trailer and equipment

ADVERTISING - $4000-$5000 /yr
in the local yellow pages mostly, and local newspaper. Flyers were tried, but I had a low response rate, and I can touch more people with less money in our paper, so I figured being in front of more peopole would gain me some visual brand name trust eventually.

CREWS- I had one crew of up to 5 guys (6 with me).

CONCENTRATION- We have 2 accounts with clients that pay on the monthly. Both accounts equal around $1000.00 total. This is enough to pay all my monthly debt MINUS the labor (because right now I have one part timer only). Labor is only needed in the season, and then there is all kinds of other work that the crew does which, in essence, generates enough to pay for themselves. We do work with homebuilders on new instals as I mentioned before, and I would agree with your preference.


Ithink this is also my preference. The question is, how do you get enough business to justifying have crews, and paying out all the labor and workers comp., and still make enough money to call it "worth it". I feel like I could hire good people, pay pretty good, and get away from it being my "JOB" and focus it into a "business" by focusing on creative business ideas, but I find it hard to market to the large commercial grass cutting accounts (less travel time), and home builders who are always putting out fires and needing it yesterday.

Thanks for the responses so far guys, I am not the kind to let the fall on deaf ears.

What is your phone number? I would love to call you and we can share some ideas.

Regular Joe
02-28-2007, 02:12 PM
803.371.0327


I will be available at about 2:00 et to talk if you can do it that early. If not, please leave me a vm and I will call you back on my dime.
Thanks alot, and the number is open to anyone else who would like to talk.

Michael

Regular Joe
02-28-2007, 02:37 PM
Should I repost this under the "just starting" forum. I think the title of the post (or probably the length) is turning off my response rate.

ED'S LAWNCARE
02-28-2007, 02:42 PM
Looks like you have a good idea of what you want, but do you love the work, if the answer is no then you will always be looking for something more. I understand that you want your own business but to be successful you really need to love it. Do some sole searching when you answer this to yourself.

toac
02-28-2007, 02:52 PM
Looks like you have a good idea of what you want, but do you love the work, if the answer is no then you will always be looking for something more. I understand that you want your own business but to be successful you really need to love it. Do some sole searching when you answer this to yourself.

good point. you don't want to trade one hate for another

Regular Joe
02-28-2007, 03:08 PM
I could not agree with you more. I have been in a serious "sole searching" mode for some business ideas that I can have passion for. Do not mistake what I am saying, because I have a passion for all things in the Green industry as well, I am just concerned that this business model will not generate the BIG PICTURE potential that I would like to have.

I know that I like the management of people and tasks, and I know that I can train those people that I will delegate work to. I also love to see the before and after pictures of the work, and the feeling of gratification you get when something goes from dirt to lush in a matter of a week. I am just not sure if it is realistic for me to expect the business to turn around the kind of profitability that I need to use it as a stepping stone. I also read a publication many of you know called PRO. It has proven to be quite helpful, and there are company breakdowns of companies 1 hour from me that do 5 million dollars a year. I know that the contract on the BOBCATS arena (mostly cement parking lot maintenance) went for close to 2 million alone. I do not know how these companies receive the bid to gain that level of business, but my only educated guess is to do as follows:

STEP 1 - Market more with either self made marketing material (which I can share thru PDF if you would like to take time to grade it), or hire a marketing firm/consultant. Increase sales through marketing to achieve enough revenue to support full-time team to train.

STEP 2 - Once team is trained, business is running with my on-site time at 40% or less, and business is profitable enough to actually start drawing a decent wage each month, then the wage goes to the investment accounts, and a passive income starts to develop.

STEP 3 - Passive income investments generate more income, and all the money made by the Landscaping business goes towards investments.

Are these, very general steps, unrealistic? Will marketing more be the key to getting enough work on the schedule? Will I have to eventually hire a business consultant or such, or maybe even change the company all-together.

I am even rediscovering who I am as a person. I realize that I have lived the majority of my life for someone else's thoughts and interests. Whether it be your parents when you are young, friends/girlfriends when you are older, or the choices school has taught you to believe are correct. The majority of the world you see, you see thru smoke, mirrors, and other people’s eyes until you get old enough to pay attention to the man behind the curtain. I now see, that to be where I want to be as an entrepreneur, I must keep looking for leverage in all areas, not just landscaping. This is the reason I am still sole searching and reading too much to retain.

