How To Hire Office Employees

Are you ready to hire office employees?

Hiring your first office person is critical to growing your landscape maintenance company and making more money.

Watch the video above to learn tips and tricks to hire your first office employee.

 

Mike is looking for hiring advice on how to find and hire his first office person at his lawn care company. He says, “Hey Jonathan. This year has been going really good and really smooth, and thanks to your software, we might even see some growth.”

This is an incredibly important topic, and almost everybody I meet is waiting far too long to do this.

By the way, Mike is probably one of our first 50 clients at Service Autopilot. He’s been with us for years, and has given us some really awesome advice and direction for the system. Mike is somebody that we’ve worked with for a long period of time. He’s been through everything with us on the system, since he goes back to day one.

Mike says, “I believe I’m at a point next year that I need to hire an office person, thanks to SA. How do you believe is best to take on an office person with fair compensation? If they are working from a virtual office, how do you keep tabs on them? What would your plan be for hiring that first office person?”

Again, great question.

I have dealt with Mike quite a bit over time. And, just from knowing Mike, I know what he’s capable of, which is probably true for so many of us…he shouldn’t be doing these types of activities. That’s my perspective. He should be spending his time on more important things.

I have hosted several round tables where I speak to owners of small businesses. We spend several days working on their businesses, and if they do not already have an office person, I usually advice them to hire one as soon as they return home. The guys that do it, universally come back and say, “Thank you, I did it. Thank you, thank you, thank you. It’s changed everything.”

Our very first office hire, when I started my lawn care company, was a stay at home mom that also home schooled her boys. She still works for us and does a totally fantastic job. If you get the right person, you don’t have to worry about managing them. Many of these people are experienced and skilled and are simply unable to join the traditional work force. But, they can be an asset to your landscape company, and in exchange for the freedom of working from home, are usually willing to work for a little less.

That being said, my favored approach is to have people work from the office. Because we are so big on customer service, I like to have everyone here so that we can all work together. I like the culture and the environment of having everyone together.

I have been really fortunate in this area. You need to hire quality people. You need a person that just has something innate inside of them. You need someone that can empathize and wants to deliver quality. This of course is harder than it sounds. If someone doesn’t work out, you have to let them go quickly. You might just have to do a little trial and error.

To do that, you might start out looking at Craigslist. I just put an ad up on Craigslist for just $25. If you have nothing to lose, there’s a lot of people looking. I would also use word of mouth. The home schooling thing is huge and there are a lot of people out there that home school. I tend to think that you’ll get a different kind of person. A person that is willing to stay home to home school their kids, is a different type of person by nature.

You might even put the word out at local churches to see if anyone in their congregation is looking for work. I have not done that, but that may be an effective way to find employees.

Next, you really need to consider your personality in all of this. Can you handle not seeing somebody at the office?

Can you handle not knowing exactly what they’re doing. If that’s going to eat you up and bother you, and you’re going to have to micromanage them, it’s not going to work out. You might as well setup an office environment. You have to really think about who you are. This doesn’t work for everybody.

If your first hire feels a little risky, you might consider a part time position, and then see where that goes.

When I got my very first office, it was only a 10X30 office that I rented for $400/$450 a month. It was just something I found to work out of since it was too hard for me to work at home with my kids when they were little.

That was how I started. Then, as we grew, we got a bigger office. There are some inexpensive ways that you could go about getting started with this, even if you want to bring somebody into your office and have them from day one work from your office. But, really think about part time if this is a big concern for you.

One of the activities that most often necessitates having somebody on your team as soon as possible is that the phone is not getting answered when it rings. The calls are rolling to voicemail.

If you hire someone that works from home to work the phones, I have found that having them track their time does not work. It is a nightmare to have them track their time on calls. What we did is provide platonic headsets for about $390 and agreed to pay them for 30-40 hours per week. This, of course, comes after they have worked with you and have earned a little trust with you.

Also, sit down and make a list of all of the things you need them to do. Are they going to answer phones, prep mailers and door hangers, write hand written thank you notes to new clients? What are the to dos that they can take care of? Prioritize them and that then becomes their job description. On this very first person you’re hiring, when they join your team, you’re able to say here’s the expectation. I’m hiring you to do this.

