Cream of the Crop features a rotating panel from The Harvest Group, a landscape business consulting company.
You may have a lot to show for the hard work you’ve put into developing your landscape business – multiple pieces of equipment, a fleet of vehicles, workers and a nice facility. But it’s perhaps the one intangible thing that you built that is the most important. That being your reputation, which you might also think of as your “brand.”
Your company’s brand is what makes you who you are. It’s how you’re known in the community. All of the blood, sweat
Reputation, or brand, is everything in this industry, and you take yours seriously. But have you ever considered your virtual reputation? If you’ve put time into thinking about your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) performance, then you have, maybe without even realizing it. Though many business owners are still catching up in terms of their focus on SEO, when you think of it as your virtual reputation, it’s a bit easier to understand why it’s so important.
To boost your virtual reputation, you need to show Google (other browsers and its users) that your website is worth looking at. Simply put: the better your reputation, the more traffic your website will receive. But it takes work to get there.
Thinking of SEO as your virtual presence or reputation may be a simplified explanation but, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. Even so, to better understand what SEO really means, I like to break it down into three categories:
- Document applicability. This component of SEO looks at whether or not your website’s content is relevant to users.
- Website authority. This is an analysis of whether you are an authority on the content you’re providing. It’s made up of clicks, engagement, views, sales, favorites
andlinks from other sites sourcing your content (also referred to as backlinks). It might help to think of authority as “popularity.”
- Technical performance. This aspect of SEO encompasses everything being done to increase the user experience and make it easier for search engines to find your website. Site performance is definitely part of the search engine algorithm.
Looking at these three aspects of SEO can help you in your quest to be on the first page of results, which is often the top priority of clients and prospects. Of course, there are millions and millions of websites out there and only 10 slots on Google’s first page. If you want to land one of those coveted 10, you have to put some work in to make it happen.
Reputation, or brand, is everything in this industry, and you take yours seriously.
Good SEO takes time.
You also must remember that it’s going to take time. You’ve probably received emails from local marketing agencies telling you that they can get you first-page results in no time at all. They may promise results in two, four or nine months – numbers that are really just arbitrary. That’s because the truth is, you should never be done working on your website.
This should be done by adding blogs, page content and timely information that your prospects are searching for. If you’re not doing that, you risk becoming stagnant and your SEO performance will show it.
That may not be what you want to hear, but think about it this way: Would you park a skid-steer at your facility and leave it there for the next seven years? Of course not. You use it to create revenue and make tasks easier. That means it will require maintenance – oil changes, tune-ups and, every now and then, a new paint job. And when it gets too old, you might even trade it in and upgrade it for a model that runs faster, lasts longer and looks better.
It should be no different with your website and its SEO performance.
Your website can make you a lot of money, but you must be willing to invest time, effort and money into it. This is the only way you can ensure it’s truly running its best.
Chris Darnell focuses on bringing landscape businesses’ sales and marketing strategies into the digital era.
Hire Power helps you recruit, hire and retain the best talent for your company. We’ve got a rotating panel of sources ready to advise you on staffing.
If you want to keep your Millennial workers, you’ll have to start thinking like one. Here are five tips from a panel with young professionals at LANDSCAPES 2018, the National Association of Landscape Professionals’ educational event held during GIE+EXPO.
1. Have an open communication policy. Being able to voice concerns and get feedback is key for younger employees. “Younger people want to be heard; they want guidance and they want career paths,” says Peter Kehoe, vice president of operations at The LaurelRock Company.
They want to be able to give feedback as well. “When people get defensive, it shuts the younger generation up and that’s when you’re going to see dissonance between the owner and the employees,” Kehoe says.
2. Show them a career path. Kehoe does weekly coaching sessions with his employees to talk about where they’re going, how they’re performing and whether or not they’re on the right track.
Mariani Landscape conducts coaching sessions or takes employees out to lunch to talk about development, which is a bonus for Lucas Melograno, production coordinator. “It’s nice to be able to have that constant availability to get in touch with my supervisors,” he says.
