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View Full Version : First Year Stupid Mistakes?


Mike M
05-28-2007, 07:26 PM
(If you have a minute, thanks)

Okay, this worked well on lawnsite when I started my lawn business five years ago, so I'll try it here...

What mistakes did you make your first year? (purchases, dealing with customers, installing, etc.), and/or, what are the top essential investments for professional landscape/architectural lighting?

Thanks,

Mike

Chris J
05-28-2007, 08:56 PM
Here are just a few that come to mind:
1. Do the research and find a quality lighting manufacturer. Don't use low end products to try and make a higher profit right away.
2. Do not use the pierce-point connectors that come with many lighting manufacturers fixtures. These will cost you in call backs your systems will lose efficiency due to corrosion wicking in the wire.
3. Go to some hands-on seminars, and get involved with some lighting organizations. Learn what you are doing before you put your name on these installations. Understand voltage drop, proper wire guage, limitations of wattage per run versus length, etc...
4. Don't undermine the market with low-ball bidding. Charge what should be charged to cover your cost to not only install the lighting systems, but to also service them for at least one year.
5. Consider maintenance contracts for your customers and figure out what will work best for you right away. Don't start something that you will have to reconfigure later. This is a nightmare.
6. Ask a lot of questions! Also seek a state license. If this is not yet required in your area, in may soon be.
7. Seek a supplier that is not married to any one manufacturer. Most irrigation companies can supply products, but you will also need someone who can assist you with trouble shooting, problems, design assistance, etc... Look for a supplier that is dedicated to lighting only.

There is a whole bunch more, but I'll let others chime in for now.

Eden Lights
05-28-2007, 11:58 PM
Never believe anything a manufacturer tells you without testing the results yourself on the old garage wall so to speak.

This is not a Day Job!

Don't spend a bunch of money on advertising, read Guerrilla Marketing by Jay Levinson and execute. Ride around and target your prey

You can't be everything to everybody!!!!!!!!!!

Don't take or limit the number of repair jobs you take on at first. Don't lower your standards on repair jobs.

Communicate with your clients and don't trust any other subs to do anything for you that really matters.

Demand that other subs alocate time for your install to be done properly, never wavier on this. Communicate & Communicate

Never do work without a contract and a deposit.

I will post some more when I have some more time.

seolatlanta
05-29-2007, 11:57 AM
My suggestions -

1. really watch your money-as for me I came out of the corporate world and handling large sums of money took some time to get used to and manage

2. do every installation yourself until you can afford people to hire

3. learn learn learn

4. become a student of sales, money and entrepreneurship-

5. use any means necessary to get sales and see a lot of houses lit at night-the more houses you see at night you will begin to understand how different fixtures , bulbs and lenses will look.

there is a lot more but Im sure others will chime in

seolatlanta
05-29-2007, 11:58 AM
Hey Eden

check your PM.

dave

Pro-Scapes
05-29-2007, 05:14 PM
learn all you can and practice at home or a realatives house doing different effects with diff lights and trying diff designs.

NEVER promise more than you can deliver.

Carry irrigation repair parts.

dont put off on advertising BUT load your gun (figure of speech) before hunting down high end clients.

Going the extra mile will eventuall put you in the lead.

Offer a generous refferal program and make sure landscapers know about it.

Be prepared to spend some evenings away from home.

Pee before stopping to meet that important client.

LISTEN to the clients (hey if im deaf and can do this you better be able to!!!)

EXCEED not only the clients expectations but your own goals as well.

ADVERTISE ADVERTISE ADVERTISE... Direct mail.

extlights
05-29-2007, 08:33 PM
Concentrate on sales every day. Even if you have a full days work, do something that will promote your business, even if it means manually passing out flyers in the subdivision you are working in.

If you are doing direct mail, don't stop sending to a certain area just because you didn't get much or any response from that particular area. It usually takes more than 1 or 2 hits to an area before business starts comming in.

