Not a Good Sales Role Model
In our house we have two basic rules. Be nice. And be a good listener.
Sure, these rules can be expanded and built upon, but ultimately when you get down to it, all the basics of good, acceptable behavior fall into one of these two categories.
We start teaching these rules to our kids from as early as we can. But the rules are applicable not just to infants or school-age kids, but to adults as well. And I think they’re also cornerstones of good business practice.
But unfortunately not all business people adhere to these rules. And I have a few recent encounters that illustrate this.
As a small business owner I get calls all the time from people trying to sell me things. Advertising, processing services, staffing services, you name it. A few months back, before the season really started kicking into gear, I got a call from an online listing agent trying to sell me on online advertising. This was one of those calls where I pretty much knew from the get-go that I wasn’t interested, but the sales rep caught me at a slow time, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to take the call.
He went through his whole schtick, providing all sorts of stats as to why his service was the best. I had one question – how much? Being a small business owner this is perhaps the most important question, working on a limited marketing budget.
But I didn’t get an answer. He kept going on and on about the benefits of his service. I told him I was aware of the service, I knew they had some name recognition, but if the cost didn’t fit into my budget then we were wasting each
others’ time. I needed to know how much.
“Our listings are picked up by Google, and our clients continuously place near the top of online search results …”
He kept going on and on. “I understand,” I replied. “I need to know how much.” My patience was growing thin at this point.
I never really have the time to deal with people who don’t respect my time, but for some reason, mainly out of curiosity I suppose, I stuck with his call this time. It wasn’t until a half-hour (Half-hour!!) into the call that he finally revealed the price. And as expected the cost was outside my budget range.
I understand he might not have cared one ounce about my time. But you would think he cared about his time, right? A half-hour plus on the phone, no sale, and a potential customer who was left with a real sour taste in his mouth as far as his company is concerned. I’m pretty confident I won’t ever be utilizing their services. All because he wasn’t a good listener.
Around the same time period I got another call from a different sales rep, this one trying to sign me up for a referral service. I explained that I wasn’t really interested – thanks but no thanks. He was persistent.
“Why wouldn’t you be interested in expanding your sales?”, he asked. Again, normally my patience would have expired by now, but I thought let’s see where he goes with this.
“Well since you asked,” I replied, “I don’t really like the business model of referral services. They add costs to the projects, throw a lot of unqualified leads at you that don’t fit into my service umbrella or geographic service area, and they tend to find prospects who are more tire-kicking as opposed to be a serious prospect.”
As expected, he went on and on about how his service was different, yada yada yada.
“Not interested,” I reiterated.
“So I guess you’re not serious about growing your business?” he asked.
At this point he proceeded to question my intelligence, started raising his voice towards me and called me short-sighted and ignorant.
I hung up. I’m pretty sure that nobody in the history of marketing has ever recommended insulting your prospect as a good way to sell them something. He failed in the “Be nice” category.
I now remember why I typically don’t take calls from telemarketers.
The point here is not to vent (although it is all I can do not to include the names of the service providers these guys were representing). No the point here is to illustrate that good business practices, or specifically in this case good sales techniques, are really just good human practices.
Be nice. Be a good listener. Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. Respond to people’s calls. Say thank you. Heck, chew with your mouth closed for that matter.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books and articles out there on delivering good business practices. And yes, they can get into a great bit more detail. But ultimately it all boils down to the two basic rules.
Be nice. Be a good listener. Doesn’t get much simpler than that.
And So it Begins ... Day 1 of the 2013 Season
It Wouldn't be March w/o a Little Snow
If you follow us on Facebook then you know that we kicked off our season a few weeks ago with our first install of the season. If you don’t follow us on Facebook, A) You should. And B) Now you know as well.
February 27 was our official start day, diving into the 2013 season with a nice hardscaping project involving a dryset flagstone walkway and bluestone steppers.
It’s always good to hit the ground running with a nice project, and even nicer to get some of those cobwebs out and work out the kinks after a few months of office work. I have to be honest, as excited as I am at the end of each season looking forward to winter break, I’m nearly just as excited to be back at it after a layoff.
