When we think of growing our companies, reports filled with charts and graphs analyzing productivity, income and competition are what come to mind. But there are a few really simple, practical ways to grow our companies that anyone can undertake.
1. Keep good records.
When my husband and I first started our landscaping business, we found ourselves in quite a quandary. We had hired our first employee but had no idea how to keep proper payroll records. It was only after many conversations with an IRS representative – and a few penalties – that we learned the importance of accurate record-keeping in all areas of our company. It is critical to carefully document accounting, payroll and project details. Record everything every day, and record with integrity – no fudging. Don't rely on your memory. Use software – industry-specific or office – to help you. We use both. It is impossible for our companies to grow without precise records in all areas of running a business.
2. Treat employees well.
When we first started hiring employees, we had little to offer them so it really wasn’t a surprise when they did not stick around for very long. We were asking them to work hard for low wages and no benefits. After a few years, we realized the tremendous rewards of employee retention and a healthy company culture. Our first step was to provide a quality healthcare plan for our full-time employees. And, while it was very expensive, it was still more economical – and considerably less hassle – than the relentless cycle of replacing and training employees. This step led us to find more practical ways to make our business a wonderful place to work. We added a bonus wage system, an IRA with company match and an employee of the month award that comes with a $50 gift card. We actually have two different employees of the month. One is chosen by fellow employees and one is chosen by management. The one chosen by management is based on work ethic, attitude, etc., and is not generally given to the same employee twice in one season. But, while financial benefits are important, we also need to be sure to treat our employees with kindness and dignity. Employee loyalty and enthusiasm cannot be understated. You can generate growth in your own company by making some of these basic changes. Happy employees make happy customers.
3. Step outside the box.
When we first started our business in the late 1980s, the popular plant choices for landscapes were yews and rhododendrons. There was hardly a person in our area who had any idea what a paver was, and “outdoor living space” was a phrase that wouldn’t be used for several more years. Fast forward to the mid-’90s, when, suddenly, perennials became part of professional landscape design and paver patios became the latest thing. These changes showed us just how important it is to keep up with the trends of the trade. While many around us reluctantly took steps to implement some of these new trends, we jumped in with both feet. It is never healthy to stay stagnant and stuck in the status quo in any business. The landscaping industry is no exception, for it is constantly changing and, had we not put forth the effort to learn and grow and change over the years, we would have stifled our growth considerably. Keep in mind that this does not necessarily mean you need to venture into a new specialty. Just do what you do in the best way it can be done. Know what is the “latest and greatest” in the area you serve. Read and ask questions and then take that first step outside your personal comfort zone.
4. Use available technology.
I would not be surprised at all if some of you still have this year’s receipts tucked in a shoebox or continue to write your expenses by hand in a ledger. And this is fine if you have no desire to grow. But if you truly want to grow your business, it is imperative that you invest in a good computer and some good industry software. Sure, computers can be hard to learn and tricky to navigate, but the amount of time they save and the exact records they keep has made them almost a necessity. And technology is not only useful in keeping accounting records, but in many other practical areas, as well. A while ago, we decided to stop using paper to record our phone calls. Numbers were forever getting lost and the carbon paper did not always give a clear copy. When we computerized our call log, the frustration disappeared, along with many minutes of wasted (and often fruitless) searching – valuable time that surely added up substantially over the course of a year. It was very little investment, because I developed the system myself using Excel. Technology keeps changing and items like smartphones, web-based applications and tablets have changed the industry and have increased our potential to be more efficient, which leads to growth.
5. Market wisely.
Most of us do some form of marketing, whether it be through vehicle lettering, job signs or doing a full-page color ad in a magazine. But are we doing it wisely? It is important to evaluate our marketing techniques at least once each year. Some good questions to ask include: Are my signs easy to read and do they contain the necessary information? Am I using the free or inexpensive resources for marketing that are available to me? Is my website updated and easily navigated? In our company, one of the first questions that is asked of a prospective customer is “How did you hear about us?” If a month or two goes by and we see that a specific marketing technique is not mentioned in this report, then we assume that this particular way to market our company was not worth the money spent on it, and look for other avenues in which to invest our advertising dollars. Growing our companies is an exciting and challenging adventure. By dedicating some time and attention to these five things, you'll grow yours well.
The author is vice president of The Greenskeeper in Palmyra, Pa.