For the professional landscaper contractor, the goal is always to be successful as a business owner. Undoubtedly, there’s a lot of complexity in reaching that success.
“Landing sales, scaling growth and achieving profitability are all obviously essential, but effective customer communication, an excellent local reputation and a solid marketing plan are also crucial,” says Beth Berry, vice president of software business development Real Green Systems.
As suggested in part by Aspire Software Company founder Kevin Kehoe, a few key points for a landscape contractor to find success are:
- Building an organization and brand that delivers a good product with excellent service. as loyalty and retention are essential to profitability.
- Building an organization where people can earn a good living and feel excited about going to work every day as their loyalty and retention are essential to profitability, too.
- Understanding your numbers and where they are trending every day.
- Understanding your customer’s experience.
- Building a culture of accountability and success.
“Landscape business owners need to be prepared to systemize their business and improve business operations and functions to become more efficient and eliminate waste,” says Adam Morka, marketing manager, LMN. “With the skilled trade labor shortage reaching an all-time high, owners will be challenged to increase their company work capacity without adding staff and retaining current employees by creating a company culture where employees are in it for the long haul.”
Also, it is important for landscapers to manage their money well and have a good understanding of the difference between cash flow statements and profit and loss statements.
Another of the most important aspects of running a landscaping business, as Shawn Cadeau, chief revenue officer at Jobber suggests, is staying connected with customers. Every interaction is an opportunity to demonstrate professionalism and build a good relationship with the customer, potentially resulting in repeat business and positive word-of-mouth reviews.
“It’s essential for any service-oriented business to identify and quantify the inefficiencies in its processes and put together a plan to address these issues,” says Joyce Pegler, WorkWave service product owner.
In today’s world, using good business management software will help businesses with all these things, streamlining their processes and making their jobs easier.
“By using the right business software to manage prospects and leads, schedule and carry out services efficiently, and engage with customers more effectively, lawn and landscape professionals can position themselves for greater success,” Pegler says. “The end result simultaneously reduces costs and drives new revenue to increase profits.”
There has been a noticeable shift toward technology adoption among contractors in recent years.
Cadeau says the trend has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Over the past year, we have seen a growing need for technology to facilitate interactions between service professionals and homeowners,” he says. “Now more than ever, consumers expect a professional, seamless, and contactless technology-enabled service experience. In fact, many of our landscaping customers complete jobs without ever meeting their customers face-to-face.”
Via technology, contractors can keep customers up to date on progress and ensure consistent communication throughout the entire job process. For example, Jobber has features including automated quote follow-ups, appointment reminders, and two-way texting to help increase communication touchpoints.
Relying on pen-and-paper or software that wasn’t purpose-built for your type of business such as Google docs and spreadsheets is no longer a viable way to run modern businesses, especially as you scale.
Landscape businesses are complex, with multiple business functions and people to manage at all times. The right tool for the job will always improve business operations and ultimately lead to more profits.
“Business software acts as a tool to enable more efficient operations at every stage of the business life cycle,” Pegler says. “Having a system that not only documents daily operations but assists in the automation of business processes will have a significant impact on efficiency and transform the way they do business for the better, from saving time on jobs and minimizing expenses to helping them secure new customers and improve satisfaction among existing customers.”
Sean McCormick, SingleOps CEO and co-founder, says the ROI on business management software makes it one of the best investments you can make in your business, far beyond any individual piece of equipment.
“If you believe in equipping your team with the best tools for the job, then you need to also equip them with the best business management software available,” he says. “It can be used to grow revenue with sales and marketing tools, gain efficiencies like time savings by automating manual and tedious processes, and grow profitability by giving you deep insight into critical metrics on your business. It really is a gamechanger and gives your company a significant competitive advantage.”
Morka says tech-enabled landscape companies will rise to the challenge when using software to manage and grow the business through measurable metrics. “Tech also enables a company to shorten the sales cycle, improve customer service, make more informed decisions using data, and improve employee engagement through gamification,” he says.
“Business management software such as Jobber not only helps you look more professional but can also provide insight into where time and resources are being spent,” Cadeau says. “It equips you with the ability to see which crews are being most productive, what services are growing in demand, where you can improve scheduling inefficiencies, and more.”
Most of the software packages can be accessed via computers, tablets, or smartphones, allowing contractors to run day-to-day operations from the field while maximizing efficiencies and decreasing the chance of missing new business.
In addition, jobs can be scheduled on the fly, client and job information can be accessed easily, and the time it takes for your crew to complete a job can also be tracked from the field.
“Profit comes from either increasing revenues or decreasing costs, the best software lets you do both by ensuring you get the most out of your investments in both people and equipment,” Berry says. For example, she says Real Green users can manage 18% more customers with their software. “That’s because they can do so much more in the same amount of time and without having to hire additional staff.”
When making any substantial investment, it is always wise to gather information and do some research. It’s important to understand the full breadth of features that a software solution can provide. Business management software is a long-term investment not a one-time expense.
“First and foremost because technology obsoletes so rapidly, you must realize you are purchasing something that must evolve to keep up,” Kehoe says. “In other words, you are not buying a product, you have to buy a partner. A good partner is re-investing in the product to keep it relevant and ahead of the pack, so you the buyer don’t have buyer’s remorse a few short years after purchase.”
Aspire offers a downloadable buyer’s guide on selecting business management software.
“You should look for software that not only meets your immediate needs but one that can scale with the growth of your business,” Cadeau says.