We’re fresh, we’re ready, and we’ve got a lot of pent-up enthusiasm for tackling new projects. Day 1 of this project involved hand-digging out the location on the hillside for the five bluestone steppers, and the remainder of the 225 square-foot pathway. After only two days the digging was complete, the dumpster was nearly full, and we were already moving gravel in to begin setting the steps. Nothing like being fresh!
Not that early spring work isn’t without its challenges. Once the steps were set and the base prep was complete, the forecast began calling for snow. Significant snow in the form of 6 to 10 inches. We got to a good stopping point, buttoned up the site and prepared for the worst.
Thankfully, the forecast was wrong, and the temperatures were just warm enough that the precipitation was all rain. Nasty cold windy rain for sure, but at least we didn’t have to deal with 10 inches of snow!
The First Completed Job of 2013
We were back at it the next day, picking up right where we left off, and then another surprise storm hit, leaving us with about an inch or two of wet slushy snow. By the weekend temperatures were nearly 60, and everything was all-systems-go.
Spring just wouldn’t be spring without a little bit of precipitation in just about any form, and a very moody attitude in general from the weather. But it’s nothing we haven’t dealt with before. We carry on. And after just a few more days of work, the project was completed and the client thrilled to get their project finished in time for spring.
And the 1st project of the season is now under the belt. We’re now off to start a composite deck construction, and then a fence, and then a patio, and then …well there’s a whole bunch more projects in the works. Game on 2013!
The Author at Clark Kent Creations World Headquarters
A little bit of self-promotion this week …
As I’ve stated in the past, winter is the slow time for us landscape contractor types. Well at least slow in terms of completing projects in the field.
However its anything but slow when it comes to office work. Not counting the 2 weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year’s (total shut-down on all things work-related), I figure I have about 5 or 6 weeks to complete what seems like a year’s worth of pent-up office work.
There’s always planning and cleaning and organizing and securing and educating and researching and … you get the idea.
And it seems every year there is one overriding project that I look to get completed. Last year that project was getting my blog off the ground. The fact that you’re reading this (hopefully) tells me I was at least moderately successful in my endeavor.
This year my overriding project is introducing myself to social media.
Admittedly, I’m kind of a dinosaur when it comes to this stuff. Being of the age that falls right into the heart of the “Gen X” generation, I’m just old enough that I missed the boat on a lot of this e-media stuff. Heck, we didn’t even have email when I was in college. The kids just 3 or 4 years behind me couldn’t imagine going through college without email. And it seems like today’s kids have Facebook pages while they’re still in the womb. (Seriously. I’ve seen sonogram profile pics!)
Anyway, I’m jumping in. The Clark Kent Creations Facebook page is up and running!Clark Kent Creations on Facebook
A quick disclaimer. The point of my foray into social media is most definitely not to replace my real time experiences with colleagues, friends, and clients. As a colleague of mine put it, I still favor face time over facebook.
I plan on using my facebook page as a way of sharing project updates, posting progress photos, sharing company news, and sharing a few fun links to other pages which you might find of interest.
And as more and more people utilize facebook as their primary way of communicating, it’s yet another way that I can be more accessible to my clients and prospects.
I’ll still see everyone around town at the co-op, Henderson Field, the Crum Creek woods, the pool, the ballfields, and all the other places that make our town special. And I’ll still be out there as we complete all of our hardscaping and landscaping projects.
And as I familiarize myself with Facebook etiquette, I’m slowly getting the hang of all this. One thing I’ve learned so far, is that unlike real life where it would be rather presumptuous to show up at an event and tell people to start liking you, apparently it’s OK in the Facebook world. So, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but … Like us on Facebook!
The arrival of the new year signals a time to look forward. It’s a time for planning, and a time to get things lined up for the coming year. And if you’re like most homeowners, those plans will likely include hiring a contractor to complete a few projects around the house.
