The fourth quarter of the year is crunch time, mop-up time. The final three months is when some of you can (and should) score big and finish with a financial statement that makes the holidays special. You’ve met or exceeded your yearly budget and covered your overhead. Your game-tested team is familiar with your end-of-season plan and is motivated to make it happen.
On the other end of the business spectrum, some of you may feel the only thing that will save your year will be the business equivalent of a Hail Mary pass.
If you feel that way, don’t fret or panic. You can still finish the year on a positive note. Beyond that, these final few months of the year provide time for you to start building a plan for more revenue and more profit for next year.
“I look at the fourth quarter of the year as the home stretch,” says Mark Borst, founder and president of Borst Landscape & Design, Allendale, New Jersey. “In this business usually you don’t turn a profit until September or October, so you work all season long to turn a negative into a positive. The last quarter of the year is where you gain your profit for all of the effort you’ve put in the previous three quarters.”
Borst’s take-home message: Take advantage of the last quarter to score extra sales, deliver more service and generate more revenue. Start now.
The game isn’t over ’til it’s over
As a football fan, have you ever been tempted to take off a shoe and toss it at your television after watching your favorite team employ the prevent defense, give up yards and, ultimately, lose the game in its final minutes? The same goes for business. Your competitors will keep advancing as you keep backing up.
“Always be marketing,” says Tony Bass, founder and CEO of Super Lawn Technologies and a popular industry coach. Develop a plan to do it systematically.
Your Fall To-Do List
- Keep marketing, keep selling and keep producing. Many of your competitors will be coasting into the holidays.
- Review your past year’s performance. Analyze which customers and which services were most important to you. Begin building a strategy to get more of the former and deliver more of the later.
- Reconnect with your customers. Get your customers’ opinions about your service. Short, hand-written, thank-you notes and holiday greetings are always appreciated. When is the last time a colleague or even a vendor sent you a friendly hand-written note?
- Be on the lookout for new talent. Add to your team and embrace opportunities to add to your knowledge and boost the value of your employees. Late fall and winter offer great opportunities for both.
- Celebrate your successes. Recognize your employees for their contributions to your company’s success and take some time to reflect upon your great good fortune in being able to play in an industry that adds so much beauty and pleasure to our society.
Bass says the most profitable clients he coaches increase the frequency of client communications in late summer and early fall. He advises delivering direct sales letters to existing clients. Then, within two weeks, reaching out to past customers with the same “special offer.” Soon thereafter (perhaps a week or two later), it’s time to solicit your “Dream 100” list of prospects. Only after you do all of this is it time to approach unconfirmed leads with your special service offers.
“Marketing efforts should be timed when clients need work so they are trickled out over a few weeks, which prevents overloading your sales or production team,” says Bass.
“On the maintenance side of our business we probably send out 400 to 500 estimates just for lawn renovations,” Borst adds. “We see it as a huge upsell opportunity for the fall.”
The window for selling and performing lawn renovations — indeed most fall services — is tight, he cautions. That’s especially the case for his northern New Jersey market even though almost all of his residential clients are within a half-hour drive of his headquarters. His goal is to start selling a service such as renovations just after mid-summer and into September. Generally, he wants them completed no later than the end of the second week in October. Mid-autumn’s generally mild weather provides newly aerated and seeded lawns time to establish before the ground freezes.
Fall, of course, is also a great time to sell grub control services to those customers having lawns that are experiencing grub damage. It’s also the time to sell and provide winter weed control and to give turfgrass its final feeding before the ground freezes. Late-fall fertilization extends turfgrass green-up into the winter, promotes earlier spring green-up and increases overall lawn vigor.
“Fall is a great time of the year to be providing estimates for lawns because a lot of people are unhappy with the way their properties look,” Borst explains. “This is definitely part of the new sales cycle.”
Mike Sisti, owner of Weed Man Montgomery County (Pennsylvania), also firmly believes owners should continue educating customers and prospects on the agronomic benefits of late-season turf fertilization and weed control. These “educational” efforts give owners yet another legitimate reason to stay in contact with customers as the lawn care season winds down.
“The first challenge is hitting the sales budget,” says Sisti, as he views the end of the application season. This may require some sales help, he admits. The second challenge, especially given fall’s shorter days and the uncertainty of the weather, “is ensuring the services are delivered in a timely manner to keep our customers happy,” he adds.
Five Design/Build Niches for Next Year
Are you looking to break away from the competition with a new or different landscape design/build service? As you plan for next year, consider these suggestions from Shah Turner, an experienced landscape architect, speaker and business coach who lives and works in Australia. Turner is the director of Pitch Box, a resource for landscape contractors, swimming pool builders and industry suppliers “who want to increase sales and improve their professional image.”
He shared the following ideas (and a few more) in a recent LinkedIn post. You can find the complete list at http://pitch-box.com/7niches.
1. Landscapes for children. Schools and playgrounds have been an excellent niche to specialize in, particularly for small contracting firms, he says.