3. Develop a good company culture. When The LaurelRock Company started losing some younger account representatives, it realized it had a culture problem. While older workers might view their job as a 9-5 gig, younger employees are interested in more than a paycheck.
“It wasn’t how to get a bigger paycheck; it was time and quality of life that mattered to them,” he says.
They now have a mandatory happy hour at 4 p.m. one Thursday a month right in the office. “It forces all of us to get in the same room, share a couple of drinks and talk about what’s going on,” Kehoe says. “It’s just a one-hour decompress and we’ve seen a lot of positive results from that. It’s kept our younger people with us, to be honest with you.”
4. Develop clear expectations. Developing a checklist of skills and expectations is an easy way to show workers where they need to be. Mariani Landscape has a ranking system that looks at employees’ skill sets and determines their promotions as well as their pay.
“Be transparent and clear about what those expectations are,” says Miles Kuperus, account manager at Wray Brothers Landscapes. “That’s the most positive experience in on-boarding.”
Kuperus says a shared vision and excitement for that vision from the ownership is really attractive. “It might not even be a high rate of growth; it’s more excitement about where we’re going.”
5. Inspire your team. To Kuperus, maintaining a high quality of work and professionalism, as well as a great work environment, are what keeps him at his company. “That, and focusing on pleasing the clients and not themselves,” he says.
A recent survey at Mariani found that employees rank compensation at No. 3 of the most important things to them at work. No. 1 was work-life balance and No. 2 was career growth.
For Kehoe, stagnation at a company is a deal-breaker. Growth in the right direction and open communication about that growth are key. “When communication breaks down, that’s when I would look elsewhere,” he says.
Melograno says the same. “I want to be able to continue to grow and do what I love and what I’m passionate about.”
He says he loves that the team at Mariani pushes themselves to get better. “If you’re somebody who wants to stand idly by, it wouldn’t be a good place for you.”
© MarianVejcik | iStockphoto
Words of Wilson features a rotating panel of consultants from Bruce Wilson & Company, a landscape consulting firm.
Year-end bonus time is just around the corner and high performers want to know, “what’s in my wallet?” I worked for a firm that, for many years, gave out a turkey to each family. Appreciated in context but not altogether well-received, the frozen fowl were generally underwhelming as a motivational tool.
Getting compensation, incentives and employee appreciation right in any economy requires more than just a giveaway. It requires a systematic approach, consistent execution, objective distribution and a lot of finesse.
During a booming economy like the one we’re in
One-time bonuses around specific projects or goals are an effective way to thank employees for their contributions.
As one of the biggest happiness drivers in your company, a bonus that celebrates a successful outcome lets your employees know they’ve contributed to the greater good and you’ve noticed.
A scorecard program linking pay to performance makes financial rewards more relevant for employees and more economically balanced for your company.
A scorecard for an account manager, for example, would have a set of measures that include financial and operational targets, such as
Keeping costs in line during an overheated economy, without jeopardizing the opportunity to close a hiring deal on a top candidate, is difficult when there’s a lot of competition for hard-to-fill positions. While a signing bonus can be a powerful recruiting tool, it can also be tied to a larger time frame for retention. When calculating costs to hire, know how much is too much; offer the right wage and a signing bonus to close the gap.
A year-end bonus program based on company performance is popular but often arbitrary. Companies pick random percentages of profit and do not have a protection if profits are borderline.
For example, an acceptable percentage for return on assets to maintain a healthy company is about 20 percent. This number is a better and more consistent approach than setting an arbitrary net profit percentage. If you were to set this as a profit level necessary to remain a healthy company, then you could set a minimum profit of 20 percent of assets as the level needed to be achieved for profit-sharing to kick in. There should be a minimum level of profit to pay out bonuses and it should be communicated to the eligible employees as something privileged to strive for, not something they’re entitled to.
Tailor it to roles and responsibilities.
