At Go iLawn / Go iPave, we get to meet our fair share of business owners. Between our thousands of customers in landscaping/lawn care, paving/pavement maintenance, snow removal, facility management, and related industries we talk to lots of people every year, and they often tell us what works for them.
Our customers are pretty diverse too. They’re located all across North America, and they range in size from small local operators to major national players. From guys who work alone to aggressive, growth-minded entrepreneurs.
We see trends about practices which seem to help companies succeed and others that don’t have a consistent benefit. There’s no silver bullet in business, but there are certain things we see in common with successful companies of all sizes. Unfortunately, we’ve also heard about the things that have kept companies from succeeding.
There’s no way to guarantee your success, but after a lot of thought, we’ve developed this list of 5 things we think are very important. We tend to see our most-successful customers use them and we’ve seen companies fail because they didn’t have them.
Here’s our list of 5 things we think are Vitally Important to building a successful business.
1. Have a Plan, and Goals
Whatever you want your company to be, you should always start with a plan. Every owner is different and every company has its own priorities. We don’t pretend to know what’s the best plan for your company, but we’re confident that having a plan and having goals to help you reach that plan are important.
You already have goals at some level, but have you documented them and made them formal? Have you shared them throughout your oganization, so your employees know what you’re trying to accomplish? Have you sketched out plans to reach your goals and defined important milestones along the way?
If not, here are some tips to get you started Check out our tips for Setting and Using Strategic Goals
2. Have a Process
On the sales side, define a process that sets priorities and sets aside time to deal with vital things like balancing production work and sales inquiries. When customers call, have a consistent process for how you deal with them. Make sure your processes include strict rules for when and how you’ll follow up with customers.
Document best practices for all your other important tasks too, things like recognizing revenue, ordering materials, quoting jobs, buying equipment, hiring staff, and even executing work. By documenting it now, you have a record of “approved” procedures and make sure this expertise lives within your company, and isn’t just known by a few key employees.
If you’re not sure how to start building processes, check out our Process Improvement Tools Any Company Can Use
3. Be Efficient
Your business is designed to turn customer interest and employee effort into profits. Interest leads to sales, which leads to work, which leads to income through a chain of events. And like any chain, this one only works as well as its weakest link. That’s why it’s a good idea to take a step back and think about your business as one whole thing rather than as the sum of its parts.
An interesting thing happens when you start thinking about your business as a “System”. You start to separate the results of your company from the results of each job or the performance of each employee. After all, individual areas of excellence aren’t very important unless they help the entire system perform better and help your company be more effective and more profitable.
Want to build your business into a money-making machine? Maybe our 3-part series on using Systems Thinking in your business can help?
- Part I – Your Business is a System.
- Part II – How Many Systems Drive Your Business?
- Part III – What’s Holding you Back?
4. Be Professional and Look Professional
Service industry companies include some of the lowest “Economic Barriers to Entry” of any business you can launch. In lawn care for example, you could realistically launch a lucrative business for the cost of a basic truck, a trailer, and a few pieces of hand and power equipment, with no need for specialized training or education.
This means that your market may be served by an abundance of providers that compete against you and, frankly, aren’t very professional or even very good at their jobs.
That’s why the first three of our 10 Ways to Stand Out from Other Startups are all about looking and acting like a professional:
- Treat your role as the serious and professional endeavor it is– This is your career! Too many people out there see it as a temporary thing or as just a means to get some pocket money. If you present and carry yourself like a professional, you’ll immediately set yourself apart from the bottom half of your competition.
- Look official (Personally) – This could be as simple as a $50 order for custom T-shirts, but taking even the simplest efforts to look more official and professional than the guy in the cutoffs and sleeveless T-Shirt will help you look the part while you act it.
- Look Official (Materials) – Take the opportunity to invest a couple hundred bucks in a few simple things to finish out this image of professionalism. You’ll want letterhead, quote sheets, and invoice forms, which can be either printed or electronic. Simple magnetic signs for your truck doors and business cards you can pass out are the only things that really can’t be electronic.
5. Monitor Your Progress With Techniques Like Benchmarking
There are a lot of ways to measure your effectiveness. One very-practical tool we’ve used for this is benchmarking: measuring your performance now so you can compare your later performance back to how you did in the past.
Like anything, benchmarking does have some limitations. You’re comparing your performance now to your own past performance, so it won’t necessarily help you identify HOW to improve.
But benchmarking is powerful because it allows you to reliably and accurately tell IF YOU ARE improving. It helps you see if what you’re doing is working and by how much. And its something any company can do at any time.
During your season, you should begin by benchmarking against your ‘big three’: Sales, Production and Overhead Efficiencies as early as possible. There’s no better time to start than right now!
Why now? Because as you get services started up and get day-to-day production into full swing, it’s a perfect time of year to check your vitals and see how things are playing out.
Are you using these 5 keys? What other things are critical for YOUR business?
Let us know in the comments.