Thanks again and keep’em coming if you can.

toac
02-28-2007, 03:36 PM
it's funny, you summed up several years of business evolution in just 3 steps...lol. you just have to deal with all the speed bumps in between

would love you see some of your marketing material

Mr. Vern
02-28-2007, 03:38 PM
Joe - you are asking all of the right questions. Unfortuanately, none of us can answer them for you, all we can do is share some insights and experiences.

You are obviously an avid reader of self help books, so let me add some food for thought. Everything you mention having read are great books, but I did not see any that will help you develop leadership (perhaps with the exception of Carnegie's). John Maxwell's "Developing the Leader Within You" is in my opinon the best foundational book on leadership I have ever seen. I would also highly recommed the book "Good to Great" by Jim Collins. In it they study companies that went from being "Good" to "Great" and what was found in every example of the companies they studied, and was absent from the control companies. The book will help you to answer some of your questions. Some of the highlights are the leadership quality of the upper management, the hiring philosophies, focusing on what you can be passionate about AND what you can be the best at, and what drives your financial engine. If you read the book, you will understand why each of these is critical.

I once had a boss/mentor who laid it down pretty straightforward with me. His advice was if you are a talented and ambitious person, you need to decide how far you want to go in your career/business, then decide the price you think it will take to get there. If you can live with the price, make a plan and dog that plan until it succeeds. If the price is too high, decide what price you are willing to pay, and then answer the question "where will that get me?" then decide if that will work. Either way, you have to decide where you are going or you will not ever be satisfied!

One other thought. I touched on the leadership books for a reason. What you described in your initial post is the most common leadership challenge. Leaders set out to chart a new course, they have a vision and they make a plan to achieve it. In the midst of driving toward that goal, they run into obstacles and begin to question the vision. What defines great leaders is that they never lose sight of the vision they started with and they keep their resolve until it is achieved. It sounds to me that you are running into some difficulties and they are trying to sap your resolve. What I believe you need to do now is to evaluate your initial assumptions to see if they still hold, and if not adjust your plan to accomodate the new learnings. THat is the reason that business plans are so important. They force you to ask the tough questions, then they enable you to back up and review the assumptions, the progress and to document new learnings so you can adjust course if needed.

BTW - I think the fact that you are willing and able to work your business without drawing a salary is a huge step in the direction of great success. I started my businesses that way and was paying several managers and very high level employees before I ever drew a single paycheck. People thought I was nuts, but now I can sit on Lawnsite all day while my employees run the business. I still have to oversee everything and answer the strategic questions, but I can do that from anywhere in the world if I choose to. I can't say that I have achieved complete financial independence, but I am on the road to completely passive income.

Regular Joe
02-28-2007, 03:52 PM
I once had a boss/mentor who laid it down pretty straightforward with me. His advice was if you are a talented and ambitious person, you need to decide how far you want to go in your career/business, then decide the price you think it will take to get there. If you can live with the price, make a plan and dog that plan until it succeeds. If the price is too high, decide what price you are willing to pay, and then answer the question "where will that get me?" then decide if that will work. Either way, you have to decide where you are going or you will not ever be satisfied!


I agree with you. I must say that a goal without a plan of action is a dream, and dreams are not the same as a goal. Every book I have read talks about this exact same point, so I am hearing you loud and clear. I mentioned that everyone told me to be salesman becasue of my personality type...but I have also been told that I am a great leader. I do not know what others have seen in me to believe this, but it has been noted to me more than one time. I have read some literature on leadership, but I guess I have recently identified that in order to lead people, you must first now the destination, and this is where I struggle. Is this business a destination worth having, or should I look to other interests and start over using what I have learned about business so far.


In the midst of driving toward that goal, they run into obstacles and begin to question the vision. What defines great leaders is that they never lose sight of the vision they started with and they keep their resolve until it is achieved. It sounds to me that you are running into some difficulties and they are trying to sap your resolve. What I believe you need to do now is to evaluate your initial assumptions to see if they still hold, and if not adjust your plan to accomodate the new learnings.

