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How to Get Smart with Your Landscaping Business

Most landscape professionals begin their landscaping career for one reason: they love what they do.

However, as all landscape professionals know – there is more to a successful landscaping business than trimming shrubs and mowing lawns. You must stay on top of your jobs and ever-changing government regulations, while trying to keep up with administrative duties at the same time.

You may have no control over government regulations, but how you choose to manage your business is completely up to you. From job proposals, scheduling, and sending invoices – follow these tips to modernize your business and get a leg up on the competition.

Provide Quick & Accurate Job Estimates

Whether providing simple lawn maintenance or installing a two-tiered porch, customers expect quick and accurate estimates based on their needs. These estimates include material costs, labor costs, and your general business overhead (like gas and office expenses). Accurate estimates need to cover the full cost of the job, while still leaving enough to pay yourself and your crew.

To meet these expectations, it is important to find software that can quickly calculate the right amount of time and resources needed for a job. Providing estimates is not exactly an art… it is a science that should not be left to chance by human error. Software applications, like the payup℠ app, allow you to be the first to respond to new landscaping requests with quick and accurate estimates.

Schedule Jobs & Dispatch the Right Team Members

Early on in your landscaping business, it is easy to manage jobs and know where you and your crew need to be each day of the week. That will not be the case, however, as new jobs come in and your team of landscape professionals continues to grow.

Instead of struggling to keep up with new job requests and managing your team, invest in a system that tracks jobs, scheduling, and team member locations for you. Once the application has the data, it can create dispatch schedules for you. Simply view weekly or daily schedules in the app to know exactly what is happening with your business while on-the-go.

Find & Keep Good Employees

While technology improves the efficiency of your work, there is no such thing as quality work without the right team members in place. Landscaping professionals are hard to come by and can be even harder to keep. Make sure to cover these areas with any new hire or addition to your landscaping team:

  • Recruit everywhere. Landscaping may be a traditional service industry but using traditional recruiting tools like flyers and newspaper ads is no longer enough. In addition to those methods, post to online recruiting sites like GlassDoor and Monster.com. To increase your chances of finding the best talent, post year-round.

  • Incentivize the team. Landscaping is tough work. From quarterly bonuses and healthcare to proper weather and safety gear, give employees a reason to stick around. Monetary incentives are great (like holiday bonuses or an employee referral bonus), but employees also appreciate the free stuff – such as simply showing you care.

    Frequent breaks and free water when it is hot, as well as proper weather gear when it is cold goes a long way. Also make employees feel educated and covered when it comes to the latest government regulations. In the landscaping industry, keeping them safe includes both physical and legal requirements.
  • Honor their personal time. Many landscape professionals are ready and willing to work their 40 hours a week. As a landscape business owner, you likely work much more than that. Keep in mind that your hours are not their hours. When off the job, make an effort to honor their personal time. Do not contact them after hours unless in an emergency.

    Want to go the extra mile? Consider implementing a Paid-Time-Off policy that includes holidays, birthdays, and a bank of illness and vacation days. Start conservative and allow employees to earn these perks over time, as they prove their quality and dependability.

Send Invoices & Get Paid Quickly

An accurate and timely invoice is the last piece of the puzzle once a landscaping job is complete. Just as quick and accurate estimates allow you to secure jobs, providing quality invoices will allow you to keep jobs and build repeat customers.

The days of traditional paper invoices and money order or check payments are fading. In fact, the number of check payments decreased by $26.3 trillion from 2012 to 2015.

With apps like payup℠, you can create and send lawn care and landscape maintenance invoices within minutes. Customers can view and pay the invoice via credit card directly from their phone or laptop, so you get paid quickly on or off-site. This allows customers to complete the full process – from viewing and accepting the estimate to paying an invoice – on one modern, easy-to-use application. Not only will they brag and recommend your services to others, but they will likely keep you in mind for their own future landscape and lawn maintenance needs.

