Beware: Robotic Lawn Mowers Are Coming

Will robotic lawn mowers eventually hurt your lawn business?

Watch this video and learn what you should be worried about.

If you’re worried about people underpricing you, about too much competition, about somebody stealing your business or your employees, I’m telling you, you’re worrying about all the wrong things. I don’t think about that stuff.

What I worry about is water restrictions brought about by cities that aren’t producing enough water because, there’s too much growth and they’re not dealing with the demands of bringing enough water into the area. I also worry about droughts, chemical restrictions, and yes, I worry about robots.

It sounds crazy but, I’m being totally serious. I’ve thought about this stuff for a couple years and those are the things that I worry about. I’m in the Texas area and we have serious water problems. A lot of it’s because of growth. A lot of it’s because we’re just flat out not getting enough rain. I can’t control that stuff. There’s nothing I can do about it.

I can control my competition to some degree. I can outperform them, out market them, out think them, out wow them, and out perform them. I can do all kinds of things. I have control over that.

I cannot control the weather. I can’t control the city if they’re crazy. I can’t control the population growth in my marketplace. I can’t control that.

I can’t control if eventually they’re going to limit chemical usage from a fertilization weed control standpoint. That will change pest control and lawn care as I know it. I have no real control over that.

But, eventually, I am 100% convinced, you cannot persuade me otherwise, that eventually I will not need guys mowing lawns. They will be mowed by robots. I am positive.

We are going to have self-driving cars. And, we will have something mowing our lawns and it won’t be guys pushing lawnmowers. If you think that’s crazy, you should be aware of how fast technology is moving. Things are moving so fast.

I live in the technology world and I think about this stuff. I’m very aware of the 3D Printing and all of the other things that are coming that are going to change everything. I am certain that my business will not be what it is in 10 years…especially in 20. The point of all of this is, I think that we all must be aware of what’s around the corner.

So many of us start our businesses and go through the motions. This is not the 60s. Things are moving fast and they’re changing, and the pace at which things are changing, is speeding up. I have talked to guys that sold their businesses for huge amounts of money in the late 90s, early 2000s. The profit margins, in commercial businesses, are not around anymore. They don’t exist.

Those margins don’t exist, and therefore, you can’t sell your business at those margins. None of this is to say that you shouldn’t be in this business. None of this is to be negative. You’ve got this problem in every industry. I don’t think our industry is going away.

Just think about all the industries that are gone that were around 10 years ago. Think about all the stores that were really popular that are gone or barely making it now. It’s all due to technology. If you’re not on top of this stuff and you’re not aware of it, if you stick your head in the sand and say, “You know what, that’s silly. There’s no way that robots are eventually going to mow lawns. It’s impossible. How could they possibly weed? How could they possibly edge concrete? How could they possibly take into account all the things that I think about when I’m mowing a lawn?”

I’m serious. You better accept it because it’s coming. The reason I thought to record this video is because I’ve thought about it for several years. I keep getting all these questions that are so negative. They complain about this problem and that. They worry about this and that happening and that the world is coming to an end.

I was reading this news article the other day and it said that something was going to happen to the economy and that China was going to take over the world. Blah, blah, blah, blah. That stuff will just wear you out. You’ve got to ignore that stuff, but at the same time, you need to be aware of the reality of what’s going on and what’s changing in technology, in business, and in your customers’ tastes, likes and wants.

Because, if you become a veteran player in your market and you start to become apathetic, you open the door to some young guy that pays attention to what customers want and where they are buying. You have given him an opportunity to get a foot hold in your market and eventually, to come in and take away your customers and possibly get bigger than you. Just like you did to the guys before you.

As you mature in your business, pay close attention to what’s coming. It doesn’t have to be something as crazy and dramatic as robots taking over the industry. It could be something as simple as the shift in software technology. It could be something as simple as the shift in phone technology. It could be something as simple as going from chemicals to organics and starting to learn that stuff now. It could be anything.

I’m just saying, be super aware of this stuff because if you are, you can start making little transitions in your business so that you’re not caught off guard. Just as exciting as that, you’ll be prepared for opportunity.

For example, I’m a big believer in putting big amounts of money in the bank. I don’t like debt. I want to be prepared for when we have economic hard times.

If you’re not in a position where you have some cash, where you’re not totally strapped, then you’re going to get hurt. You could get wiped out or your business may have to pull back 30 or 40%. Whereas, if you’re thinking ahead and see that about every 7 years, the economy seems to go through a cycle, you can stash some money for the next opportunity. So, when everybody’s closing up shop, you could be out there marketing.

That’s the whole point of this video. I threw a lot of things at you but my whole point here is, really think about where things are going. Think about what you could do different than others. Think about what the world might look like and realize that, technology is getting faster and faster and faster. Think about what might change that you’re not expecting.

I also think legislation change is speeding up. I could be wrong on that. I’ve only been alive for so long. Maybe it’s always been this way, but in my perspective, it sure feels to me that legislative changes are going faster and faster.

That’s going to have an effect on our industry. It’s going to have effect on all industries. Be aware. If you capitalize on opportunity, you’ll be really successful because of it. Good luck.

Organic Program: If I use less fertilizer & water will the lawn still be green?

Using less water and less fertilizer does not mean your customer’s lawns will suffer and no longer be green.  Hear Tom Kelly of BeeSafe talk about how using an organic lawn care program with reduced fertilizer is actually beneficial to your customers’ lawns.

Main Points according to Tom:

  • The quality of the lawn will not suffer under an organic program.  The lawn won’t be as intensely green but it will still be an even, deep color.
  • When it comes to speed of growth, the organic approach does slow the growth of the grass because some applications do not include a fertilizer that results in artificial growth.
  • Since you’re not applying as much fertilizer, watering less is definitely an option.
  • Water education of your customers is a big deal. You can sell clients on saving money through reduced watering and better water conservation.

Direct Mail Advice for Lawn Care Business Owners

Direct Mail is a key component to maximizing profits.  Watch this video for Direct Mail Advice.

Tom:  I’m going to speak to direct mail for a couple of minutes because it really does have a place in your marketing plan. I think when we talk about the most successful, or the source that will drive the most sales, direct mail can do that for you. But, you have to be careful with it because it can get very expensive and you’re kind of taking a risk when doing it.

It wasn’t that long ago that many lawn care service companies, and I’m talking mainly fertilization and some of the bigger companies, such as Truegreen and Scotts, their main source of sales came from direct mail. When managers switched away from telemarketing to direct mail, they pumped millions and millions of dollars into direct mail. It’s not always the most cost efficient means to make sales, but there’s absolutely a place for it.

Let me throw a couple of things out there and see what you guys think. With direct mail, you can typically expect a less than 1% response rate. I remember one year at Lawn Dawg, we sent out 500,000 direct mail pieces and we got a spring northeastern. We got a snowstorm that wasn’t forecasted. It literally was devastating. It was a lot of money to put into direct mail. That’s what I’m talking about in regards to the risk, but you should only expect about a 1% return from it.

What you are doing is generating estimates. You should be able to close those estimates at a pretty high rate, and I think at this particular plan, you’ve got them in at 62%. If we were going to generate 200 direct mail leads, we’re going to expect 124 sales from that. That’s a fairly high percentage, but it’s going to cost a few bucks to do that.

Jonathan, have you had any experience with direct mail? What are your feelings on that in today’s day and age?

Jonathan:  I think there’s a move away from direct mail because the web can be so incredibly successful for so many companies and it’s perceived to be nearly free, although it’s not really. I see direct mail as an awesome opportunity. I still love direct mail, but you nailed it. There are guys who don’t even get a 1% return.

Quick example, you’ve got to be very aware of your market. If you’re mailing to a residential street where two out of every 10 people in that street are even a potential buyer of the service you’re selling, you’re mailing out an awful lot of marketing pieces that have zero chance of getting a return.

The very first question to direct mail is, “Am I targeting exactly the right areas with the highest propensity to buy? Does this area have the highest potential?” If you don’t, your returns could be 1/4 of 1%. They could be a disaster.

You nailed it on the snow. I mean if it’s raining on the day the direct mail gets delivered or it’s overcast, it kills returns. There are all of these variables in direct mail that will just kill you. You can mail the same piece to the same area and get a 2% return. If you mail it again three weeks later and you get 1/8 of 1% return and why, it’s hard to explain sometimes.

That doesn’t mean you don’t do it. I think the guys that do it are going to win in the long term. Tom, here’s how I look at direct mail. I think the web is it. I spend a lot of money on the web, and a lot of guys are shocked when they come to find out what it takes to get good SEO rankings. It really does cost a lot of money, but it’s the best money you could spend.

But, the best way to grow your company from a profit standpoint is with direct mail, and here’s why. My strategy and my belief is, you spent a whole lot of money to get yourself out there on the web so that people are coming to you. I’m going to use a residential example again. If you find that you sell a house on one street, and then you land on another street a few miles away, and then you land on another street a few miles away from that, if you only rely on the web, you have a business that’s scattered across your service market.

All the money’s in density. Direct mail is how you get dense. You can’t get dense just using the web. The web drives where you land. Then, when you land on that street, you go in to own that street and you own it through direct mail. That’s why I’m a huge believer in direct mail. You send out direct mail only to the streets that you land on that have a high potential for gaining more clients. Know your market.

That’s my belief and that’s why I so believe in direct mail. Yes, it is expensive. It is a more expensive sale, but it’s the best sale because it leads to the most profit because you build density.

Tom: Yeah, and you know what? You’re nailing it. Density is absolutely the most important part of profitability, and when it comes to lawn mowing especially, if you can park that truck and do six lawns, that’s as good as having a 50,000 square foot property. Plus, it’s going to be much more profitable. One of our branches in Portland at LawnDawg years ago, had 750 customers in just one zip code. The guy would literally just go and park his truck and treat like 15 lawns at a time. They were tiny little 3,000 square foot lawns, but he did 40 lawns before 1:00 in the afternoon. It was by far the most profitable route.

People are asking questions about the United States Postal Service and wondering if they ever do a direct mail option. They really do reduce the cost of it, but I’m not a huge fan because it doesn’t allow you to target the way a good list does. I think the importance of having a good list far outweighs the cost. I think instead of just blanketing certain carrier routes, you really need to drill down where you want to make the sales and where you want to mail those pieces. That’s how you build density and how you improve your profitability.

Jonathan: Yeah, can I make a quick comment there, Tom?

Tom: Yeah, go for it.

