ASK THE EXPERTS is presented in partnership with PLANET’s Trailblazers On Call program. Trailblazers are industry leaders who volunteer their time and expertise to give back to the industry. Have a question for the experts? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I am trying to improve my proposal and the overall package, but I feel it is lacking and would appreciate some tips and advice.
A: The contractor who submitted this request to the PLANET Trailblazers on Call program attached a 12-page proposal package for a 60-day irrigation management and maintenance plan for a homeowners association. As first impressions are critical, I recommended that he begin by improving the appearance of his proposal. You always want to present a professional image, so I suggested he invest in a marketing folder to use when submitting proposals. More importantly, have someone proofread your document before sending it out.
The presence of misspellings, incorrect grammar and inconsistencies with wording and capitalizations in your document can cause a decision maker to question your attention to detail and your qualifications.
I would also recommend that you do not go into extreme detail in your proposal. In this proposal, there was an extremely detailed irrigation maintenance program, an irrigation enhancements plan, a 60-day maintenance plan and three pages of financial analysis. He delineated specific things that he was going to do, when he was going do them, quoted percentages of saving of dollars and a myriad of things, and stated he’d improve efficiencies by 21 percent. He also included more information than the management company asked for. Do not include unsolicited information, such as a resume. Instead, you may want to include a narrative about your company.
It’s important that before you put together proposals, you have a conversation with your clients to find out what they really want instead of telling them what they need. Find out what they value and price things according to their values. Finally, and above all else, you must be able to quantify and substantiate any statements you make in your proposal.
In closing, do your due diligence prior to providing a proposal to your client.
Bill Horn, landscape industry certified manager and technician, Terracare Associates, Martinez, Calif.
Q: Our employees are provided with a 60-minute unpaid lunch break. They have asked us to change that to a 30-minute lunch and two 15-minute breaks. Currently our payroll system is automatically deducting that 60-minute lunch break. Do we need to adjust that to show one 30-minute and two 15-minute deductions?
A: Assuming that the employees are all non-exempt (hourly paid), there are two significant problems.
Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) — In some states and in certain industries breaks may be required (check the laws in your state), federal law does not require breaks of any kind. But, if you do provide breaks, the FLSA regulations require that all breaks of 20 minutes or less must be paid. You may only deduct for breaks in excess of 20 minutes. So, by dividing this into three breaks, two of them must be paid.
Automatic deductions — As long as your payroll system accommodates it, you should record them as three separate breaks. But understand that although automatic payroll/time deductions are not illegal, they can lead to significant problems if not administered closely. If an employee works during a lunch or any unpaid break period, he/she must be paid for that time, even if the company forbids them to work during that time. Whenever employees perform work for you, they must be paid. You may discipline or in some cases even terminate them for violating such a rule, but you must still pay them for the time worked.
The recommended solution is to have a system whereby an employee who works during a break can easily report that time to be recorded for the day. Often that responsibility is assigned to the supervisor who checks daily to see if anyone did any work during breaks. Any break time worked, even a few minutes, can result in overtime pay.
Also, be aware that requiring or even allowing an employee to eat lunch at their work station can result in you having to pay them for that lunch period. Leaving an employee in a location whereby he/she may be allowed or suffered to perform work, such as answering a phone or responding to a mechanical need, may result in a requirement to pay them for that entire time period.
Note that obvious exceptions to this regulation include work crews in the field or in vehicles.
Bill Cook, Human Resource Associates, PLANET HR Consultant