The projects may be varied. Some may be simple like interior painting or fixture replacement. Some may be involved like a new patio or addition. And some may even be somewhat unexpected, like plumbing repairs or a new hot water heater. But regardless of the project, you’ll still most likely find yourself needing the services of somebody skilled and qualified to help.
In my 12 years of running a landscape construction business, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a great client roster with very few missteps along the way. But it takes work from both sides of the table to ensure a successful project, and it certainly takes an understanding of where both sides are coming from.
There are, fortunately, a few simple things that clients can do to help eliminate misunderstandings and help ensure a successful project and a pleasant home improvement experience. Here are the eight deadly sins to avoid when hiring a contractor.
1. Give Yourself Enough Time:
A successful project takes time. Time to plan, time to design, time to install. And most successful contractors will be booked out somewhat in advance, especially during the warmer busy season. Start the process early, and eliminate the schedule crunch. You don’t want to sacrifice quality or your desired design strictly because you’re up against the calendar. Don’t wait until Memorial Day to start planning that new patio you wanted for your son’s graduation party in June. And remember, a lot of work is weather-sensitive, so be sure to allow a slight cushion for everybody’s schedules.
2. Licensing and Insurance:
Before you even pick up the phone to schedule that initial consultation, make sure the contractor is licensed and insured. In most states, including Pennsylvania, contractors are required by law to be licensed and to post their licensing info on any and all advertising. That means yard signage, truck signage, business cards, etc. The licensing system is in place to protect you, the homeowner. If you don’t see any licensing info, be sure to ask if they are licensed and where you can find their license number. PA licensing requires active insurance policies, which most reputable contractors will be happy to provide separately upon request. PA licensing info can be verified via the PA Attorney General Hotline at 1-888-520-6680. If the contractor isn’t licensed or insured, proceed at your own risk.
3. Collect Multiple Bids:
I’m always somewhat surprised when I quote a large project and find out the homeowner isn’t collecting at least one or two other quotes. Personally I like to think that is because the client has the utmost confidence in my abilities and practices. To which I say thank you. But even still, even if you’re nearly 100 percent certain you’re going to go with a particular contractor, it can never hurt to get an extra opinion or idea. Maybe another contractor might have an idea or two which you haven’t even considered, an idea that could possibly be incorporated into the final project. Maybe that new idea isn’t such a hot one after all, but it can’t hurt to talk about it, right? The more discussions, the more ideas, -- good or bad – the more confident you will be in your project and the more successful the project will be..
4. Don’t Shop on Cost Alone:
There’s almost always somebody out there who will do a project for less. Just like there’s always a used car out there that will cost less than that new BMW you’ve been eyeing. Maybe the lowball contractor isn’t as experienced as other quotes out there. Maybe he’s unlicensed or uninsured. Are his workers legal and on the payroll? And don’t try to hold that lowball quote out there as pricing leverage. Experienced contractors know their costs and know what they need to recoup those costs. “You get what you pay for” almost always holds true.
5. Know your Contractor’s Skillsets:
Just because a contractor does amazing finish carpentry doesn’t mean he knows squat about plumbing. Carpentry, masonry, electrical work, plumbing, tree work – nearly all the trades have unique skillsets. And true, many contractors may be well versed in more than just one area, but it’s worth asking and following up if need be. Most experienced contractors will tell you they sub out specialty work to their stable of subs, or will at least tell you that’s not what they do. But don’t just assume we all do everything.
6. Is the Contractor A Good Match:
Contractors come in all shapes and sizes. Some may have multiple crews with a number of laborers and subcontractors coming in and out. Others may be smaller artisanal outfits who do great work but may take a longer time. And others may have specific salespeople who work with you during the sales cycle but aren't involved in the field work. Be sure to ask yourself what you’re looking for and what you’re comfortable with. Just because somebody does great work doesn’t always mean they’ll be a great match with you.