Jonathan:  You brought up something that I think is worth an extra minute on, because it is the difference maker in a profitable marketing strategy. I’m going to give an exaggerated example, but if you use this mindset in thinking about marketing and especially direct mail, it will help. Let’s again use residential example. You’re out and you’re doing estimates and you’re meeting with clients. Again, this is a very exaggerated example. You have all these clients and you go out there and you meet with them, and you walk away from the property and think, “I like that guy. Every time I meet with him, he’s a great guy. He’s a great customer.” You just keep having these little experiences.

One day you notice, and again this is a silly example, but one day you notice, that client you liked lives in about a $400,000 house and he’s got a BMW in the garage. Then a week later, you notice that another good customer also has a $400,ooo house and he drives a BMW. What you start to do is you start seeing trends. You notice that the good clients tend to be entrepreneurs, doctors, chiropractors, some kind of professional, who tend to live in about a $400,000 house. Maybe you notice that they drive a BMW, so you go to your mailing list company and you buy a list of everybody in your city that lives in a house between $350,000 and $450,000 that has a BMW and so on and so forth.

Now, that’s a little more expensive list to buy. It’s not free, but now you’re mailing to a group of people that the entire demographic probably has close to 100% chance of being your buyer, instead of mailing to a street where two or three out of every 10 people might be your buyer. What you’ve done is you’ve shifted some of your expense. If you’re spending 28 cents a piece to get bulk mail and post cards out the door, now you spend several pennies per name to buy the list, but you’ve immediately eliminated thousands of pieces that you would have sent that were a complete waste because you weren’t mailing to a specific list.

Exaggerated example, but that’s the mindset in direct mail. How can you narrow the market you’re focusing on and only get mail to the people that are your most likely buyers?

Tom: It’s almost as if you and I conspired about what to talk about during this!

Jonathan: We didn’t.

Tom: We’re doing this on the fly, but what’s happening is, we hit on specific things that literally make the biggest difference to implementing a marketing plan. Let’s stay on this for a minute because I think we need to actually take that exaggerated example that you gave of the BMW, but bring it down to a realistic point of view. In my opinion, a list is huge. Yes, it is more inexpensive to do that than if you do a direct mail. You can blanket as much as you want. Bulk mail is an option, but I’ve always been a firm believer in that if you can identify who your best prospects are, you’re going to increase your closing percentage drastically, or even your response.

If you’re getting a 3/4 of 1% direct mail response, by increasing the validity or the quality of your list, you can get 1% or even higher than 1% response. When you’re talking about the numbers in dealing with direct mail, that’s a make or break 1/4 of 1%. I think that the BMW again is perfect, but when you get right down to it, you want to deal with a couple of parameters in regards to your list. You want to only deal with single-family dwelling units. If we’re talking about residential here, you want to clean out the condos, you want to clean out the apartments. You want to get rid of the renters. You want to deal with single-family dwelling units only and you want to use two things as your main cutoff with who you want to mail something to. It has to be home value and income level.

Most of these companies can actually take it beyond that, and you’re absolutely right, man. You can get lists based on specific interests, whether the people like to play golf, what kind of car they drive, whether they have a vacation home, kids, everything. In our case, if you’re trying to sell organic lawn care, whether or not somebody has children is a big deal, right? If you can specify that in your list, it’s very important, but I think it’s different in different parts of the country. But, you want home value and income level to be the two main things. I don’t know if you want to speak to that at all, Jonathan, but I think it’s important that we let you guys know that the list is a big deal.

Jonathan: Yeah, I’m going to second that with one little comment. It’s not that expensive a list to buy. The common list is the one with the home value, the age, a few demographic pieces of information. For example, the age of the person. That’s a very common list to be able to get a hold of, so it’s not a lot. It’s not very expensive. When you go and add my exaggerated example of the BMW to it, that gets more expensive because now, you’re matching up multiple lists, so it ups the price. Tom, the list you’re talking about, it’s a very affordable, doable list and I’d add one little thing that I just learned over the years. Part of building your company is about building your company with clients you like, and clients that you like doing business with that pay you on time.

You don’t want to build your business around a company you hate because you’re dealing with a bunch of people that drive you crazy. And, years ago, I spent $200 on this huge wall map of my market. This was back when I was still working the phones at CitiTurf in the early days. I hung this thing up on my wall and every time I got off the phone, I put a push pin in the wall for a lead and I put a different push pin in the wall for a sale. The thing that happened was I realized that in my market, there was this one section in my entire market that was about a 1/2 mile by 1 mile and that’s where all our best customers were. They would buy anything we wanted to sell. They weren’t million dollar homes. They were $275,000 to $450,000. Just that little activity clued us in where we wanted to be, and then we bought, Tom, a list exactly like what you just described.

We used that and we bought that list in that area. So, add to what you just said, what kind of homes, how old they are, and now the next question is in what area? Now you can get even more refined in just the zip code. That’s how we’ve done exactly what you described many, many times. It’s a very successful, very affordable approach.

Turfmaster 30 Inch Toro Commercial Mower vs 21 Inch Proline

Review of the Turfmaster 30 Inch Toro Commercial Mower.  Is it better than the 21 Inch Toro Proline?

 

Video Transcript

I have received many questions asking if we have switched from 21 inch mowers (Toro Proline) to the new 30 inch Commercial Toro Mower.

I’m generally not the best guy to give you details on the specs and the mechanics of a piece of equipment.  I think about it more from a business standpoint so I’m going to give you that perspective and the perspective of our team (who actually has to use the equipment and put it into play).

Our thought process: 1) this is a really interesting piece of equipment, it’s an interesting size.  We are in the business, all of us are in the business, of selling time, so the more we can produce, the more money we can make.  Nine additional inches of cutting width is a big deal.  I think it’s roughly 40% wider – so that’s a pretty big deal.

One thing you should know about the business that we are in is that we have every type of property in our market, large residential, multi-acre residential.  We have half acre stuff, lots of small stuff.  Small stuff to me means under 16,000 gross lot square feet.  We have every kind of commercial you can imagine, you name it, we have it in our market.

We as a company focus crews on specific types of properties.  For us, on a typical small residential crew where we might run three 21 inch mowers, this mower creates a few issues.  One of those issues is that it now messes up our custom designed truck beds… if you use a box this probably won’t be an issue but in our case, we have designed our truck beds specifically to fit the equipment that we carry and our equipment rolls into place.

This wider mower creates a bit of a configuration issue and would require that we retool our beds.  That’s one consideration but that doesn’t mean it’s not justifiable.  If production then goes up then it totally justifiable.  That’s a thing to think about in your business is moving to this bigger piece of equipment, what operational issues, logistical issues might that create in terms of configuration.

The reason why I think that’s important is what we don’t like is running a lot of different pieces of equipment.  We think it’s really important to run similar brands, similar equipment.  That way, if you’re running nine different varieties of equipment, multiple brands, the problem you run into is you need to train on each of the models.  You need to train on each of the brands.

If you need parts, you now have a different issue then if you have, for example, if you run Stihl for line trimmers or weed eaters and you have 20 of those and one breaks down, it’s easy to get a part.  If you have Stihl and Redmax and you have Echo and everything else, now it gets a little bit harder to swipe parts in a bind.  It’s nice to run one brand and have a lot of that brand.  It gives you paying power and then it also gives you the ability to train your team.

There’s a million operational advantages by simplicity.  One of the considerations here is that if we’re going to retool and we’re going to move our smaller residential crews to the 30 inch piece of equipment, what does that mean?  Does that mean we completely eliminate the 21s?  Does it mean we run one 30 and two 21s on every truck?  What does that look like?

Also when we’re doing commercial work, the 30 inch is nice but we could just as easily run full fledged walk behinds that are bigger and bigger riders.  Our strategy is always to put the biggest piece of equipment that we can on a property.  In the commercial space, it generally makes more sense to go bigger and the only time that we are pulling out mowers is when we’re doing the small tight areas and so I’m referring again to the 21 inch mowers.

The 21 inch mowers still fits nicely into a commercial crew.  Yeah, 30’s great but the 21 is still a nice quick little light piece of equipment and light is something to consider.  There’s a weight difference between these two pieces of equipment, 21s mulch very good.  They’re a single blade.  I can’t say that the dual blade of the 30 doesn’t mulch as well, I just … The 21 works, it’s super light.

Again, because we’re selling time, in this scenario where we have rain or bad weather, we don’t have an issue, generally with the 21s rotting the ground or causing problems.  There’s a weight concern here, though not drastic, there’s absolutely still a weight concern.  That’s something to consider, so consider how are your trucks tooled and your beds and trailers tooled.

Consider that how are you going to implement this piece of equipment, are you going to replace all of your 21s with the 30s because I think it’s a negative to have a little bit of different types of or pieces of equipment.  Then consider the weight, consider also usage.  As an example, if this piece of equipment that is absolutely more expensive than a 21 is now only going to be used 50% of the time, where you could have normally had 100% utilization or you using the 21 inch mowers all the time.

For whatever reason, logistically based on the types of properties that take care of, it doesn’t make sense to run this piece of equipment all day, every day, none stop then you are not fully utilizing your asset. Your piece of equipment is sitting on the truck, that’s a consideration.  I want the equipment to be running a lot, it doesn’t pay to have equipment just sitting on the truck, generally, it’s a waste of money.

If we’re not going to fully utilize it then it wouldn’t make sense making the change.  That’s a consideration that only you can answer, knowing the different types of properties that you care for, whether they’re commercial or residential and then also given the size of those properties.

It is more expensive, that’s a factor but to me the expenses is pretty much a non-issue.  If you can increase production because again, you’re selling time and you can sell more time and get jobs done faster then who cares if it’s a little bit more money, that’s really a non-issue.  As long as you can make enough extra money, perform enough extra work to bring down the amount of payroll that you’re having to spend or keep the payroll where it is but yet bring in more money.

Training may go in with that.  Training is a big one.  You want to make sure that you can train your team on this.  What we found is everybody is generally familiar with the 21 inch so just provide some advantages to continue with the 21 inch more because everyone is trained and then also there’s plentiful parts supplies.  No problem getting parts for the 21s, not saying there are problems with the 30 mower but we’ve got a million different parts at our shop that we can swipe from.

Those are some things that I’d consider in making the switch.  I’m not saying don’t, I’m not saying it’s bad.  It’s a great piece of equipment.  I actually think they’re going to probably work it out, that’s my opinion.  I think they’ll work it out, I think this will be a piece of equipment for the future and it’s actually a good piece now.

I think it’s only going to get better, it’s going to get lighter and for a lot of reasons I do think this is the future.  If you are on the borderline between this or being able to jump up into a bigger piece of equipment, especially if you’re doing large residential or commercial, I think you might as well jump to the bigger pieces of equipment and then keep a few of the 21s around for the tight mowing and go up to the biggest piece of equipment you can.

