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There are close to 475,000 landscape businesses in the United States, according to statistics posted on the National Association of Landscape Professionals’ website. That means there could be 10,000 businesses or more in your state alone. That can make it difficult for each company to stand out from all these businesses. What will help you say goodbye to status quo and turn your company into one that distinguishes itself from the rest of the competition?

There are some things companies both big and small can do to distinguish themselves. Some are easy to put into place while some are harder and require more effort. If you put even one of these eight tips into practice, you will be making your company a better place to work and you will own a healthier business that will be more appealing to your customers.

1. Take great care of your employees.

Create a Policies and Procedures manual so that your employees have a clear understanding what is expected of them. Be sure to have annual evaluations where you can share what you appreciate about each employee and areas in which they need to grow. Be generous with raises and incentives. Make your company a place where your employees want to stay. This is beneficial not only for them, but for you, too. Training new employees is expensive.

2. Be kind to your customers.

In this demanding world of high expectations we can find ourselves defensive and sometimes even unpleasant with customers. If we are going to be a cut above the rest of the landscape companies around us, we need to practice that age-old adage: "the customer is always right.” Of course, you and I know that the customer isn’t always right. There will be times when a customer, who regularly berates or belittles our employees, will need to be “fired” by us, but these times are extremely infrequent. Instead, we often get upset with customers over inconsequential matters. We must remember it is better to lose $500 than to give yourself a bad name in the community. You will be surprised at how much harm a disgruntled customer can do to your company’s reputation. It’s just not worth it.

3. Care about how your company presents itself.

Do you give any thought to how your company appears to current and prospective customers? There are several ways we can make sure we give a good impression. First, we can wear clothing that is not torn or dirty.

A shirt that has our professional logo on it will automatically help us stand out from the rest. If our trucks and trailers have our logos on them and look clean and organized – at least from the street – then we will be well on our way to presenting ourselves as an excellent landscaper. We can help our employees do the same by requiring uniforms (or at least clean T-shirts with logos on them) and giving them tips on how to interact with customers respectfully and kindly.

4. Keep an organized office.

This may be the most difficult thing on this list. There is always so much work to do. This might be partially solved for you by hiring a secretary. We hired a part-time secretary almost 20 years ago and it made a big difference. We now have two full-time administrative assistants and we would be lost without them. They answer the phones, send emails and do all of the other necessary tasks that have to be done to run a successful business. They free us up to do the things we, as owners, love to do and they also help us stay accountable to do our part in keeping our office organized.

However, perhaps you cannot afford an official secretary right now. One suggestion would be to determine just how many hours you need to keep your company running smoothly and set that designated time aside each week, without fail, to make phone calls and do other necessary office work.

Whether it be an evening or two a week, Saturday mornings or a half-day on Wednesday, keeping this time slot religiously will be a tremendous help in keeping your office area organized.

Another suggestion would be to hire a part-time “unofficial” secretary, perhaps a relative or friend who is looking for a few hours of work. Keeping an organized office is so critical to our success and to our company’s reputation.

In order to move ourselves beyond status quo, we must stay up with the trends and keep ourselves educated. Leslie Allebach, vice president, The Greenskeeper
5. Operate with integrity.

There are many shortcuts we can take as landscapers, whether it is not getting proper licenses or insurances; accepting money “under the table,” or cheating customers with inexpensive product or by not being honest with them.

When we look at this in the short-term it looks extremely attractive. Who doesn’t want to make easy money or to save themselves a few extra dollars? However, this is never worth it. Operate your company with integrity. Do what’s right because it is right.

Sometimes this is hard, especially when you see other companies seemingly getting ahead without doing things as they should. But just ignore them and keep on building your reputation as an honest and trustworthy company in all aspects. There are few businesses that operate like this anymore and this will move you beyond status quo like no other thing on this list.

6. Don’t get stuck in a rut.

It is easy, especially as we grow older, to get lazy about learning and growing. We can even insist on staying the same, when everything around us is changing. In order to move ourselves beyond status quo, we must stay up with the trends and keep ourselves educated. This will look different for all of us. Some of you will do this simply by reading pertinent materials. Others would rather take classes or attend conferences. Some of you will actually go to the work of adding new services to your company to meet the changing needs and desires of your customers. No matter which you choose to do, be sure to keep learning and changing with the trends.

7. End the loan/payment cycle.

This one takes a lot of work and sacrifice but it is, by far, one of the best things we ever did. Several years ago, we found ourselves on the vicious loan and repayment hamster wheel. We could never get ahead. At that time, we decided to make the necessary sacrifices in order to lessen our business debt load. For a few years following, we bought very little by way of assets and instead started building a special savings account for new equipment. We are now able to save each month what, in our past, would have been a loan payment. We buy almost all of our vehicles and equipment with cash. Of course, loans are sometimes necessary. You may need one to build a new shop or buy a piece of large equipment. Try to work toward not needing one for every piece of equipment you buy. Take baby steps to extricate yourself from the prison of debt. This will give you freedom and options that many business owners never experience.

8. Keep family first.

The responsibility of owning a business can threaten to overwhelm and consume all else in our lives. The temptation is to give all of our hours to this one thing. But we will be better business owners and better bosses if we keep proper priorities. We have tried to accomplish this in a few ways. First, we never require anyone to work on Sundays. It is a choice we made from the beginning and we have never regretted it. This gives us and our employees a much needed day of rest. About 10 years ago, we also made the decision to not demand work from our employees on Saturdays. We wanted them to have that day with their families. Instead of this backfiring, we experienced a completely unnoticeable loss in income and we had happier employees. We do make exceptions sometimes, especially in the springtime and on rainy weeks but, as a rule, we try to let them enjoy their Saturdays. These are some ideas that have worked for us. Find out what works for you and your employees. Figure out how you can keep proper priorities for both you and for your employees, too. Having a successful business but losing your family would never be worth it.

More to learn.

One of my biggest fears when I write articles like this is that I will come across like we have it all together and have done everything right. Please let me be clear: We have not and we still don’t. But we have learned so much throughout the years we have been in business. It is my hope that I can encourage and share lessons we have learned in order to help you make your company a better company. While it is not easy to own a business that stands out among the crowd, with some careful planning, commitment and diligence you can make it happen.

The author is the vice president at The Greenskeeper in Pennsylvania.