Millennials and Technology: The Future

Allow me to change gears with this first in a series of posts discussing where technology might take us in the future in the Landscape/Snow-Ice industries.

The Future is in…Provo?

Last week, the Aspire Software team was in Provo, Utah, as a sponsor of the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) National Collegiate Student Competition. If you have not been to this annual event, you need to go. These kids are our future. We witnessed talent and passion. They are future salespeople, account managers and operation supervisors. And you need to know what they want in an employer.

We also observed just how unique they are. They are, in a word, Millennials. For more information on this, watch Simon Sinek on “Hiring Millennials.”

Technology Makes the Job

Why does this matter to you? Simple: their advanced relationship with technology is totally alien to many of us, but central to their career choices. In short, the technology and software you use can make all the difference in recruiting the best.

Don’t believe me? The Aspire Software Company has made an investment in the Brigham Young University (BYU) landscape management program. We donated our software and expertise to the faculty to use as a teaching tool in the business management curriculum. The results, judged by student and faculty feedback, are exceptional.

The faculty loves the teaching tool and the students love the technology. It looks and feels modern to them. They are naturals with mobile devices and learn it easily (unlike many older employees in landscape companies, but more on that in my next post).

Ditch the Desk

Think about it: one big reason they choose our industry is the opportunity to work “outside.” And like most of us on the business end, they despise administration and paperwork. So if your systems chain them to indoor work spaces and paperwork, they are out. They said as much to their faculty and to us this week.

It was eye-opening. Maybe we should all get out more often. So, if you are serious about having more student job candidates from whom to choose*, and having the best and brightest choose you, you must consider your technology investment and strategy as at least as important as your equipment investment and strategy.

Bottom line: Millennials want to work for companies with technologies that make business management quick, fun, real to them and functional. They don’t want to waste time searching for information they believe should be right in front of them.

It’s a brave new world.

 

* We learned that many landscape management programs at the community college and university levels are in danger of shutting down for lack of student enrollment. Why? Many of the other programs appear “sexier” in terms of technology to the students. They want mobile-compatible technology to use everyday and everywhere.  It’s pretty simple, folks. Which means, it should be a simple fix.

What Tactical Benefits Do You Get From Landscape Management Software?

Will investment in landscape management software really change things for your company?  The answer is…  yes.  

My last blog focused on the strategic benefits of an investment in landscape business management software.  This blog post focuses on day-to-day tactical benefits

What are tactical benefits?  Tactical benefits are defined in terms of “quality of life” and “productivity” enhancements delivered to landscape business management software users and clients.  My short list outlines important considerations and expectations for these “quality of life” and “productivity” enhancements.

Although any individual software cannot make every claim, it’s important you are aware of what is reasonable to expect as you work through your software selection process.  You can refer to some of my previous posts on “How to Buy Software” for more information too. 

Tactical Benefits Of Landscape Management Software:

Here’s the short list…

  • No more redundant data entry for transactions like contact info, estimate, work order, purchase order and invoicing.  Since these transactions are integrated you only enter it once and it is available at every step.  Life is easier!
  • No more waiting for reports until the end of the month.  Since the software is cloud-based, information is real-time.  You can make decisions before problems escalate and you can track details right on your phone or tablet.  You can address problems quickly.
  • No more running back to the office to change the schedule or do an estimate.  Since the software works anywhere and you have an app-like interface, your staff gets more done with less hassle and way fewer spreadsheets.
  • No more security risks with usernames and passwords.  Look for real security provided by device authorization to secure your company’s data and records.  You use a simple PIN number and you control access.
  • No more finger pointing amongst sales – operations –administration.  OK, that’s fantasy.  OK, LESS finger pointing.  A modern business management software has built-in workflow and best landscape practices linking and coordinating these people – from estimate to invoice.  That means less conflict and more action.
  • No more hiring IT consultants to write reports for you.  Business management software for landscape companies should have easy to use report writers and database queries which anyone can master – with some training.  You can do this without calling an expert and your people can handle things on their own.
  • No more customer folders with information spread across your X, Y, and Z drives.  True CRM (customer management) makes photos, word docs, spreadsheets, maps, designs, bids, site walks, budgets, measurements, production rates, estimates, emails, issues, and calendar appointments viewable (and actionable) in one place from one device and on one screen.  Life just got way easier.