I wouldn’t stay at this 30 inch size because of cost, because it’s a little bit cheaper than bumping up to a 48 or whatever the next size up is or even a 36, that’s a consideration.  A 36 inch true walk behind is more expensive but does it make sense to just go a little bit larger.  Where does 30 fit in when you’re thinking about this and are you not only going up to this 30 inch piece of equipment and not bigger just because you want to save 1,000 bucks.

A thousand bucks is easily offset based on payroll saved and so don’t make my opinion the decision based on price, make the decision based on the very best piece of equipment based on size for the majority of the types of properties that you take care of and take into consideration the training that will go into this to make sure your crews and your people are doing the very best work.

That’s my two cents, I hope that’s helpful.

Idea: Inexpensive Lawn Care Logo Design

Learn how to find a very affordable lawn care logo design company.

This video recommends a logo design company you might want to try that won’t cost your landscape business much money.

 

The question is, “I need a logo for my business, what is a cheap and inexpensive way to get a logo?”

I suggest 99designs.  I have the website up, it’s just 99designs.com.  It’s a pretty cool concept, you can use this service for more than just logo design.

I’m not saying don’t use or consider a more expensive designer.  I’m simply saying this is a great inexpensive logo design option for your company.

Especially, if you’re wanting to keep your cost down.  On their website click on the how it works link and read about it.  Basically, the gist is, you submit the design speck for what you want.  A bunch of designers compete by producing a design, you then give  feedback, they can rework that design and resubmit.

You pick the winner and you pay only the winner.

It’s cool deal.  Likewise, it’s cheap enough that if you don’t like any of the designs, oh well, you do it again or you go to a designer in your local market.  Logo design can get pricey and so you might try this first.  If you want a professional inexpensive logo custom designed for your business… try 99designs.com.

How To Setup a Virtual Office for Your Lawn Care Business

Tips & Advice About How To Setup a Virtual Office

This post covers tips and advice regarding the equipment and software needed to setup a virtual office within your lawn care / landscape business.

Video Transcript

The question is can you give me some tips on what I need for a virtual office? I want to set up a virtual office for my business instead of having a physical location.

I’ll run through a list of things that you’ll need and I’ll make some comments along the way. This isn’t a complete list but a jotted down some notes real quick, so I could give you some pointers on this.

You’re definitely going to start with your … the core of your operations which is going to be your technology. I’m of course going to recommend service auto pilot for that, but you need a full business system. In my opinion you don’t want a pieced together business system where you’re using 3 or 4 different solutions, spreadsheets and 1 or 2 scheduling system and a billing system and marketing system. You don’t want a lot of pieces, so you want as much as possible to find 1 solution that your team can learn one thing and that one thing runs the company and it of course has to be cloud based and I would recommend that the company that you’re using needs to do all of your backing up for you. Not that you can’t back it up but in a non-office space scenario, you need to make sure that they’re doing constant backups for you because relying on yourself to do that or remembering to do it, that’s too risky.

If you want to use QuickBooks and then your options are QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop, in either scenario, you could still make the remote office work because you can have QuickBooks, like for example if you wanted to use QuickBooks with service autopilot, not required and by the way, this isn’t a pitch for service auto pilot, but if you wanted to use it with a system like service auto pilot, you don’t have to have multiple copies of QuickBooks for each user of service auto pilot, you would just need one QuickBooks account in a sense and so that account could be sitting on a computer at your home or it could be on your laptop or it could be somewhere like that. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the online QuickBooks version.

Historically, for many companies, the online QuickBooks version has been too limiting and so they’ve stayed with QuickBooks Pro or Enterprise. So if that’s what you do and you run a virtual office, you’ll just need to keep your QuickBooks file on a computer, in a $300 computer is good enough, maybe let’s call a $400 computer, that’s good enough when you put QuickBooks on there. It’s cheap inexpensive approach and then that you just need an internet connection to that computer.

You’d also want a voice over IP system, like Ring Central, so this is your phone system. That way it will work from anywhere, so you can have multiple people with multiple phones in different places and it will still work. I would look for a voice over IP system, doesn’t have to be Ring Central, I like Ring Central but I’d look for … there’s a lot of alternatives, so that’s just one name. But look for one that can do caller ID spoofing. What that basically means is that when someone on your team calls from their cellphone in the field, that it will show your main office number on that person’s caller ID. That way your team isn’t getting all … does not receive all of the callbacks direction on their cellphone. You don’t want your whole team e-mailing from personal accounts and calling from cellphones and every e-mail and personal and … excuse me. Calls are going to personal cellphones and then you don’t have anything … any idea what’s going on if things are happening, people getting callbacks. My preference is to have the phone calls come back to the office so that you can stay on top of them. I think call spoofing is … caller ID spoofing is an important feature.

Your team will need cellphones. I would … they’re going to live on these phones, they’re going to be on these phones all the time, so spend the money on good one. I would not cut corners on buying a good quality mobile device, good quality cellphone.

You’d also think about you need a central location to store your files, some important company files and so I would think about Draw Box or Microsoft Sharepoint for storing files. Microsoft’s not really the big things anymore these days, but Microsoft Sharepoint is an interesting program. I think Drop Box is more interesting but Sharepoint, they’re less expensive and they have some interesting functionality and Microsoft has a competitor to Drop Box that works with Sharepoint and I forgot … I forget now what the name of that is, but they have a direct competitor with Drop Box what works through Sharepoint. Microsoft’s doing a really good job with some of their online office and their new Outlook that runs online. This is … so Sharepoint’s interesting because it works with all of that.

I’m not sure if I’m promoting Sharepoint, but it is interesting for many reasons when compared directly to Drop Box, but you need a central repository for all of your company files so that they’re not spread across everyone’s computers, that they might be on people’s computers but they’re also synced up on the web that anybody can get to.

When it comes to e-mail, I would recommend either us Gmail or Microsoft Outlook on the web, not the desktop version of Outlook. Microsoft has a new Microsoft Outlook, it’s like Gmail, it’s up on the wed. I would use either Gmail or Microsoft Outlook. When I say Gmail, that doesn’t mean your e-mail has to come from a person’s address, like mary@gmail.com, it could come from mary@yourcompany’swebsiteaddress.com and so Gmail can host all of your e-mail accounts, it’ doesn’t … I’m not just referring to a Gmail account per say, but Gmail will act as Microsoft Outlook has acted in the past where it hosts your e-mail accounts. So I highly recommend Gmail or Microsoft Outlook and you would have an individual e-mail address for each person on the team as well as a company e-mail address.

You’d also need laptops. I would not buy any desktop computers, I’d buy all laptops. I would invest in some tablets. For some people you might find in their [inaudible 00:06:01] it makes sense to give them a laptop with a good keyboard. This is becoming less important as the keyboards are getting pretty good for tablets. Historically I’ve preferred laptops mounted on amount stand inside the truck because if the person’s going to leave out the truck, they need to be able to really sit there and type on a really good keyboard, where pecking away on a tablet’s kind of slow, so it’s still been sort of falling to the laptop. I think it’s changing a little bit, so you would have to make a decision between laptops and tablets and the tablets would need a very good keyboard. Don’t be cheap on the keyboard.

I eluded to a stand whether it’s a tablet or a laptop, if the individual is going to be sitting in their truck, working, then you need to give them a good space to work with in, a place to keep their papers so that they’re not just sitting on the seat, a place to hold the laptop or tablet and the keyboards so that it’s firm and it’s not bouncing as they’re typing. So you need to think about that environment, because that’s where they’ll spend quite a bit of time.

I also believe that you have to have a meeting place. You’ve got to have a place where you can get together about … conventionally as you get bigger, do safety meetings or you can get together as a group and talk about your issues. You’re still going to need a yard, you’re going to still need a place. Maybe you don’t have an office at the yard, or maybe you have a yard with the equivalent of a mobile home trailer sitting on that yard. You’re going to still have to have a place where you can meet as a team periodically and maybe get out of the weather, a place that you can do a little training, a place that you can throw some pictures up on a video monitor and show them to the team so they’re … you’ll still need a space, but it doesn’t need to be a full pledge office. I would recommend that because the thing you don’t want to happen by having a remote office or a virtual office is to start dropping the ball on training and showing guys problems and showing them how to overcome the problems or for example let’s say you find a fungus issue or someone had an accident, you need to teach the team on how to resolve that fungus issue or how to avoid that type of an accident in the future.

You do still want sort of a meeting place and your guys are still going to have to meet with the crew, spot check the crew, you’re going to have to stay on top of that and so you need to make sure that they are equipped with everything they need to meet with them, possibly in the morning, to show up at properties, where they’re at. So think about that. You’re going to need a place to store your equipment, so again, this would be your yard.

In a virtual office, you might really think about setting up your trucks so that you can keep all of your equipment self-contained, so you’re not having to load and unload. I would also recommend having a GPS system in the truck. I tend to like Fleetmatics, they’re a bit more expense … expensive, but I like Fleetmatics. There’s plenty of alternatives, but even with a …like for example, with service auto pilot, where there is GPS tracking on mobile device, there are still advantages to having GPS tracking inside the truck or you might think there is still advantages. Now everybody would agree with that, but some companies might still want a GPS unit in a truck. If you’re using a good mobile software solution that has GPS tracking on the mobiles, you’d need to decide if that’s enough or if you want GPS also on the truck, in case the truck is stolen or to tell how fast they’re driving the truck, to know if it’s idling. I think it’s a little less important to have the truck now that GPS systems are starting to show up on mobile devices, but you need GPS of some form.

Also, for basic project management, I’m not referring to the projects that you’re doing in the field, but for the internal projects that you’re doing and I’m not referring to your to dos, I’m referring to thoughts, ideas, planning, things you want to do in the future, collaboration with the team. So this is kind of planning activities where you’re keeping a list of things or you’ve plotted out, here’s a project we need to do internally and here are the 25 steps it takes to get this done.

I really like a program called Trello. I love this program and I use it extensively and it’s not a business operational system. I think of it as just a basic internal project management system, but you can do all kind of things with it. For example, at our service auto pilot office, we have a Trello board and on that board is the grocery list or office supply list. Anytime somebody needs something, that just drop it on the list and once a week someone in our team reads the list, orders everything off it. Somebody needs a new laptop or a piece of equipment, it goes on the equipment list, someone on our team will go pick that up every so often or order that through Amazon ever so often and it hasn’t been required that we all have meetings with each other. You could just as easily make some of that stuff to do inside service auto pilot, but we use … for us, service auto pilot and Trello for some of our basic planning and writing down ideas.