Always keep in contact with your past customers! I'm not just talking about a yearly maintenance plan. Send out holiday cards and so on. Sends a customer a good message knowing that you not only care about the initial sale and maintenance revenue, but you care about your customers... which is most important. (if it weren't for them, none of us would be in business)

Don't judge a book by it's cover. I can't tell you how many times we've gone to an estimate or demo and thought to ourselves "this looks like it could be a waste of time" and ended up signing a contract on the spot.

Spend money....the hardest thing of all. We all know we have to pay ourselves, but make sure you put money back into the business. Until you've been around for many years and can live off of referrals, you have to spend it to make it. Advertising isn't cheap, but unfortunately we all have to do it if we want the phone to keep ringing.

Have numbers of good contractors from other crafts that you can work with and you can endorse. We get it all the time.."do you know any good carpenters/irrigation guys/whatever". If you can help a homeowner on something that they are blind to, they will look at you as a good professional and will usually always keep in touch on future projects.

David Gretzmier
05-29-2007, 08:40 PM
Please learn about proper wire size, voltage drop, how much load at how far, and ideal voltage at fixture. If you don't know these 4 things, don't do any jobs until you do.

put a kit together for demo's and only do demos with bids. at night !! .

Find good quality fixtures and stick with them until you find one better.

Use good bulbs, they only cost a buck or two more.

buy really good tools and don't loan them or lose them.

buy a good diesel truck, gas will only get higher and diesel gets better mileage. also, for some reason, prospective clients equate diesel truck sound with professional worker guy.

have some nice color literature with photo's made up to give with bids or to show during first visit.

Use the best transformers you can find locally. If none are available, find some to get shipped and keep spares.

Price things to make good money, but also to stay busy. It is better to make a something in profit per week than bid too much and stay home and make nothing. as your board fills, you can raise prices as your experience and know how becomes more valuable.

ask for referrals and reward clients who give them.

look professional. at least wear clean jeans and a knit collar shirt to a proposal meeting. wash truck. people judge you by the inside of truck as well- organized?

don't try to cut wire that is hot.

don't touch halogen bulbs with your bare fingers. especially if they are lit.

always go back and touch up jobs in the dark. let clients know you are there.

High Performance Lighting
05-29-2007, 08:58 PM
Respect your own time and charge for it early and often.

Qualify all leads thoroughly before going out to meet.

Don't get bamboozled by fakes who don't have intention of hiring you but will dangle the carrot and use you for everything they can get and then cast you a side like an old work boot.

Money talks.

Bull#&*% walks!

Mike M
05-29-2007, 09:56 PM
Thanks so much, I'm impressed with all the responses, I can't even single anything out in particular. Except peeing before meeting clients. That one stood out. Assuming it's dark, can I pee behind the bushes before I knock?

I decided to go with a long distance distributer for reasons mentioned (specialists in lighting, many manufacturers). A local distributer told me I don't need a way to dig a trench, just lay the cable in the beds. And then I ended up waiting two weeks for a couple lights to be special ordered.

My own house was quite a learning curve. I'm pretty good at irrigation repairs now. I bought lots of bulbs and lenses to explore effects.

I need to start digging in, so to speak. I'm counting down days, starting tomorrow, I have 365 days to make this a full-time job so I don't have to renew my contract next year.

Mike

Pro-Scapes
05-30-2007, 09:30 AM
Mike M... consider taking a few days and working with an experienced contractor pro bono... You would probably have a better chance of this outside your competition area. I had the oppurtunity (after I had learned alot alreadya nd done several installs myself) to do a very large commercial install with another member of this forum and learned that much more. Techniques... effeciency... ways to improve my workmanship and I gave him some design ideas and solutions to a few tricky areas too. Sometimes just a fresh look on things helps.

Maybe Yap with Dave H or Chris J about taking a little trip down for a few days and learning a bit more. Just an idea. NOTHING beats hands on experience.

Mike M
05-30-2007, 05:03 PM
It's a good idea. I'll probably have time in June if there are any takers.

I told a few people I could do an install for the cost of materials (people who have referred my lawn work, etc.).

Another thing I need to do is get a camera so I can at least post my first installs here for feedback.