TAspire Landscape Management Software Rally Capshere are more tactical benefits that come from using landscape management software.  But this is a good start.  “Quality of life” and “productivity” enhancements make everyone more productive.

Should you invest in business management software? Certainly.  Put on the Rally Cap and examine the investment and the benefits outlined here.  These kinds of enhancements are possible and real.

Also…  My next post will address comparisons among landscape business management software vendors. Subscribe below and we’ll deliver it right to your email.

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What’s the payback for your investment in landscape management software?

If you’re reading this, you might be putting on the rally cap and deciding that you want to look deeper into, and even make an investment in landscape business management software.  Why?  The primary reason for investing is strategic – scaling revenues and improving profits.  Why else would you make the investment?  

And if you make the investment, you might wonder what you should expect in terms of strategic benefits.

The Strategic Benefits Of Landscape Management Software

In the last blog, I wrote about ERP software as an investment in landscape business management not just in landscape business operations.  This distinction is the key that enables you to unlock tremendous strategic benefits from the software.  

Strategic benefits affect landscape business KPI’s – (Key Performance Indicators).  There are two I like to focus on: 

  1. GROSS MARGIN (Gross Profit dollars divided by Revenue).  It’s the key to improving the profits of your landscape company.
  2. PEOPLE LEVERAGE  (Overhead Staffing Payroll divided by Revenue).   It’s the key to scaling (revenues) your landscape company.

How Landscape Management Software Improves Gross Margins

Landscape management software gives you tighter control on estimates (using templates to control pricing and quantities) and labor (using real time information supplied by integrated scheduling – mobile time apps) driving margin improvement.  Inconsistent estimating causes more profit loss every year than even mis-managed labor on jobs.

Key Strategic Benefit: With better control, comes better margins.  

How Landscape Management Software Improves People Leverage

Landscape management software increased staff productivity because everything they need is in one place to do the job.  Employees waste less time in administrative paperwork, hunting down information, and performing basic functions like estimating, scheduling and billing scattered among multiple spreadsheets and different types of software.  

Key Strategic Benefit:   When people are more productive, overhead grows slower than revenues without sacrificing SERVICE.

 

How To Use These KPI’s To Estimate The Payback Your Company Could Get From A Landscape Management Software Investment

Landscape_Management_Software_Strategic_Benefit_CalculatorWe created an Excel spreadsheet that connects KPI performance to gross margins.  It lets you calculate the impact Landscape Management Software can have on your business.

Let’s look at an example using a $5,000,000 company.  As you can see, incremental gains made in these two strategic KPI’s, translates into big dollars and better management.  

 The ROI with landscape management software can be significant year to year making the difference between good and great.

Want A Copy Of The Landscape Management Software ROI Spreadsheet Template?

We can send you a copy of the spreadsheet so you can perform your own calculations.  (Disclaimer:  You need to know how to use Excel and enter your data).

Just email me (kevin.kehoe@youraspire.com) with subject line: “ROI Estimation Sheet”  In the body: include your name, company and a brief comment on what you want.  I’ll reply with a copy of the Excel spreadsheet.

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The Landscape Company Leadership Test

This is the last in a six post series related to our Breakthrough Company Event at the GIE.

Are you the right leader for your landscape company?  And as important, do you have the right team to drive breakthrough results?  Now you can find out.

Take The Leadership Test

The TAIS (The Attentional and Interpersonal Style) test is designed to answer those questions.  Created 30 years ago it is used to assess high performance individuals like Olympic athletes, Military commandos, and SWAT teams to predict success or failure…  and ultimately to teach them how to perform under pressure consistently.

How Learning About Your Landscape Company Leadership Pays

It turns out we are all hard-wired for behaviors and dispositions – especially entrepreneurs (See below).  This hard wiring has its benefits…  and drawbacks especially as a business grows.  Many of these drawbacks are significant enough to make breakthrough almost impossible.  So it pays to understand who you are as THE LEADER as well as the attitudes and dispositions of your management team.

How We’re Evolving Our Leadership At Aspire

In fact as The Aspire Software Company (http://youraspire.com) grows and we aim for our own breakthrough, the interaction between the Managing Partners – Mark and Kevin becomes very important.  Can we function well together and deliver the leadership the Aspire Team needs to evolve into the organization I have outlined in the last FIVE blogs on this subject.  (do we put some link here to these blogs or something???)