I keep my reading list, if there’s something I want to read and I don’t want to be bothered and interrupted right now, I’ll drop a reading list item or an article into Trello and I’ll read it later when I have time. It’s fully accessible for mobiles, from your desktop and it’s a great collaboration tool. So you might think about to look at that, it’s free.

For collaboration, if you’re not getting together very often, you might think about something like Google Hangouts, that’s a place where you can do video with each other and it’s free. You also should consider a program called Jing. I’m just throwing out lots of ideas. Jing is a way you can capture 5 minutes of screen video. It’s free. So if you need to communicate something to your team, you can quickly capture 5 minutes of video and send that over to your team and they can see your screen and see what you’re trying to communicate. There’s also a product called Vocaroo and Vocaroo.com is a place where you can record an audio message and sent it comeone or a group of people. I love that program and it’s a way that you could quickly record a message, sent it out to your team and you don’t have to have a lot of one on one individual calls, you can use some video, one of my examples, you can use some audio and communicate messaging.

I’d also recommend that you password protect all your phones and your laptops with really good passwords, about 9 characters, in fact letters and numbers, upper case and lower case and it should be a requirement that your team has a password on their devices. Your … in a mobile environment, where your virtual office, you have a lot of critical information. For example, if they have a drop box link on their cellphone, somebody gets that cellphone, now they have access to all of your drop box files, they have access to all of your e-mail through Gmail. They need to have a password protected device and it needs to be a good password and so something very important to think about.

I’d leave with this. It takes a good amount of work to make a virtual office work and a lot of employees cannot work in that environment. 1, they’re not self-motivated enough, so you have to be very careful in the hiring process or 2, they don’t like it. It’s … you’re by yourself all the time and there’s really a little bit less social interaction and this would be more true for those that are working from their home versus those out in the field or sales person. That’s generally not as much of a problem for that type of person, but somebody working in the office that’s not really doing a lot of phone work, it can get a little mundane just sitting at home by yourself and never leaving that environment. So it’s not cut dry, not everybody likes it, it’s not … it’s really super simple, there’s a different kind of management you have to do and there’s a different level of … you have to be proactive about bringing the team together and communicating and you have to work. I believe even harder in a remote office situation, in a virtual office situation. You have to be extremely careful who you hire to make this work.

Those are some tips. I hope they gave you some ideas. Of course there’s a lot more to know on that subject, but that should give you some ideas with some things to look at, things to think about.

Good luck.

 

Build Wealth: What Does It Take to Make Serious Money with a Lawn Care Business?

Video Transcript – Video discusses building wealth within your lawn care & landscape business.  How to use your lawn care company as a vehicle to make a lot of money.

Speaker 1:       The question is, “I want to build first generation wealth. I’m really interested in the lawn care business, but having seen some of your videos it seems a bit overwhelming. For someone starting ground up, what should my first steps be? Keep in mind my plans are to create a profitable and perhaps large lawn care company.”

By saying you want to create first generation wealth, wealth to me communicates a significant amount of money. That does mean that you’re going to have to build a large company. There’s just no way around that. You could built what I would refer to as a lifestyle business that might do a half a million dollars a year and let you have a nice sizable income out of the business, but you’re going to be the guy in that business. You’re going to be the manager. For the most part, you’re going to be the main guy. You’re going to have people taking a number of things off of your plate, helping you with things, but that’s not a business that’s going to create wealth. It’s just going to create a decent paycheck.

To create wealth, and this is an important thing to know upfront when you’re starting your business or building your company, what is it that you want out of the company? Because what you have to put in to obtaining your goal is completely different. Again, if you want more of a lifestyle, smaller business; only serving the most profitable of clients at higher prices so that you can have a really nice paycheck and afford to hire a helper in a sense that helps you manage the business but you still have to participate, well, that’s one. That’s one thing worth … it’s something worth knowing because that tells you what you need to do to build your business.

Whereas if you want to build a company that you could sell for $20 million, that’s a totally different business because it’s totally different level in investment. It requires an entirely different vision. It requires you to learn completely different things. It’s going to require vastly more work but it’s worth doing. But it’s a matter of is it worth it for you just because somebody else has that dream or vision for themselves does not mean that should be your dream or vision.

If you’re doing something that doesn’t line up with the thing that you really want, like for example, you might say, “I really want to be want to wealthy, and I really want to have a lot of money. I really want to create a business that basically runs itself that has a president and a management team.” Well, you’re going to have to do a tremendous amount of work and you’re going to have to sacrifice quite a bit in time. Maybe even in the money that you have and spend in the early years, you won’t be able to keep up with your friends that have already made it in business or have high-paying jobs because you’re going to be sacrificing to get your business to a certain level.

Now, in the long run you’ll come out great but you have to do your time and you’ve got to do the work and you’ve got to become the person, the business owner, that you have to be to be able to do and create the goal that you’ve mentioned which is create first generation wealth. If you have it in you to do that, then I personally think you should. I like that strategy. It’s more what I tend to like vers- … I like solving big problems versus creating lifestyle business. There’s a lot of people that they would prefer to have a lifestyle smaller business and have a little more freedom and not make as big of a sacrifice and commitment.

The other thing is if you’re married, that your spouse has to be on board on this deal because if they’re not, it’s going to be a measurable road trying to build out a big business that you can sell for millions and millions and millions of dollars or that you keep and pays you seven figure a year income. So not exactly what you asked, but it’s your first consideration. That is where you start.

Now, you may get started and totally change your mind once you get into it. That’s okay too; but it’s worth trying to figure this out now. The place to start is that, the second place is you’ve got to start building your education. There’s four things that you’re going to be charged with as the business owner that even assisting gross that you will still be heavily responsible for and you have to keep your finger on these things and those things in order are your people … let me take a stage … your marketing, your people, your technology, and cash flow.

The financial side of the business, cash flow being the money coming in versus the money going out and the balance of that. You’re right, it is a bit overwhelming and that’s why there are very, very, very few people in the United States or around the world that have a lot of money or that have real financial freedom or that eventually build businesses that they don’t have to participate in everyday. There’s very few people that live life completely different than everyone else and get to work on the things that they want to do and work on because they haven’t put in the time to get there.

It’s really that simple. That’s your first question, “Are you willing to do what it takes?” If you’re willing to do what it takes, then you know the roads you need to travel. That is you start with a plan in mind that you’re going to build a big company, and if you’re going to build a big company, then the four things I just mentioned, you have to be a master of those things. You have to learn how to get and hire and mentor and train very good people. You’ve got to build those people into leaders because you can’t be the leader, the sole leader. They have to take over from you, so as the company grows there’s no way you can be the guy running a $5 million, $10 million, $20 million company and doing everything and wearing all the hats. You have to raise up leaders that can run parts of that company and then someone that can eventually run that company for you. That’s the people side and there’s a lot that goes into that.

On the marketing side, you have to learn how to sell and market this thing that you’re building. To be a great marketer, that takes a lot of work and you’re going to spend some money learning it. When you learn it though, you’ll be able to dominate your market and then you have to learn about technology. You have to be technology savvy. Someone that says, “I don’ like technology. In don’t enjoy technology. I really don’t know anything about technology,” who cares? You don’t get to say that as the owner wanting to build a huge company.

You have to know something about technology because technology is the future. Technology is going to run your company. Technology is going to be the difference maker in your company. If you hide behind the idea that, “I just don’t really like technology or I never learned it. I’m not any good at it, then you’re screwed because you’re never going to be as competitive as the guy that’s on top of it. You need to understand enough about technology and be involved enough that the systems, solutions that are going to run your company, that you understand the basics; that you can make wise decisions about what you buy and you don’t buy and what technology to implement in your company.

When your team says, “We want to do this,” is that a good or bad decision? You need to be able to say. Technology is the future of everything. It’s the core of everything. If you’re not on technology, and technology even gets into marketing, it gets into your people. It crosses over into finance. If you’re not on top of that … well, we don’t have to be a programmer or anything. You don’t have to know how to build computers. I don’t mean anything like that but you’ve got to understand basics of technology and not be scared of it.

Fourth, finance. You’ve got to understand cash flow. No matter how fast you grow or how slow you grow, cash flow is an issue. You can go out of business. You’ve probably heard this saying. You can go out of business just as easy by being very successful as you can by not being successful. Once you start growing really, really fast, cash flow becomes a really big problem. If you screw up the management of cash flow, you can put yourself out of business or bankrupts yourself. Lots and lots and lots and lots of companies have gone under because of growth, not because they didn’t sell enough, but because of growth. You have to learn about finance and cash flow and I’d recommend accounting.

These are four areas that you want to … you asked where to start, this is where you start. You start educating yourself on these areas. Now, you’ll read things and you’ll learn things now that don’t resonate. They don’t click because you haven’t yet bumped into those problems in your business. You haven’t yet had the experiences. The things you’re learning now, some of what you read, it may not resonate with you, but in time it will. You’ll experience something two years from now and it’ll kind of click. “Oh, you know what, I kind of remember something about that,” and then you go back and re-read that same book or re-watch that whatever it is learning program. Now, something else in that program makes sense to you. It sticks out. It’s like, “Oh, I get it now.” You’re going to experience a lot of that as you grow through the different phases and levels of your company.

When I also hear that you want to build first generational wealth, I think of, “Okay, do you want to be a business owner where you want to put everything into one company and build it into one great company and that’s your dream? Or do you want to own multiple companies? Or would you like to build one company and sell it? This isn’t so much of a concern now because actually if you take the attitude of I want to build one thing and move on to the next thing or you do it too soon, you’ll never have anything great. I actually think you need to build something and stick with it and work it for a long time. That’s my attitude.

The things I’m working on, I have no desire to sell. Someday, if something is sold a long time from now, fine, maybe; but actually I don’t even have that goal. I don’t care but I’m building my company so they could be sold but not because I ever want to sell them. I’m building companies that I’m passionate about and I want to be doing for the next 15 years. There are things that I want to solve big, hard problems and I want to be doing this. Now, you don’t have to have that same attitude but knowing that helps you a little bit. If your attitude is I just want to build this thing up and sell it in five years and go start the next thing, you need to know that. That changes your direction. It also changes a little bit about how you work on that business and some of the things you do within the business.

If you’re just building it to sell, you do it a little bit different. Again, I wouldn’t recommend doing that. I would recommend, especially with your first business, thinking about this is, “I’m going to build something of value and I’m going to really learn,” because if you invest, let’s say, the next 10 years building something really good, what you will learn in the next 10 years, you’ll be able to take all of those skills and do your next business. If you say, “You know what, I’m going to spend two years building something. I’m going to start the next thing.” In two years, you will not develop the skills to build a $20 million company, and it doesn’t even have to be that big of a goal for you, but if you need to have a big enough window of time that you can truly develop out those skills that I was talking about.