Thanks,

Mike

Pro-Scapes
05-30-2007, 08:08 PM
telling people you will install at cost is BAD in my opinion. Its never worked for us and now that I have thought about it the more I realize how desperate it makes you seem. You should be confident in your work.

It also lets people know what a job is costing you as well. You should never loose money when providing a service. Now on the other hand there is nothing wrong with offering an incentive to close a deal on a key location property that will in turn lead to more jobs.

Chris J
05-30-2007, 08:33 PM
Ditto what Billy said. Don't start out on the wrong foot. Start out with BIG intentions and BIG dreams. If you start out giving it away, it will be hard for you to get yourself out of that cycle when times get tough (and believe me, time get tough in this business). When you make some money, put some back for rainy days. You will soon learn that there is a reason that this business is expensive. You will have down time, and that is the time that you will have to rely on service and your bank account. DREAM BIG dude, I assure you that there will be costs associated with this business that you didn't expect. The more you learn about it, the harder it gets!

Mike M
05-30-2007, 09:36 PM
Yeah, good points. I'll stick with my lawn care philosophy, never underbid, calculate my rate based on what I want, work hard, be reliable.

I just figure I have time and energy for the next month, so I need to use those two things to my advantage. I think I'll focus my efforts on networking and selling, hitting the pavement, etc., instead of relying so much on just advertising to do all the work for me.

I've been upselling my lawn accounts to full-service. I've learned that there are customers out there who believe they get what they pay for, and what they really want is quality and reliability, and they gladly pay for that. I just have to be patient.

Mike

Chris J
05-30-2007, 10:05 PM
Yeah, good points. I'll stick with my lawn care philosophy, never underbid, calculate my rate based on what I want, work hard, be reliable.
I've been upselling my lawn accounts to full-service. I've learned that there are customers out there who believe they get what they pay for, and what they really want is quality and reliability, and they gladly pay for that. I just have to be patient.

Mike

:) :) :weightlifter: :) :)
:usflag:

Pro-Scapes
05-31-2007, 09:17 AM
Yeah, good points. I'll stick with my lawn care philosophy, never underbid, calculate my rate based on what I want, work hard, be reliable.

I just figure I have time and energy for the next month, so I need to use those two things to my advantage. I think I'll focus my efforts on networking and selling, hitting the pavement, etc., instead of relying so much on just advertising to do all the work for me.

I've been upselling my lawn accounts to full-service. I've learned that there are customers out there who believe they get what they pay for, and what they really want is quality and reliability, and they gladly pay for that. I just have to be patient.

Mike

Your existing clients should be your first line of marketing. Include a nice note and maybe an example photo in your invoices introducing them to your new lighting division and let them know your there for them if they are interested. Perhaps throw em a bone and toss in something like 1 year free lighting maint for existing lawn clients or an upsell that works for me is a free automation system.

If they are mid range lawn clients then think about offering smaller systems for a set price. You can still make a VERY nice hourly profit off smaller systems. We just did 14 lights in half a day and actually made more per hour than we do on larger systems.

irrig8r
05-31-2007, 10:33 AM
Here's a suggestion I haven't read so far:

If you are using a particular brand, make sure you meet the area factory rep.

In fact, arrange meetings with the reps for any of the manufacturers whose products you're thinking about using.

See how responsive they are to your needs. For instance, what kind of design assistance, reference and marketing materials, deals on sample fixtures, replacement parts and custom options they offer.

Pro-Scapes
05-31-2007, 10:47 AM
good point Gregg. I have met our cast rep and had mixed feelings. He seemed very rushed and have to leave for SC in a hurry so we didnt get a chance to talk yet. Have yet to meet our kichler rep but thats something I should do.

See you in July. Will be there 24th thru 30th and will be doing yosemite and tahoe early that week if yall are interested. Then GARLIC fest that weekend!

Turf Troll
05-31-2007, 05:51 PM
I have met with the area Vista guy so far and went to their seminar
(no charge )over the winter and he was very helpful, has been out to one job I asked him to visit and has offered his help with many issues.