If you catch any hesitation when you give them their expectations, don’t hire them. Keep looking.

Make this list for you. It’ll give you confidence. It will assure you that you have plenty for them to do. It will also lay out for them what you expect and will give you a means to measure whether or not they are performing at the agreed upon expectations.

You can work through that list to get them back on course. They know what you expect. That’s what people want.

At Service Autopilot, we do something called agile development. It’s how we manage projects and such. Within agile development, there’s a concept called scrum.

Daily scrum is basically where you meet with each person on your team for a very short period of time daily. There are three basic questions that make up a scrum. This will apply to managing your first employee, especially if they are going to work from home.

The three questions are: 1. What did I get done today? 2. What do I need help with? 3. What do I plan to do tomorrow? They can send you the answers to these three questions every day.

That’s a way that you could have some level of accountability with this individual. It will give you a  means to measure their progress and will give your a feeling for what’s going on. You will get to build a level of trust.

You have to be sure and prioritize their daily tasks. It is extremely difficult for a person to have to switch their focus from project mode to answering phone calls. If you need a marketing letter proofread immediately, for example, give them a time frame that they are allowed to miss phone calls to complete this task.

I wanted to point that out because I see this as a real challenge. It’s easy for us to say that their number one priority is to answer the phones but, by the way, I need these other five things done today.

It’s very difficult to give this individual projects that require a lot of brain power and thought to complete while answering phones. If you’re going to do that, you have to have some flexibility and have a random project list for them to work on as they can get to it.

You can also give them a certain time of day that may not get a lot of calls to put their phone on hold to allow them to work on projects.

There are, however, a lot of menial, brainless tasks that can be completed while working the phones. They can be stuffing, stamping, and hand writing addresses on envelopes.

Think through all of this stuff. It is an important thing that I have learned.

Service Autopilot, or other business management systems work, can be delegated to other people. The owner should not be doing that unless it is the scheduling. It is the life blood of your business and you have to be super careful with that. Only well trained employees should take that scheduling.

I think that the way you start with this is, you have them take phone calls and charge credit cards. Have them update phone numbers and do things like that. Then, they can create tickets or to-dos for you so that you can edit the schedule as needed.

Unique maybe to Service Autopilot, Mike, is that they could log waiting list items. If the client needs to get bush trimming done in two weeks, they can just put that into the waiting list. Anything that’s not a waiting list item that needs to be scheduled on a specific day, they can create a to-do or ticket for that. You can then handle those.

The key here, again this is not just Service Autopilot, to any business system, is that when you sweep through and do those things, have them sit with you. They can start to learn how to do that in the system. This will get them well trained so that they can start doing that themselves.

This is an activity that you should absolutely hand to your team but make sure you’ve spent the time to really train them. Invest a bit in this area to make sure they’re really up to speed on that.

I’d highly recommend tracking all of your phone calls. I think that’s a big deal and is ridiculously valuable. We track every single phone call, every single to-do in our company. It’s a big deal.

I think your new employees can also do basic accounting for you. They should be able to receive check payments and log them, charge credit cards, give clients their account balance, send invoices by email, and print out statements and mail them.

Those are just a few of the activities that your new hire can do. I would think about those ideas and pointers. And Mike, if you need more, just shoot me back a message and I’ll record another video. Thanks.

1 Man vs 2 Man Mowing Crews – Which is Better?

Watch this video and learn how to decide if you should run 1 man, 2 man, or 3 man lawn mowing crews.

This question is from Joshua.

“I’m getting to the point where I need to expand. I have about 45 residential lawns and five commercial accounts. I am wondering if I should invest in better equipment like 32 inch Scags and just run one man crews. With my current density, I can get about 10 to 12 lawns done a day by myself or 15 with a helper using 21 inch mowers.

Please help me understand the pros and cons of this. I always see single man crews with fertilization but never in lawn maintenance. I know a guy in my city who does 75 by himself because he has the right equipment and density. It seems like the money I save in labor would well cover the equipment cost. No accountability and morale would be an x-factor, but it seems like one man crews are more efficient and a better way to go. Your thoughts?”

My thought is no. You should not do one man crews. I’m certain of that. I do not think one man crews are the way to go. I think you should consider two man crews. I actually run three man crews at our company for residential, but I totally see why two man crews are better.

