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November 30, 2017

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So many business owners believe the secret to success is working harder, putting in longer hours and investing in more tools, technology and people. While some measure of each contributes to a good team, if you’re aiming for an incredible team that endures, there are ways to get there without exhausting all your resources.

Everyone knows building and nurturing client relationships is important, particularly in a service-based industry. But it goes far deeper, and it starts with the business owner. Your success comes from who you are, not only what you do.

Over the years, I’ve had more than a few people respond to this philosophy with something along the lines of: “I’m not sure I agree with you. My customers don’t care about me; they only care about what I can do for them.”

So let me share a very basic truth: You can’t fake it. If what you’re doing doesn’t feed your innermost passion then you shouldn’t be doing it, because no one is going to buy into it if you don’t.

Your customers might initially find you because of what you do, but the most powerful influence on client loyalty is that personal connection, which circles right back to who you are.

Live your principles.

Once you’ve established who you are, you need to find phrases that articulate it well.

Your culture is what happens when you’re not around – what people say and do when you’re not there. If you’re going to articulate who you are, you better come up ways to express it accurately. Not just with the public at large, but also with your internal community.

At U.S. Lawns we have a number of simple phrases that speak to our brand promises and brand visions. For example, a brand promise is 100 percent customer satisfaction; a brand vision is 100 percent customer retention. These statements literally express who we are.

It’s bigger than just you. You can’t do it alone.

This leads me into the second part of who you are. Your employees are the most direct extension of your brand. How do you share the message with them? It’s not only in the way they dress, the equipment you send them to work with and the jobsites you put them on, but it also comes down to who they are.

You’ve got to select the right employees and provide the right environment for them to work in–all of which matches who you are. This includes the uniforms, the trucks, the processes and the training.

It’s also important to select the customer that fits who you are. Your culture needs to match the client’s culture so you both see value. For instance, if you’re serving residential clients only, the customer expects your team to work in jeans and a t-shirt, and they don’t mind paying a handwritten bill. They are likely to find the most value in the fact you’re able to keep their costs down by eliminating expenses on your end as opposed to investing in what they may view as unnecessary extras.

But commercial customers have different needs. Often, these clients even have it written in their contracts that you must have uniformed crews, branded vehicles, and documented safety programs. If you’re already set up to operate that way, you’re all in. On the other hand, if you need to make adjustments to meet their requirements, they are probably not a good fit.

The long and short of it is this: If a prospective customer puts out a scope of work and you’d have to compromise your principles or make any kind of big transformation to be sure you could deliver on the contract, then something’s wrong.

Your ideal team includes a group of customers that can be very demanding, but they fit. You like being around them, and they like being around you. It’s the same thing with vendors and partners. You need to select suppliers that operate on your level and have the team, products and facilities to deliver and share your same principles.

Be the place people want to work.

U.S. Lawns operates under four core principles and individual accountability is one of them.

Individual accountability is the absolute opposite of accountability. This is not me holding you accountable under the pretense of incentivizing, when in fact it actually comes down to dis-incentivizing. Individual accountability is about you setting your goals and holding yourself accountable. I’m only here to provide guidance.

Ken Hutcheson is president of U.S. Lawns.