How Can I Get My Techs And Crews To Improve Their Quality Level

If you are wanting your crews to improve their quality out in the field, watch this video.

The question is, how can I get my techs and my crews to up their quality level?

I’ve heard different versions of this question many times. At the end of the day it all comes down to training. But, it’s also about communication. What I believe you want to be doing, is going over with your crews and your techs every single morning, any new notes that you’ve put on their route sheets or their mobiles.

I personally like the concept of standing out at the gate, at the yard, or however you operate, and as your crews leave your facility, I would assume if you’re a bigger company they’re staggered, you’re going over very quickly with any changes to the schedule. Anything that’s changed. Anything you need to tell them about, or your manager, or somebody’s doing this, and then they’re pointing out notes. Notes such as, “This client was unhappy about this last time.” “This client asked if you could please do this.” This client said, “While you’re there, could you please check on this?” You can do this very quick.

If you’ve done it right in your software system or from your software system on your printed route sheets or work orders, you can have this highlighted or notated, and you just run through it very quickly. This is a communication thing. You’ve got to literally talk to each of your techs, your teams, your crews about this. Just make sure it’s crystal clear. It only take a few extra minutes, but it results in a higher level of quality, what would be a better level of customer service, fewer redo’s, fewer call backs. It just saves money and it builds your reputation so that all of your marketing works so much better.

Then on top of that, I would highly recommend pictures. If there’s a problem, if there’s a complaint, or if there’s an accident, something safety related, there’s pictures taken of everything. Then those pictures are talked about. Depending on the software system you’re using, you can have that picture attached to a job so it shows up on the mobile. If you’re using mobiles or if they’re using paper, you could print out those pictures. Who cares if it costs you a little bit of extra money to print in color, because it’s worth so much more to you in terms of being great. Terms of doing a really good job with high quality and excellent customer service because again, that makes all of your marketing work so much better. It earns you so many referrals. A little bit of money spent on paper and ink to produce a much higher level of service, has so many major benefits in term of revenue and profits down stream. Print that stuff out stand out there and talk to them about it.

Meet them in the field. Show up at the job unexpected and point things out. Show up unexpected and walk the property with the team. Show up unexpected and show them how to do a better job performing whatever the service is. Show up unexpected with a tech and say, “Hey, last week when you diagnosed whatever brown spot and it wasn’t, it was actually grubs, here’s what you look for,” and you go through that stuff with the team.

It requires lots of training. Lots of in person communication. Lots of in field communication. Lots of showing up at the job site and getting your hands dirty and showing the team, “Here’s how we do it,” and setting that example. Then showing them best practices. Watching what they’re doing, analyzing and saying, “Hey, have you tried this? Hey, have you considered this? Maybe you can do it this way and you’ll save yourself some time and you’ll get home earlier. Maybe if you do it this way, the three times you had to go back to other jobs last week, could have been eliminated because you could have got it right the first time.”

You’re thinking through the actions that are happening with the team and you’re think of ways to take steps out of the process or add steps to the process to either improve and make them even better or to subtract, meaning take away things that are negative that they’re doing that again will make your quality, your customer service, and everything else so much better.

In the end, make your team a lot happier because they’re getting home faster, they’re not pissed that you just had them go back to a property again. All of these things go together, work together to build a really great company and to get your teams, your techs and your crews to do what it is that you want them to do.

Custom Truck Beds Cut Non-Billable Hours

Learn how custom truck beds cut non-billable hours making you a more profitable lawn care company.

If you’re not using custom trucks and custom truck beds, it’s worth considering it, especially over the winter season. Optimizing your fleet to give your team in the field the opportunity to be as efficient as possible is smart business.

Labor is your number one expense. The more you can drive that down, the more money you make. It’s way cheaper to invest in better equipment, better trucks, better truck beds, than it is to invest in more and more people.

Here are several pictures from GIE of custom truck beds. I think you want to get trailers out of your business as much as you can. Like I said, you want to drive that non-billable time out of your business. The way you do it is by giving your guys a perfect set-up to work with by minimizing load and unload time and by making sure they can find all their tools.

This last picture here is from Tony Bass’s company where they sell custom trucks. I don’t know what they cost and I’m not endorsing them. I’ve never actually even met Tony but I’ve heard great things about him. He is completely on to something with the custom truck beds in all different forms. They could be open truck beds. They can be on the back of Ford Rangers. They could be on the back of F-150s. I have several different types of them.

