Building Your Team AND Your Business

Strategies for Finding, Motivating, and Retaining Great Employees

A lot of landscape company owners say they want to scale their business, but their biggest challenge is that they can’t find good employees.

We can look at that from a couple different perspectives:

  1. When your company is still small and doesn’t appear to be growing, it’s hard to attract the best talent.
  2. When you don’t have solid, smart, and reliable team members, it’s hard to grow your business.

Some people would consider that a catch-22. They figure they just can’t win and they spend time talking about how tough or unfair the situation is, rather than working on solutions.

Here’s the secret:

Scaling a business and building a strong team of employees go hand-in-hand, so take them both seriously and work on them together.

A while back, I wrote a blog post called Three Tips for Finding and Keeping Good Employees.

Let’s dig a little deeper this time.


It seems like some small businesses have a hiring process that goes like this –

  • Find someone not horrible
  • Offer a job
  • They say yes or no
  • If they say no, move on to the next least-horrible option

This is one of the biggest reasons to be constantly looking for potential employees. You want your pool of candidates to include some people who are actually GOOD, not just not horrible.

Even when you're hiring people for manual labor, you can keep an eye out for traits like intelligence and leadership.

If you've made bad hires in the past, you've probably paid for it. It's okay to be a little more choosy.

But, when you wait ‘til the last minute, you sometimes have to settle for not horrible.

Assuming you plan ahead and find some good candidates, the next thing you should realize is that they’ll probably have other options.

“When can you start,” might not be enough for them. They might need a little sweet-talking.

It’s time for you to sell them on why they should come to work with you.

Come Grow with Us   

Have you seen that phrase before in job listings? 

It’s a little lame and clichéd at this point. But, like they say, clichés are rooted in truth. People say it because it works. It means something.

One of the very best ways you can make your company attractive to good candidates is to show them that your company is growing and will continue to grow.

Business growth means opportunity for employees. Opportunity for more money, but also opportunity to grow into new roles with more responsibility, learning new skills along the way.

Sell yourself and your company

Convince potential employees that you value your employees and you encourage their career growth. Show them you understand that the stronger your team is, the stronger your business will be.

Tell them that you respect your team, that you want to have the best team anywhere, and that you want them on your team. 

Tell them if they want to be in the green industry, there is no better opportunity for them, anywhere.

Oh, yeah…

And you should believe, and really mean, everything you tell them.

When to look for help

Just like marketing, hiring your team is not a one-time thing. You should keep your eyes open for potential employees 365 days a year. 

Even when you don’t need anyone, you should be talking with people.

You can’t wait until the peak season is right on top of you before you start hiring, and here’s why –

Other people’s lives don’t run on your schedule.

If you happen to meet someone in December who you know would make a great team member, there’s a good chance they won’t be available four months later.

If you meet someone really good, take the time to talk with them and think about whether there’s anything you could do to bring them on board.

If you truly can’t bring anyone on board right away, at least have a conversation with them and stay in touch with them regularly.

Keep your emergency list updated –

If you’re a Patriots fan and you follow their news closely, you routinely see reports that they’ve had three or four players in for tryouts. It happens almost every week, but they rarely sign anyone.

They’re keeping their emergency list updated.

If they have an injury or some other kind of need, they already know who they’re going to call. 

What if you had a sudden need, right now?

Would you already know who you wanted to call, or would you have to scramble to get the word out that you’re hiring?

Where to Look

  • Landscape/green industry job boards.
    Post your job openings, and find people who are looking.
  • Craigslist.
    I know there can be some <cough> challenging </cough> people on Craigslist, but there are also sometimes diamonds in the rough.
  • com.
    Post your jobs. And even if you don’t have a specific opening, you can still search resumes and watch for good fits.
  • Social Media.
    Use your own social pages and keep an eye out in appropriate groups.
  • Signs.
    Not only can you put signs on your shop and your vehicles – you can also get creative. One time I actually paid a customer to let me put a “Now Hiring” sign in their front yard, which happened to be at a busy intersection.
  • Existing employees, friends, and family.
    Make sure everybody knows that you are always looking for good people. Offer employees cash incentives for leads on new employees; offer more for leads you actually hire.
  • Partnerships & Referrals.
    • With other businesses. I actually have a friend in another type business who I sometimes swap employees with – if I have a short-term need during a slow time for his business, it can keep the employees earning and help both businesses. Strategic alliances like this don’t always work out, but sometimes they can be a huge boost.
    • With Suppliers and Dealers. In case you never noticed, some landscape company owners treat their employees poorly (And if you never noticed, maybe it’s because it’s you. Just saying.) If your vendors know you’re looking for more employees, and they know someone else’s employees are looking for new opportunities, they’re in a good position to make an introduction.
    • Local schools. Aggy schools, high schools, and colleges.
    • Clients. I’ve hired more than a couple clients’ kids.
  • Network, network, network!
    Have your business cards with you everywhere you go, and never be shy about letting people know that you’re always looking for good people to join your growing company. Dinner parties, bars, events – talk to people! You don’t have to be obnoxious about it, but don’t hesitate either.

After the Hire

When building a strong team, hiring is just the start.

Recognizing What You've Got

Every employee is different. Some will be especially hard workers, some will have unique talents or skills, and some might be natural leaders. If you've done a good job recruiting and hiring, you might have some employees with all those traits. You need to learn to recognize those employees early.

Conversely, you also need to spot employees whose overall performance drags the team down. Work with them closely and figure out, as early as possible, whether or not you'll be able to turn them around.

Share Your Vision

Make sure your whole team knows where the company is going. 

Don’t just send them off on their route each morning. Have meetings every once in a while. Tell your team about your vision for the company. Talk about everything, big and small.

Let the team know about your goals for the company’s growth, your expectations for quality work and customer satisfaction, and everything in between.

While you’re at it, it rarely hurts to encourage questions, ideas, and discussion.

Managing and Coaching

You want all your employees to learn and grow, but you especially want to groom your strongest people for increased responsibility. When you're on a job, don't just give orders – explain each decision, along with how and why you reached that decision. The only way you can expect your employees to understand what you want is if you take the time to explain your thought process. Start this process early. When you need a new crew leader or a foreman, you should have someone ready to step up.

A willingness to coach and promote from within is valuable in more ways than one. When your employees recognize that you're investing in them, they'll start to see it more like a career and not just a job. When they see that you're providing opportunities, they'll be more enthusiastic about helping you to grow the company. 


You should start delegating early and often. Start with small things that won't hurt too much if/when they go wrong.

And, sometime things will go wrong, but that’s OK. You want to start teaching employees to make good decisions on their own, and they can only learn by doing it.

Once you've identified, coached, and promoted your best employees, it's time to trust them. Communicate with them and be available for them, but don't try to micromanage them. Let them lead their crews in their own ways and make their own mistakes. 

Yes, they'll make mistakes. But, if you commit to nurturing your team, they'll learn from their mistakes, they'll get better, and your company will be stronger for it.

Bottom Line

 If you’re trying to build your company, but you feel like a shortage of good employees is what’s holding you back, you should…

  1. Back up and take a hard look at how you’ve been doing things.
  2. Think about how you can approach things differently.

There are plenty of good people out there who could make great members of your team. But you need to be willing to work at it.

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