2. Medical & institutional. Specialized medical facilities are increasingly required to provide “green” amenities to patients and/or residents. “For the right landscaper willing to learn the relevant codes and deal with specialist suppliers and fabricators, this could prove to be a worthwhile undertaking,” shares Turner.
3. Low budget. “As many design and build operators clamber to reach the holy grail of high-end residential, very few it seems are prepared to look closely at the opportunities presented by the volume market at the opposite end of the spectrum,” he writes. Success in this market will depend upon a contractor’s ability to deliver the goods with a low-cost, pre-determined/pre-designed set of options, which can e installed at great speed for a high turnover at consistent profits, he opines.
4. New builds and project builders. This obviously is dependent upon an uptick in home construction. “A well-oiled, machine-like business prepared to develop a strong relationship with a successful project builder will enjoy the lucrative spoils of a consistent work flow,” writes Turner.
5. Over 55s lifestyle villages. Turner says these kinds of projects vary in quality depending on the developer, but many now include resort-like facilities complete with pools, golf courses and other amenities. “Each of these projects requires a specialized approach to creating a landscape as the residents have a specific set of needs and expectations and are mindful of value for money when it comes to balancing lifestyle and spending their limited retirement funds,” he writes.
Like marketing and selling, owners should always be looking for talent to add to their companies, Sisti points out. In fact, if customer demands warrant it this fall, he may hire part-time help. “In some cases, a fall part-time hire can turn into a full-time opportunity the following spring,” he adds.
There is no lack of services for a landscape or lawn service contractor to offer and perform as the year winds down. Indeed, autumn offers a bigger variety of landscape service opportunities than any other season.
In addition to the aforementioned turf services, fall is the time to wrap-up previously sold design/build and construction projects, complete fall cleanups (leaf and beds), perform irrigation winterization, and sell and deliver holiday lighting. For those of you who experience “real” winters, it means finalizing your contracts for your snow services and getting your equipment and your employees, including subcontractors if you use them, primed for the first significant event.
“In the early years of our operation by not offering our clients what they wanted and needed in the fall we left many profit dollars on the table for our competitors,” admits Wayne Volz, founder and owner of Wayne’s Lawn Service, Louisville, Kentucky. He put a stop to that.
His company’s service menu now includes a broad range of autumn lawn services, but the most obvious ones remain the most popular ones.
“We have a push every fall to generate new fertilization and weed control accounts because most of our competitors don’t go after it at that time of the year. We always add a significant number of accounts during the fall,” he adds.
As the end of the year approaches, step up your efforts to reconnect with your customers and especially your most important ones.
Read more: Win by Emulating a Great Sports Team
Look Backward to Move Forward
How many of you analyze in cold, hard numbers who is buying from you, what they are buying and how the revenue from each of these clients and services impacts your bottom line? Learning this will allow you to approach next season targeting prospects and neighborhoods and, also, boosting the marketing and sales efforts of the services that offer the best returns for your company.
The upcoming holidays are a good time to review your company’s performance. Do it customer by customer and service by service. The exercise will reveal to you where you are making your most profit and how to piggyback off of that for next season.
Do you know who your most profitable customers are? This is not necessarily the amount of money they spend with you, but the amount they return to you that you keep after tallying what it takes in terms of labor, drive time, equipment and materials to please them.
When you dig into your company’s performance, you will probably learn that you have clients that consistently demand unreasonable levels of service, at least compared to what they are spending with you? Let a competitor have them.
“Recognize that all customers and prospects are not created equal,” says Industry Entrepreneur Tony Bass, who founded, ran and built a $4 million landscape company in Bonaire, Georgia, before selling it in 2006.
Develop a profile of your best customers, and put together a plan to find and attract prospects in your market who closely fit that profile. The same goes for your services. As simple as it sounds, how many of you implement strategies to emphasize and boost sales of your highest-profit services?
Finally, have you investigated adding services that historically have proven to return high margins?
Cement your client relationships
If you’ve been in business any length of time at all, you are probably familiar with the 80-20 rule, which suggests that 80 percent of a company’s gross sales come from 20 percent of its clients. How well the rule holds up for landscape and lawn service companies is debatable. It would seem to be off the mark for companies specializing in residential lawn applications and perhaps even residential mowing, given the cookie-cutter nature of those businesses. This likely more accurately describes the commercial services world.
Whatever the ratio of customers to sales, every company has its “best” (i.e., most profitable) customers, and as the season winds to a close making every effort to cement relationships with them is a great idea.
Bass adds that well-timed satisfaction surveys and courtesy calls “can cement client retention like cow patties attract flies.” Don’t overlook the power of short, friendly hand-written notes and special holiday greetings, either.
Customer retention is huge in today’s competitive environment, and especially so for a route-based, repeatable service, such as lawn care.
That fact is not lost on Sisti. “We follow up with our current customers to evaluate the progress we’ve made throughout the year and offer additional recommendations to improve the health of their lawns,” he says.
The last quarter of the year is profit time for established well-run landscape and lawn service companies, and catch-up time for many other companies.
Keep marketing. Keep selling. Keep producing. There’s plenty of time yet to finish the year as a winner.