7. Ask for References:
Once you’ve met with a few contractors, collected the bids, and evaluated the estimates you’ll most likely be favoring one over the others. Now’s the time to get a few phone numbers of past clients and make a call or two. If you have the time, see if you can set up a time to swing by and take a look at past projects. True, some past clients may value their privacy, but they almost always will at least take a minute or two to tell you what they liked (or didn’t like) about working with a particular contractor. Maybe the work was great, but the crew played the radio too loudly or they kept the jobsite untidy while the project was underway. And most contractors will have a few local front yard projects available to look at without encroaching on people’s private yards. Normally everything will check out just fine, but it never hurts to spend a few minutes knowing what you’re getting into.
8. Stay Involved:
It can be a fine line between hovering and micromanaging vs. being available to discuss changes as they arise. Allow the contractors to have their space while they are working, but don’t just ignore the project as it unfolds. Once the site is cleaned up at the end of the day take a few minutes to evaluate progress. The project may have a slightly different look than you first anticipated based on the drawings. If you see something you’re not sure about, feel free to ask or address it before it goes any further. Most successful contractors make a point to involve their clients in every design choice and material selection before and during the project. It’s usually pretty easy to make a minor change or two as it is occurring, but if you wait until the project is nearly complete, it may be too late, or may incur significant costs to re-do. And nobody wants to hear “I wish we had done things differently” as the projects draws to a close.
So there you have it. Eight relatively simple steps you can take to ensure your projects will be a success. No matter what projects you may have lined up for the coming year, I wish everybody a happy and successful 2013!
Well, we did it. Another successful year under the belt. And as we prepare for some much needed (and well-deserved) down time, I thought I’d take this opportunity to summarize and wrap up our 2012 season.
Thanks to an incredibly mild winter last year, we were able to kick off the season about 3 weeks earlier than our typical seasonal start-up. We started in about mid-February with a sidewalk replacement project and never looked back. Our early-season included a number of exterior landscape carpentry projects, including several fences and a number of deck projects including both new decks and extensions and a number of wood step projects.
The 2012 crew -- Nick, Russ, and Josh
By the end of April we were full into hardscaping mode, including a few paver stone walkways, several stone step projects and a few more sidewalk replacements.
And once Memorial Day hit we were fortunate enough to work on a couple of really nice, large (700 sf+) flagstone patio projects to complement some grand residences.
The large patio projects carried us straight through the bulk of the summer, with some more large patio projects coming together as the kids went back to school. We sprinkled in a few more walkways, fence projects, a nice modular block wall project, and finished the year off strongly with a stone veneer wall project and flagstone walkway project, which we were just able to squeeze in before the Holiday break, wrapping things up earlier this week.
On the business side of things, the company has continued to grow, maintaining three full-time workers for the bulk of the season.
And so, as we wrap things up for the year I’d be remiss if I didn’t share a few pictures of a sampling of our projects from the year, and offer a few quick “thank you”s to everybody who helped make the year a success.
First I’d like to thank my crew of Josh, Nick and Russ for working hard to turn the designs and concepts into reality. It was your manpower that made it all happen. I’d also like to take this opportunity to wish Josh farewell and best of
luck as he prepares for the next chapter of his life when he reports to Ft. Benning GA in March to enlist in the US Army and begin Basic Training. Josh has been with me nearly three years and has been a key player in all of our projects during that time. I know he’ll do just fine as long as he can still keep up with his beloved Flyers (if the NHL lockout ever ends). Stay safe my man. (continued below)
Composite Deck Steps
Wet-set Flagstone Patio -- Linear Design
Paver Walkway with Bluestone Steppers
Dry-set Flagstone Patio with 6' Bluestone Steppers
I’d also like to thank my valued suppliers, most notably the crew at Galantino Supply Company. I’m not sure just how much business I did directly with Galantino’s this year – I’ll tally the numbers come January -- but it was a sizeable amount and Carl, Anthony, Vince and the rest of the crew over there have always been a sincere pleasure to work with.
And most importantly, I’d like to offer a HUGE thank you to each and every one of my clients for the year. Whether your project was a small sidewalk replacement or an enormous patio install, I can’t thank you enough for your business. Without your business, none of this would be possible. I’ve enjoyed getting to know each of you during the course of all of our projects, and I look forward to continuing seeing you around town, at the Co-op, the pool, school events, little league, and all the other opportunities we have to see each other here in and around Swarthmore.