The way you develop skills is not by just reading and learning, it’s by reading and learning and going to workshops and being mentored by someone and then actually having to do it and then figure out where you don’t understand, where you’re feeling lots of pain and frustration and stress because you’re having problems and then learning the next thing and then bumping into more problems and leaning the next thing. Reading and studying is not going to get you there. Reading, studying, doing, that will get you there. You got to go through the pain and the challenge. You got to do the time, but that will be what makes you great.

So yes, overwhelming; absolutely, but I’ll tell you what, you can either … I love the saying, “You can either have an easy life or hard life.” I think the hard life is the one where you don’t do this stuff. It’s the one where you really don’t do very well financially; you really don’t have a lot of satisfaction; really don’t feel like you’re controlling things. You really don’t get it; do something on a day to day basis that you find energizing and exciting. That’s a hard life. To get the easy life, I do believe you’ve got to do a lot of work and you got to do a lot of hard work. That hard work will give you a lot of satisfaction and it will make you feel good about yourself and other people will be … your spouse, your kids, they’ll be proud of you. That has value too. Maybe your family will be proud of you. There’s value there.

I’m not saying you do it just for other people, but by going out and doing this stuff and learning it and pushing yourself, I believe it’s hard. It is overwhelming, but the sense of gratification, maybe that’s the way to say it, that will come from it in addition to maybe the financial reward, that’s huge. The ability to have a direct effect on the people that you work with, that you bring on to your team and hopefully make their lives better, there’s tremendous value on my mind around that. I like that part of business. It is stressful and tiring to have a lot of employees, but at the same time when you have great employees whose lives are getting better and you know that you could have a hand in that and provide an opportunity where they could really flourish and make a lot of money and really do something that they like and what to do and they can help other people, there’s value in that. I guess, a little of what I’m saying is to encourage you to push through the overwhelming.

Final thing, lawn care is overwhelming. To build a big cleaning company, overwhelming. To build a big plumbing company, overwhelming. To build a big pest control company, overwhelming. To start a car dealership, that’s overwhelming. To build a software company, ridiculously overwhelming. To do all kinds of different things; start a restaurant, probably the worst of all of them; everything. Good luck naming the thing that’s not overwhelming. There’s a lot of people running around teaching that it will be easy, it won’t be that hard because they want to sell you something. Because if they told you it’s going to be really hard and you’re going to have a lot to learn and you’re going to go through some pain and it’s going to take some time, then are you really going to want to buy their book or their thing?

The truth is it is going to take some time. You’ve got learn some stuff and you got to do some stuff. The idea that maybe you could do something on the Internet that’s easy. Well, if it’s easy, that window of time when that easy thing lasts isn’t very long because every then hops into the easy thing and then they all up the game and that game thing then becomes complicated because there’s so much competition and everybody is trying to one up each other and offer more value to the client. It’s quickly, the easy businesses where it feels like there’s a lot of easy money, they become difficult and they become complicated.

Go through the overwhelm. Push through. Learn the things you need to learn. You’ll totally get past it and then in time, with this set of skill, then your set of skills that will make you successful are way more important and more valuable than the money you’ll make because with those skills you can do anything. Bad things can happen to you in life and you can start over and you could do it again. If you don’t have the skills and life is hard on you, good luck starting over. Go for it and I think you will find that it’s one of the best investments you’ve ever made in your life and it will give you great satisfaction by pushing through and doing this thing.

I hope that gives you some motivation and some ideas. Good luck.

What Should You Focus on During the Month of March to Maximize Growth?

 

Dick: Good afternoon. I want to thank everybody for jumping on the webinar today. Knowing your lawn and landscape business in today’s day and age can be challenging, to say the very least. Best marketing practices have changed quite a bit in the last several years. We’re going to cover a variety of topics today, and by the end of the call, you should all have a better understanding on how doing the right things in March will have a big impact on how successful you are the rest of the year. Today, we have two guest speakers with us, and they are both leaders in the lawn and landscape industry, Tom Kelly and Jonathan Pototschnik.

Tom Kelly has been in the lawn care industry since he graduated from Syracuse University back in the early ’90s. He co-founded the largest privately held lawn care company in the Northeast, servicing over 20,000 clients at its peak. Tom, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what’s been going on with you the last couple of years?

Tom: Yeah, sure no problem. Thanks, Dick. Hey, good afternoon everybody. As Dick said, I’ve been in the lawn care business for more than 20 years. The last couple of years have brought me to the organic industry. I am the founder and now run a company called BeeSafe Lawns. What we do is focus on helping lawn and landscape companies introduce an organic program into their business. One of the main parts of dealing with that is helping them grow their business. And, it’s always a challenge. It’s probably one of the biggest challenges that our applicators face and we spend a ton of time on it.

The last couple of years we’ve been working on trying to help lawn and landscape professionals introduce a more organic method into their business, as well as, constantly working on marketing. It’s something we’re always working on every single day.

Dick: Great, thanks Tom. We also have Jonathan Pototschnik here with us. He started like many of you on the call today, a guy with a truck, a mower and a dream. Only, Jonathan was 14 years old when he started his first mowing company, so I guess he wasn’t old enough to own that first truck yet. He went on to major in computer information systems in college and founded several companies after graduation, including a lawn care company that currently services thousands of clients north of Dallas. Jonathan, there’s a big difference between programming and lawn care. Can you give us a quick rundown on what you’ve been doing the last few years and how the synergy between lawn care and computer programming came about?

Jonathan: Sure, Dick. Thanks for hosting this. Hey, Tom. It’s good to talk to you again.

Tom: Yeah, good to talk to you too, Jonathan.

Jonathan: Yeah, so basically, how the whole thing happened is, I have been in technology for, going back into the latter part of the ’90s, and I never really got out of it. I’ve been in it the whole time and co-founded my first software company with my current business partner in Service Autopilot back in 2001. Over the years, we’ve built a lot of systems for other companies. For example, in ’08, one of the last big systems we built was in the health insurance industry managing private medical patient data. It just so happened that along the way, I got out of the lawn care business.

I got out when I was a freshman in college, but got back in it in 2005. And, to this day, I own the company in North Texas, just north of Dallas. We are a full-service company providing lawn care, pest control, maintenance, the whole deal. At that time, I also owned a commercial cleaning company, and I was looking around trying to find technology that could get my service companies to the size that I wanted to take them. There was a lot of stuff in the marketplace but, since I really understood technology and could guess where those solutions were going, I just couldn’t find anything that would meet the needs. We had looked everywhere.

John, who’s my business partner in Service Autopilot, and I basically thought there was a huge market opportunity here and we talked about it for a couple of years before we finally did it. Really, that’s how we ended up in it. It was all because we saw a need. I desperately needed something that could handle the transactional volume of my business and something that I thought could manage a business the size I wanted to build. That’s how it came to be.

Dick: Great, I appreciate that. Hey Jonathan, Tom’s going to pass the screen over to you now.

Jonathan: Okay, yeah I got it.

Tom: Are you cool with that?

Jonathan: Yeah, waiting on it. I’ve got it. Okay, I clicked it.

Dick: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about organization and why that’s so important in marketing, lawn care marketing specifically?

Jonathan: Okay, so my take on this, having had a lot of experience running both service companies, and then also being solely focused on Service Autopilot and my lawn care company, I think it is just really important for us as business owners to become extremely focused. I used to, by the beginning of 2009, own four companies in differing industries, and so, I really see the value in focus. It leads in to what you’re asking in that, for me in my own life, I want to be in and do so many different things. I really have to force myself to focus. And, I think as business owners, we have to do the same.

I’m at this point where I’m predominantly focused just on this industry. In our businesses, we have to focus really, really closely on our business. And within our business, focus very closely on a certain type of perfect clientele, as well as, serve a perfect service offering that we really understand and can execute well. Part of being focused then, is about monitoring and measuring certain things, and paying close attention to certain things. On my screen, I have up a fake demo Service Autopilot account just so I can point out some things, not so much to point them out because of Service Autopilot or to show off Service Autopilot, but really to point out some things to think about that I’ve come to believe and learn over the years.

I think it breaks down to about three things that we need to be watching, measuring and paying attention to. The first one is that we’re building teams. Our teams are paying attention to what we’re doing. If we personally are completely scattered, if we’re not living from a schedule at some level, if we don’t represent having any form of organization in our life, then our team sees that. If you’re not an organized person, then how can you expect them to keep organized and be most efficient in the company?

I think it starts with us being the leaders of our business and the representation to our team. I’m going to talk about some metrics here in a second, but it’s not really a metric that you’re watching. It’s what you’re doing. For example, I’ve got up just a real simple home screen for Service Autopilot here where I can track my time for the day. This isn’t so much again to show off Service Autopilot, it’s to make a point that I can have my full calendar. I really believe in living off a calendar.

Every phone call I have is pre-scheduled. Everything I do is pre-scheduled. When I’m going to check my email, I do it at a specific time every single night. I think that’s critical. The only way you can do that is to have a few tools that allow you to do it. You’ve got to have something where you can manage your day, manage your calendar, track your commitments, track your phone calls, keep up with your to-dos, and have things scheduled on a calendar. I think it starts there. That’s the first thing. It’s not a metric but, it is a way to keep up with what you’ve got to do.

The second thing is the entire purpose of this month…to sell. That is what we are supposed to be focused on right now. This month and April, in most markets, are our best time of the year to sell the highest percentage of work, and hopefully have the highest conversion rate. We have to really be working on making our marketing work for us and then tracking if it’s working. Just as an example to give you an idea of maybe how you think about this…I did a couple of screenshots real quick. What I care about are leads. How many leads are we driving every week? How many are we converting? What’s that conversion percentage?

More than that, if we just know that we brought in 500 leads for the month, that doesn’t really tell us anything. We really need to know what’s working. Are we getting leads from people seeing our trucks? Are we getting leads from the Google Adwords campaigns that we’re running? Where are these leads coming in from? I really firmly believe that you need to be watching at a deeper level, so as an example here, I have an example on the screen from Service Autopilot. For example, I can tell that there are 56 referrals in the month of March. There are 34 that have converted into clients and they’re converting at a 60% conversion rate.

