This article is from our contributor, Sean Adams of Contractor Innovation.
I have had the honor to join the Lawn Care industry's top influencers, for the Annual Landscape Influencer Online Summit this April. In the spirit of sharing content with this great community, I wanted to provide 5 Simple ways to help you conquer the chaotic Spring season.
We all know the rollercoaster effect we get each and every season with the Spring being an all out sprint to combat high client workload, inclement weather and employee struggles.
Like any good organization, we know we need to put systems in place to standardize what we do, how we do it and who helps us get it done. This is great in theory, but I find most contractors get lost on where to start. I have outlined four areas that are generally top priority..
Here are 4 areas to focus on to get a grasp on your business and manage the Spring:
If there is one struggle that is the common denominator within all the conversations I have had with contractors of all sizes, it is a lack of support in day to day tasks. As the busy season kicks in, the business owner can get sucked into an endless cycle of "running around" putting out fires and managing low dollar per hour tasks. Here are a few of the areas I see contractors getting sucked into the most:
- Customer care, bookkeeping, scheduling, service request management.. all seems to take a back seat to getting the field work done. A few tips:
If you are doing more than $200k per season, consider hiring a virtual office management service
- For the same cost as an in-house office manager you can get a highly qualified, trained and dedicated virtual agent that works just for your company. You will save a fortune in lost time trying to stop what you are doing in the field to jot down an address, client question or book a meeting.
- We suggest looking into Pink Callers.
If you are doing less than $200k a year, consider two approaches:
- Batch your office work: At this stage of your business, you probably have 5-10 hours per week of real administrative responsibility. Consider batching that work into 2-4 hours groups a few times a week and setting voicemails and emails to notify clients that you are small and get back within 24 hours. This allows you to focus on the day to day field work you may still be responsible for and keeps from interrupting and distracting you during this time.
- Break up the responsibility: If you have clients that require more immediate attention, try to split the customer care and office tasks. Can your spouse, or family member, help you out for now? Can you handle you field work in the middle chunk of the day and handle client care in the morning and a few hours in the afternoon?
Don't be afraid to get creative. The important thing to remember is to be consistent. Consistency creates habits, habits create systems, systems give us freedom. As we grow we can optimize these systems to begin to take more and more off our plate.
Materials/Parts Pickup and Delivery
- This is probably one of the easiest areas to systemize. It takes disciplined planning to look proactively at each and every week BEFORE it starts. Here are a few tips:
- If you have not done so already, make a list of all the supplies, parts and materials you purchase in-stores on a monthly basis. Things like weedwacker string, cans, handtools, replacement parts, blades etc. Look back through your bank statements and receipts from last year, and record how often you purchase each of the items and adjust for this season. Document the frequency in which you purchase each item in a spreadsheet.
- Using sites like Amazon.com and other online retailers, make a reminder on your calendar to order 1 week ahead of time for each of the items you routinely buy in-person. Buying online and having shipped to your home or shop can not only be a cost savings but you will save countless hours of driving to suppliers and distributors just to pick simple items. This is easily a task you can outsource to your Office manager or helper as well in the future.
- For more one-time custom order purchases, speak with your suppliers directly. Most any reputable supply house provides deliveries and freight if given enough notice. Whether it is hand-tools, or bigger items, establish a relationship with them by showing them your suppliers buying list. Show them the frequency you will be buying and see if they can help you lock in an arrangement to get the suppliers/parts you need without having to stop everything you are doing and drive to their facility.
- For bulk materials, if delivery is not feasible, and you have a foreman.. consider empowering them to become responsible for pickups of material for each job. It is simple enough to write out a system as well as show them in person how to go to the supply house with their order sheet you provide them and pickup what is needed. If possible setup an account with your supplier so they can charge your card on file or bill you at the end of the month to eliminate added confusion trying to give your foreman money to pay for materials.
On site Estimates
With the Spring rush, comes a high volume of new client interest for estimates. This can create a major bottleneck for you the owner to try to balance your already overloaded field responsibilities with dozens of on site appointments.
Here are a few tips to streamline estimating workflow:
- Create a script - that either you or your office staff using to talk to each and every new work request that comes in. Here are some key elements to include your script to prequalify:
- Areas you service - Clearly define which zip codes, counties or zones you are willing to take on new work in. Standardize this and make sure that this is one of the first questions asked of a caller so you do not waste anymore of either parties time for service outside your area.
- Services you perform - Have a detailed service list with specifications for each that can easily be described over the phone to a caller. For example: if someone requests lawn mowing.. pre-qualification points would be: "We only do weekly service, we do not bag and clients must sign up for yearly service" for example.
- Your backlog of work - If you have a waiting list for your service or can not add a new account for several weeks, be sure to inform the caller of that as that may be a simple way to weed out those callers who need a service provider ASAP and may be a waste your time to rush out to go estimate on site.
- Price Bracketing - Whenever possible, have a clearly documented service pricing list. While each property will have a unique price, you can easily provide bracketed pricing with a quick google maps lookup or naming of the properties neighborhood. Mentioning a base price of $$ right on the phone can dramatically cut out the issue of tire kickers requesting a very low price.
Blurring the Lines between Service work and Installations
Often times with small and mid-sized contractors who have limited staff, we see a mismatch in their priorities when it comes to scheduling and management of the service versus installation work.
Here are a few tips:
- If you are smaller company and use the small crews to do installations and service, map out your service work first and allocate exactly how many hours and which days are dedicated to your routine seasonally loyal clients. When installation work comes in, breakdown the time and cost estimate based on working around the work you already have scheduled and your crew’s availability.
- We have seen too many cases of contractors dropping their service work dead in its tracks to go handle a large installation job only to end up burning the relationships with their loyal seasonal clients.
- Do not mistake short term installation project profits for long term sustainability for your company. As installation work comes in, be sure to inform the client as to what your REAL schedule expectations are and not what they want to hear. If you are small and you can only free up your crew 2 days a week or only on weekends for an install, be transparent and let the client know upfront.
- When installation requests come in, share with the prospective client that the Spring is by far the busiest time of year for you. Ask them if they would be comfortable pushing off the project a few months to portion of the Summer that is less chaotic and you can dedicate more detailed attention to their project specifically.
- Misaligning the priority of your company's work can be a major drain your time because you end up being the extra set of hands to help squeeze in a completion to a last minute installation project.