Reaching for the stars and communication

How to build a world-class business, and tips on improving communication.

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

Q: I have a full-time job that allows me to work two and three days a week on my business. My goal is to go full time in lawn maintenance and build a world-class business over the next five years. I have no employees and no debt associated with the business. Any suggestions you have for reaching my goal would be greatly appreciated.

A: Following are some simple steps to help you reach your goal:

  • Create a training manual to help you duplicate job functions once you start hiring employees.
  • Stay in contact with PLANET and experts in the industry to ensure you stay on target.
  • Write down your goals and plans, and put dates for when you want to complete them.
  • Keep your full-time job until you have four full-time employees and are running two crews.
  • Make sure that before you quit your job your company has three times your current salary in gross profit.
  • Write a business plan and have it critiqued by an industry professional.
  • Create an estimating guideline so that every estimate you create follows the same process.

Richard Arlington, Landscape Industry Certified Manager, Rich Arlington & Associates

Q: There are three of us working in the office, and we are struggling with efficiency and communication. Do you have any suggestions for things that we can do to improve the communication? In addition, we have an ongoing problem with one of the office personnel who constantly needs reminders about duties and still continues to have things fall through the cracks, typos, and other small mistakes. Your suggestions on how to handle are appreciated.

Are there any software programs you can recommend to help with scheduling regular maintenance accounts so we don’t worry about missing someone?

A: There are several ways to communicate on different levels throughout the company. One way that may tie into your second question is industry-specific software that would help you with scheduling and that also has a module with customer contact management capabilities. We use a program called Q-Express that works well for us. It allows us to schedule work, bid jobs, manage payroll, and manage our customers all through a database that gives different employees access to different parts of the program that fit their job function.

This is just an example, so before you go out and buy this software, look at the many different options available to see what software best fits the needs of your company. There is a huge commitment of money and time to run one of these systems, so do your homework, and plan out all the benefits on how it can be used. Be realistic; it may take a year or more to get up to speed!

In the short term, here are a few other ideas that may help keep your team on track:

1. Have a weekly meeting with the parties involved to discuss issues and come up with solutions. Try your best to find a time when everyone can meet. Make attendance mandatory, and it’s important to start the meeting on time.

2. This meeting will bring to light any accountability issues. Be prepared to address them.  

3. Have an agenda that you follow for every meeting so it is consistent. One of the items for your agenda could be a follow-up on any open issues from your last meeting, which will cause whoever is assigned those tasks to have to give a public status report. Most people do not want to admit to others in the company that they did not complete their assignments. If tasks are still not getting done, then you may have a bigger issue than your team can help that person solve. Or, maybe there is someone better suited to tackle certain issues. The bottom line is there will be communication and it should be positive all the way around.

4. As far as the poor spelling and grammar goes, even the most basic computer programs have some sort of spell-check that everyone can use to be more professional. Perhaps this person needs more training or is not aware of what certain programs can do? Better yet, if available, have someone with good writing skills proof what has been written before being sent out. Bring up in your first meeting that you would like to portray a professional image and would like to eliminate spelling and grammar mistakes. Describe for everyone what that means so things are clear. 

5. Don’t be afraid to hold people accountable. In all fairness to them, make sure the company policy is clear in the expectations.

6. Last but not least, in this day and age with communication through email, texts, etc., there are few excuses for people not getting the information. The key is to follow up, set some standards, and hold them accountable.

Joe Markell, Landscape Industry Certified Manager, Sunrise Landscape + Design


March 2013
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