"Overflowing Vase" Fountain with Rock Garden
Terraced Hillside -- Modular Block Walls
Wt-set Flagstone Patio -- Irregular Design
Stone Veneer Wall, Bluestone Steppers & Belgian Block
So again, thank you to all who helped make 2012 a success. I’ll be taking a week off next week from my blogging duties as I spend some downtime with family and friends, but I look forward to returning in January with more weekly blog posts and beginning to gear up for the 2013 season.
Happy Holidays to everyone, and best wishes for a happy, healthy, safe and prosperous new year!!!
I walked out the door the other morning to go to work, and I quickly did a 180-degree heel pivot to return inside and grab my hoodie, which had been laying untouched in my workclothes pile since about mid-April. Yup, the first of the fall chill had moved in, and while my hoodie ended up being shedded pretty quickly in the day, it was a surefire reminder that the fall season is upon us.
The sales and business end of my business tends to go in ebbs and flows throughout the year, and I’m experienced enough to know what to expect and when to expect it. And once we get past labor day I typically experience a significant bump in new calls coming in. Homeowners are back from vacation, the kids are back in school, and people start looking at the calendar and realize that winter weather is just a few months away (AARRGGHHH!). Limited time to complete those outdoor projects they’ve been putting off.
And, true to form, the calls started coming in a few weeks ago. It’s a busy time of year for me, between after-work client meetings, estimate preparation, and of course managing my projects during the bulk of the work day. All simultaneously while getting the kids off to school in the mornings and shuttling them off to extracurricular activities like soccer and Cub Scouts.
Fortunately, we still have some scheduling availability remaining for the fall – plenty of time left to get that new fence installed or hardscaping project completed before winter truly moves in.
We typically work straight through until about mid-December, give or take a week or two depending on when Old Man winter wakes up.
So at the risk of sounding too “advertising-y”, I want to remind people that if you’re thinking about completing a project before the advent of winter, now’s the time to contact to us to get the project ball rolling. Whether it’s a new deck, flagstone walkway, paver stone patio, garden walls, or custom-built wood fence, fall is a great time to get these projects completed, so they’ll be in place and ready to go come the first signs of spring next year.
For a free project consultation and estimate give us a call and we’ll be happy to see what we can do for you.
A Tidy, Well-Organized Jobsite at the End of the Day
There’s an old adage that states that in order to get a job done properly, you need the right tool for the right job. For a landscape construction contractor, that means we need to have a lot of tools. Carpentry tools, Stone mason tools, concrete finishing tools gardening tools, basic electric and plumbing tools, hand tools, power tools, small engine tools – I won’t bore you with the complete list – you get the idea.
And indeed, my arsenal of tools has grown considerably over the years. Some of my tools are the bread and butter of what we do, they get used on a near daily basis and we couldn’t even begin to think about starting a job without them. Things like shovels, wheelbarrows, mattocks, and digging bars to name a few.
Other tools may have been purchased at one point to complete a specific job, but now sit idly in my garage waiting for their next opportunity.
As you may imagine, I have a sizeable amount invested in my fleet of tools. It’s a necessary cost of doing business, and quite frankly I have no problem whatsoever investing in tools that will help me get the job done right and my business grow.
What I do have a problem with however is when tools get misused for the wrong job or not taken care of properly.
Let’s take the shovel for instance. I’ve had shovels that have lasted me 10 years plus, getting used on an almost daily basis. I had one square shovel in fact that I finally had to replace only because the metal “scoop” part had worn down so much that I was left with just about 4” between the end of the shaft and tip of the blade.
A shovel is meant to be used for digging. Not chopping roots, not prying up large boulders, and not as a hammer. I don’t care how high-end your shovel is, a $30 shovel will break just as quickly as a $10 shovel if you don’t use it properly. If you’re digging and come across a large stone, go get your digging bar and pry it out using the right tool. If you come across a large root, go get your mattock. A few basic handtools can expedite any job and last for a long time as long as you’re using each one for the correct application.