Morka says the number one question should be whether the software can contribute direct value to the company and the customers they serve and improve profitability. “It's also essential to think long-term and seek out a more comprehensive solution,” he says. “The last thing a company wants to encounter 5-10 years into their expansion plans is too many software systems that don't integrate well with one another.”
Here are a few questions landscape contractors may want to ask business management software vendors when considering a purchase:
- Does this software help to improve my bottom line?
- Will this software help me to win more jobs and gain more market share?
- Can this system help to increase cash flow during both my busy and slow seasons?
- Was your solution developed specifically for the landscape/lawn care industry?
- What size company typically uses your software?
- Does your software integrate with other systems?
- How much time will be devoted to training our staff?
- What kind of support will be offered once the system is implemented?
- Does your company provide ongoing training and at what cost?
- What is included in your monthly fees?
- Who else is using your system and what results are they achieving?
In the end, what you want is a software system that works for you. And there’s quite a bit to consider.
“When choosing software to help run their business, lawn and landscape professionals need to focus on finding a solution that provides features to improve every stage of the business life cycle,” Pegler says. “The right choice will improve every aspect of their operations, from scheduling customer appointments and planning out routes to providing crews in the field with the information they need and making it easy for customers to pay. “
She says a must-have for any software package is an innovative dashboard that will provide essential metrics at a glance to drive better decision making, faster. “That dashboard defines the user’s experience with the software, so its importance can’t be stressed enough,” Pegler says.
McCormick says the list of features in business management software is long, and no one individual feature should determine a software purchase decision. “Instead, you need to ensure that the software will function well with each segment of your business, from sales to production to accounts receivable to reporting,” he says. “One feature that does tie all these together is job costing, so strong job costing functionality is an indicator that the other features you need are present in the software. “
The advantage of job costing in business management software is that it can be done automatically, as all the data components of thorough job costing are already in the system (estimates, timesheets, material tracking, etc.). “You'll be saving time while also getting actionable critical insights that drive profitable decision-making,” McCormick says.
Additional key features to consider include sales and customer management features; production scheduling, purchasing and payroll management; and financial management and reporting features.
“All of the bells and whistles in the world won’t matter if the software lacks the essential functions your business will benefit from,” Berry says. “Your software needs the end-to-end functionality that will make your business more efficient.”
Finally, and this is a crucial consideration, is that the software has industry-specific experience and expertise.
“You don’t want a one-size-fits-all software that you have to bend to fit your business,” Berry says. “You want software that’s created, designed and supported by people who understand your business, understand how your business works and understand the challenges you’re working with. Real Green has its roots in lawn care, and our software was created specifically for the green industry. Our solutions work the way you do because we understand the way you need to work.”
Among the first considerations are basic functions, accessibility, and automations for routine functions such as routing, scheduling, billing or before and after service communications.
“Landscapers should look for a budgeting tool to help them make more informed business decisions,” Morka says. “A budget is the blueprint for the business and acts as a guiding light for sales goals, marketing plans, new hires, new equipment, and the list goes on. Beyond that, an estimating tool that's professional and efficient reduces estimating time and improves the sales cycle to help a contractor win more work.”
Also, he says a CRM and Customer Portal should be high on the list as well.
“Both of these combined, streamline and reduce back and forth communications with customers providing better service, freeing up an owner's time, and accepting payment through a Customer Portal is a massive win for company and customer,” Morka says.
Pegler says an integrated payments solution also is crucial, especially as customer expectations continue to shift toward increasingly contactless services.
“Being able to keep customer payment info on file, provide customers with autopay options, and accept payment anytime from anywhere has an immediate impact on a business’s cash flow and saves operators time processing bulk payments for all your daily jobs,” she says.
Echoing Pegler and others, Cadeau suggests contractors should look for software that can provide advanced quoting features, such as the ability to include images, create customized add-on options and present tiered choices for homeowners to consider.
“Based on data from Jobber customers, we’ve seen first-hand that quoting with add-ons has increased the revenues from approved quotes by an average of 35 percent,” he says. “Service providers that added images on quotes saw nearly 2X more revenue than those who didn’t use images.”
Cadeau says another area to consider is what other apps and tools your business management software will need to integrate with. As example, Jobber works with Stripe, QuickBooks, Mailchimp, Zapier, FleetSharp, and more.
“Your future needs may change so you want a solution that can adapt to your business and doesn’t leave you siloed from tools you may need in the future,” he says.
Berry echoes Cadeau’s assessment.
“Something else to think about is whether the software supports the types of integrations you’re looking for, how effectively and seamlessly it manages those integrations, and whether it will be able to support additional integrations as your business grows,” she says. “With Real Green, our customers have access to a complete portfolio of seamlessly integrated functionality for everything they need to do to run their business, and we’re adding more all the time through exclusive partnerships like the ones we’ve just launched with Coalmarch Digital Marketing, Lawnbot and API functionality for Service Assistant 5.”
Lastly, as a long-term investment, it is imperative that any management software be scalable, so that it can grow with your business, whether that means adding new users as your business grows, offering new services, or creating new business units and divisions.
“Having to start the search for a new system every time your business grows, or changes can be extremely costly and adds an additional source of frustration for users as they're forced to learn and implement new processes,” Pegler says. “Considering the future and scalability when choosing a business software gives lawn and landscape professionals the confidence and flexibility they need to focus on growing their business.”