Here are some things to consider. You could build out a new crew with one man, but I don’t think the angle is to run one man crews. The reason for that is, if you just look at human behavior and how we operate, there’s a level of accountability that’s created with a team.

This is even for us as owners. If you happen to have a business partner, your business partner brings a level of accountability to what you get done, what you do, at least if you have any desire to be a performer and hold up your side of the deal within that business. You’re going to work a little bit harder and you’re going to do a little bit more because you’ve got a business partner.

If you have one person working by himself, short of being measured into job costing and GPS data, really they don’t have anybody to hold them accountable. The guy could make an excuse for being late, for example, the customer came out to talk to him. They don’t use that excuse if you have two people on the job.

Also, I think there’s some value in simply having somebody to work with. Working in isolation is not that exciting. Now, if you put two guys together that hate each other, that’s worse. But, if you put two guys together that work well together and sort of thrive off each other, they can motivate each other when they are tired.

When you think about stuff like that, teams are better. I really believe in the team concept in general. I think teams need to be small. I believe in teams outside of just talking about lawn mowing, lawn care, or landscape crews. I just don’t think a one person crew holds up over time. You may see a spike in the beginning and some benefit in the beginning but they don’t hold up.

I also believe that you can get very close to the same level of efficiency with a two man crew. For example, if one guy can do 10 properties, two guys should be able to do about 20. That’s my belief.

The third guy is where I think you start to see less efficiency and less production value. I think two tends to be the magic number, depending on what you’re doing. If you run a scenario where you actually mow and trim bushes and pull weeds and do a number of different things all at the same property, then I think you can get more efficiency out of three guys.

I also think if trained and managed properly, you can get efficiency out of three guys because you can have that third guy do extra things. If you have super tight density, the third guy can move on to the next lawn and just roll his mower, or take his weed eater or whatever down to the next property versus sitting in the truck.

Your business will evolve. What might work today, won’t work in five years or might not still be the best and most efficient approach. Think about these things.

It doesn’t matter if you have one guy or four guys on the property. At the end of the day, equipment matters. You could have one guy and give him the wrong equipment, he’s not going to be productive.

Equipment, doesn’t in my mind, play a factor here. Whether you have one guy or fifty guys, you still have to give them the most efficient equipment. Equipment is a non-factor in this conversation, in my mind.

Also, a lot of times you might look around at most marketplaces, there’s a tremendous number of guys out there that are the owners doing the work. The owner may get 75 jobs done a day, but he has different motivation than a guy that’s getting paid by the hour, maybe even by the job.

The owner has to do this if he wants to feed his five month old baby and his wife and keep up with the rent. He also in most cases can’t just walk away from this thing tomorrow and get another job down the street. That wouldn’t be in the best interest of him and his family.

Whereas, a guy that you’re paying x number of dollars an hour, or by the yard or whatever, he’s got all these options in many cases. He doesn’t have the pressure that the guy that owns the business has. For example, if he slacks off tomorrow, he could probably go get another job in this industry. There’s a great need for people.

I’m simply saying that the business owner is completely invested in his business. You probably won’t find another guy to hire to do those same 75 yards. If you do, he may not be able to maintain that number after 3 years and he is tired and burned out. Will that hold up over time is my question. I don’t think you want to build your business assuming that an employee can accomplish as much as an owner, where all the weight is on that guy’s shoulders.

The other thing that I think you need to think about is as the business scales, asset utilization becomes a challenge. If you’re going to run one man crews, you have to agree with me first and foremost that you could actually make a two man crew almost as efficient as a one man crew.

If you can buy into that, then asset utilization is an absolute consideration. For every additional crew that you start, you have to buy another truck, another truck, and more insurance. With that, you have greater risk. Meaning, for every additional truck you put on the road, there’s a higher probability that somebody’s going to have an accident or something will go wrong that may harm the business.

You start to think about things like that. How can you reduce the number of trucks on the road? How can you reduce the number of trucks you have to buy? How can you reduce the number of pieces of equipment you have to buy? And on, and on, and on.

Then, you start to realize that a two man or three man crew starts to make a little bit of sense. In my company, I think we’re at 40 trucks or something like that. I don’t know the exact number. Let’s say I had to go to all one man crews. Does that mean I need 120 trucks and 120 pieces of equipment?