A screwdriver is not a chisel. A pipe wrench is not a hammer. A level is not a concrete screed. You’re not going to be able to make clean successful finishing cuts with a sawzall. Not only is using the incorrect tool a potential safety hazard, the job probably won’t get done as well using the wrong tool, and the risk of damaging the tool is quite real.
And yes, sometimes when you’re in the throws of completing a job, it can be a pain to stop what you’re doing to walk over and grab the correct tool, and certainly tempting to use that shovel as a pry-bar. Until it breaks. And now not only do you still have to get your pry-bar, you also have to grab another shovel, or worse yet leave the site altogether and go spend money that shouldn’t be being spent on a new shovel. Time and money out the door. Use the right tool for the right job.
And speaking of time, keep your tools organized. There is nothing more infuriating than being on a jobsite, identifying the correct tool for a project, knowing you have the tool, and then spending 15 minutes looking for it. I like to keep all my tools organized by task. I have a toolbox with all the basic everyday tools we need – hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, etc. I have a bucket specifically for concrete finishing tools. Another one for chisels and stone hammers. Another one for levels and string lines. And a few other buckets and boxes for other various specialties.
When we’re done with the tools, they go back in the correct box or bucket. That way we’ll know where they are come the next time we need them. Larger handtools like shovels and rakes get stored together, in a neat and orderly fashion, so when we need them the next time they’re easily accessible without disturbing a pick-up-sticks-style pile just to get that bow rake on the bottom of the pile.
Hoses, extension cords, and ropes should be coiled or reeled up neatly when not in use. There’s nothing worse than spending 15 minutes or more of your valuable time trying to make sense of a rat’s nest mess of tangled up cords or ropes. Or plugging in a 100’ extension cord only to realize that it’s now about 60’because of all the tangles and knots.
Tools that are used for concrete or mortar work should be rinsed and cleaned thoroughly following each job. A $100 concrete bullfloat can be easily ruined simply by not wiping the float clean. One little concrete bump, one little knick in the surface, and you’ll never achieve a smooth finish. Trowels, floats, finishing tools, levels and any other tools that may get a little“mucky” during the course of a concrete or mortar job should all be thoroughly cleaned following each job. That way they’ll be ready and functional the next time we need them.
Follow these basic precautions, take a few extra minutes to grab the right tool for each job, take the time to keep tools organized and cleaned properly, and you too might just get 10 years’ plus service out of a shovel.
Remember to Have Fun Out There!
With the 2012 season in full swing, I often find myself running in about six different directions at once. Managing my current project, ironing out details on pending projects, ordering supplies, picking up materials, managing labor, meeting with new prospects, and working on estimates. All in an honest day’s work.
And sometimes in the heat of all that chaos its easy to forget why I got into this line of work in the first place – Because I really like working outdoors and creating fun, comfortable, interesting outdoor spaces.
And to be honest, I sometimes have to stop and remind myself of that.
Landscaping should be fun.
When I was kid I used to spend countless hours in our local creeks. Building dams, catching salamanders and frogs, following the small runs through neighborhoods and discovering what creeks connected to larger creeks and where these creeks led. It was fun, provided an imaginary escape, and was a backdrop to my youth.
I get home from work now in the evenings, and my kids are spending their free time exploring our yard and neighborhood. Catching insects, playing in the sandbox, and digging in the dirt.
Playing with the earth, in one form or another, is a timeless rite of passage. And as a landscape contractor I am privileged enough to have a job where I get paid to play in the dirt. OK, it’s a bit more than just playing, there’s certainly some skill and some know-how that’s involved. But I’m outside working with nature. I can’t imagine a better workplace.
I hear people complain sometimes, “oh, these weeds, my back, this manual labor, the dirt, etc.” To which I think to myself, I thought the whole point of working out in your garden was supposed to be an escape, a fun hobby, or a personal interest.