I agree withthis as well. I am running into the obstacles of growing, training, and sales. When is the right time to grow, where are all the advantages of being a small business owner that I know nothing about? I am playing devil's advocate in a way, but I am truely using this forum as valued information.


BTW - I think the fact that you are willing and able to work your business without drawing a salary is a huge step in the direction of great success. I started my businesses that way and was paying several managers and very high level employees before I ever drew a single paycheck. People thought I was nuts, but now I can sit on Lawnsite all day while my employees run the business. I still have to oversee everything and answer the strategic questions, but I can do that from anywhere in the world if I choose to. I can't say that I have achieved complete financial independence, but I am on the road to completely passive income.

This is exactly my point, immediate money is great, but being finacially free in 10 years would be better. I do not want to have to be at a job for 8 hours every day, whether it is working for the man, or myself.

Regular Joe
02-28-2007, 03:55 PM
some before and after pictures of a massive rocky hill in the back yard of a home. We basically cut a mountain road up the hill for them to walk up and planted in between.

Mr. Vern
02-28-2007, 04:54 PM
Hey Joe,

As far as leadership goes, it sounds like you have natural leadership ability, now you just need to learn how to best develop that ability. It's like someone who is naturally gifted in anything else such as music or whatever. You don't get to be in the symphony, or the olympics or the NFL just because you have talent. You have to develop that talent in order to be numbered among the best. I highly recommend the book "Developing the Leader Within You"! It will really help you to maximize and focus your natural talents.

As far as whether this is the right vehicle or not; only you can answer that. I can tell you that most people fail to succeed because they did not give their plan enough time to mature. I have often told my employees; a mediocre plan well executed will yield far better results than a perfect plan that's never implemented. This industry has tremendous potential within it, but so do many others. Read the book "Good to Great" and then answer the questions it poses, and I think you will re-energised and re-focused. The key is to avoid the trap of trying to grow too fast into too many things! I would recommend that you nail down your scope to as narrow as you think you can get it and still have sufficient revenue opportunity to build your core business. Remember that once the core business is established, everything else you do will have much higher profit margins(until you exceed your current economy of scale of course). It is always most difficult to get the core business established and secure. It takes intense effort and sacrifice, but once it is there you get a season of great reward. Then, you grow the business and do it all over again - if you have not reached your desired size yet. Once you find your comfort level, you can just kick back and deal with issues as they arise. For some guys enough is 2 mowers and 50 maintenance accounts, for another it might be 7 divisions with offices in 14 states. Both are perfectly acceptable dreams, its just a matter of what will make you happy.

Remember this one thing - the first success will take 100 times as much energy as all of the subsequent ones! Once you have a track record of success, you no longer have to look for opportunities - they will hunt you down and you will have the resources to take advantage of them!

mattfromNY
02-28-2007, 05:06 PM
A college professor once told me 'Business has 3 stages: Growth, Comfort, Death- If the business is not growing, then you are either comfortable and on your way to death, or you are dead' He elaborated to say that growth doesn't need to be extravagant, just keeping up with inflation and technology is still growth.

Regular Joe
02-28-2007, 06:39 PM
thanks to all the replies today. I must step away for a while to attend a meeting, but I will be reading more on this post tonight. I hope that everyone else who has insight will share, and to Mr. Vern....you are nailing home great points that I need to consider. I will continue to post on here in hopes of building a core of people....you guys have been great.

Desertdweller
02-28-2007, 08:22 PM
Don't mean to really change the direction but after 30 years in business in 2 different states, mainly in irrigation, I am the most successful I have ever been. Business knowledge is essential, hard work a must but the best book I have ever read on life, business and anything else important in the world is the Bible. A successful business is no good without a great family. Work can easily come between spouse's if you let it. Kids are more important than 60 hr work weeks. I almost got divorced about 5 years back and the one thing that saved us was God. You can ignore this part of your life but I'm living proof that by following God's plan you will be successful.

Regular Joe
02-28-2007, 09:44 PM
I have a pretty sound home life and family environment, and i grew up in the bible belt of the US so I understand completely.