Now, that kind of stuff is really important because if you see from month to month and are able to compare the progress each month, you can immediately hop on it when something isn’t working and you can deal with it immediately. Watching your conversion percentages right now is really important, and everyone has a limited amount of money they can spend on marketing. Watching what’s working with the marketing activities that you’re doing, if one’s not working, you stop and you reallocate the money.

This is the month of execution. It’s not the month of creating a new plan and putting new procedures in place. It’s the month of executing. We’re executing and we’re making little adjustments based on the plan that we’ve already put together, and so that’s why these metrics are so critical. You’ve got to be able to react fast. You’ve got to be able to say, “This isn’t working. We’re shifting the money. We’re shifting the team. Our conversion percentage is down from last year. What are we doing differently? Are we not answering the phone as fast? Do we not have enough people staffed to answer the phone? What’s the scenario?”

I really believe in watching these types of metrics and I really think you need a lot of these metrics in your business. You need to know how many leads are coming in, how many clients are converting, how many new clients you sold this month of this year versus last year. You’ve got to have statistics to do this, and then I would say, the third thing here in terms of really being on top of your business is its operations. We can sell all day long but if we disappoint the clients that we’ve brought in the door, then they’re going to go out. They’re not going to refer us and they’re going to spread that word. They’re going to say bad things about us. They’re going to give us bad reviews on Yelp and in Google.

Operationally, this is the third area that you’ve got to execute at this month. It’s the easiest time of the year to drop the ball and make people unhappy because we have all these, hopefully all of these leads coming in, and if we’re selling too much and can’t execute, we can really make ourselves look bad and ruin our long-term reputation. The third set of metrics that I believe in would be watching what’s going on.

For example, you’re in the middle of round 1 of 5 or 6 that you do annually and you’ve got 1,000 clients to take care of. You need to be aware of your progress. Have you done 500? Have you done 300? How many do you have to go? How much money have you generated so far? When you finish this round, how much more money are you going to generate? In this example, you can zoom in and you can see exactly what you’ve got left to do. Again, the point is not about Service Autopilot. The point is whether or not you have this kind of stuff in your business. If not, how can you put it together or where can you get it from so that you can be watching it right now?

Dick, did I keep on task with your answer there? Does that make sense?

Dick: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, it actually ties really into what Tom had just talked about. I work directly with Tom, and I’ve heard him say the words plan, implement and adjust over and over and over, and it sounds like you guys have the same views on that because you’re talking about if something’s working, you have to tweak it to make up for it. Tom, why don’t you take control of the screen and go into what you were just about to talk about?

Tom: Absolutely. You’re talking my language big time, Jonathan, so for all the people who are on the call today, a lot of our BeeSafe applicators, they hear me say the same thing over and over and over again: analyze, plan, implement, adjust. Those are things that you absolutely have to be working on all the time, and now isn’t the time to analyze. Now isn’t the time to plan. Now is the time to implement. It’s absolutely critical that you’re the one or whether you are responsible for a team, to actually do the implementation. You have to stay on it and you have to stop and ask yourself at least a couple of times throughout the course of the day. You have to stop and say, “Is what I’m doing right now getting me closer to my sales goals?”

If the answer to that question is no, you have to change what you’re doing to get closer to your sales goal. You have to be hyper-focused on making sure you hit those goals. Part of being able to do that is working off of a plan and Jonathan, you were talking about how March and April are the key months in being able to make those sales. It’s absolutely positively true. Everything that you do has to revolve around making those sales. What I thought I’d bring up here, and perhaps Jonathan, maybe you and I can go back and forth a little bit on some of these actual source codes here.

It’s easy for me, much the same way you brought up Service Autopilot, it’s easy for me to bring up a BeeSafe sales plan. It’s a company starting from zero sales and from zero customers. What we want it to do is get to about 450 customers. What we did was we built a sales plan to make 482 sales, knowing it will take a small amount of cancels and we can’t predetermine what our revenue per customer will be. We built in some of our optional services here to come up with the gross sales.

Before we actually get to that revenue, we have to put together a campaign that’s going to get us there, and I love the way you brought up some of those screens of Service Autopilot because the metrics are so incredibly important, not necessarily to what you’re doing right now, but when you write this plan again next year, and you should always have your plan, your budget written, your sales plan done in the off-season. You need to make sure that you’re ready to go in January. This plan was written in December to be able to be implemented January, February, March and April.

When you have all those lead sources up and we’re drilling down, I think you call them closing or conversion percent, I call them closing percent, historical data is literally the most important key indicator of any plan. When you write your plan for next year, you’re going to look back at what happened this year and after a while, any lawn care or even landscaping marketing plan becomes almost a math equation. There’s not a huge amount of creativity that goes into it after a while because you can count on certain things happening year after year after year.

What I thought we’d do right now is take a look at this particular sales plan and look at some of the sources that we’re going to try to get sales from. Then, literally drill it down to the best way to implement it, and Jonathan, I’d love to get your opinion on a couple of these sources.

This is an actual plan. It’s not something that I put together specifically for today’s webinar. A lot of it’s based on historical data that we’ve learned from over the years, especially when you talk about closing percent. I’m just going to run through a couple of these, and Jonathan, I’ll ask your opinion on some of them too, because I think some of the advice that we can get on how to execute some of these lead sources is really important.

I’ll start with referral. Referral is really one of the most important lead sources that you can ever build into your plan. Sometimes, people make a mistake of just assuming that referrals will happen, and in my opinion, it’s absolutely critical that you push referral sales all the time with every single thing you do. Back at Lawn Dawg, when we would implement that referral program, every single bit of information that ever left our building or ever left the branch, whether it was paper or electronic, email or anything, had some sort of reference to the referral program.

First of all, you had to start with an incentive. You have to give people a reason to want to give you referrals. Some companies will do $50. Some companies will do a free application or free mowing, something like that. There has to be a reason for people to want to do it, but it has to be implemented. You can’t just assume it’s going to happen. Jonathan, you must deal with referrals a lot. Do you have any thoughts on referral sale?

Jonathan: I have a lot. We can probably talk about this for the rest of the time, but referrals for me is not the most important. I’m speaking from experience here and data that I know in my own business. When I say my own business, I’m referring to the lawn care company. For us, referrals have our highest conversion rate or closing percentage, to use your words. For us, it runs in a low 90% range year after year. There is nothing in our business with a higher conversion rate than a referral. We do actually encounter some expense. They’re not free to us. For every referral, we’re sending out a thank you card and a gift card to a local restaurant through the person that gave the referral.

I really believe in referrals. It’s not our number one lead source, but it’s our best conversion. We actively try to get our clients to make the referral. We give them gifts. We say thank you. We go out of our way because we’re encouraging behavior. We’re trying to train behavior. We want them to give us another referral. This is one, if I was picking the top three things that I would do if I was starting over today, referrals would be one that I’d focus on.

The reason I said we can talk about this for a long time is we’ve actually built an entire strategy around referrals, where what we do is we give our clients a gift card to give to their friends. That’s why referrals aren’t completely free to us. We give our client a free gift card, like you would think of going to the store and buying a gift card to Best Buy. They give that gift card to their friends, and then those friends a lot of times will hang it on their fridge. It has value to it and they won’t throw it out. Someday down the road, they’ll redeem that gift card with our company when they need service. We have an opportunity to show off what we’re able to do and the level of our customer service, and they become a client.

There’s this huge strategy we’ve built around it. I think it’s got to be one of the top three things that a company focuses on when they’re building out the business.

Tom: I couldn’t agree with you more! But, one important thing that you said there is it requires a strategy. You always will take referral leads and referral sales just by doing what you do. But, if you do implement some strategy where you can put together a plan and a program and really make it happen, I’m in total agreement. You will make a lot of sales by pushing that referral.

A couple of people have asked about direct mail. I’m going to speak to direct mail for a couple of minutes because it really does have a place in your marketing plan. I think when we talk about the most successful, or the source that will drive the most sales, direct mail can do that for you. But, you have to be careful with it because it can get very expensive and you’re kind of taking a risk with doing it.

It wasn’t that long ago where many lawn care service companies, and I’m talking mostly fertilization and some of the big companies, Truegreen and Scotts, their main source of sales came from direct mail. When managers switched away from telemarketing to direct mail, they just pumped millions and millions of dollars into direct mail. It’s not always the most cost efficient means to make sales, but there’s absolutely a place for it.

Let me throw a couple of things out there and see what you guys think. Direct mail, you can typically expect less than 1% response rate. I remember one year at Lawn Dawg, we sent out 500,000 direct mail pieces and we got a spring northeastern. We got a snowstorm that wasn’t forecasted. It literally, I mean it was devastating. It was a lot of money to put into direct mail. That’s what I’m talking about in regards to the risk. But, you should only expect about a 1% return from it, and basically, what you’re doing is you’re generating estimates.

You should be able to close those estimates at a pretty high rate, and I think at this particular plan, you’ve got them in at 62%. If we were going to generate 200 direct mail leads, we’re going to expect 124 sales from that. That’s a fairly high amount as a percent to what we’re doing from this entire plan. But, it’s going to cost a few bucks to do that. Jonathan, have you had any experience with direct mail or, what are your feelings on that in today’s day and age?

Jonathan: I think there’s a move away from direct mail because the web is so incredibly successful for so many companies and it’s perceived to be near free, though it’s not really. I see direct mail as an awesome opportunity. I still love direct mail, but you nailed it. You nailed it on several fronts. There are guys who don’t even get a 1% return. Quick example, you’ve got to be very aware of your market. For example, if you’re mailing to a residential street where two out of every 10 people on that street are even a potential buyer of the service you’re selling, you’re mailing out an awful lot of marketing pieces that have zero chance of getting a return. Only two out of 10 even have a chance of even having a person in response.

The very first question in direct mail is, “Am I targeting exactly the right areas with the highest propensity to buy…the highest potential?” If you don’t, your returns could be 1/4 of 1%. They could be a disaster. You nailed it on the snow. I mean if it’s raining on the day the direct mail gets delivered or it’s overcast, it kills returns. There’s all these variables in direct mail that will just kill you. You can mail the same piece to the same area and you get a 2% return. If you mail it again three weeks later you may get 1/8 of 1% return. Why? It’s hard to explain sometimes.

That doesn’t mean you don’t do it. I think the guys that do it are going to win in the long term. Tom, here’s how I look at direct mail. I think the web is it. I spend a lot of money on the web, and a lot of guys are shocked when they come to find out what it takes to get good SEO ranking. It really does cost a lot of money. But, it’s the best money you could spend. But, the best way to grow your company from a profit standpoint is with direct mail, and here’s why.

