My Number One Business Owner Tip

Follow this business owner tip to free up your time and keep your company moving forward.

I’m sure I’ve recorded several videos about this topic, and I know I’m repeating myself but, it’s an incredibly important message to hear. It’s one that I have to remind myself of, and if you saw my white board in my office, I have the numbers 10, 100, 1000 and 10,000 written on my white board to remind me that I need to be working on 1000 and 10,000 dollar an hour work.

Let me explain. I’m going to keep it really simple because this is critically important. It’s January. You’re setting the tone for the whole year.

If you’re doing a task that you can hire someone to do it for $10 an hour, then you’re only worth $10 an hour and you are now a massive bottleneck in your company. If you were the guy that could launch this company, start it, get it going, and could make it happen and keep it running, then you’re obviously not a schmuck. You obviously have some skills and abilities and you’re willing to learn and do what it takes to get your company and yourself to a certain level.

So why are you still doing $10 an hour work? You are much better.

I don’t mean that as a negative to somebody doing $10 an hour work. But, you have a bigger skill set and your company needs you to be doing that bigger skill set. You want to spend as much of your time as possible doing the really expensive high-dollar stuff.

The same is true of $20 an hour. If you could hire an irrigation tech for $20 an hour and I’m out there doing irrigation work, I’m only worth $20 an hour to my company. But what if I was working on a marketing campaign, or an employee procedure, or advertising campaign for getting more employees? That’s work that maybe you’re uniquely suited to do. When you’re doing irrigation work, or lawn work, or whatever, that you could hire somebody for 10, 15, 20 or even $25 an hour to do it, then that’s all your worth and you’re letting your company down. You’re not moving your company forward doing the 50 and 100 and $200 an hour work.

Consider putting a note on the desktop of your computer, or on your white board, and just write the numbers 10, 100 and 1000. Maybe you don’t yet know what $1000 an hour work looks like, but keep that in your mind in everything you’re doing. Look at that white board and say, “Okay where am I playing right now? Am I playing in the $10 an hour work category or the $100 an hour work category?”
If all of that is too much to imagine, then write $10, $20, $50, $100 and $200, smaller numbers, and ask yourself every time you’re doing something which type of job are you doing and try to get that smaller stuff off your plate and try get it to somebody else.

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.

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.

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)”

Top 3 Tips For Purchasing Landscape Equipment

When purchasing landscape equipment for your lawn care business what are the top considerations on your checklist?

1) Most business owners put price as a top consideration.  Money matters, but learn what your top money consideration should be.
Hint: resell value plays a part in the cost of your lawn care equipment
2) If you have two nearly identical pieces of equipment but one is considerably cheaper… learn how to choose between the two.
Hint: you are in the business of selling time
3) Many lawn care companies buy too much equipment or spend too much money on landscape equipment before they really need it.  This consideration will allow you to buy less equipment.
Hint: renting equipment isn’t the solution… when you need a piece of equipment fixed or repaired during peak season what matters most?

 

Video Transcript

Hey, it’s Jonathan.

The question is what should I consider when buying equipment, so I’m going to give you the top three considerations that I think about when buying a piece of equipment. They are not necessarily in order, production speed and I’ll go through each and explain, your cost of ownership and the speed at which you can get replacement parts or that you can get the equipment fixed and back into production, back into service. Notice, I did not mention the cost of the equipment or the initial purchase price or if that piece of equipment is cheaper than a competitive piece of equipment. That’s really a non-issue and so let’s talk through a couple of these things and let’s start with the production speed.

Production speed to me is probably the top one, it’s definitely the consideration here because in if I’m comparing two pieces of equipment, let’s use something that’s a little bit expensive. Let’s say I’m comparing a $6000 piece of equipment to an $8000 piece of equipment. At first glance, yeah 2000 bucks, I’d like to save that. I don’t want to spend $2000 if I don’t have to, so I’d rather buy the $6000 piece of equipment. However, at the end of the day, I’ve got a guy running that piece of equipment that’s probably making between $10 and $18 an hour, totally depends on who they are and what they’re doing in the business.

