Putting a Business on the Right Course with Strong Systems

Imagine you’re captain of a large ship. You’re sailing along, but you have a feeling something’s not right. You look at the horizon, check your charts and instruments, and discover – sure enough – you’re headed completely in the wrong direction.

Unfortunately, there’s no button you can push to instantly flip the ship around 180 degrees. But that’s okay. You take action – you start your turn – and slowly but surely, one degree at a time, you get the ship turned around and on the right course.

Sometimes running a business is a little like that. Sometimes you find yourself off course, but there is almost never any one thing you can do to instantly fix things. Usually, it’s a series of smaller things that you need to work on to gradually bring the business around.

Systems are the Key

You need systems for:

  • hiring and training
  • marketing
  • quoting jobs
  • accounting
  • purchasing
  • cash flow management
  • lead management
  • customer relations/service
  • scheduling and routing
  • job management
  • equipment management
  • employee communication
  • and dozens more!

For me, whether it’s starting a strong, new business or turning around a business that has had some difficulties, it’s all about the systems.

When you’re running a business, you’re going to deal with similar situations over and over again. The trick is to have a system in place so that you can deal with each situation consistently, measure your results, and improve over time.

If you’re constantly making stuff up and flying by the seat of your pants, it becomes really hard to know what works. More importantly, it can be really hard to plan.

When you have a good system, it takes into account all the bad stuff that could happen. When you have no system, you end up scrambling every time you hit a snag.

But, beyond dealing with problems, it’s also about efficiency. When you have a system and you handle things the same way every time, it takes away the questions and makes it clear what you need to do. Before you know it, four tasks that used to take you a full day are suddenly getting done before 11AM, and you have plenty of extra time to work on something else.

At Driven Landscapes, we have a detailed Operations Manual that covers everything we do in the normal course of business. It's hundreds of pages long and it took years to develop.

That sounds overwhelming, right?

But it’s not. We developed it over time. And nobody expects our employees to sit and read it cover-to-cover.

The point is, it’s there and we can refer to it whenever we want. Any time a situation comes up and there’s any question, we don’t have to figure it out all over again – we know where to look.

Example

When customers start calling and asking for quotes, it’s important to keep track of everything – especially at the busy times of year when you’re getting lots of calls and juggling lots of work.

I call it a Lead Flow process. Basically, it’s a system for everything that needs to happen from the time a customer first tries to contact you until you’ve closed the sale and scheduled the work.

Parts of the Lead Flow system:

  • Customer calls, emails, or contacts us through our web site.
  • You answer phone calls immediately if at all possible. Otherwise, return the call or email as soon as possible – within hours, never days.
  • Keep an organized record of the customer’s information. If you have CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software, enter the information immediately. If you don’t have CRM software, consider it. Otherwise, keep your customer lead information organized somewhere (an Excel spreadsheet, or even just a dedicated notebook) – not on random sticky notes stuck all over the place.
  • Generate a quote for the customer as soon as possible. Here’s where you need another system for quoting.
    • What kinds of jobs can you quote from the office and what kinds of jobs do you go out to the property?
    • If you need to go to the property, who goes and when do they go?
    • Do you have forms and checklists for helping you generate the quote?
    • What’s the process for finalizing the quote once back at the office?
  • The very last step of the quoting process would involve getting the quote to the customer. If possible, email is what I find to be most efficient. If the customer requested a phone call, honor the request and call them back as soon as you can.
  • Using your CRM software or other records, keep track of things like how long it takes you to return a phone call and how long it takes to deliver a quote. Whatever it is, it’ll probably be a little inefficient at first, so keep trying to improve.
  • Once you’ve delivered the quote, if you don’t hear back immediately, keep track of how much time passes.
    • If you don’t hear back for a while, follow up. Have a system for when and how to follow up, and what you’ll say.
    • Sometimes a follow-up is all the difference in whether you get the job or not.
  • Find places in your system to let the customer know about other services you offer.
    • Don’t leave it to chance. Don’t wait for them to ask you. Many times, you’ll get additional work simply by mentioning a service or option to a customer, and you never would have gotten the job without mentioning it.
  • And of course, once a customer lets you know they want to go ahead with the job, then your systems for booking and scheduling have to kick in.

And that’s just a little piece of running a business. You need to think about systems at that level of detail (or greater) for every aspect of your business.

Is it really necessary to have a planned-out system for every detail?

Yes. It’s what will make you efficient. It’s what will keep you from having to stop and think and juggle things (and drop a few) when the season gets busy.

Does it get boring doing the same thing, the same way, over and over again?

