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Most successful business people have one thing in common: They read a lot. In fact, most Fortune 500 CEO’s read an average of four to five books a month. In contrast, most North American’s read only one per year and 60% of those people only get through the first chapter.

For those Hardscape contractors looking for something great to read until the Weather Channel tells you to jump into your truck and plow Mother Nature’s winter wonderland, here are a few suggestions from my own library that you won’t put down after Chapter One:

1.1 Jeffrey Gitomer “21.5 Unbreakable Laws of Selling”

The rules may change but the laws of selling remain constant and are the foundation for every successful customer relationship. Gitomer’s books are always a fun, easy read and chock full of important points and ideas. 

1.2 Daniel Pink “To Sell Is Human”

When you really think about it, we are all salespeople. Whether you are trying to get your crew to work overtime, convincing your landscape supply dealer to give you a discount or talking the MTO out of a ticket, we all sell more than we think. Daniel Pink discusses how to motivate others and offers up a different version of the ABC’s of selling…and it has nothing to do with closing!

1.3 Mitch Joel “Ctrl Alt Delete”

Marketing Magazine calls Mitch Joel the “Rock Star of Digital Marketing” and in Ctrl Alt Delete he urges everyone to reboot and start rebuilding their business model….and themselves. I will warn you that this book is not a quiet read but rather one that inspires change and radically different thought processes about selling and marketing your company and personal brand. 

For those who keep a few good podcasts on their smartphone, try Mitch’s “Six Pixels of Seperation”. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. 

Click here to download the podcast:

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/six-pixels-separation-marketing/id157616278

This holiday season, whether your waiting in line for salt at your landscape supplier or stuck at your in-laws eating something that vaguely resembles turkey, bring a good book with you. Improving your business starts with improving yourself.

Happy Holidays!

What does being green mean to your customers?

What does being green mean to your customers?

It is impossible to walk down an aisle in a grocery store, home improvement or big box store without seeing dozens of products and services claiming to be green. Your customers are inundated with messages about products and services that carry claims to be Environmentally Friendly, Certified Green, Eco Friendly etc.

It has gotten so bad that the term Greenwashing was added to the Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries:

greenwashing (noun) – disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image

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Customers are finding it difficult to trust companies who offer environmentally conscious products that are manufactured in ways that continue to destroy the planet. As a landscape contractor, be aware that your customers might not consider your 6.7L V8 Ford F-550 to be particularly environmentally friendly.

So if your company has a green offering or you are considering adding one in the near future, make sure the message to your customers is clear and you can prove it. If you can’t, you risk being labeled as another company with unsubstantiated or misleading claims about the environmental benefits of your products and/or services. 

Happy Hardscaping!

Quote  —  Posted: November 3, 2013 in Between A Rock And A Hardscape

Five Years

Posted: April 11, 2013 in Between A Rock And A Hardscape

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Five years ago stock markets around the world plunged amid fears of a US recession.

Five years ago Bill Gates stepped down as Chairman of Microsoft.

Five years ago the Summer Olympics opened in Beijing, China.

Five years ago Barack Obama was elected President of the United States.

Think of your business five years ago and all the changes that have taken place. The good and the bad.

Some of the things that shaped your company were external factors. These can be things like the weather, the economy, government regulation. They can hurt or help your business but you have no control over them.

What you do have control of are the internal factors such as your business’s reputation and image, the organization’s management structure and staffing and the amount of equipment, vehicles and tools you inventory.

You also have the ability to decide what you want your company to look like in the future and establish the steps that it would take to reach those goals.

What do you want your company to look like in five years? Write it down. Then figure out the steps it would take to make it a reality. It’s no secret that companies (and individuals) that set long term goals have a much better chance to become successful.

Set aside some time to put a five year plan in place so your company has a roadmap for the next half decade ahead. Otherwise you will spend the next five years just working instead of working towards something.

Happy Hardscaping!

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If you’re single, you can go to any number of online dating sites to try and find your ideal mate. If you want to book a hotel or eat at a new restaurant you can get recommendations from a ton of people online who are willing to share their experience. But when it comes to finding the perfect people who want us to install the backyard of their dreams, you’re on your own.

Finding the ideal customer is difficult but it is important because they exist. We are not talking about some pie-in-the-sky customer who will purchase anything we sell or promote. Rather, it’s a customer you already have, a customer that you communicate with, a customer that values your workmanship, and values your business.

Since there is no eHarmony for business (at least not yet), let me give you a few questions you need to ask yourself in order to find that perfect match:

1. What is the average size of your projects?

Everyone wants to land the whale. The huge project that will keep you and your company working for weeks or even months. The lure of the big money contract is too tough for most to resist.

Just remember that it is not the size of the project that matters, it’s the total profit at the end of the job. Work your way up to larger dollar contracts and you have a better chance to retain your desired profit margin.

2. What types of projects do you work on?

You need to understand your strengths. If you work primarily with interlocking stone, don’t try to take on a huge retaining wall project. Working with unfamiliar concepts is a serious drain on your time and resources and potentially dangerous for your customers if you don’t do it right. The experience you gain may be overshadowed by the lack of profit and the hit to your reputation.