Custom truck beds work. You should look at it in your business, whether you work with somebody like him or you figure out how to do it yourself. There’s a lot of wisdom in this approach. There’s efficiency in getting trailers out of your business as much as you can.

Why I Don’t 100% Agree With The EMyth for Landscapers

What makes a lawn care business successful? Learn why I don’t 100% agree with the EMyth for landscapers.

A very long time ago I read the book, EMyth, by Michael Gerber. It’s a really good book. It was a very influential book. It absolutely had an effect on how I think. But, thereare a number of reasons why I don’t completely agree with the EMyth for landscapers. At first glance, if you read the book, you will think that you need to create a process and a procedure and a script for every single thing in your business.

While a lot of that resonates with me, and it makes a lot of sense, and I do think you need a lot of that in your business, what I feel that possibly isn’t communicated is that in the world we live in today, where we are running McDonald’s type businesses,  and what the next 10 years looks like, I believe that if you’re going to be a dominant company, your team will not be reading from scripts. They will not be following step-by-step procedures in most every activity. It’s not realistic.

Rather, the ideal is that you train your team how to think. You train your team how to talk. You invest significantly in the training process. This isn’t a new idea. This isn’t my own idea. This is what a lot of very savvy companies do. Take somebody like Zappos. It’s a very good company. Their individuals working the phones and selling new shoes are not reading from scripts. They are very well trained. Individuals that can figure out how to solve problems and are empowered to solve their own problems on behalf of the client.

Take Hilton. Hilton is not necessarily my favorite hotel chain, but take a Hilton-type hotel and better, Four Seasons. The individuals in that company have been very well trained. They know how to deal with problems. They know what the most common problems are that could present themselves. They know the most common scenarios that they might bump into in dealing with their clientele, and they’ve been trained on how to deal with those problems. Then they’ve also been trained on how to critically think and how to be aware of a situation. That’s what’s needed in our business. The idea of reading EMyth and creating a step-by-step checklist procedure has absolute value in the business and is needed in the business, but that’s not enough.

I think for many of us we think if we create a new procedure or add something to our employee handbook, problem solved. Taken care of. No. It’s not solved. Adding something to the employee handbook solves nothing. Nobody wants to read that stupid thing anyway. What they really need is communication. That’s what the team needs. They need training, they need instruction, and that’s very difficult.

It’s easier for us to tell ourselves, “I’ll just create a procedure around this. I’ll just modify the guidelines or the handbook, problem solved.” What I’m saying is that’s our easy out as business owners, and as managers. What we really need to be doing is reassessing how we are training, how are we communicating with our team so that our team can solve these problems themselves. The procedure, the process and the task list is an aid that supports a very-trained person that knows how to think critically, to solve problems, and to look out for the company and do what’s best for the company.

That’s my argument against the black and white implementation of the EMyth for landscapers. I hope that helps you really think about how you can train and make your company great through training.

Do You Need A COO Or CEO For Your Company?

This video explains whether a COO or CEO is a better option for your company.

I talk a lot about building a real company that can run itself and that doesn’t require your daily involvement. I really do believe that’s the ultimate goal of business. You want to build this asset that can generate wealth for you and it becomes an investment in the sense that you don’t have to actively participate in it every day to make this thing run and operate.

The goal for many is to get a president or a CEO or someone to run this company. But, here is an alternative thought. What you really need is a COO. You could be CEO or president, they’re almost interchangeable terms in most cases. You could be the CEO and still create a pretty exciting, amazing lifestyle and still generate a lot of wealth and not completely relinquish all of your duties within the company.

The number one position that you need in your company so that you have some time and freedom to get away is a COO. It’s a Chief Operating Officer. This is the individual that essentially runs operations.

Now, when you’re smaller, your operations manager generally isn’t the same person that can grow into becoming your COO. COO is typically a term you’d use for a bigger organization. So, your operations manager when you’re doing $500,000 or $1 million probably isn’t going to be the COO of the company when you’re doing $10 million, unless that individual is really learning and studying and growing as an individual. A lot of times you’re going to have to replace that individual and bring in someone that has some experience in that area.