What Happened When We Took The Leadership Test?

Like good boys, Mark and I took the test and participated in the analysis of the results.  NOTE:  We are screwed!  Kidding!   It turns out we are well matched to the challenge we face.  He and I have many complementary as well as several key reinforcing strengths.  This was not only interesting but essential for us to know as it allows us to focus on what we need to do to lead.  

We intend to work with our managers with the TAIS to assess their alignment and determine what we need to do to develop into a high performance unit.  We are excited by the possibilities and we see the TAIS as an essential tool to help us.

What’s Your Entrepreneurial Hard-Wiring?

Problem Solving LeadershipIt turns out that entrepreneurs share many common traits that are inherent in their hard-wiring.  Some of them are functional and some become dysfunctional as the company grows.  The key for you is to understand which are which…  Here’s that list:

  • They are great at figuring stuff out
  • They can change direction at the drop of a hat
  • They can juggle a lot of balls at once
  • If there is a shot at the buzzer…  they want the ball in their hands
  • They are driven, driven, driven
  • They are loyal to a fault

I don’t have space to tell you the pros and cons and the killer dysfunctions here…  For that you need to read the book and take the test.  

Character is Destiny

Character determines the culture of your landscape company.  And character starts at the top.  Culture is the residue of the example set by leaders in action. In short, the character and culture of doing the right thing… even if it means making sacrifices, is a chief hallmark of high performing breakthrough companies.

Consider the following example. A company makes a purchase from a vendor with contract terms outlining performance, problem resolution and if necessary termination. At some point, the company leader decides to terminate the contract after months of using the product for reasons not only related to the vendor’s performance.

Despite the efforts of the vendor to make things right, the leader isn’t interested in resolution and opts to terminate at the same time refusing to bring the account (which unsurprisingly was past due) up to date pay for the services faithfully rendered.

Actions Speak Louder

We can probably guess that this action is a pattern of behavior not a one-off event. Regardless of contract language parsed by lawyers, this of course is not the right thing to do. The leader has set a clear example about how to treat vendors.  And smart employees know they will likely be treated this way too at some point.

What is the likely result? A culture defined by a character of expediency, fear and mistrust.

Breakthrough companies develop character when leadership does the right thing (regardless of how painful). This sends a message of fair play and honesty in work and relationships. The authors of the Breakthrough Company suggest that… Nice guys actually do finish first.

Dignity Is Key

Dignity in relationships is the product of good character and promotes an atmosphere of trust where ordinary people are happy to do extraordinary things.

Dignity simply practiced is:

1. Set your standards high.

2. Provide feedback when needed and praise when warranted.

3. Listen to people and include them in decisions.

4. Follow through on your word. That’s dignity… and people respond.

Customers and team members thrive in an atmosphere where they feel there is a fair deal.  And that environment it built by cultivating the character of your people and the culture of your landscape company.

Managing Complacency In Your Landscape Business

This is the third in a series of posts about building a Breakthrough company.

Business success can make cowards of us all.

Success brings profits and cash and a certain conservatism – as in: “let’s not to screw up what we’ve achieved”. This risk aversion is natural. When you started the business you really had nothing to lose… now with success you do.  This is where complacency in your landscape business starts…

For those of you who manage now and have had some success you can see this happening: people get a bit arrogant (don’t want to change), they believe their own press (because the have gotten so much positive feedback), and worse they want to take a break from the breakneck pace that was required to achieve that success. These are signs that you are about to lose your edge to someone hungrier with ‘nothing to lose” and begin a long slog spiral downward into complacency…

How to kill complacency before it hurts your landscape business.

The authors of the Breakthrough Company demonstrate that addressing this complacency is perhaps the crucial hallmark of high success companies. They are marked by their willingness to continue to make business “bets” and act on them when most would rest on their laurels.

Ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they are hungry and motivated. But someone must lead and get the team to assess the smart bets that will take the business forward – whether that means new markets, services, processes and software… or in many cases new staffing and management talent.

What’s your best bet to beat business complacency?

What business bets should you make? A good bet would be to find new ways to improve the performance of what you’re doing (better execution).  But even smarter bets are made by actively asking and listening to your customers and staff… then formulate with them the bet that provides your business with excitement and a competitive advantage for both customers and employees.