It’s true, you need to expand your knowledge and the type of work that your company will consider. But do it in a controlled environment.

3. Where are most of your projects?

Geography plays a bigger part in the success of a project than you might think. Taking on a job that is significantly farther away than where you usually work comes with added issues.

How much more time will it take your crew to get to the site every day? How much added gas will be consumed? Will you need to deal with unfamiliar dealers to get the products you need? What are the different bylaws and zoning regulations?

Be aware of the extra costs when you consider working in unfamiliar areas. There is a reason people say “There’s no place like home”.

4. What are the personality traits of your best customers?

This is one that many businesses fail to consider and not just landscapers. It requires some critical thinking to determine what type of clients you work best with.

Do most of your customers look to you to design their dream project or do your clients already know exactly what they want? Do you tend to land work from people who have already seen your work in person (referrals) or from those who found you at a trade show or online (marketing)?

Find out what your previous clients have in common especially the ones where you made the most margin. Once you do, it will be easier to recognize a better prospect when you are looking to add new business and increase your profitability.

Finding the ideal customer is hard work. But it’s not nearly as hard as trying to please everybody.

Happy Hardscaping!

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If you have ever read a book about sales or taken any formal sales training, you will have undoubtedly learned that one of the keys to successfully bringing a new customer aboard is to establish early their budget for the project.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Find out right away how much the client is willing to spend so you can keep the project within their budget.

Don’t do it. Leave the budget conversation for the meeting when you present your design.

I know what you’re saying; “That’s ridiculous. I don’t want to spend all that time working with a client and putting together a design just to find out that they can’t afford it.”

I agree. It would be frustrating. But so is doing a $25,000 project for a client who would have spent $40,000 if you had given them an outdoor retreat rather than just a backyard reno.

The problem with establishing a budget early in your meetings with your client is you are going to be limited by it during the design process. Work on determining the customers vision and dreams for their backyard/driveway. Suggest adding a grill island, borders, pergola, seating wall and fire pit. They will tell you what is important to them. Use those features to establish the price for the project, not the random number that the client pulls out of the air when you ask them “How much do you want to spend?”

Still worried that your design will be too expensive?

Okay. Is $5 for a cup of coffee expensive? To some people it is. But ask someone who spends $50 a week on fancy coffees at Starbucks. They want the Venti Carmel Machiatto and have no problem paying for it. People will spend more than they expect if they they are getting more than they expect. It’s their hard earned money so let them spend it having you build them the backyard retreat that they will be proud to show off to their friends and family (or as I like to call them, referrals!).

There is a ceiling for every customer when it comes to their budget but don’t sell yourself and your projects short. Your customers are willing to spend more for their dreams when you design with their desires in mind. Not their budget.

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If you ask the average person to list the different forms of communication, chances are you will get answers like speaking, writing, and even body language. But you will rarely hear listening near the top of that list. Sometimes, people even forget it is a form of communication.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be.

There are a million self-help books, speakers and courses designed to help us be better speakers but very few to help us when we are on the other end of that communication.

Everyone wants to be heard, so here’s a few tips how contractors can improve their listening skills:

1. Make Time To Listen To Your Employees

Let’s face it, you pay your crews to excavate, build retaining walls and lay pavers. Not to sit around and chat. So take a few minutes at lunch time or during a morning or afternoon coffee break to talk to them. Find out more about them, ask them how they feel the project is going, or ask their opinion on some new equipment you are considering purchasing.

Finding good employees is always one of the hardest tasks any Hardscape contractor will perform. Do everything you can to retain them by showing them you care enough to hear what they have to say.

2. Create Ways To Listen To Your Customers

It’s a habit we all fall into from time to time. We sit down with our customers and decide to tell them every last bit of knowledge we have gained over the years. Problem is, we haven’t found out anything about them or their dreams for the project because we’ve been too busy talking.

You automatically increase your listening time by asking questions, preferably ones that start with a “W”, as in who, what, when, where and why. If you understand their vision, they are more likely to hire you.

3. Understand How To Listen To Your Suppliers

Your landscape suppliers have many ways to communicate with you; phone calls, text messages, email, Twitter, Facebook, seminars etc. But not all of them have a message that is important.

Choose the suppliers whose content is meaningful and then find out the different ways they broadcast this information. Decide wisely who to listen to because good people can have a positive impact on your company.

The hardest step in better listening is the first one: to do it on purpose. Make the effort to actually be good at it. You’ll be amazed at what you will hear.

Happy Hardscaping!

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There are many ways to say yes.

“Sure we can do that.”

“Of course.”

“No problem.”

“Absolutely.”

“Right away.”

“I think we can make that work.”

“Definitely.”

“Okey dokey.”

“Gladly.”

“By all means.”

“Exactly.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

“Certainly.”

No matter how you say “yes”, remember that it always comes with an obligation. When a customer asks you to change your install date, add an element to the design, or lower your price, make sure you understand how it will affect the project and your bottom line. Be certain you are prepared to fulfill that agreement before you say anything.

Especially yes.

Happy Hardscaping!