The COO is going to run operations. They’re going to do a lot of hiring. They’re going to do a lot of firing. They’re going to make sure the processes and procedures are in place. They make the engine of the company run, whereas the CEO, which might be you, is more the strategy, the strategic thinking, the big ideas, the moving the company forward, leading, and recruiting. A lot of those roles, they can take 60, 70, 80 hours a week, but most of the time they don’t really. What I mean by that is if you have a great COO, operations manager, you as CEO could really get away from your company for three weeks. You could get away from your company for four weeks and the company will still keep turning and running.

I created the video because it’s very easy to think you’ve got to hire a president or CEO to run your company. You believe that until you get to that point, you won’t have built a real company and that’s not necessarily the case. What I’m suggesting is that what you really want to focus on is operations and then hiring a COO-type person to run the operations of the company. You don’t have to completely walk away from this thing to be a great company that can sort of run itself to be a real company. Rather, you could put yourself in a position where all you do is the core CEO-type activities of strategy and some money and key hires and things of that sort.

When that’s all you have to do within your business, now you have a lot of time to do other things. You have a lot of time to go on trips, a lot of time to be involved in your family’s life, or to start another business or to do something else. Now you’re not consumed by the daily grind of everything that goes into building and running a company. Think in terms of COO versus CEO.

How To Help Your Team Learn Trees Flowers And Weeds

Don’t be embarrassed! Use this quick tip to learn trees flowers and weeds!

There’s nothing worse than being on a property with a client and they ask you a question about a disease, or a weed, or a tree issue, or the type of grass they have, and you don’t know how to answer the question. Just as bad, you send someone on your team out to diagnose a problem or work with a client and they can’t answer the question. It just makes your company look foolish and maybe not as professional as your competitors.

One of the easiest ways to solve this, and this is the exact problem I bumped into when I first got started in the industry, actually for the second time because I was out of the industry for quite some time. I got back in just before 2005, and prior I had just been a high school kid mowing lawns. I didn’t know my bushes, my trees, my grass. I didn’t know any of that stuff 10 years ago. What I did is, I learned my top 10 bushes, top 10 trees, top 10 … I don’t think it was really my top 10 flowers, it might have been. I definitely learned my top 10 weeds. I learned my top 10 of a whole bunch of stuff. I basically just memorized them.

I decided to do this after having a whole bunch of bad experiences where a client would point at a bush and say, “Hey, what’s that bush?” Pretty much everybody on the street had that same bush and I couldn’t tell them what it was. I’d play it off like, “Oh, it just slipped my mind. It’s on the tip of my tongue, I can’t remember.” Well, that’s really embarrassing, so my recommendation is to apply the 80-20 rule to this.
There’s only so many different types of bushes. In fact, in my market, I really only need to learn 3 types of grass or turf. I only need to learn so many trees. There are probably 5 predominant types of trees. You’re going to have the same thing in your market. Probably the bushes and the flowers are going to be the ones you have to learn the most of, and weeds. I would say weeds as well. Again, the 80-20 rule applies here.

If you create within your business, sort of a … You know, just print out a picture of each of these things from the web, write the name on it, and create sort of like a flip card. You memorize them, your team memorizes them, you bring somebody onto the team that’s new that’s going to be out in the field, make sure they know these things. If they don’t know them, have them go through these pictures with the names on them and memorize them.

It’s real simple and this could be solved in a day. You don’t put yourself in an embarrassing spot and your team doesn’t make your company look bad. Then, take that idea and apply it to other aspects of the company. What is it that you can apply this 80-20 concept to? It’s powerful and it’s a fast way to bring people up to speed.

This Is The Most Important Business Lesson I’ve Learned

This important business lesson helped Jonathan prioritize and focus on successfully growing his businesses.

In 2007, I learned a really, really important business lesson, that I’m so thankful that I took to heart and applied. It took me a long time to apply it, and I’m hoping that it will help you as well. The point is that you need to build a really big wall around you, and let me explain. If you want to be very successful, if you want to build a great company, take fantastic care of your clients, take fantastic care of your team, you have to protect yourself from the noise, and the distraction, so that you can focus you, and your team, on what’s most important.