Getting smart with your landscaping business means taking steps to modernize the process from start to finish. Customers and employees alike will appreciate the effort. Finding a savvy software application to cover these administrative tasks allows you and everyone on your team more time to do what they love: landscaping.

The Busy Freelancer’s Guide to Success

Pursuing a career as a freelance professional has become more and more popular in the last decade.

According to a study conducted by Intuit, freelancers are expected to make up approximately 40% of the entire U.S. workforce by 2020.

Becoming a freelance professional is an attractive idea for many reasons, but it is important to first understand what it takes to succeed as a freelancer. As the number of freelancers in America skyrockets each year, competition is fiercer than ever. Whether you work as a software developer, HVAC professional, or photographer – use this guide to get started (or continue!) on the freelance path to success.

Take Time on the Logistics

This piece of advice may not be sexy, but it is incredibly important. Many busy freelance professionals find themselves overwhelmed, moving from job to job while trying to stay up-to-date with emails and other tasks.

Instead of navigating your business blindly, develop a logistics plan: How will you track projects? What is your business process for sending and receiving invoices or proposals? When will you follow up on emails and phone calls? This work can seem tedious, but developing a logistics plan ahead of time will save you a world of headache in the future.

Customers will also notice and appreciate your organization. Want to go the extra mile? Define your process, document it, and provide it to potential customers in a professionally designed PDF. Following the same process from project to project builds trust with your customers as they learn to rely on you to provide transparency and consistency.

Use Your Calendar as a Guide

One of the biggest perks as a freelance professional is the ability to be your own boss. Unfortunately, it is also one of the biggest risks when it comes to time management and goal-setting. Learning to use your calendar to its fullest extent is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to better manage your time and resources.

Do not only use your calendar when meeting with clients or customers. Need to finish a project by a certain deadline? Schedule time on your calendar to work on the project in small increments over time to meet that deadline. Struggling to find the time to return customer emails and phone messages? Set aside specific time each week to focus solely on customer communication.

As a freelancer, balancing your business and home life can easily become a struggle. There is no shame in also using your calendar to make sure you never forget a soccer game or special dinner with family! Using your calendar for personal, client, and project-related tasks ensures nothing slips through the cracks.

Promote Yourself

This may seem awkward, but being a successful freelancer means learning how to market yourself. Thankfully, this does not mean you need to wear a costume and hand out flyers on every street corner. The goal in promoting your business is to simply make sure current and potential clients are able to easily find, understand, and contact you and your business.

In its most basic form, one of the first tips in successful self-promotion is having a sleek and modern website that outlines your company, its mission, customer reviews, and contact information. To take it a step further, bring your business to social media. Do some research to understand which social media platform(s) your main customer base uses, then use these platforms to connect and engage with your audience. Social media is not only the fastest growing platform for entrepreneurs and freelance professionals, but it has the capability of marketing your business for free!

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

You likely started your freelance career because you specialize in something. To be as successful as possible in that special ‘something’, it is important to focus as much of your time as possible on the actual work you provide to clients.

Defining your processes, following your calendar, and marketing yourself are important. However, using your valuable time to complete all administrative and marketing tasks yourself (answering emails, returning phone calls, updating the website, posting on social media… the list goes on!) may not be the most valuable use of your time.

When you first get started as a freelancer, it may be important that you cover all these bases yourself. It allows you to personally connect with customers, save money, and understand your business in full. Over time, though, it may actually save you time and money to build a team that has expertise in these areas and can cover them for you.

If it does not make sense to build a team, consider delegating certain tasks to modern-day software. Business or project management apps, for example, allow you to streamline project estimates, timelines, invoices, and more. Delegating tasks outside of your niche allows you more time to do what you love, while also allowing you more time to strategize and grow your business.

As with any freelance business, you will experience your fair share of struggles and successes. The learning process can be the best part! Regardless, it never hurts to have a little helpful advice along the way. Use these ideas as a guide to maintain and grow your business. It is not always about being “busy” – it is about being productive with your time and resources!