Well that would be crazy and I’m not going to do that. I need some asset utilization because there’s a lot of hidden cost that comes with each additional truck and each set of equipment that I put on the road. I need to utilize my assets as efficiently as possible.

Also, I believe that one of the absolute biggest hindrances in growing any business is money. It’s cash flow. If you are ready to add another crew but you don’t have the money to buy a truck, the equipment, or all the other things that come with that, then it’s going to slow down the growth of your business. Asset utilization becomes critical as the business starts to scale.

Also I’m going to leave you with this one. If you build your business around one man crews, then you have the real risk of when one of your guys quits. You have a little less risk when you have two or three guys on a crew because if one guy doesn’t show, the other two can carry the slack. Maybe they finish at 6:00 normally, but now they finish at 9:00. But, at least the work got done. Or, maybe they don’t complete the jobs that night, but you take a couple properties from that crew and you spread them out among other crews. The work can still get done.

From the standpoint of service autopilot, the software company that I have, one of the things that I notice is that we have a set of customers that seem to have a level of peace in their life and in their business. Then we have a set of customers that the world is burning down around them every single day.

Everything is a disaster and the world is going to end at any given moment. That’s the basic take I have on how a group of our clients live their life. I understand it and I get it. The difference is, in most cases, how they manage their business. If you organize your business in such a way that you look at all the potential bottlenecks, you look at all the potential failure points and you say, how do I mitigate this risk, how do I eliminate this risk, that brings a level of calmness to your company and it brings a level of calmness to your life.

The reason I just said that to you is, imagine that you create your business around a lot of one man crews. Things happen all the time. When guys don’t show up, it screws with everything. Now you’re really screwing with your business. If you don’t have a guy show up, you’re scrambling and everything is a mess.

You have to reroute everything. You jeopardize customer service. And now, you’re screwing with your other employees because you’re having them take on the extra jobs. You’re having everybody scramble to help you get out of this bind which then makes your employees’ lives miserable as well. Everything they do for you becomes a burden because they are constantly helping you put out one more fire in your business because you’re not on top of your game.

Contrast that to a guy that has multiple crews with multiple people with backup people in place. If a guy doesn’t show, that’s ok because you have a backup plan. You already know what you’re going to do.

I guess that’s maybe one of the best arguments for not having a one man crew. What I see are, most successful clients have their stuff together. They have thought ahead and solved the potential problems. They’ve created backup plans.

When things go bad, and they go bad every single day, they can make quick changes and the world doesn’t fall apart on them. They don’t become stressed out. I think if you went with the one man crew, you’d create that. I think you’d constantly be in the state of scramble.

For that reason alone, don’t go with the one man crew. Go with two, and eventually you can reconsider everything and look at three. The way to do that to run a test. You measure it, you track times, you see how you perform, how much money you make per day per man when you’re doing a two man crew. Then, throw in a third man and see how they do.

Don’t just assume that they’re going to do everything right. Get out there and see what they are doing. Teach them how to be efficient. Take a look at density. If you sold a couple more yards, would that solve the efficiency problem the three man crew was facing?

You go through this set of questions and try to figure out why you can’t make three man as efficient as two, and you see if you can solve it.

If eventually you’ve asked yourself a series of 15 questions and nothing you’ve tried fixed the problem of efficiency, then you know.

Everything is a test. Everything is a trial. As your business evolves, you have to retest everything and that’s a lot of work. It’s hard but that’s how you create a highly profitable business. Two men, don’t go with one. Eventually test three and see if it works for your company. Periodically reevaluate as your company completely changes as you grown over time. Good luck.

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.

 

Lawn Care Business Forms You Must Complete for the IRS

Below is a list of IRS forms you need to complete for each new employee or contractor you hire.

I suggest you do not let your new employees work until all of these forms have been completed.

For contractors, do not pay them more than $600 before their forms have been completed.  I suggest you hold their contractor check until you have the paper work in hand.

For all employees and contractors I also recommend you get a photocopy of their social security card and drivers license if possible.

A well organized file cabinet and folder system to keep up with this information will save you a lot of time later.  At our company we both file the paper forms and scan and attach an electronic version of the forms to our employee and contractor records within Service Autopilot.


