Archive for March, 2013

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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!