This is my opinion of course, but my strategy and my belief is, you spent a whole lot of money to get yourself out there on the web so that people are coming to you. If you rely completely on the web, you will end up with a business that is scattered across your service market. I will use a residential example, but you may land on one street because you sell a client there, and then you may land on another street a few miles away, and then on another street a few miles away from that. All the money is in density. There’s a ton of money in it when you’re dense.

Direct mail is how you get dense. The web drives where you land. Then, when you land on that street, you go in to own that street and you own it through direct mail. You have to know your market and you only direct mail to the streets with the highest percentage of potential buyers.

That’s my belief and that’s why I do believe in direct mail. It is a more expensive sale, but it’s the best sale, because it leads to the most profit because you build density.

Tom: Yeah, and you know what? You’re nailing it man. I can tell by the questions that are coming in here. Density is absolutely the most important part of profitability, and when it comes to lawn mowing especially, if you can park that truck and do six lawns, that’s as good as having a 50,000 square foot property. It’s going to be much more profitable. One of our branches in Portland at Lawn Dawg years ago, had 750 customers in just one zip code. The guy would literally just go and park his truck and treat 15 lawns at a time. They were tiny little 3,000 square foot lawns, but he did 40 lawns before 1:00 in the afternoon. It was by far the most profitable route.

Many people are asking about the United States Postal Service doing a direct mail option. They really do reduce the cost of it, but I’m not a huge fan of it because it doesn’t allow you to target the way a good list does. I think the importance of having a good list far outweighs the cost. That’s how you build density. That’s how you improve your profitability.

Jonathan: Yeah, can I make a quick comment there, Tom?

Tom: Yeah, go for it.

Jonathan: I’m going to give an exaggerated example, but if you use this mindset in thinking about marketing and especially direct mail, it will help. Let’s again use a residential example. You’re out and you’re doing estimates and you’re meeting with clients, and this is again a very exaggerated example. You have all these clients and you go out there and you meet with them, and you walk away from the property and think, “I like that guy. Every time I meet with him, he’s a great guy. He’s a great customer.”

One day you notice, and again, this is a silly example, but one day you notice, “You know what, that guy that I just liked. He lives in about a $400,000 house and he’s got a BMW in the garage.” Then a week later, at another client’s home, you’re like, “Oh, that guy, his house is about 400 and what do you know, he’s got a BMW in the garage.” What you start to do is, you start to see these trends and you’re like, “You know, the guys I tend to like, they tend to be entrepreneurs, doctors, chiropractors, some kind of professional who tend to live in about a $400,000 house and they drive a BMW.” Then, you can go to your mailing list company and you say, “Hey, I want to buy a list of everybody in my city that lives in a house between $350,000 and $450,000 that has a BMW and so on and so forth.”

Now, that’s a more expensive list to buy. You’re going to spend some money to buy that list. But, now you’re mailing to a group of people that the entire demographic probably has close to 100% chance of being your buyer, instead of mailing to a street where two out of every 10 people, or three out every 10 people might be your buyer. What you’ve done is you’ve shifted some of your expense. If you’re spending 28 cents apiece to get bulk mail and post cards out the door, now you spend several pennies per name to buy the name, but you’ve immediately eliminated thousands of pieces that you would have sent that were a complete waste because you weren’t mailing to a specific list.
Exaggerated example, but that’s the mindset in direct mail. How can you narrow the market you’re focusing on and only get mail to the people that are your most likely buyers?

Tom: It’s almost as if you and I conspired about what to talk about.

Jonathan: We didn’t.

Tom: We’re doing this on the fly, but what’s happening is, that we hit on specific things that literally make the biggest difference to implementing a marketing plan. Let’s stay on this for a minute because I think we need to actually take that exaggerated example that you gave of the BMW, but bring it down to a realistic point of view. In my opinion, bulk mail is an option, but I’ve always been a firm believer in that, if you can identify who your best prospects are, you’re going to increase your closing percentage drastically, or even your response.

If you’re getting a 3/4 of 1% direct mail response, by increasing the validity or the quality of your list, you can get 1% or even higher than 1% response. When you’re talking about the numbers we’re dealing with direct mail, that’s a make or break 1/4 of 1%. I think that the BMW again is perfect, but when you get right down to it, you want to deal with a couple of parameters in regards to your list. You want to only deal with single-family dwelling units. If we’re talking about residential here, you want to clean out the condos. You want to clean out the apartments. You want to get rid of the renters. You want to deal with single-family dwelling units only and you want to use two things as your main cutoff with who you want to mail something to. It has to be home value and income level.

Most of these companies can actually take it beyond that, and you’re absolutely right, man. You can get lists based on specific interests, whether the people like to play golf, what kind of car they drive, whether they have a vacation home, kids, everything. In our case, if you’re trying to sell organic lawn care, whether or not somebody has children is a big deal, right? If you can specify that in your list, it’s very important. But, I think it’s different in different parts of the country. But, you want home value and income level to be the two main things. I don’t know if you want to speak to that at all, Jonathan, but I think it’s important that we let you guys know that the list is a big deal.

Jonathan: Yeah, I’m going to second that with one little comment. It’s not that expensive a list to buy. The common list is the one with the home value, the age, and a few demographic pieces of information. For example, the age of the person. That’s a very common list to be able to get a hold of, so it’s not a lot. It’s not very expensive. When you go and add my exaggerated example of the BMW to it, that gets more expensive because now, you’re matching up multiple lists. That is what ups the price. Tom, the list you’re talking about, it’s a very affordable, doable list and I’d add one little thing that I just learned over the years. Part of building your company is about building your company with clients you like, and clients that you like doing business with that pay you on time.

You don’t want to build your business around a company you hate because you’re dealing with a bunch of people that drive you crazy. Years ago, I spent $200 and had this huge wall map of my market made. This was back when I was still working the phones at CitiTurf in the early days. I hung this thing up on my wall and every time I got off the phone, I put a push pin in the wall for a lead and I put a different push pin in the wall for a sale. The thing that happened was I realized that in my market, there was this one section in my entire market that was about a 1/2 mile by 1 mile. That’s where all our best customers were. They would buy anything we wanted to sell. They weren’t million dollar homes. They were $275,000 to $450,000 homes and just that little activity clued us in where we wanted to be. That’s when we bought a list exactly like what Tom just described. It’s a very successful, very affordable approach.

Tom: We could do all day on these sources here, but we only want to spend about an hour with you guys and we can revisit it later, but what Jonathan was going to talk about next was the importance of that database and how that marketing universe and the flow of information is so important with the way that you run your business and track things. Jonathan, I don’t know if you want to go into that. I can give you the screen back. I know you were going to show some of that marketing universe and how that data is important.

Jonathan: Yeah, you can give me the screen. I can show just a couple of things really from a standpoint of maybe a few things to think about. This leads in my mind to the topic of speed. It’s not exactly what you asked, but it really gets into this speed issue. If you think about where clients are, or potential clients are in the world today, everybody’s multitasking, everybody’s moving 100 miles an hour, everybody’s got a to-do list that’s way too busy, and everybody gets easily frustrated. I mean, you know from reading reviews on the web, most of the reviews a lot of times are negative because people are so busy.

When they are actually going to take the effort to do something, it’s usually when they’re not pleased with the outcome. My point of that is that our selling advantage, I believe, anymore is on speed. When I say “our”, I mean as our industry. The client wants fast. They want speed. If you don’t answer your phone when the phone rings, you’re at an immediate disadvantage. You’re probably not going to win the business. They’re not going to wait on you to return the voice mail. They’re going to call three other people. If when they call you, they have to wait two days for you to come do an estimate, the first guy that shows up with the estimate that they halfway trust, is winning the business.

Everything is becoming about speed. The way I see it and what the market’s demanding is to give your potential client the dream come true experiences. When they call you, they want the phone answered. They want somebody to be able to answer their questions who understands the industry and they want a price right there in the moment. They want their questions answered and they want to feel comfort in what you can do for them. Part of this is speed. You have to have some kind of a system to execute so that you can deliver speed and then you also have to have a team that’s trained for speed.

You have to have a team that understands that we answer the phone immediately. The team that understands that when we get the client on the phone, we don’t say, “Well, somebody will get back to you in 5 minutes. Somebody will get back to you in an hour.” The team is trained to get the sale on the phone. It’s a hard thing to do. It takes time to build the business to that point, and it takes time to get there, but the guys that get there are the guys that win. In terms of execution and speed, as an example of just maybe using a Service Autopilot example, understanding everything that’s on and it’s just a demo here, if I go in and I go, let’s just say I pick a customer out of the system here. Part of speed and part of execution is understanding what’s going on with the client.

That is about having a system, whatever your system is, that can give you everything you need to know in the moment, on the phone, so that you can close the deal. I’m really focused on selling since it’s March. This is all based around selling. For example, when the phone rings, you have to know all the details about that client, all your past communication, when you’re going to be out there next, all these little facts, then you have to be able to produce an estimate in the moment. I would do one little side note trick that we’ve learned that works in helping conversion is, we’ve come to conclude that if you can run in your advertisements that we will send you an estimate by email, which we do, but after we’ve spoken with you because we can convert the vast majority of people that we speak with.

Just a little tidbit in your advertisement that we will send you an estimate by email. People seem to really like that. They think that they’re going to give you some information. You’ll shoot them an email. They’ll never have to talk to you, which they love. That’s what they want. You have to be able to execute that fast. For example, inside Service Autopilot, we have a whole system where you can go in and if you’ve got a residential client on the phone, you can pick residential or load up every service in the system that might sell a residential client. You’ll take into account their square footage. It will price out their work and you can click send and blast them an estimate.

That is what people want. How can you create that scenario in your business? The phone rings. You get their address. You figure out what their square footage is. You put it into a system and it prices the work. You give them a quote over the phone. If they don’t close in the moment, you immediately follow up with an estimate. And, if they don’t close through the estimate, then you immediately follow up in two days with a phone call.

It’s really about the speed and immediate execution. If you want to massively up your closing percentage, you’ve got to be the guy that answers the phone and gives the quote today. You can’t be the company that’s going out to walk the property and do an estimate. You can’t be the company that’s going to walk out and evaluate all their needs and try to give them a price for 50 different services at one time. The goal is to sell them on one service today, make them your customer, you take them off the market, and then you can sell them all your other services tomorrow. But, when you’re selling them all of the other services tomorrow, they’re only evaluating you because now, you’re their vendor.

Tom, was that on point?