Employee Forms
:

Form I-9 (I also recommend photocopying the employees social security card)

Form W-4

 

Contractor Forms:

Form W-9 – keep on file a minimum of 4 years

Form 1099-MISC – you must file before January 31st each year for every contractor paid over $600

Request EIN – if your contractor needs an EIN number

 

Other Forms:

Links to Your State – to locate additional forms or research tax questions

Spanish Version of I-9 – DO NOT submit this version to the IRS.  Use it only as a reference when helping Spanish speaking workers complete the English version.  This is only accepted in Puerto Rico.

Spanish Version of W-4

Spanish Version of W-9


Notes
:

New Employees fill out the I-9 and W-4 and receive a W-2 at the end of the year.

New Contractors fill out the W-9 and receive a 1099 at the end of the year.  Contractors do not have to complete the I-9.

In addition to the IRS forms we have each employee sign a short employee agreement and each contractor sign a contractor agreement.

We also have a short information sheet we complete for each employee (this information is also keyed into Service Autopilot).  It asks for emergency contact information, drivers license expiration date, keeps up with uniforms assigned, pay rate, birth date, marital status, etc.

All of our hiring packets are pre-assembled.  This makes it easy to ensure all the forms are completed on time.  For example, if you hire 20 new employees / contrators each year prepare 25 packets every January.  Then, when you hire someone you simply grab one of the packets.

This simple process every January will ensure you are in compliance with the IRS at all times.

 

Question: Do you have any information you keep up with that I didn’t mention?  — please click on the post and comment at the bottom

Best Lawn Care Truck Stand to Mount Laptops and iPads

 

I think the best stand to hold your laptop or iPad in your lawn care / landscape truck is a Ram Mount stand.

I’ve been asked many times if we use iPads, mobile phones or laptops in our trucks.

The device we use depends on what the crew / tech / manager does in the field.  Many of our trucks are fitted with (and will be for a while to come) inexpensive refurbished Dell laptops.

They are inexpensive and give us a lot of power.  Most important they have a full keyboard that is fast to type on.

It is much easier and faster to type notes, call details, estimates, etc. from a full keyboard than it is from a small iPad keyboard.

We use a Ram Mount laptop stand.  You can visit their site at www.ram-mount.com.

Over the years, we have tried inexpensive stands but they have not been worth it.  Ram Mount stands are the best.  The laptop stays still while driving and does not bounce while typing.  They are very much like the stands used in police cars.

If you want to mount your iPad in the truck they have a stand for it as well…
http://www.ram-mount.com/NewProducts/AppleiPadMounts/tabid/2614/Default.aspx

Is the H2B Visa Program Intentionally Being Destroyed?

I am a fan of the H2B Visa program.  For any company that needs a lot of workers and truly intends to use a 100% legal work force it is absolutely necessary.  However, based on both past and new legislation, regarding the program, I believe it is intentionally being destroyed.

If you participate in the program and are unaware… as of October 1st 2011 you must adjust the wages you pay H2B Visa workers.  You cannot wait until next year.

If your lawn care & landscape business utilizes the H2B Visa program I strongly encourage you to contact your H2B Visa lawyer to make certain you are on top of these changes and will be in compliance come October.

Also, you should seriously consider writing, calling and emailing your local Congressmen and the US Department of Labor.  We have done so.  I hope you will as well.

I suggest that you let them know that the current legislation will potentially render the H2B Visa program useless.  The program has reached the point of becoming too costly and too complicated.

Your Congressman must understand that the most recent changes to the program will increase your wages beyond what is reasonable.   This program, I believe, now forces employers to pay foreign workers more than U.S. workers.

How can that be right?  Hence, my belief the program is intentionally being slowly dismantled through legislation.

Let your Congressman know that you do not participate in the H2B Visa program because it is easy or saves you money – you participate because it is necessary in order for you to find the essential legal temporary workers you must have to operate your business.

In my opinion, available skilled labor continues to be one of the absolute biggest issues within the industry.  These legislative changes only worsen the problem.

Additional Resource: http://www.foreignlaborcert.doleta.gov/pdf/H2B_PWDNPRM-6-28-2011.pdf