Az Gardener
02-28-2007, 10:48 PM
Excellent thread thank you for offering some intelligent conversation and contemplation. Thank you too Mr Vern I am always looking for a good book to wish I had time to finish.

The technical aspect of a business will consume you for a time. Then you learn as much as there is to know (at least as much as is practical)and you get bored . It looks like now the business aspect is beginning to consume you as well. Same thing happened to me and what I found was the business side is much more interesting and can have a much greater impact on your business. The real beauty is once you get the business on track and learn how to make money it can be transfered so easily to other types of business.

I have building my business as a franchise model and have been at it so long that if I had to start over again I would probably have picked a better industry. I am too far along to change course now and things are really beginning to go well. It has not been easy but if it were, everyone would be doing it I suppose.

Shop a US lawns franchise or any franchise that is in the green industry. The closer you get to one like the business you want to own the better the information you will be able to derive from their literature. They have a document they put out like a prospectus when you buy a stock. That will give you all the marketing information you want. You might also check the prospectus of a publicly held company in the industry. None are coming to mind right now but I am sure their are some.

I'm an E Myth guy myself. The book was good but it is really hard to learn what you need to know from the book, its just advertising for the coaching in my opinion. You wouldn't know that from just reading the book though. He left out all the important stuff.

Mr. Vern
02-28-2007, 11:39 PM
A college professor once told me 'Business has 3 stages: Growth, Comfort, Death- If the business is not growing, then you are either comfortable and on your way to death, or you are dead' He elaborated to say that growth doesn't need to be extravagant, just keeping up with inflation and technology is still growth.

Actually, I think that is a spiritual law. Look at any organism, it is either getting better (growing) or it has begun the dying process. Nothing seems to stay the same, it either gets better or worse. Even us, we grow until somewhere between 20 and 30, and then you can see that we stop getting better(except for wisdom) and we begin the dieing process.

YardPro
03-01-2007, 08:24 AM
regular joe.

if you took no salary then yout numbers are not correct.
you had a 20K salary and the business broke even...

i have been in this business for over 15 years, and have gone from a beat up pick up and a lowe's mower to running a company that is knocking on a million per year in sales.. have done $160K so far this year....


my advise is to stay away from builders if you can. there are a few out there that you can build a good relationship, but be pickey with them. Generally they are tight with money for landscaping, and your margins will be lower than those generated by jobs for individuals.

Regular Joe
03-01-2007, 08:45 AM
Thanks for the web references. I plan on doing a lot more reading on here and other business sites over the next few days. You guys have been great. I look forward to hearing more from all of the interested.

TJLANDS
03-01-2007, 08:29 PM
Hey Joe
Welcome and good luck.

Like yardpro I would steer away from Builders. They could really hurt a small growing company if something happens. I have waited 12 months until closings to get paid. (rare case but true).
I have found targeting new residents with direct mail, either brand new house or resale, can be a steady income stream. Many mailing list services give resources to narrow lists to what you need or want.

My best advice to a business owner. You are only as good as the people that work for you so surround yourself with good people.

PatriotLandscape
03-01-2007, 10:07 PM
Great post. We are a small corp. with 6 employees plus me and my wife in the summer. This past year we had great growth going from 250k to 500k and at the end of the year we ended up making the same as we did with 2 employees and grossing 250k. Here are a few tips I learned over the last season some apply to your thoughts others are just good business practices. We have 3 kids and the business is our only source of income.

1. Never Hire friends

2. If you have friends working with you fire them. They only grow jealous of you as you work harder for the things you have.

3. NO VERBAL CHANGE ORDERS. We lost a few dollars and fired a few clients for this.

4.BNI is the best advertising you can do www.bni.com check it out and find one in your area you'll never run another local paper advetisement. seriously.

5. Don't let customers push you around and be willing to walk away from a sale/job. even if you have already started. Learned the hard way on my biggest construction job. (it's going to litigation)

6. Fire employees who show you the least bit of disrespect. I would romanticize for some reason that there were only a few people who wanted to work and when my employees didn't perform I internalized it rather than let them know I was not satisfied with work/production.

Well, I don't know if this will add anything to your thoughts but it helped me putting out there.