The Auto Repair Business: What Trends You Need to Know

As an auto repair professional, you likely have no shortage of work to do.

Whether you work as a freelance mechanic or run your own auto repair shop, you may find it tough to keep up with auto repairs, customer communications and invoicing.

Thankfully, the auto repair industry continues to trend upward each and every year. According to a report by Ibis world, the auto repair industry has grown 2.5% each year over the past five years. If you do not think that sounds like much, do the math: the auto repair industry has grown 12.5%, in total, over the last five years.

Luckily for you, this means a good chance of solid job security. The same Ibis report, however, showed a total of 271,068 auto repair businesses in the industry this year. What does that mean for you? Tough competition.

Keep these auto repair industry trends top of mind as you move your freelance or repair shop business to the next level.

Disposable Income

The amount of disposable income per household – or income remaining after taxes and bills, to spend as one wishes – hit a U.S. record high in August of 2019. This is good news for the auto repair industry.

With more disposable income, consumers can afford to spend more money on auto repairs and maintenance versus feeling the need to complete the work themselves.

Vehicle Lifespans

As engineering practices and vehicle technology improves, the average lifespan of a vehicle is also improving. Consumers are now able to keep vehicles longer, and they expect to. Now more than ever, people want to receive the full value of their vehicle purchase before moving on to another vehicle.

To successfully keep a vehicle in good shape for the long run, routine maintenance and repair is a necessity. Although consumers work hard to extend the lives of their vehicles, do not mistake that behavior for being cheap. Car owners are now 2 times more likely to be content spending $1,000 or more on repairs and are more likely to say ‘yes’ to routine services such as replacing air filters, oil changes, new spark plugs, and the use of premium oil.

Keep in mind: as engineering and manufacturing practices for vehicles improve, the need for frequent, expensive vehicle repairs decreases.

Consider offering specials on routine service changes or maintenance memberships to use this trend to your advantage.

Auto Dealerships

For auto repair professionals, the good news keeps coming. Auto repair services are slowly shifting away from auto dealerships, with most aftermarket auto repair services happening at auto repair shops or by freelance auto repair professionals. According to Spectrio, 75% of aftermarket auto repairs are performed by independent repairs shops, with only 25% at the dealership. Auto repair franchises are gaining more and more of the market, so make sure you understand why consumers are starting to choose one location over another.

Auto dealerships offer benefits such as warranties, clean environments, and the knowledge of your vehicle’s full history. When people visit a third-party auto repair shop, they likely want or need a more complex repair service. Due to this, most consumers choose local repair shops based on customer reviews, recommendations, quality repair offerings, and great customer service – somewhere they and their money feel valued.

This trend speaks volumes on how important it is to focus your time on making sure customers receive the best auto repair service experience possible. Competition is tough, and consumers are using business reviews and personal recommendations now more than ever. Make sure you have the software and ability to provide a great experience from start to finish – including timely responses, accurate quotes, invoices, and payment processes.

Mobile Platforms

Speaking of software, vehicle owners in need of repairs now expect every experience to be automated, efficient, and mobile-friendly. Online shopping has increased 14.2% since 2017, and there is no doubt a large driver of that increase is the convenience and ease of mobile-friendly options.

Mobile options allow customers to find auto repair services, communicate with auto repair professionals, and receive pricing and invoice information in one online application. The automotive industry is also going mobile to improve their own productivity and efficiency. Why sort through paper forms for information when you could use a mobile platform to find all information in seconds? Going mobile is a win-win for auto repair professionals and customers alike.

The future of the automotive repair industry is bright. People want their vehicles to last longer, and they are willing to spend their money to make it happen.

Staying up-to-date with market trends is important for any business, and the current trends in the auto repair industry provide obvious advantages to auto repair professionals. As your first step, market and offer services to meet the needs of your customers. Next, provide that experience digitally to enhance customer satisfaction, efficiency, and productivity. The answer is in the data – look at these trends as opportunities to grow and succeed in the auto repair industry.