Compensation programs need to be motivational and tailored to determine which reward system works best for which role and responsibility within your company. Different types of performance criteria and context apply for employees who improve customer service and retention, contribute to technology and innovation, improve market position, positively influence workplace culture or have a direct role in making profits, for example. Salespeople are usually rewarded with commission. Making commission a larger part of their total compensation helps them to share the risk when sales lag due to market conditions.
Year-end bonus time is coming up soon for most companies. Take this time to ensure that your employees are motivated by the right goals and targets to ensure that your incentive program isn’t perceived to be a turkey.
Bruce Wilson is principal of green industry consulting firm Bruce Wilson & Company.
It’s a fine line that often separates stubbornness from perseverance. Had Abraham Lincoln succumbed to his melancholic tendencies fueled by his critics and many political defeats and given up on the keeping the Union together, history would probably view him as just another idealistic fool and chaser of windmills – not the visionary he was who saved a nation from itself. The line can be even finer that delineates self-inflicted ignorance from inspiration. Jim Jones of “Jonestown” notoriety thought himself a prophet and inspired leader, not the delusional “whack-job” that he was. Constant improvement and progress for a green industry professional really is a state of mind.
How it works in the field.
A landscape contractor from the Midwest called me a number of times to discuss having me consult with him and his company. He just couldn’t make up his mind. During our final call, he informed me that, in order to save money, he was going to have his brother-in-law, who (like me) has an MBA in finance, consult with him. Forget about my 30-plus years of experience successfully working with landscape contractors. Because his wife’s brother had a similar degree as me, certainly he could do what I could do.
Here’s your sign!
A residential landscape installation client in Utah decided to hire an unemployed friend to be his general manager. The friend had neither construction nor estimating experience, but he argued with me insistently about how my estimating methods were wrong. He insisted that all truck and equipment expenses should be put in general and administrative overhead costs and allocated to jobs as a single percent markup applied to the total of direct costs (like materials, field labor, labor burden, subcontractors). I tried to explain to him that you should be job-specific with equipment costs. For instance, if a job needs a mini-excavator for three weeks, its cost should be included in the bid for that job. On the other hand, if the job doesn’t need a mini-excavator, the cost for such a machine should not be included in the bid for that job. I tried to explain to the new G.M. that his method would cause him to overstate the equipment costs on labor-intense jobs and understate it on equipment-intense jobs. He’d win the jobs that he underpriced and lose the jobs that he overpriced. He would have none of it.
Here’s your sign!
Two partners in southern Colorado were producing about $1.2 million in landscape installation work per year but barely breaking even. A friend of the two partners suggested they call me to get help with their pricing. They did! I prepared a budget with them, showed them how to estimate all of the costs for their jobs and computerized their estimating system. The next year, they produced about the same amount of work but charged just over $1.4 million for it with a 15 percent net profit margin. Their company has been growing profitably ever since.
A landscape maintenance contractor in Texas was producing just under $1 million in annual sales but losing money. A number of his friends in the industry suggested that he contact me to get some help. We got together and I analyzed his company, his operation and his pricing. He, like the two partners in southern Colorado, adjusted his pricing and set daily revenue goals for his crews. Less than one year later, the changes this entrepreneur implemented added over $100,000 to his bottom line.
What’s the antidote that turns stubbornness into perseverance? Creativity! What separates self-imposed ignorance from true inspiration? Knowledge! You obtain knowledge by being creative, asking the right questions and keeping an open mind.
Our contractor friend in the Midwest was wise enough to reach out for help. However, hiring his brother-in-law just because he had a degree may not have been so smart. The G.M. in Utah, as predicted, cost his employer lots of money … and jobs. I still don’t think he learned his lesson. The two partners in southern Colorado and the landscape maintenance contractor in Texas are growing their businesses while maintaining excellent profit margins. They were willing to be creative, face their problems, ask the right questions and ask for help from knowledgeable sources. They were also wise enough to implement good suggestions.
Constant improvement and progress really are about the questions that you ask yourself. Are you asking the right questions?
Jim Huston runs J.R. Huston Consulting, a green industry consulting firm.
As an owner, do you pay yourself a salary?