Regular Joe
03-01-2007, 10:23 PM
That was a great response from obvious experience. I have also learned the friend rule first hand, and now that is no longer. I appreciate all the advice. I am still struggling with which market or job types to target to get the most out of the business. I will meet a marketing firm and finacial business planner next week for free to discuss some goals. Then they will tell me how much my problem will cost me if I choose to do so. We will see.

Mow Mony
03-02-2007, 12:01 AM
Great posts, a lot of great suggestions and some books I will put on my list to read...

I am younger, have less wisdom and much less responsibilty(family wise at least) than you do.

I am not sure if it had been brought up by anyone that I saw at least, but what is your unique selling proposition?

I think truly defining what it is, and focusing on that target market, not trying to do too many things while only being great at a few...those are how we continue to run our business, and help a lot with the stress level.

As you said, it is also important to have friends in the industry, so keep networking in your area and try to find people who can help you grow, whether in your personal life or your landscape business.

Most of the important things I learned in the various college classes I have taken, are from talking to the professors after class. I pick their brain, find out what they really think, I always try to learn from those that know more, and are more succesful than me, so I can avoid the mistakes they made along the way.

Not even sure where I am going with my post but, you seem to know a ton about business, just keep going at, get a solid business plan and stick to it, justify all your expenses, stay on top of things(everything), stay professional, don't be afraid to identify and turn down unprofitable work etc.


Good luck!

Regular Joe
03-02-2007, 08:23 AM
I can not stress how important I personally think the books are, and how intuitive they are. The 7 secrets book is one of the best I have read for setting goals, strategies to achieve the goal, and action plans to get the strategies moving. It seems that the hardest thing about goals is not having them, but finding the CORRECT path to achieve them, and then ACTUALLY STARTING THE PATH and not just leaving it at that and setting another goal. A goal without a plan of action is a dream. Please note the titles again for those just joining in...the results will change your life too.

How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie (Author)

Rich Dad Poor Dad Robert T. Kiyosaki (Author)

Why We Want You to be Rich: Two Men - One Message by Donald J. Trump (Author), Robert T. Kiyosaki (Author)

Seven Secrets of Great Entrepreneurial Masters: The GEM Power Formula For Lifelong Success by Allen E. Fishman (Author)

Guerrilla Marketing: Secrets for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business by Jay Conrad Levinson (Author)

Regular Joe
03-02-2007, 08:28 AM
I have no real unique selling techniques or propositions. I am honest, trustworthy, and I DO NOT BS customers. Everyone knows that if you let BS fly, you will get into trouble hen it comes expectation time. Plus, the key to great sales is 2 things.
1 - Be sincere in your conversations and LISTEN MORE THAN YOU TALK (major, common mistake)

2- More people you get in front of, or talk with, the more you sale./

These two basic rules can get anyone started in learning sales

PatriotLandscape
03-02-2007, 09:18 AM
To set a market or how to market yourself will change from season to season as you company grows.

When we started and until last season I marketed myself to the customer. I have and look for any certifications I can. Currently I am ICPI certified, ISA Certified, Licensed Commercial Pesticide applicator, and a Massachusetts certified Horticulturist. I was the one supervising and performing the work alongside my employees. This worked for a while but then it started to be just my employees goign to certain jobs and my customer interaction on those jobs was not as high as others and the relationship was stressed from that.

Going into this season we are heavily marketing one aspect of our business Organic lawn care. We are doing home shows and going to networking events and pushing it and telling anyone who gives me 30 seconds what we do why we do it and why we are the one to choose. OK you got me it takes more than 30 seconds but just getting the information out there makes the phone ring.

Do you know what the home values are in your area compared to the median salary for your area? We use this as a guide for our work. The median income here is about 80k (household) but the average home is over 400k and the clients we serve have homes over 1 million.

I personally stay away from builders unless a landscape architect is involved with the project because most of them want it the cheapest way they can get it.

What forms of networking do you currently do? They are much more effective marketing than ads in yellow pages and newspapers.
Check out BNI.com we have taken our business from 30k in part-time sales to 500k in just over 5 years. Like i said before though be ready for the roller coaster ride and surround yourself with a good support staff. Wife, adviser and accountant.

sorry for the long post it is great to see a thread like this not turn into a flame war.