Eliminating the Leadership Bottleneck

This is the second in a series of posts about building a Breakthrough company.

Who’s the boss – The owner/manager or the customer?  

Seems like an easy question, but most companies are structured to serve the boss, not the customer.  Breakthrough companies make the choice to eliminate this “leadership bottleneck” because companies begin to slog when they over-manage from the top and neglect to respond to and anticipate changing customer tastes and needs.

In the beginning, the leadership bottleneck is normal and is actually helpful in providing direction to a new and inexperienced team.  Many companies grow because of the efforts, ego and charisma of the leader.  That is good.  What’s bad is when it doesn’t change as the company attempts to scale up. You’ve witnessed it, the boss has all the relationships… the customer expects to talk to the boss…  as if that can go on forever.

When The Leader Becomes The Problem

That’s the leadership bottleneck…  too many customer decisions have go through the boss whether it’s a concern for getting things right or a need for control, it doesn’t matter.  It slows everything down and creates customer communications problems because very few people can read the boss’ mind. Worse it ‘retards’ the growth of the very people who need to learn how to manage the customer without the boss.  The result is slow response and declining loyalty and sales.

The Breakthrough CompanyHow Breakthrough Companies Fix The Leadership Bottleneck

In a breakthrough company, the boss gets out of the way and makes the customer boss by creating systems:  

(1) Policies (return every call in 24 hours, or your money back if you are not happy).

(2) Metrics to measure happiness (surveys, delivery times, schedule accuracy).

(3) Training (dedicated account managers).

(4) CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Software to track it all.  

The Monthly Survey Solution

Simple once-monthly surveys – on a scale of one to ten – asking:  How happy are you with our performance? are easy to do.  You want 9’s and 10’s.  Anything else must be investigated and addressed.  Metrics can be tied to people to created direct accountability.  If you can measure you can reward it… and cut people in on the growth in sales and profits.

With policy, metrics (goals), trained people, CRM scorecards and pay for performance you provide the platform to scale your business.  Otherwise you are in for a long slow slog…  get the boss out of the way and set up a system that motivates people to do the right thing for the customer.

The Breakthrough Landscape Company

A breakthrough company is one that grows revenues and profits by ten times in 5 years.  More importantly, they all follow a common path to do it.  We at Aspire Software are practicing these strategies and we see that they readily apply to our clients in the Green Industry.

How to get ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

The Brakethrough CompanyThis is the essence of the Breakthrough Company.  In a five-year study of small to medium-sized businesses, the authors discovered a select group of breakthrough companies.  They found that these companies are unique in that they are accelerating growth while so many more are slogging along watching profits sag, revenue growth slow, and their people lacking fire.

What is it that breakthrough companies do that allows them to achieve such spectacular results?

  1. Eliminate the leadership bottleneck and the cult of pleasing the boss… and instead focus on pleasing the customer.  It sounds simple, but companies start to slog when they over-manage and forget to listen to and anticipate changing customer tastes and needs.
  2. Don’t get fat and happy.  Too often initial success breeds risk aversion…  “Let’s not lose what we’ve made.”  A good poker player doesn’t sit on his stack, instead he continues to make smart bets.  Success can breed inertia and instead of sitting pretty breeds you end up sitting ugly.
  3. Involve your team in making strategy and cut them in on the action to build excitement and “closing time” character.  Closing Time character – A customer walks into your shop at 10 minutes to closing time needing help.  What happens?  (A.)  Come back tomorrow we are closed.  (B.) Let’s see what we can do in ten minutes.  (C.)  Let’s get it fixed (regardless of how much past closing time it takes).  What’s your character right now? A, B, or C?  Character as they say is destiny.
  4. Navigating growth from small guy to big guy is not easy.  Lots of customers prefer small vendors because of the personal touch the big boys lack.  You have to decide what “small company” experiences you must maintain to keep your customers as you grow while minimizing the cost of keeping that personal service level.  This is strategy – finding out what really matters and investing in the systems that can standardize it is – customer loyalty.
  5. Strategy is the plan a company puts together to WIN.  Breakthrough companies create strategy with a broad group of people, not just the wise men at the top.  The focus is on creating ideas, executing those ideas, appraising results, and adjusting.  The emphasis is on action, execution and follow-through… not on meetings and talk.  Changing direction is hard.  But the breakthrough company approach makes it less painful.

