On Budget, On Time - All the Time

Landscape America's Doug McDuff says he has a few strict standards he always holds himself to:

• He always returns client phone calls the same day or night.
• He never shows up late for an appointment.
• During the actual sales call, Doug tells the client when he'll submit an estimate, and holds himself to that deadline.

"These are all tools I use to build the client's confidence," Doug says, "because until our crew is working on the site, I am the only representative of our company that the client will come into contact with."

Estimate turnaround.For smaller construction projects and maintenance contracts, Doug uses a laptop and printer, kept right in his truck, to produce estimates right on site. For more complex estimates, he schedules a second meeting with the client. "The majority of the time, for jobs greater than $5,000 that require more detailed design work, we need a second face-to-face meeting," Doug explains. "I try to schedule that second meeting right then and there, usually for no more than a few days or a week down the road."

Doug says that about half of the construction jobs he bids on are design/build. He handles some of the design work himself. But for big jobs in excess of $50,000, Doug employs the help of an area landscape architect he's struck up a relationship with. That architect's fee is built into the bid.

Managing the construction process. Once Landscape America wins a bid, additional strict policies are put into play:

• A deposit of 25-30% is collected upfront when the start date is scheduled
• Crew leader is given a folder containing the estimated labor, equipment and materials quantities/costs
• The folder also contains "daily sheets" that the crew leader fills out each night to track labor hours, material costs, change orders, client requests and other job notes
• For projects that are not local, website pages and MapQuest directions are included for area vendors, helping reduce the time a crew spends driving around looking for materials and dump sites
• At the job's halfway point, another 30-40% is collected to ensure that additional material and payroll costs can be covered
• The crew leader and/or Doug or Andy will walk the site with the customer at this time to note any changes that need to be made
• Upon completion of the project, all daily time sheets are processed into QuickBooks to identify profit and loss
• Doug does a final walkthrough with the client to confirm satisfaction, and presents the final bill
• If the job is profitable and the client is happy, the crew leader receives a bonus