What I’m about to say does not in any way remove you from being completely responsible for all the negative stuff that’s happening in your business, or any poor customer service. It doesn’t remove you from any of the problems in your company. What it does is it frees you up to solve those problems. The key is, the thing that I learned, and I learned it from Dan Kennedy, is that you have to build a giant wall around you, and keep everything out.

Let me give you an example of what this looks like. If you were to call me at Service Autopilot, you cannot get me directly on the phone. My phone doesn’t ever ring at all. Nobody leaves me a voicemail. In fact, I’ve never listened to my voicemail messages, if I happen to have some. Nobody calls me on my cell phone. If I were to go on a trip for a week, the only call I would get on my cell phone would be texts, and it would possibly be from my wife, or a couple key people in the company. Hardly ever would I get a call otherwise.

Very few people have my e-mail address, some clients do from early on. There’s really very few ways to get a hold of me except through my team. I don’t do this because I don’t want to talk to my clients. In fact, if I could do anything, I would spend all my time on the phone with the clients, or all of my time with my clients in person. In the early years of Service Autopilot I did all the sales. I did the customer service. I did the training, and I did a lot of that for way too long.

I had to build walls around me, and John, my business partner has had to build walls around him, so that we can work on the biggest, most important stuff so that we can take in all of the problems, so we can take in all of the enhancement requests. What I’m referring to is true, for both my lawn care company, I did the same thing there, and for the software company.

It applies to every business. If you want to take in all the reasons clients are cancelling at your company, all the complaints that you’re getting, why you’re not making the sales, why your marketing isn’t working. If you want to digest all of the problems, and all the good things that are working, and you want to condense that down and take action on them, to improve things, to fix things, to change things, you can’t have your phone ring every fifteen minutes.

You can’t get e-mails all the time. You can’t have a million things bombarding you. You have to build walls all around you, so you can think, and focus, and manage. So that you can put the right people in the right places, and the right priorities on the the plate, so that you can tackle the problems.

If you do not do that you will never get big. I have watched some of the more successful guys, and they too operate like I do. When I go to some of the things that I’m involved in, some of the most successful guys, they’re like me. They never get any phone calls. They rarely get e-mails. They don’t have to get up and walk out of the seminar, or the conference, or the meeting, they don’t have to. They can be completely present, and completely focused on their business.

It took me years to get here, but I started working on it back in 2007, when I first heard it. It totally resonated with me, and I implemented it, and it took, again, years to get here. The more that I block out of my life, the more successful I become, and the more successful things around me run, and the faster the company moves forward. That was one of the most important business lessons I have ever learned.

If you can apply that to your business, and to your life, you’ll have a much more peaceful life. You’ll have more of the type of business you want to run, and your company will move forward faster because of it.

What Is The Importance Of Strategic Business Planning?

In order to grow a super successful company, you must understand the importance of strategic business planning and goal setting.

This month’s Service Autopilot Academy session is about strategic planning and goal setting. Every month we cover a topic to implement in your business. Most months we’re giving you a system like door hangers, or post cards, or web marketing, or review system. We’re giving you employee ads and something to implement in your business.

This month it’s a little more conceptual. I’ve got a point here, and it’s strategic planning and goal setting. I’m working on this and I’m getting a little concerned thinking, “Gosh, I hope that everybody in Academy sees the value in this, because I’m not necessarily handing them a door hanger per se. I’m concerned. Will this be a let down to them?”

I’m recording the video because I’m working on Academy right now, but when I think about this and the reason we’re doing this, I feel that goal setting and strategic planning is actually one of the absolute most important things to be doing in your business. For example, if you don’t do this, everything else you’re doing is busy work. The way you win against everybody else is having a better plan and then executing that plan. Time, setting aside time to actually think and say, “Okay, what is that next action that I should be working on?”

Think about this, you’re running a bigger company, you have a payroll of two million dollars a year. Are you directing your two million dollars a year in payroll in the right direction? If I’ve got two million in payroll and you’ve got two million in payroll, and I’m moving mine in a better direction, we’re working on the bigger and better projects. In this case I’m not talking about an installation project, I’m talking about marketing projects, web projects, employee hiring projects, processes in our company. If my company has spent more brain power thinking through it and saying, “Where is the future of the market going? What’s important? What are our risks? Where’s technology going? Where’s marketing going? What should we be doing?”

