Keep your sanity and grow your landscaping business during the Fall cleanup season

Keep your sanity and grow your landscaping business during the busiest part of the year.

Flashback to Fall 2012

I’m up by 5:00 AM. On a job site before 7:30. Breakfast and lunch in the truck, between jobs. I continue digging leaves out of corners, crevices, and window wells until after dark. I think about heading home, but first I need to make several stops to quote jobs in the dark.

I finally get home, but I’m the owner so the workday isn’t done.

I have a quick dinner with the family. Check messages. Work on unfinished quotes. Return calls until about 9 PM, only quitting because a lot of people get pissed off if you call after 9:00. Work on some more quotes, billing, and other paperwork until I can’t keep my head up. Go to bed. Maybe six hours of sleep. Do it all again.

For more than a month.

Fall 2016 – Things are better

Mid-October all the way through November is a busy time, but I have a better handle on it now. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I’m not just looking to survive this sometimes-brutal stretch – I’m looking to grow my business during this limited window.

With a strong system and team in place, it’s not as hard as it used to be. My team handles most of the field work.

My first priority: Returning calls.

I can’t even begin to guess at the number of times I’ve returned a call from a potential customer and heard some variation of the same story: They’ve been calling various landscape/lawn care companies for two or three weeks, and I’m the first to call them back.

I’ve always tried to return every call because intentionally not returning calls is stupid. Every customer you get during a busy Fall season might turn into a loyal customer for years to come.

Lifetime value of a customer

How many calls have you been unable to return?

Just to pick a number, what if you miss 30 calls? Maybe your average fall cleanup is $500. That would mean you’re missing $15,000 in revenue this year.

“Wait!” you say, “I’m working straight out. I can’t handle any more so I’ll live without that $15,000 this year.”

Fair enough.

But, instead of thinking about what you’re giving up this year, let’s think of the potential lifetime value of those customers you didn’t call. What if you could have turned even just half of those 30 prospects into loyal repeat customers who would pay you an average of, say, $20,000 over several years?

Suddenly we’re talking about taking a pass on $300,000.

Sometimes, it truly is that simple. Forget, for a minute, all the other strategies for growing revenue. Just finding a way to return every call has a huge impact on a small business.

How to handle more work

It was tough in the beginning. Even after I started hiring more help, there were some frustrating times. But the effort to train employees and learn to trust them was well worth it.

You’ll need more hands out in the field to get all the work done, but having some office help to answer phones, take messages, and help keep things organized is also critical.

In the office:

If you don’t yet have a full-time administrative assistant or office manager, consider getting some part-time or temporary help. With the additional customer-work you take on, the money you invest in the extra help will pay for itself many times over.

Maybe your office help will just be a two-month temp. You can bring them in a couple weeks in advance so you have time to ramp up and train them.

Or, maybe your business is ready for a new regular employee. The busy Fall season will be a great time to take that leap. By hiring office help in the Fall, you can start to get a feel for how to best delegate your administrative tasks, and then you can adjust and learn together before heading into the next Spring.

In the field:

As I talked about in a previous blog post, the Fall is a great time to try out new crew leaders. If you need more help to handle the work, bring in some temporary workers and give some of your best employees a chance to lead.

Even though you won’t be on every job site, pay attention to how it goes. What do the customers say? What do the other employees say? How are the new crew leaders handling it?

Hopefully you’ve been coaching up your team all summer. If so, the Fall is when it will pay off and allow you to spend more time getting business, while your team handles most or all of the field work.

What’s your experience been?

If you have office help, what’s been the best part of that? How has it freed up your time for other things?

How do you approach adding new field crews?

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