Regular Joe
03-02-2007, 12:35 PM
I am currently trying to find out the market, and will seek some professional help next week. I also am just starting to put together my network, but right now, I have a couple of like-minded business thinkers in my group. As well as the immediate contact, I have several forums (like this one) which business/entrepreneurs get together too. I find that you can learn more from others (both their success and their failure) if you just pay attention to the right people. This group is one to pay attention too.

Mowman99
03-02-2007, 11:08 PM
I know where you are coming from, I was an Electrical Engineer for 12 years before I went full time into the business (was always part-time with guys working for me) I knew that to make it I would have to put both feet in and no turning back! Finding a consultant group would be your best bet. I have one and they tell you what your dollar per man hour is and what it should be, track hours, lay out a estimate program that gives you everything from edging to trimming bushes and what should be charged. You will really find out weather you are making money or just running money through your account. Just by reading some of the last post I have a few suggestions:
1) Why do you need 5 or 6 guys on one crew, 3 guys are plenty, maybe more on a day that you have a super big property and they are staying on one job.
2) Get the &*&%$# away from builder's unless they are high profit (35% or more) they will suck you dry. One of builder's favorite sayings is "Well you might only make $400 per house but your doing 100 per year so that's $40,000 a year. Wouldn't you rather make $40,000 on 10 jobs instaed of 100 and work a lot less.
3) Monitor your accounts for profit, landscaping make a folder for each job and track exactlly what you put into the job so at the end you know exactlly what you made.
4) Don't do accounts just to have account's, make sure they are profittable or your wasting your time.
5) Start running the business instead of letting the business run you, i.e. Get to a point where you have guys running your crew and your bidding other jobs and going back behind them to make sure they are doing what they should be doing. Make them accountable for the account and set up a bonus program with incentives like no call backs = $.

I hope this will help some.

Regular Joe
03-03-2007, 04:28 PM
I would love to find the market to make $40k in three jobs.:)

Mr. Vern
03-04-2007, 02:21 AM
Some great inputs so far. I think this is actually one of the better, more mature threads going right now.

I definitely agree that you should stay away from builders. We target the high end market, it's the only place for me. Takes some time to earn the reputation to compete there, but once you do; you can set your price. THere is very little competition up high, because there are very few guys out there that have the patience or resources to get there. You have to be willing to deliver at the high end while you are getting paid towards the low end when you are first starting out. Makes for some slim margins, but it really does not take long for word to get out and before you know it your calendar is booked at the high end.
Some more tips I've learned:
Keep yourself booked out at least 6 weeks - if your not worried about what you are going to work on next week you will bid higher. If you can't fill the calendar, you can always take a lowball job, but if you keep it full you have plenty of time to wait for the next high dollar job.
Book the winter months in August and September - if you go into the winter fully booked, the lack of phone calls will not bother you. Do not allow yourself to neglect estimating and sales while you scramble to get jobs done towards the end of the season - if you do it will be a very long and lonely winter.
Never let your quality slip - take the loss on a job if you have to, but never cut corners. If a customer asks you to cut a corner to lower the price, refuse to do it. It's your reputation and it is the entire worth of your company.
Never negotiate your profit - if you have to lower your price to get the job, always make them give something up! If you move on your price, they will nickel and dime you throughout the whole job.
Don't give discounts to friends - if you can't afford to do it for free, do it for time and materials plus a margin you are comfortable with. If you bid a job for a friend at a reduced profit, something WILL go wrong and you will end up losing money and/or possibly a friend.
Don't get distracted by every opportunity that comes along. Stay focused on your core competencies and your business model. Change the model only after serious consideration and after formal quarterly or annual reviews. Stick to your business plan long enough for it to work!
There are more, but those are some of the key things I've learned through my mistakes.
Oh yeah, and as someone mentioned earlier - hire good employees and then do what you have to do to make them never consider leaving. Remember that money is not a satisfier, but the lack of it can be a major dissatisfier! The implication is that you can not buy loyalty or happy employees, but if a man can not pay his bills he will leave a job he loves in order to pay them. Fire the mistakes as soon as you recognize them - bad attitudes only get worse!