I’m thinking those things through and then I’m taking my list of five million things we could do and I’m saying, “These are the top ten priorities,” and then I’m divvying those out to the most appropriate people on my team and we’re focused and working, and we’re reporting in goals and accomplishments every week, and we’re making forward progress. If you’re taking your two million dollars in labor and employee expense and you’re sort of just working on whatever pops up on your plate, whatever that next fire is, whatever that next thing is, you happen to read a book that said you should be doing social media. Then you go to a conference and they say, “Whoa, you need to be doing this email marketing thing,” and now you’re off on that thing. I’ve lived that life of bouncing around.

If that’s what you’re doing because you haven’t sat down and created a strategic plan and set some goals for where you want your company to be and then backed into those goals with a plan, and then broken that plan down into action steps, and I have, I guarantee you I’ll win. You think about how Apple works, who dominates everybody and makes all the profit. They’re very, very focused. They have very specific plans. They have just a couple priorities that they’re focused on at any one moment. The entire company is marching in that direction. That’s powerful, and that’s what strategic planning and goal setting is. It’s not just conceptual, it’s not just a feel good, motivational kind of thing. It’s legitimately powerful and the best companies in the world are strategic. They know what they’re doing and they’re executing a plan.

If you haven’t ever tried it, if you haven’t ever just got away from your business for a day to think about, “Where do I want to go? Why and how?” I’d really recommend you give it a try. I’d recommend you buy a couple books on planning and strategy and see if it might reshape the entire future of your company. See if five years from now you might be way ahead of everybody you’re competing with because you moved in this direction, whereas all of your competitors were just letting life and business happen to them.

Two Ways to Maximize Your Lawn Mowing Profits

Watch this video to learn how to maximize your lawn mowing profits.

When I got into the residential lawn mowing business, after about a year or two, I wasn’t seeing the money. We weren’t making enough money and I contemplated getting out. I just didn’t think it was going to be that great of a business. But, I kept running the numbers and I thought, you know what, there’s something to this. I want to stick it out.

There are two keys to making money in lawn mowing. First, you have to keep your service market as small and as tight as possible. Be die-hard about not expanding that until you absolutely have to…until you can’t easily continue to grow within your current market. The smaller you make it, the tighter you build your routes, the tighter your density, the more profit you will make because you’re driving the non-billable time out of your business. Every time you’re moving the truck, every time they’re driving, every time they’re loading and unloading, that costs money. That’s non-billable time. When you eliminate that, that money you recover is pure profit.

For example, if you are driving 10 minutes between jobs, that’s non-billable time. All that drive time, all that labor time, all of that is non-billable. Now you start to watch for that 10-minute period that you used to lose to driving. That labor you were spending to drive was a sunk cost. Now when you go sell a $20 job to fill that 10 minutes, that $20 is essentially pure profit.

Once you work really, really hard on optimizing your routes, building really deep density, the second thing you want to optimize is non-billable time. You want to drive non-billable time out of your company. You want to optimize your company to eliminate non-billable time. At CitiTurf, we’ve used functionality to track non-billable time: drive time, load time, maintenance time, filling the truck, getting ice, getting gas, maintenance…you can go down the list. Then, when you figure out which one of those things is your biggest offender, for example, your mowing crews’ biggest non-billable area is fueling the truck, then you focus on that as a company. How can you change this? Maybe you could get gas at night instead of getting gas in the morning. Maybe you could get an ice machine because that’s one of the reasons they have to go to the gas station. If we have an on-site ice machine, they can bring their own snacks and food for the day. Suddenly you greatly lower the amount of payroll that you’re paying and the amount of wasted, non-billable time.

You go through those things one after another. You look at maintenance. You look at filling the truck. You look at loading. You look at unloading. You look at all of these different non-billable areas. You start with the biggest offender first. You fix it, then you move to the next one and you fix it. Work on this company-wide. When you do that, your profits go up really fast because that’s where all your profit is trapped. That’s where there’s a lot of money seeping out of your company. Focus on those two things: the tightest route you can possibly build and then be ruthless with getting the non-billable time out of your business.

I Run a Two Man Crew, Should I Hire Someone to Replace Me?

The question is, “This will be my 3rd season in business. I run a two man crew. I’m wondering if I need to step away to sell and market and hire someone to replace me?”