That’s it! As you might imagine, there is so much more to it – details, methods and stories of how you can become a breakthrough company.  We think it works.  Aspire Software has been successful in our first three years by applying these ideas.  Like anyone else we have a lot to learn and if you are like us, we are ready to learn more.

Can Landscapers Trust Their Numbers? Part One

This is the first of a three part series on business process and financial management for landscape contractors.

Can you trust your numbers?  Maybe you can…  but maybe you shouldn’t.

I suggest you check.  Drill into the numbers in your Accounting software.  I bet you will find at least a few areas where they are not accurate… that lack of accuracy is usually a function of assumptions or mismanaged transactions in your system and work-flow.

Assumption – method by which numbers are handled.  For instance, tracking all crew time to a profit center regardless of where they work or using some percentage to charge a profit center.

Transaction – step in the process where numbers are created, entered, reviewed, and approved.  There are five major transactions areas in a landscape business:

1) Estimate

2) Work order/ticket

3) Purchase

4) Time sheet

5) Invoice

In simple terms. your numbers are only as good as your assumptions and the way you manage these key transactions.

The best way to get consistent and trustworthy numbers is:

MINIMIZE the number and type of assumptions and MONITOR transactions at the source.

I spoke to this idea at the GIE 2015.  The response was, “It’s scary to see how wrong my numbers might be!”

The System Is The Solution

To get things right you start with a system overview (See the chart).  This shows how things should work.  Looking at the chart, it is easy to see that your Sales and Operations people have as much to say as the Administrative people do about the accuracy of your numbers.  Sloppy assumptions and transactions must be removed to make the system work.

In the next two blog posts of this series, I will outline the proper approach.

GIE Recap: State of the Landscape Industry

I did an interview with Landscape Management Magazine at the GIE this past week. The asked me to comment on the state of the landscape industry. It felt a bit like commenting on my solution to Middle East politics with two minutes notice. Nonetheless I marched into the interview and this is about what I said.

The State Of The Landscape Industry Is…

It’s “Good not Great”. Yes, the rising tide seems to be floating most boats, but not enough are taking advantage of the good times from a cash-generation perspective.

Yes… revenues are up but profits in too many cases are not… at least not enough. Now is the time to make profits and make hay when the sun shines. (Welcome to the Kevin Kehoe cliché festival.) But it is not happening.

Back To The Future Landscape Industry

The same thing happened in 2003 – 2007. Companies had no problem selling in that robust economy but for far too many their costs grew even faster (the same is happening now)…

The net result was no additional cash generation and in too many cases cash was consumed, debt was accumulated and balance sheets were weak when the crash came… Companies suffered for years. You do not want to do that again.

Why Things Are Good For The Landscape Industry

  1. Economy is better. But don’t fool yourself it is not great. It looks great compared to how lousy it was. But when this pent up demand gets spent and the buyers are tapped out… look out.
  2. Consolidation is good. The Valley Crest and Brickman merger is great. First it means that real capital is flowing to the industry. Witness all the PE and investment companies looking to do deals.Earnings multiples are up. Even better there is some exodus of talent from the merged entity who are now available for hire. They are TRAINED and experienced managers from two very good companies.We should see the emergence of several large regional companies as a result and solid growth of top one and two players in every market.

That’s the good news.

Why Things Are Bad For The Landscape Industry

  1. Talent is scarce. Labor, Foremen, and especially Account Managers are in short supply and MORE expensive than ever. This singular constraint can result in “outkicking the coverage” and ruining a P&L.Recruiting has become a full time occupation for any company over $3MM in annual revenue. You have to do it.
  2. Supply. Success breeds success… and competition… This is all good except when it comes to suppressing prices. Prices are no longer going down, but they are not keeping pace with cost increases in almost everything else.Now is the time to become more selective with the work you take on. In simplest terms, you want customers that will pay a little more, appreciate your work, be somewhat lower maintenance, and pay their bills on time.

That’s the bad news.

Consider Good And Bad When Planning For 2016

For me that’s the state of the industry in a nutshell. In my opinion these threats and opportunities should inform your business planning and budgeting for next year.