5 Steps to Staying Ahead of the Curve

Understanding today's business climate can help landscape business owners stay ahead of the curve by maintaining a fresh, forward-thinking outlook.

Steven Cohen, principal of GreenMark Consulting Group
Steven Cohen, principal of GreenMark Consulting Group

As landscapers you know that our business is cyclical. Our businesses are always either growing or declining. We simply call this the "ebb and flow" of landscape business ownership. As business owners, we also know that the bigger you get, the more challenges you encounter. The key is staying ahead of the curve. In fact, it is a business owner’s job #1. Innovation is # 2.Setting the proper pace for growth is job #3. Employee satisfaction is #5 and customer satisfaction #6. And we all know that all of these priorities intertwine in one way or another.

Sounds so simple? Well, it is and it isn’t. Most landscape businesses don’t have a written set of goals that everyone has agreed to work towards. There’s no budget or forecast to guide financial decision-making. They lack a clear action plan detailing who has to do what, and so on.

While it's fortunate that many industry professionals tend to be inquisitive—which is a valuable trait to have in a world that is constantly changing—a landscape business must always seek new knowledge and opportunities for business success and growth. The challenge is growing the business without getting overwhelmed.

As a landscape business owner, you have two distinctive choices to make: 1) do I figure out how to do things well, or 2) do I just hold to the status quo? Today, I continually research ways for clients to work towards an equal balance of risk-reward, matched with equal time to digest, reflect, master or revise. My best advice is to build a simple education plan for your business to keep things fresh and forward-thinking.

5 Key Steps

1. Building the win/win relationship. Everyone talks innovation and value proposition, but many landscapers are challenged on execution. Innovation uses the experience of your team, and thus focuses your approach on your business and the required business processes in making your organization more customer-centric, more innovative and more desirable in the marketplace.

Some helpful steps to take are:

  • Be a good listener
  • Frequently communicate
  • Build trust
  • Ask for their opinion
  • Treat every customer like your one and only customer

2. Leveraging your brand and creating business growth. Look at ways to strengthen your brand and marketing by leveraging the power of your reputation, using both your company image and the key attributes of your company's success and how these successes benefit all those you serve. Continually apply these strengths to improve the effectiveness of your organization’s marketing efforts and service delivery model.

Some helpful steps to take are:

  • Develop a written marketing and sales strategy
  • Differentiation – Understand what you do, how you do it, and why you deliver it better than others
  • Positioning – Position your company to the core markets you want to service based on service segments
  • Branding – Keep your brand consistent, clean and reflective of what you do and who you serve
  • Content – Deliver your message both outbound and inbound to generate both sales and customer interest

3. Attracting and recruiting the right talent. All landscape companies are being challenged with regards to attracting, recruiting and hiring qualified candidates who are also a great culture fit for a given company. Share your story, and be transparent during the recruiting process in order to make your recruitment efforts more efficient and increase your chances of hiring “right” the first time.

Some helpful steps to take are:

  • Review your company’s approach of how you recruit and attract talent
  • Story tell, i.e. where you've been, where you're at and we're you're going as a company
  • Clearly define the job role and include 3-6 key attributes you are looking for in the candidate
  • Specifically target potential candidates, because needles in the haystack need to be found
  • Refine the interview process; keep it simple, informative and interactive

4. The art of bringing it all together through collective wisdom. These are times of unprecedented change in the landscape industry. The surge is returning and the rapid pace of business will bring both new opportunities and challenges. The ways in which we gather, communicate and make decisions are more critical than ever.

Success in today’s landscape business environments requires knowing how to tap into the hidden genius of the collective whole (your team and even external partners), while keeping in mind the needs of each individual. My favorite words synergy and collaboration come to mind, empowering decision making in a forum of genuine connection and shared leadership where each team member is inspired to be accountable for their part in achieving a broader vision or goal.

Some helpful steps to take:

  • Create an Open Collaboration environment; share ideas and suggestions for improvement 
  • Create an open forum for your outside partners to come in and share their knowledge
  • Reset the competitive instinct; it's about the collective whole, not just one
  • Secure permission to play; amnesty towards free-thinking is a must when collaborating
  • Allow time! Collaboration is not a one-shot deal, as great ideas come over time

5. The customer experience is now 10 times more important. Today, landscape companies of all sizes have the potential to grow their business, market share, revenue and profits. But there isn’t room for “fluff” anymore. Most landscape business owners don’t associate the customer experience as strategic to growth. Rather, they see it as a quasi-important function where costs must be managed carefully. Before the recession, it was "game on" at all cost or expense. For most companies today,the mantra has shifted to, "keep the customer happy so long as it doesn’t cost too much!" Yet, for some of the most successful landscape companies, customer experience is strategic and viewed as an investment.

Some helpful steps to take:

  • It’s now the “age of the customer"; they want a seamless experience with little to no aggravation
  • Today, customer referral rates and customer satisfaction ratings are more important than in the past due to word of mouth and social media interactions
  • Exceeding a customers' expectations eases customer acquisition, drives customer loyalty and improves customer retention
  • Create a competitive advantage and differentiation; it's just not about price anymore, it's about the whole experience

So you ask, how do you manage growth? Is there a plan or is it fly by the seat of your pants? There needs to be a plan, even if it's as simple as the five steps outlined in this article. Look at the leaders in our industry. Perennial success came by not only hard work, but from learning by making mistakes.

Steven Cohen, principal of GreenMark Consulting Group, is a business management and operations consultant with more than 25 years of landscape-snow industry experience. Steven has an extensive background in managing cross-functional business operations, business strategy and market growth initiatives. Steven prides himself as being both an analytical and out of the box thinker who effectively partners with business owners to assess opportunities, facilitate strategic objectives, and drive successful implementations. GreenMark Consulting Group specializes in helping small-mid-sized, growth-oriented companies see through challenges and map out operational and process-improvement strategies. Visit greenmarkgroup.com for more information.

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