Absolutely. Yes. With that question, there is no other reason in my mind to be in business but to give yourself a little bit of leverage. Now, if you desire to be the guy doing all the work and run a 2-man crew, if that’s what you like and that makes you happy, fantastic. From your message, I’m pretty certain, it’s not the case. You need to start this path, as soon as you can. I’m going to answer your question but I would recommend that you go over to the website, Put in your name and email address and the website will send you 2 videos.

One is of a talk I gave with Planet. It was a webinar about how to get off the track and basically get out of the field. I think it was about an hour. Then, I also gave a talk at GIE in 2013 and it’s a little bit geared towards bigger companies but there is a bunch of stuff in there that you could take away and that’s an hour and a half long talk that I gave. I would highly recommend that you take those 2 resources and figure out how to get out of the field.

Now, let’s say you go hire somebody to take over your position and now you’re free. What are you going to do and what’s your plan of action?

I think a lot of people stay in the role of running the crew because they can’t get their head around, exactly what, why, and how to grow this business. If you can’t answer that question, then you keep saying, “I’m not quite ready yet, I’ll do it next year.” You procrastinate because you don’t know what to do. How do you solve a potential procrastination problem? You need a plan. What’s the plan? If you free yourself up, how are you going to bring in new business? What are you going to do? Are you going to knock on doors, put out door hangers? What is it? Are you going to  talk on the telephone?

Just because your freed up, it  doesn’t mean that anything magical is going to happen. You’ve got to know what you’re going to do. It might just be that over the winter, you’re going to get a great website put together. You may plan to start working on your SEO or pay per click or content marketing. If you don’t know what any of that means, do some Google searches. You figure out what the door hanger is going to look like. Maybe you put together a gift card or referral program to garner a new business. Watch my videos and learn about marketing and think of let’s say, 3 ways that you’re going to get new clients. Get that stuff all worked out over the winter and then you start doing it.

Be ridiculously specific with your plan. Don’t just say, I’m going to put out door hangers. No, you have to know which neighborhoods you want to hit, on which day, and how many. You might do 500 in one neighborhood on one day and 500 more to a different neighborhood on the next.

You need to have all of this in place so that when you hire somebody, you don’t get overwhelmed or distracted. Spend the time now to think through exactly what it means to put out door hangers, exactly what it means to get a website up and running, exactly what it means to knock on a door and sell certain things or go knock on all of your existing client’s doors and try to sell them something else. Again, be ridiculously specific where you know step by step what to do. Almost to the point that you could hand it to a friend or business partner or employee and they would look at it and have a pretty good idea of exactly what to do if they were going to do.

If you do that, you’ll overcome the biggest hurdle to growing and getting started. You’ll have an action plan. Once you get out of the business and start doing this and practicing this because it’s a new role, you won’t have to do that anymore.

I’m just saying do that first so that you guarantee yourself a level of success when you do hire somebody to replace you. The very simple answer that I could have answered in 10 seconds is a yes. If you don’t take the action I described to go with, the yes of getting out in the field, then you may not be overly successful. You’ve got to make sure that when you get free, almost all of your time is devoted to selling and marketing activities. If you free yourself up and 80% of your time is devoted to inconsequential things like maintenance and other miscellaneous things, and 20% is devoted to sales and marketing, you might as well have stayed in your old role of doing work and then just work extra hours to do sales and marketing.

If you do it right, you absolutely want to get off that truck and you want to do it now, not next year. Good luck.

Why You Should Stop Providing One Time Services (Such as One-Time Mowing or Fertilization)

 Should You Stop Providing One Time Services?

For example, providing one of any of the following: lawn mowing, bush trimming, fertilization, weed control application, pest control visit, spot ant treatment, etc. is generally not worth the time or effort,  ESPECIALLY for one-time clients.  Exceptions can and should be made for regular full maintenance clients.

I am not referring to a one time flower installs, mulch install, sod, landscape, spring cleanup, or leaf cleanup.

However, regarding leaf clean-ups in areas where the leaf cleanup is a small job, it’s typically not worth it.  In Northern states where the leaf cleanup is a large job and sometimes requires a vacuum truck, that is a different story.

Continue reading “Why You Should Stop Providing One Time Services (Such as One-Time Mowing or Fertilization)”