Now, let’s just say that they make $14 an hour, every hour that they move slower because we went with inferior piece of equipment, costs me money, every hour that that piece of equipment is down, every hour or every moment, every minute that it takes to load that piece of equipment or maintain that piece of equipment or lower the height of it if it’s a mower or whatever the case may be, every minute of convenience on that piece of equipment is costing me as a company money. Production is what matters.

Again, if the equipment’s $2000 dollars more but with that piece of equipment, I can move just a little bit faster, I can change the height again using a mower example just a little bit faster, I can get it on or off the truck a little bit quicker, I can change the blades when I’m sharpening them every day or every week I can do that little faster, the air filters are a little easier to maintain. You can think of a whole list of 50 different factors that go into that piece of equipment. Take another one, the majority of the employees that I might hire are trained to use that piece of equipment already.

They’re more comfortable with it, so they move faster or the piece of equipment’s a little lighter or a little easier to maneuver, therefore after a 10 hour workday, they wear out a little bit slower as an employee. Therefore, they continue to move just as quick, really consider that one. Does this piece of equipment wear them out, does it beat them up because that affects how fast they’re still working come the end of the day, especially come the end to the week on Friday. All of that matters that’s production speed that is in my opinion the most important factor.

Now the next factor will be this cost of ownership, so it really doesn’t matter what I buy the equipment at. What really matters is eventually when I sell that piece of equipment, the spread. If I buy a $10000 piece of equipment that I could later sell that equipment, let’s say after four years for 5000 then with no additional cost going into this piece of equipment, maintenance or repair, then that I have got a $5000 cost of ownership on that piece of equipment. I bought it for 10, I sold it for 5 four years later, cost me $5000 to run it for four years, roughly 1250 a year. $1250 a year is my cost of ownership. Now you got to put into that repairs and maintenance and all the other things that really go in ownership, but that’s something, consider it just like when you buy a truck.

If you’re buying a Ford F150 and you’re debating between that and a Toyota Tundra, you’re probably considering, okay this Toyota Tundra tends to have better resale value, so should I buy a Tundra? It’s going to cost me more money up front, but later when I sell it, I am going to get more back and that’s just an example, but you do typically when you buy a vehicle, a truck, a car or personal vehicle, you think about that kind of stuff. What might this thing be worth down the road? The exact same scenario is true with this piece of equipment, what’s my ownership cost going to be?

That’s a factor, so for example in small equipment’s a pretty big deal because we sell off our equipment every year, so we want to be able to buy it, keep it really well maintained and then sell all of it at the end of the year and just buy new equipment. We want to have a good resale value on that piece of equipment, we want that equipment to be desirable. Cost of ownership is a factor. I actually, as I’m talking here, I almost made it my third factor, production is one, my second factor is the speed at which I can get parts for this equipment. Now on a cheaper piece of equipment, this is less important, so as an example, it’s not as important that I can get a replacement head for a weed eater in 30 minutes.

The reason I say that is let’s say the weed eater costs 300 bucks, I could have an extra one on hand, I could just buy an extra weed eater. If one goes down, we’re not going [inaudible 00:05:23] weed eater head, we’re just going to pull out another weed eater and get the job done. We’ll get another head for that weed eater down the road, another day. We’re not going to send a crew to go get that head today. That’s stupid, we have an extra piece of equipment on the truck because it’s inexpensive, it’s hardly any money when you think about the broad scheme of things and the cost of payroll. Now, if you’re talking about a $10000 piece of equipment, well I don’t have a bunch of those just sitting around as a backup. That would be stupid.

If that $10000 piece of equipment breaks down, now if I’m a big company and I depend on a bunch of these $10,000 pieces of equipment, I do have backups. But if it’s a piece of equipment that I don’t fully utilize it all the time, I’m not just going to have another one sitting there all the time. I need to know that this piece of equipment that I just bought is common in my marketplace that I can at any moment go to my parts supplier or to the vendor that we bought it from and immediately get parts or quickly get it repaired. I need something that’s popular in my market, something that’s common, something that I can easily get fixed. I cannot afford for this piece of equipment to be sitting in their yard five days, while I am waiting for to be repaired. This is a huge factor.