I wanted to go to a Cast seminar in Harrisburg the distributor wants $129.00 for coffee , donuts and lunch, a day of install at a home, I have sent a email to the regional sales manager to find out about why I should use Cast lighting, what's the value to me and my clients and what is the extra $110 of value for the seminar to me, I'll give them $20 for lunch, coffee and donuts.

I am signing up for the Kichler seminar in Cleveland for two days the cost is $299. and they seem to take care of me from the airport and back for two days.
But I have yet to meet the area rep the local distributor I called two weeks ago but no catalog and no rep, it looks like I should send a email to them.

I want to know who's doing their job with support and quality assurance before I use their products all the time,

I have just been fixing systems for some time and have decided to actually sell landscape lighting now so I don't want to putz around with companies that will not support me with the courtesy of contacting me then their not going to be around for the warranty issues.

David Gretzmier
05-31-2007, 09:34 PM
boy the Landscape lighting rep's are sure different than the Christmas Rep's. I get wined and dined on their dime whenever I show up for training. Bethlehem/GKI, S. Claus Lighting, Action, whatever, no exception to that rule. I've gotten free hotel at some seminars. go figure.

High Performance Lighting
05-31-2007, 10:42 PM
boy the Landscape lighting rep's are sure different than the Christmas Rep's. I get wined and dined on their dime whenever I show up for training. Bethlehem/GKI, S. Claus Lighting, Action, whatever, no exception to that rule. I've gotten free hotel at some seminars. go figure.


Contractors are a fickle and rare breed. Many are not financially solvent, talk a big game, never follow through with purchases, flip to another provider over a few centavos and don't pay their bills on time. Talk to any manufacturers sales rep or distributor off the record and they will confess that this is their impression of the contractor with rare exception. This is the primary reason you don't see more manufacturers selling direct. They leave the headaches to the distributors .

These people charge a nominal fee to weed out the insinceres and tire kickers. It's about time. Otherwise paying customers who do purchase products would absorb the cost to host these shindigs in the price they pay. Same reason you should collect a consult fee from your prospect.

Go Halogen
05-31-2007, 10:58 PM
Take the time to look for U.S. made products.
Better quality, better availability, clients appreciate.
I use a few manufacturers.....but I really like Vista Lighting.
They even customize to meet special needs.
:usflag:

High Performance Lighting
05-31-2007, 11:03 PM
Take the time to look for U.S. made products.
Better quality, better availability, clients appreciate.
I use a few manufacturers.....but I really like Vista Lighting.
They even customize to meet special needs.
:usflag:


You might be disappointed to know that they purchase certain raw materials from over seas.

Go Halogen
05-31-2007, 11:31 PM
Yes. A some of the small parts are shipped in, but they really have done a great job for me (I have been using their products for 11 years). They have come up with some really cool stuff for me over that time. Custom colors, custom mounting, and have never given me issue when I do run into a product concern. Most of all, I always have my special order lights with in 6-7 days. My distributor stocks my common fixtures in good quantities so I usually have them same day. Have you checked them out recently?

High Performance Lighting
05-31-2007, 11:39 PM
Yes. A some of the small parts are shipped in, but they really have done a great job for me (I have been using their products for 11 years). They have come up with some really cool stuff for me over that time. Custom colors, custom mounting, and have never given me issue when I do run into a product concern. Most of all, I always have my special order lights with in 6-7 days. My distributor stocks my common fixtures in good quantities so I usually have them same day. Have you checked them out recently?


No argument from me. I live 5 minutes from them and happen to know that they are good people.

Turf Troll
06-01-2007, 04:53 AM
Go Halogen,

Who do you use as a distributer for Vista?

Go Halogen
06-01-2007, 09:49 AM
I go to John Deere Supply. They have one in Maryland and Delaware. Sometimes I just get materials sent UPS to my shop. It is easier a times to do that.:usflag:

Turf Troll
06-01-2007, 10:39 AM
Thanks I was wondering if there was another way besides going through the Wilmington J. Deere Distributor,