Marty Grunder is a speaker, consultant and author. He owns Grunder Landscaping Co.;

I know a $25-million landscaping company that’s losing money and a $1.5-million one that’s netting 25 percent. Who would you really rather be? The guy who’s overextended and, in reality, barely getting by or the one who’s genuinely cleaning up?

That $1.5-million company is a quarter the size of my company but I’ve learned a whole heck of a lot from them. They know who their ideal client is and that’s who they cater to. They chase relationships, not transactions. They have a detailed bidding process that accounts for every material they’ll need to do the job and every ounce of labor it will take to complete it. They’re keenly aware of their costs and keep a careful watch on labor and waste.

Photo courtesy of Marty Grunder

And the $25-million company that’s losing money? They don’t seem to have a clue who their ideal client is; they bid on everything, no matter if they’re equipped for the job or not. They don’t train their crews well, which multiplies waste and compounds inefficiency. They focus on transactions and ignore the relationships that ensure profit over the long run. In fact, it’s fair to say they have no long run – no company that ignores profit year over year does.

Now this doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of good practices we can borrow from the big guys as long as their profits are as impressive as their sales. In August, I hosted an event with the National Association of Landscape Professionals called Frank and Marty’s Excellent Adventure.

The idea is to take a field trip to a leading organization in the industry that we can all learn from, and this year we visited Mariani Landscape in Lake Bluff, Illinois.

Led by Frank Mariani (pictured here), the company made more than $45 million in revenue and have healthy profits.

I’ve known Frank since I was 25 years old, and I’ve learned a lot from his company. At Grunder Landscaping, we copied their schedule board. We run the same software they do.

We have some of the most innovative trucks in the industry, an idea inspired by Frank some 20 years ago. I gleaned many of my most successful selling tactics from him. It’s true I’ll never run as large an operation as Frank’s, but that’s never kept me from learning everything I can from him and applying it in ways that make sense for my goals. I’m not chasing Frank’s revenues, but I am keenly focused on matching his profit margins.

Don’t focus on how to make your company bigger; focus on how to make it better. Figure out a profit goal that makes sense for you. Make sure it’s a lofty goal, but realistic, too. And then make sure your team knows what the goal is and inspire them to meet it.

Foster a culture of continuous improvement at your company. Attend industry events like the one at Mariani and send your team, too. Go to local meetings for contractors. Meet with another landscaping professional. Join a peer group.

If you’re sole manager, set up a monthly book club with other small business owners where you can trade insights.

Sit in a quiet room and make a list of everything your company does well and everything it doesn’t, and then forge a plan to leverage your strengths and improve your weaknesses. Keep taking steps to get better and you’ll find success.