Tom: Yeah. It is all about speed. You can get away with a higher margin when you’re able to react quickly. One thing I always think about is, say your water heater breaks, and you need to call somebody to get your water heater fixed. One guy you call says, “Yeah, I can do it for this. I’ll be out in two days to take a look at it and it’s going to be pretty inexpensive.” Another guy says, “I can do it. I’m going to charge you an extra $250 to get out there today, and then I’m going to charge you what it’s going to cost to fix it beyond that. Nine times out of 10, the person is going to pay the $250, right?”

When you want something, you want it now. The way our society has changed is that people want things instantly. I’m going to take the screen back from you, Jonathan.

Jonathan: Okay, yeah.

Tom: Let me show you how BeeSafe has actually adapted to that. There are things popping up on my screen. Hopefully, everybody can see everything all right. Again, for example, I’m using our company to prove a point to you guys. I want customers to be able to do their own estimate. We were able to implement the system into our business here, where a homeowner actually enters their zip code, and it brings them to potential applicators in the area.

What I’ll do is actually click on Get a Realtime Quote, and when they enter their address here, it’s going to bring them directly to a satellite picture of their home.

Jonathan: Let me interrupt you one second to say one thing. A lot of clients have this to-do list. They come home at night and after dinner or after a TV show they want to go to a website and get an estimate. They want to give you information so you can call them tomorrow. The advantage of something like this, there’s a huge percentage of homeowners or people that are doing this at night when there is nobody there to answer the phone. Now, it’s self-serve. They can get their price, get it off their to-do list. They can do it in the evening, when you see so many people wanting to do it.

Tom: Yeah, huge, huge, it’s like having a salesperson on 24 hours a day. A lot of times, guys get a little bit nervous. Like in this particular case, the address I picked, there are trees there. You know what, the person who’s doing the measuring is actually the homeowner, so they know, right? They know they’ve got lawn beneath those trees. I’ll just go in really quick here. They measure their lawn, and go ahead and get a square footage. It’s going to bring them to an exact price quote for their particular property. Now, this is everything that we’ve built in using My Lawn Quote to make it work easier. It’s very simple to do.

They’re able to get a specific estimate for whatever services they are interested in. They then hit on Let’s Continue. It brings them to another screen that allows them to even go further. They can actually do prepay discounts. You can do everything. It gives them options.

They can say, “I’m interested.” They can prepay us at 2:00 in the morning. My point here is that I agree so much with you. The speed is huge. It makes the biggest difference, and what you said about getting somebody on just the program is huge. You don’t want to scare them with 100 services. You want to sell them your program, whether it’s mowing or fertilization. Then, you all sell them later. Speed will increase your closing rates astronomically. In this case, we took the whole estimate process out of it all together. We’ve got customers being able to perform their own estimates.

On the other hand, we can use the same program when a customer calls in. Basically what we do is we get their information. We put that into the system. We’ve got measurements of their lawn, and then we email them that estimate instantly. The goal is to not generate estimates. The goal is to generate sales. We are able to respond immediately to what that person wants with a price. I think that’s where the industry is going, but to be honest with you, very few companies are willing to adapt at that whole execution thing. They are a little bit worried about how it works. I think if you’re able to implement a system like this, you guys are going to see your closing rate and your business skyrocket in a big way.

Dick: Hey, this is Dick. Tom, let me jump in real quick because I want to ask Jonathan a question. Jonathan, with a system like this and a system like yours, where getting the email is so important, can you touch on lead nurturing a little bit? I’m sure that’s a big part of Service Autopilot.

Jonathan: Dick, can you give me examples of what you mean? I understand lead nurturing, but can you give me an example of how you’re referring to it? Are you talking in terms of the process of following up once I become a lead, or what?

Dick: Well, the importance of keeping that database healthy, and just because you don’t close a deal today doesn’t mean you’re not going to close a deal next month.

Jonathan: That’s so true. There are a couple of things in the database that are really important. One is when that lead flows in, where are they going to come from? Are they going to come from this website initially? Do you have an estimate capture form on your website? Do you have a contact? However that happens, that lead has to be captured. You’ve got to know at all times how many leads you have that are open. You’ve got to know when they became a lead, so that you know, when your clients become a lead versus when they became a client. You need to know those types of pieces of information.

Unless you’re capturing this information in the system, unless you’re actually logging the history, you’re keeping up with the estimate you actually gave. That’s why electronic estimates are so valuable. Even if you put them out, you’ve got a record. Handwritten doesn’t seem to work.

Then, you’ve got to have a process internally so somebody can follow up on the leads that haven’t closed after a day or two, and even all those leads that somewhat go cold this season. These leads are potentially valuable to us for a couple of years.

Part of nurturing the lead is following up by phone. That’s part of making an impression that we care. We follow up. We’re on top of our game. It’s about over time following up with direct mail or a letter. Following up because you have the email address from some automated email marketing…and not from a sales standpoint…but from a teaching, informative, and educational standpoint just so you stay on top of your clients’ minds.

I’m a huge believer in what they call auto responders, where you stay in front of your client once a month, or a couple of times a month via email, with something helpful and informative. The next time the competing lawn care company forgets to close the big gate for the second time and the dog gets out, you’re the first company that comes to mind.

The list, or the management of it, is critical.

Tom: Yeah, and I clicked on this example here. Whenever somebody does an estimate through that site the way I demonstrated it, it always gets tabulated and kept track of in this particular system with inbound and outbound notes. Dick, what you said is true. No doesn’t always mean no. No usually means no, not right now. Your best potential customer is always somebody who you’ve been in touch with previously. It’s absolutely important and vital that you maintain that list and you maintain all of the contact information as much as you possibly can so that you’re able to sell it later on.

Dick: Right, and circling back around to the beginning of the conversation, we were talking about how so much direct mail is wasted because you don’t know when you’re mailing to a street if there are two potential buyers on the street or four? When you have somebody that called you or responded to your original marketing, they’re a potential buyer. 90% of that list is probably a potential buyer. The most effective direct mail you can do is going back to the list of people that never bought from you that you still would like to win their business. That’s the first list you go back to in direct mail.

Tom: Yeah, absolutely. That was part of the plan, the previous customers, the previous rejects and cancels. You’ve got to go back to them. Dick, I’m sure you’re about to cut us out here because we’re about at an hour and I’ve got a lot of questions. I don’t know if you guys can see the questions as they pop up, but there’s a long list of them and I encourage you guys that if you have any questions you want to ask before we wrap up, please do. If you don’t mind, I’ll read a couple of them now and maybe, Jonathan and I can answer them.

When we were talking about lists, lots of companies and guys and girls were asking about where do to get this list. There are a lot of list companies out there. Jonathan, I don’t know if you’ve worked with one specifically or if Service Autopilot has a relationship with somebody. But there are plenty out there.

Jonathan: Yeah, we don’t have a specific relationship. I tend to like a company called Zap Data for simple lists. They can get you a simple list. The future of Service Autopilot is to have a relationship. What I do like and what I do recommend is, there are all kinds of different printers, and if you get a printer that knows marketing, they will have relationships with list brokers. You can work with them closely and if that printer’s in your local market, they’ll have a little understanding of the market when talking to brokers.

I like to use some local relationships for that stuff.

Tom: Sales Genie, which is a great B2B store for leads. They also have a consumer database. Mostly, everything spins off a company called Info USA, and they seem to be on the top of the food chain. Another great list or way to drill it down is to get new homeowners and that was another thing on that source plan. A Google search will get you a long way, but we usually recommend Sales Genie to start with, then Info USA.

Jonathan: The first company that has to know about new homeowners is the water utility company. Some of the utility companies provide those lists for a fee or for free. For example, my market is provided every Monday morning and you don’t even have to pay for it.

Tom: Man, that’s us and I didn’t even know that.

Jonathan: You just look around. It’s not true everywhere. There’s a lot of websites out there that will be the county and then CAD.org. Across the US, you’ll find a lot of these, and there are ways through some of those sites you can get lists of new people. It’s all different all throughout the United States, but if you’re a little creative and look around in your market and do a little research, you can find some good lists. Sometimes, they’ll have the name, whereas with a lot of the cheap Info USA lists, it’s not the same quality list but an inexpensive list.
You may not actually always get the name or you may have to pay more to get it. Some of the local markets, you can get some of that for free if you go look at the utility companies, and if you have a company in your market that is in the business of welcoming new homeowners to the market, they’re a great place to start and ask questions because they have to buy that kind of data and then point you in the right place.

Tom: Yeah, and let me add there, never send something to somebody that says current resident or homeowner. You always want to have their name on it. It’s what’s called the mail moment, when somebody gets their mail, and then stands next to the trash and throws stuff in there. Anytime, and I’m speaking from my own experience, when something comes to me addressed to resident or homeowner, that thing’s going to the trash right away. It’s a metric, you get the homeowner’s name for sure.

A couple other questions here in regards to that auto estimating program…

Yes, you can put a disclaimer in there with regard to mis-measured lawns. I want to throw something out there in regard to that. I would rather give out a little bit of measurement for volume any day. I’d rather have 1,000 estimates that might be off a little bit than 100 that are perfect, but using the program that we built into the system, before anybody can purchase, before anybody can commit or pay us something, there’s a disclaimer that basically says we reserve the right to make any adjustments that we need to. What a lot of companies have done is made it humorous, saying, “Don’t try to misrepresent your lawn. We won’t accept every single quote. If you’re trying to get away with something, you can’t.”

Dick: Tom, while you’re looking through the questions, let me just jump in. We’re going to be doing this webinar every month. We’re going to have a different topic. In April, we’re going to be doing lawn on branding and upselling, so be on the lookout in your email for that link, and we would like to see you back on here. Jonathan and Tom are a wealth of knowledge, have years in the industry and are at the top of their games, so branding and upselling should be a good one.

Tom: Yeah, and you know what, we’re over on our time so I’m not going to go through any more of these questions. I will at least offer that if anybody has anything that they want to throw at me, they’re more than welcome to contact me via email or telephone, tkelly@naturaltech is my email. You can find the phone number just by looking at BeeSafe. I’m happy to speak to anybody about anything, anytime and would be glad to help you out. Jonathan, I don’t know if you want to speak to that.

Jonathan: I’m happy to answer questions. Actually, I have this site called Lawn Care Millionaire, where over the years, I’ve probably answered 1,500 questions via email and I’ve answered hundreds of questions via video. My email address is there. I check that email every couple of days. That email address is jonathan@lawncaremillionaire.com. The site is setup with a whole lot of questions that have been answered if you find it interesting. If you shoot me an email there, I’m happy to answer the question.

Dick: All right, everyone. We appreciate you jumping on today. Tom and Jonathan, I appreciate you guys jumping on. It was a great call, a lot of good information out there, and that’s it. Have a good day, guys.

Tom: Thanks guys, I appreciate it.