Regular Joe
03-04-2007, 01:07 PM
Amen to that. I appreciate all the time you guys have put in reading this thread. It has been quite informative. I will consider the high end market. Do you primarily do service for this "high end" market, or are the jobs you speak of being booked "6 weeks out" other types?

Az Gardener
03-04-2007, 01:34 PM
Everyplace is different but here it was not uncommon for us to have jobs booked out a year or more in advance. Custom homes take quite a while to build. You need to be in early especially if you have access issues. You may need to get into a back yard to set big trees or boulders that once the house is up there is no access. Also sleeving for irrigation and drainage work happens early on.

I agree builders are a pain but there are good ones out there. They may cost you some money from time to time but so will advertising/marketing. Just don't let them get behind in payments.

Mr. Vern
03-04-2007, 03:33 PM
Everyplace is different but here it was not uncommon for us to have jobs booked out a year or more in advance. Custom homes take quite a while to build. You need to be in early especially if you have access issues. You may need to get into a back yard to set big trees or boulders that once the house is up there is no access. Also sleeving for irrigation and drainage work happens early on.

I agree builders are a pain but there are good ones out there. They may cost you some money from time to time but so will advertising/marketing. Just don't let them get behind in payments.

I agree 100% with Az's comments. When I refer to staying away from the builders I am thinking of the subdivisions not the custom builders. In fact if you can get some of the high end builders to include your landscape design in the project up front, you can actually get some sweet deals. If it's planned in up front it can be budgeted and included in the construction loans. The one thing to be careful of in that case is that you get a signed contract for the scope and amount of work, otherwise as the scope increases in the building project it will eat away from your budget. Remember this; at the beginning of a project the customers are excited and thinking about monthly payment only. By the end they are trying to figure out what extras they must have and what they can cut. Landscaping always gets the leftovers; unless you can get it into the loan and on a contract!
Also, when I mention "high end", I am not referring exclusively to complicated and grand designs. I am referring to having the best quality in the market and getting paid for that. Case in point, we just did a job for a guy who got 2 quotes, one from us and one from a licensed and legitimate competitor of ours. When I gave him our proposal he told me that I was way higher than the other guy. I asked how much higher and he said just shy of 3 times the price. Now, we were adding a small sidewalk and a handful of additional plants, but it was pennies compared to the total. The customer told me that he wanted to use us but that he just needed to be able to justify the difference in his mind. This was my opportunity to sell him on what makes us high end. I never talk about the other guys, it's always focused on what he is getting from us. By the time it was over I had thrown in stamping on his sidewalk and curbing (cost me $30 in materials) and he was excited. I told him we could start in 3 weeks and would be done in no more than 2 weeks after that. When we showed up to lay out his job he was leaving for a 1 week vacation. We talked him into adding curbing, some new plantings and mulch in his front yard and he loved the idea. When he got home a week later we were completely done with his entire back yard install and the rework of his front yard. We added another $2k for the work in the front (which was mostly all profit), and he is tickled pink. He called me and asked if I wanted to put a sign in his front yard because all of his neighbors were ranting and raving over the improvements. This was all done in a subdivision on a house that is 9 months old(everyone is dissatisfied with the cheap install done by the builders sub.. They are all bad mouthing the landscape contractor).
I can not tell you how many times this year already that I have had customers tell me that I was the most expensive, but that they wanted to go with us anyway. It took us a while to get here, but it was worth it. Because we are expensive, my guys never have to feel rushed to get the job done or cut corners. There is plenty of money to take the time necessary to do it right - that does not mean that productivity is not measured and accounted for.
One of the complaints I hear on this site all of the time is that low ballers are cutting the profits out of the business. This may be true in the mowing side because most customers do not perceive that there is much of a difference between the quality of 1 guy vs. the other. When it comes to installation, there is a huge difference between companies. Take a look at your market and answer the question "who does the best quality work". I will bet you will find that there is very little competition in that arena, and that they are the guys who are booked way out and are the most expensive. Now, if that proves true in your market; ask yourself the next question. Why would you not want to compete in that arena. When price is your differentiator, you will always be worrying about money. When quality is your differentiator, you will always be focused on how to do it better. Now, which one would you like to lye awake at night thinking about.
****End Soapbox******LOL