Maybe. But it’s not the system – it’s the job. The system is just what keeps you from putting off those boring parts of the job. The system doesn’t have a step labeled “Procrastinate.”

If you like to fly by the seat of your pants and mix things up because following a system sounds boring, all I can tell you is, a lot of people get over their boredom when they see their business growing and their income increasing.

Let me tell you a story.

It’s A Tale of Three Companies

Let’s call these three companies Company A, Company B, and Company C. All three companies started operating at the same time, about the same size with about the same money in the bank, and in similar service areas.

Company A went into things knowing that they wanted to create and optimize systems. They were consistent and disciplined about everything they did. They kept track of how things worked, and constantly watched for ways to improve, even if the improvements were only a tiny bit at a time.

Company B had some good ideas and had goals for ongoing improvement. The owner learned and improved as he went, but he didn’t put much value in systems because he planned to lead everything himself. He felt like he didn’t really have employees he could trust to follow a system, so why bother creating systems just for himself?

Company C was a little bit disorganized at the start. They were hard workers and did quality landscaping work for their customers, but they tended to cut corners on some of the business stuff. They were frequently surprised by the situations they found themselves in, whether it was unreliable employees, struggling to find customers, or trouble staying on schedule.

Here’s the timeline for the development of those companies:

6 Months

Halfway into their first year, you couldn’t tell a difference in the three companies. All had gained a few customers. All did good landscaping work. From the outside, all three appeared to be on track for success.

Year One

After their first full year, the companies still looked the same. Each had made around $150,000 in revenue in their first year. The numbers varied a little bit, but they were close. All felt good about what they’d done in their first year and were looking forward to their second years.

Year Two

By the end of the second full year, some differences started to show up. Company A grew the most in their second year, more than doubling revenue to $350,000. They experienced some bumps along the way, but they learned, they adjusted their systems, and they kept moving.

Company B grew almost as much as Company A. Someone watching from the outside, might attribute the small difference to luck. Both companies appeared to be growing successfully.

Company C didn’t grow as much. They did good work and they got a few new customers. Their customers were generally happy with them. But, the company seemed to run into a lot of roadblocks. They wanted more customers, but at the busiest times of year they had all they could handle. Then, at the slow times, they just coasted, not sure what else to do.       

Year Three

After three years, differences between the companies were becoming clear.

Company A made over $500,000 in their third year, and they felt like they were in a groove.

Company B did around $400,000 of business. The owner felt like the business was a success overall, but he wasn’t sure he could grow much further. He was managing every detail himself, and didn’t have any systems in place to allow employees to take on additional responsibility. It was all on the owner.

Company C didn’t grow at all, still around $225,000 revenue for their third year. There were problems with employees, problems with suppliers, and the new customers they gained barely made up for the ones they’d lost.

Year Four

At this point the differences between the companies were drastic.

Company A made almost a million dollars in year four. The growth was exhilarating. With solid systems in place, it almost felt like the business was on auto-pilot. The owner was still involved, but now on the lookout for new challenges.

Company B, unfortunately, stalled in year four. They again did right around $400,000. Business seemed good, but they actually had to turn some customers away because the company couldn’t handle any more. The owner was still leading everything himself, and he was maxed out.

Company C actually regressed in year four, losing some customers and making less than $200,000 in revenue. The owner had a hard time recognizing it, but from the outside it was relatively easy to see that both the owner and his employees were frustrated and demoralized by some of the problems that kept cropping up over and over again.

That’s a True(ish) story.

As you might have guessed, Company A is actually Driven Landscapes. I made up Companies B & C just to illustrate my point about systems, BUT they were based on several real companies. I’ve heard stories like these over and over again from landscaping business owners and employees.

So, how does this story help a business owner who needs to turn his ship around?

Well, I guess it doesn’t… other than simply emphasizing this:
You need strong systems in place for every aspect of running your business. Implementing systems, following them, and improving them over time makes all the stuff that used to seem like a pain become much easier.

The fix won’t happen overnight. But, eventually, your business will start to grow, you’ll hire more employees, you’ll teach your systems to your employees, and – before you know it – you’ll have a whole team of people, all on the same page and helping you run your business.

Take any typical, slightly aimless company and install really good systems – now you have a strong, stable, and successful business with great potential for sustained growth.

Similarly, take a team of ordinary employees and give them really strong and clear systems –you’ll find yourself with a team of effective and efficient employees who are motivated to help your business thrive.

Trust me – you’ll find running a stable, successful business with motivated employees to be a lot easier than you think. And it’s a lot less stressful than discovering you’ve been steering your ship in the wrong direction!

If you’d like to learn more about the Driven Landscape business model, contact us here!