And to be honest, if you were to happen to catch me on the computer late one night as I finalize an estimate or work on my bookkeeping, you might hear a choice complaint or two come out of my mouth. And when I catch myself doing that, I stop for a second and remind myself of those glorious 80-degree days, when we’re working in the mottled sunlight as commuters get up and drive to their office and fix themselves at their cubicles.
And the complaining stops pretty quickly.
Landscaping should be fun.
I’m fortunate to have a job that allows me to spend my days outside, working with the earth. Amen to that.
Whenever I speak with other people at parties or other parents at little league practice, the subject of what I do for a living always comes up. And when I mention that I own and operate my own landscape construction business, people typically become slightly envious and reply with a comment along the lines of “How great it must be to own your own business and not have to work for somebody else.”
I can almost see the fantasy in their eyes as they envision cutting out early in the afternoon or taking leisurely hour-and-half lunches. I rarely if ever have the heart to tell them that its not quite as glamorous as they envision.
In my home office I have a saying posted right above my computer screen. “An entrepreneur is somebody who works 80 hours a week for himself so he doesn’t have to work 40 hours a week for somebody else.”
That about sums it up.
Not that I don’t enjoy what I do. To the contrary, I absolutely do. I can’t possibly imagine how somebody could put forth the time and energy to run a business if they didn’t love what they do.
But make no mistake about it, if you want to start your own business you need to understand the time commitment, and get out of the 9 to 5 mentality. There is no 5:00. And if you’re a parent too, -- in the words of Al Pacino from Donnie Brasco – "Fuhgedaboutit."
During the heat of the season, my days typically look something like this. I'm up at 6 am to get the wife off to work and the kids off to school. Once my parental obligations are done in the morning, there are emails and phone calls to return. I then get to the jobsite, and ideally my guys are already at it. Depending on the day and the project, the balance of the work day consists of working on the site and supply and material runs. More often than not I schedule new prospect meetings in the evenings, meaning that after my workers head for home I’m off to meet with clients.
And the nights I don’t have meetings? Usually that’s because there’s a little league game or Cub Scout meeting
for my kids.
And then there’s just enough time for dinner before reading a story or two to the kids and getting them off to bed.
Now it’s time to unwind, right? Not so fast my friends.
Remember those meetings I had in earlier in the evening? Well for every meeting there’s a new estimate that needs to be put together. And for every project there’s an invoice. And for every month there’s income summaries.
And bills to pay. And marketing plans. And this blog entry. And a myriad of other tasks that need to get done sometime. It’s not uncommon to be on the computer until 10 or 11 pm. Or later. And what doesn’t get done during the week, usually gets covered during the weekend.
This post isn’t meant as a complaint or even a venting opportunity. It’s more about explaining the time and work that goes into every project – from initial phone call to final clean-up. Good things don’t happen overnight, they take a lot of time and hard work. And even if your project hasn’t started yet in terms of shovels in the ground, there’s most likely already a lot going on behind the scenes.
So for anyone considering opening their own business, whether it’s in the landscaping industry, running a restaurant, opening a storefront, or any service-related endeavor, my advice is that you better love, I mean really LOVE, what you do. You’ll be spending an incredible amount of time nurturing your livelihood.
And if you see me at a party or around town, and we start talking about what we do for a living? Well first of all it most likely means my to-do list is growing because I’m not working right then and there. And second of all, before you get too jealous just remember there’s a lot more to running a business than just what goes on at the jobsite.
When we lived in California, my wife and I used to joke about how boring the weather was. “84 degrees and crystal blue sky AGAIN!?” It was enough to drive us nuts. Or so we thought.
Having been back on the east coast now for more than six years, we’ve since come to realize that we had it pretty good out there. The winters of 2010 and 2011 alone were enough to make anyone long for continuously warm and sunny weather.
This winter so far has thankfully been a mild one. But it’s still winter. Colder temperatures, gray skies, short days and long dark nights. And a question I am asked continuously is just what I do during the winter months.