6 Easy Ways to Make a Strong Impression with Your HVAC Customers

As any HVAC professional knows, running a successful heating, ventilation, and air conditioning business requires you to manage a lot of moving parts.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the HVAC industry is projected to grow 13 percent from 2018 to 2028 (much faster than the average for all other occupations). Although this statistic may be good for HVAC job security, it also means competition will continue to grow in the HVAC industry.

As an HVAC professional or business owner, how can you set yourself apart from the competition? Take a look at these 6 ideas for creating a strong, positive impression in the eyes of current and potential customers.

Improve greeting messages

Email and phone greetings seem minor, but it is your first opportunity to begin building that positive relationship with your customers. For example, adding a simple ‘thank you for reaching out’ at the beginning of your conversation or exchanging names can make a world of difference. With almost no effort (and absolutely no money!), small tweaks to improve your greeting message can make conversations feel personalized to each customer – in a good way.

Set expectations on follow-up

Greetings matter, but you will not be able to answer every call or email right away. For situations like this, make sure your voicemail message or automated email message is warm, friendly, and sets clear expectations for customers on when to expect a response.

Here’s a great example of an automated email message:

“Thank you for reaching out to Smith Services! We value your time and thank you in advance for your patience. We will reach out via email or phone within 24 hours of your communication. Please call XXX-XXX-XXXX with immediate HVAC emergencies. We look forward to partnering with you on your HVAC needs!”

Pay attention to your curb appeal

Life as an HVAC professional is not always glamorous – it can require you to get your hands dirty! Heating units, A/C parts, the list goes on…

To improve your brand in the community and with current and potential customers, try to view your store or business location as customers would view it.

There is no reason an HVAC business needs to look fancy, but cleanliness and organization do matter. Both outside and inside the business, make sure items are organized and shelves and floors are free of clutter and trash.

Make sure your business sign is clean and easily visible somewhere within a well-groomed landscape or lawn. Whether we like it or not, looks play a huge role in a customer’s first impression of your business. It can especially help your business stand apart from others in the industry.

Create a uniform look

When a customer visits your business (or you visit their home), they should know exactly who you are based on your HVAC uniform.

A professional HVAC uniform does not have to be extravagant, uncomfortable, or expensive. It can simply include a t-shirt with your company’s logo and a small name badge. This standard, clean cut look will begin to build a strong brand for your company that customers and the community will recognize.

Respect your customer’s space

Being an HVAC professional means performing house calls. You work inside the home, outside the home, and remove and rebuild a number of parts. It is easy for your workspace to become messy. No matter what, make sure a customer’s home and HVAC space is tidy before you leave.

In a customer’s eyes, there is nothing more disrespectful than messy contractors inside your home!

The work itself may require moving parts, but once you leave, there should be no obvious evidence that you were there – No shoe tracks, no loose parts lying around, and no equipment left behind.

Organize your information

New customers and contracts are great for an HVAC business; however, more customers and jobs can mean less time for administrative tasks. To create and maintain a positive impression with customers, administrative work cannot be left behind.

Paper work, bookkeeping, proper invoicing, job documentation, and client information are just a few areas that are vital to running a successful business. Instead of trying to manage these tasks manually, look for all-inclusive software that can help manage this information for you. Not only will this help you manage your time and information, but it will also give customers a modern and organized experience with your business. 

As the HVAC industry grows at record speeds, it is important to realize that providing quality customer service is just as important as providing quality HVAC service.

The right communication, the right look, and the right tools and software will guarantee a strong and positive impression with current and potential customers. Positive word-of-mouth recommendations and customer reviews are one of the most important aspects to a successful service business, so the time taken to focus on the impression and experience you provide to customers will not be wasted.

The Top 5 Mistakes Small Business Owners Make

Starting and maintaining a successful small business is no easy task.