As you’re thinking about you purchase, think about how fast can we perform with this equipment and it’s way more than just production speed in the field, think about all the different things that go into utilizing a piece of equipment, think about your cost of ownership, what’s it going to cost me to buy it, how much might I sell it for in four years or five years, how much do I think it might cost to maintain this overtime, how much do I think it might cost to put new parts on this thing over time that’s your cost of ownership. You might compare that to the other piece of equipment that you’re considering and then finally how fast can I get parts for this. I mean you need them pretty much immediately and then if I have to have somebody else repaired, how quickly can I get it back?

I realize that there could be unique scenarios where on a piece of equipment it is some obscure part that hardly ever breaks and they don’t have it in stock, but 80% of the time when this thing’s going to break, can I get the parts that I would need, 80% of the time, when it’s going to break, could I get it repaired immediately? Take that into account.

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.

 

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

How Many Lawns Should Your Lawn Care Crews Mow Per Day?

 

Hey! It’s Jonathan.

The question is how many lawns per day should my landscape crews be mowing?

I cannot answer this question, but I can tell you how to figure it out for yourself. The reason I can’t answer it is that there are too many variables that factor into it. We all have different clients with different properties and are all located in different types of areas.

In my market, we’ve got everything from small residential properties, to 1 to 2 acre residential properties, to small free standing commercial properties, all the way to hundred acre commercial properties such as the EDS and Frito-Lays of the world. So, lots of variants make it impossible for me to answer that question.

Most often, when I receive this question, it is in regard to smaller properties. You’re probably not bidding the 10 acre commercial property.

What you’re actually asking is what should you expect of the guys you hire? Well, you should expect a little bit less from them than what you are able to do. Generally, this is true having employees in any facet of your business. You hire employees to replace you as you move up in your own company. That is how you grow a business and take it to the next level.

Generally, they’re not going to do it as well as you did. You’re the boss…you’re the owner. There’s a reason you’re the guy running the company and they’re not. That’s not always true, but generally, you’re the guy that’s inspired to work late, work long hours, and you’re super motivated. This is your baby. It’s not their baby. They’ve got a family and they have things going on in their life.

The basis of figuring out how long each lawn should take a crew to complete and how many yards they can do in a day is to put it back on you. How many can you do in a day?

The absolute, most efficient way to do a property is to have 1 person do the property. I am speaking solely of the utilization of people, not utilization of assets.

How many can you go do by yourself? Because, just by yourself is the most efficient. You will have no down time because you will not have to wait on another guy to complete his work.

Once you figure out that it takes about 40 minutes to do the job by yourself, divide that by the number of people you have on your crew. Keep in mind that there will be some efficiency lost because your guys won’t finish at the same time.

The job takes you 40 minutes and now you introduce 2 people into the equation. Theoretically, you should be able to do the job in 20 minutes…2 people times 20 minutes is 40 minutes. That won’t really work that way because they won’t finish at the exact same time. 1 guy will finish in 18 minutes and another guy will finish in 22 minutes because one was mowing and one was edging and weeding. You’ve just lost a couple minute of efficiency.

Another issue to consider that effects efficiency is that your crews may not have the passion for the business that you do. They probably won’t be as fast as you. Immediately adjust it down. Maybe their performance is going to be 10% less than yours. That’s going to affect the time.

You will have to actively manage your crews to make sure they are staying on task and sticking to the routes and routines that you have trained them to do to keep at their most efficient.

Then, when you start using software to track how long it takes them at and in between each job, they become even more efficient. They know they are being watched and you will be able to stay in front of a crew if their time slips from one week to another.

When they know they’re being watched and when you track their time, you can drive more efficiency into the whole thing. As long as they are staying within a certain time frame…not too slow, not too fast…all is good.

First, you start out making some assumptions based on what you can do. Then, you start tracking it. You track what they’re actually doing and then, you get out there and watch them doing the job. As you watch them, you help them become more efficient. You can start setting benchmarks by square footage. You can then compare your crews that are doing similar properties to see how their times compare. If there is a time discrepancy, figure out why. You start looking at your business like that and then you can start really getting these efficiencies in there and you can figure out what to expect of all your people.

Hope that helps.