Think back to when you were starting your landscape business. Like most start-ups, you took whatever work came your way. You may mow grass one day, do a fall clean-up the next day or install some new plants for another client on a different day. Your goal was to generate enough revenue to pay your crews and vendors, and make a modest profit.

As your company grew and matured, you started to understand what type of work you were best at, and which projects were most profitable (through job costing). You also started to find out what type of projects you enjoy most. For example, you may realize you like the excitement of designing and selling a design/build project and transforming a boring landscape into a work of art. Others enjoy the repetitive nature of maintenance work. For the number of hours you invest in growing your business, it sure makes it easier if you thoroughly enjoy what you do.

Over time, you become more discerning on the type of work you want to perform. It’s important for you to come to the realization that you cannot be everything to everybody. If you try to do it all, you will forever be a generalist and never an expert in what you do. This will result in lower profits.

Here are three simple steps to narrow the playing field and finding the best clients and projects for you and your team.

Step I — Finding your market niche

To become more successful, it’s best to find a niche where you can dominate the market and not have to compete with a multitude of low-priced contractors. The key is to identify the segments of your market that are under-served. Where is there a lack of qualified competitors? Do you or your team have a unique skill set that can translate into filling a market niche? If you find these niches and service them well, you will be able to charge more for your services and become more profitable.

Step 2 — Identify your “Ideal client”

This is easier said than done. When I go through this process with my clients, I ask them to paint a picture of the “perfect” customer. I have them think back to their favorite projects and identify what aspects of those projects made them successful. Did these projects go well logistically? Were they profitable and why were they profitable? Which clients are most enjoyable to work with?

Step 3 — Create a checklist

From your picture of an ideal client or project, create a checklist. This checklist should create a framework to help you decide if you are going to work with a new prospect or say no. I’ve found that saying no is one of the best ways to achieving success. This checklist will be somewhat different whether your specialty is maintenance or design/build. Here are some examples:

Design/build
  • Commercial vs. Residential
  • Disposable income for property upgrades
  • Reside in the established target area
  • Willing to pay a high design fee
Maintenance
  • Commercial vs. Residential
  • Single-family residential vs. HOAs
  • Located in defined geographic areas to provide route density
  • Potential for substantial amount of enhancement work

Once you have created these checklists, use them to pre-qualify your prospects. I suggest creating a script that your gatekeeper can follow to determine if the prospect is a qualified prospect.

Most of my clients are in the enviable position of having long lead times for their design/build projects or full books of maintenance clients. This will allow you to be very discerning when it comes to taking on a new prospect.

The checklist you create can also be useful during the renewal process for your maintenance accounts. How well do your current clients align with the lists? What you may find is that a number of the clients you took on when you were first starting your business no longer are a good fit for your business. It may be time to “fire” some of these clients.

By identifying your ideal client and then being diligent in working only with clients that most closely align with your list of qualifiers, your enjoyment factor will go up commensurately with the increase in your bottom line.

Cream of the Crop features a rotating panel from the Harvest Group, a landscape business consulting company.