Making mistakes along the way is inevitable, and there is nothing wrong with that. While it is important to learn from those mistakes, every small business owner should also use opportunities to learn best practices from other experienced entrepreneurs to avoid the most common mistakes small business owners make.

To get started, take a look at the top 5 mistakes small business owners make. With this information under your belt, you can avoid the most common pitfalls small business owners experience – knowing you will make your own mistakes along the way that future entrepreneurs can learn from.

1. Placing the Work over the Business

Most small business owners, especially in the service industry, started their companies due to their expertise and passion for the work. Construction company owners likely began as quality construction workers who enjoyed their job, while landscape company owners likely began as amazing landscapers who needed some help.

A common pitfall due to this, however, is that many small business owners place more importance on the work itself and leave business and administrative work behind. As a small business owner, it is important to realize that every aspect of your business is equally important. Completing the work is crucial, but small business owners must spend the same amount of time and effort responding to customers, sending and receiving invoices, collecting payments, and marketing their business. A successful business is built on quality work and quality processes.

Let’s dive deeper into these topics!

2. Not Accepting Debit and Credit Card Payments

The number of debit and credit card payments grew by $13B in only three years from 2012 to 2015. Many small business owners make the mistake of sticking to traditional forms of payment, like cash and check, to avoid card processing fees. If we could sum up a solution in one sentence: Accept credit cards.

Credit card processing fees are simply a cost of doing business in today’s digital world, and the return will far outweigh the cost. With the credit card industry growing at an alarming rate, it is more expensive for your company not to accept debit and credit card payments. The data urging you to accept digital payments is there, yet 52% of field service companies still process things manually. Avoid this mistake and get an immediate leg up on your competition. See ClearGate’s Payment Solutions now.

3. Failing to Market Yourself and Your Business

For your business to be successful long-term, you must understand your customer base and how to best reach them. From formal marketing advertisements to your company’s uniform, understand what your customers want, need, and expect.

If your customers rarely read the newspaper, why would you advertise in the newspaper? Do your customers expect to receive formal, professional business cards, or are they more likely to search for that information online? Taking time to understand your clients is one of the first steps to reaching them. As with any relationship, it is hard to meet expectations if you do not know them.

Once you figure how your customers search for information and what information they prefer – articles, videos, blog posts – start connecting with them! Ask and answer their questions, discuss your services, and help them understand your business. While many entrepreneurs see marketing as just a sales strategy, they could not be more wrong. As a small business owner, everything you do is marketing your brand to customers and the community.

4. Avoiding New Technology

Some small business owners view technology as something that costs money and is hard to use. In reality, the right technology allows businesses to save money and become more efficient.

For example, consider a business that still sends and receives traditional, paper invoices. They complete the invoice manually, print the invoice, then send or scan to clients and customers via email or mail. Not only could they save paper costs, printer costs, and time by moving to digital invoicing – but they would also experience a much lower rate of human error and receive payments more quickly! More times than not, allowing technology to do the work increases a company’s efficiency, accuracy, and time spent on growing the business.

Technology may be intimidating, but refusing to transform your company to meet the needs of the economy could be your company’s kiss of death.

5. Trying to Do It All

The greatest mistake a small business owner can make is believing they can do everything it takes to run a successful business. The business may have started with you alone, but rarely does a successful business thrive and grow with only one human behind the magic. Although the owner of a business knows how to complete every task it takes to run the company, it does not mean they should.

Focus on your talents and find ways to utilize available resources for the areas you are weak (or simply do not enjoy). This could mean hiring new employees or finding software to complete some of the administrative work for you. Hiring a marketing assistant and purchasing software to automatically send and receive invoices and payments for you are just two examples of delegating pieces of your business to increase profits and continue growing.

As a small business owner, you will make mistakes. The key is to avoid the common ones and learn from the mistakes you do experience and pay it forward. As the CEO of your business, every decision you make either helps or hurts the chance of your business growing and succeeding. Let this list of common mistakes help you choose wisely!