Just to set the record straight, no matter how mild the winter is I typically hold off on doing any landscape construction during January and February. Fair weather can turn nasty in an unexpected heartbeat. The last thing anyone wants, contractor or client, is to have a project underway only to come to an unexpected standstill once that snowstorm hits. And even if the weather doesn’t turn, shorter working hours mean longer project durations, meaning added inconvenience to the client. Working conditions can be compromised eliminating the necessary passion for a successful project. The ground can be frozen or heaved. Or excessively muddy. Necessary hose outlets are often turned off from inside. Material supplies may be limited. There’s just too many risk factors that can add up. Plus a little R&R is always good for the mind, body and soul.
And yes, the lack of significant income during these months can be a nuisance, to put it mildly. That part certainly requires a bit of budgeting and planning on the contractor’s part.
Over the course of the year, I keep a running list, or running pile, or more accurately a running pile of lists of things that I just don’t have time to address when things are kicking. Updating web listings, updating contacts, filing, budgeting, website revisions, marketing plans, advertising copy and layout, bookkeeping, and office clean-up to name just a few. Winter is my time to knock these things out.
This year one of the big things to do on my list is clean up my garage. I’m not necessarily talking about the fleet of bicycles and the canoe, although I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t part of the intended clean-up. But as a small business owner, my garage has become my shop. And that shop tends to collect all the things that are leftover from each and every project. So as of now, my garage looks like my truck dumped a year’s worth of supplies all over. 20 leftover pavers from that job, 15 fence pickets from this job, a continuously morphing pallet of leftover flagstones of every shape and size imaginable, lumber, lumber, and more lumber, mortar bags, concrete bags, adhesive and glues, concrete form tubes, screws and nails, hardware of every conceivable type -- just to name a few of the things cluttering the garage right now. And even though I make a strong effort to keep my tools organized, it’s somewhat inevitable that things can get put back hastily during the rush of the season. All of that needs to get cleaned up and organized. And that’s only going to happen during the winter.
And there’s also the trade shows and classes. In our industry most of our shows correspond with the slow time of year. January and February are the time to get up to speed on new products, new trends, revised pricing, and new suppliers. It’s never too late to learn a couple of new skills that we can roll into our services, so I usually take at least a few seminars and classes to continuously build up the skillset.
Networking. Over the course of my travels throughout the year I always meet a wide range of interesting people. And we always say how nice it would be to be able to get together and get to know one another better. And then we have to get back to our crazy schedules. January and February provide the time for us to finally have coffee or do lunch. These meetings can help the business grow.
Once upon a time I heard a rumor that I have a family. While these rumors often cannot be verified outside of a summer vacation or a few long weekends over the course of the year, the winter is time for me to spend with the family. I spend a longer time with them in the morning before school, play family games in the evening, watch movies together, go to museums, and in general just get to know them better. Turns out they’re pretty cool people!
Household projects. My wife could probably shed light on this one better than me, but she keeps a running list, or running pile, or more accurately running piles of lists of all the household chores she wants me to get to. There’s hanging the punching bag the kids got for Christmas in the basement, fixing the treadmill, fixing the dining room light fixture, installing a programmable thermostat, and, well I’ll need to go downstairs and check the list. I regret to say (and inform my wife particularly) that very few of these projects have yet to happen. Rest assured though, she’ll stay on me about them.
And remember that little money issue I mentioned earlier. Well even though I may take off from most income-producing activities during the winter, I’ve discovered that mortgage companies do not. Nor do utility companies, auto loan companies, etc. So I do have to make a little bit of money. So I also undertake a few handyman-type projects for various clients. Interior trim installation, hanging drywall, and building a bookshelf are a few of the projects I’ve been keeping myself busy with this year.
And before I know it, spring is rapidly approaching and its time to get busy with client meetings, estimate preparation and inevitably the kickoff of the season.
So that “winter off” theory that on the surface sounds so enviable isn’t all that. Do I wish I was lounging on the beaches of St Maarten or soaking up the sun in Key West? Absolutely! But don’t we all this time of year. I may however still try to squeeze in cashing in on those massage gift certificates I got for Christmas. Wish me luck.