Navigating the Business “Bermuda Triangle”

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

One of the biggest challenges to business success is keeping small when you get big.  

We all know companies lose something as they grow.  Maybe it’s the personal touch with the owner.  Or talking to one person to handle orders and returns.  Or being able to get on a schedule when you want.    These small company advantages are great selling points for the little guy.  But they are impossible to maintain as success turns into more sales and growth.  

Inside The “Business Bermuda Triangle”. 

So growth pushes companies into a mysterious zone we call the Business Bermuda Triangle.  It’s here where businesses lose their ability to give 1) customers what they want, 2) quickly and 3) at low cost.

In other words, when a company finds themselves in the Business Bermuda Triangle their 1) customer satisfaction is low, 2) their service is slow and 3) their costs grow.  

It’s not a place you want your business to be in for long.

How To Get Out Of The Business Bermuda Triangle.

This is where the breakthrough company has to PLAN how to navigate the Business Bermuda Triangle…  and make the business and investment choices to turn small company “inherent” advantages into large company “sustaining” advantages.

Business Bermuda TriangleTo provide the customer what they want delivery costs and speed must be addressed…  as well as systems that measure the customer’s experience as follows:

  1. Migrate from (a) lower-cost high performance labor (superstar reliant), and (b) low overhead staffing structure (few people) to react quickly and consistently.  The breakthrough company has to move from cost reduction to cost optimization using systems and processes.
  2. Migrate from recovery to anticipation.  It is easier to lose and recover a customer when smaller, but his becomes very expensive as you grow.  Again systems and processes that monitor customer satisfaction provide data for staff to win at the retention game.
  3. Migrate to software that provides speedy and accurate information.  Larger companies simply cannot rely on superstars (there are not enough of them).  They must rely on ordinary people performing in extraordinary ways consistently and intelligently.

NOTE:  This is why we built Aspire Software – to provide the computer systems and processes that make the extraordinary become the norm.  The result:  happier employees and customers.

Lastly as the breakthrough company makes investments in systems and staffing to scale revenues, they should avoid thoughts of diversification which can harm the primary product and service experience at this key stage.

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.

How To Buy Landscape Business Management Software Part Five: Product Development

This is the fifth, in a five post series written to help landscape contractors buy landscape business management software.  You can see part one here , part two here , part three here and part four here.

The Importance Of Software Product Development

When making a Landscape Business Management Software purchase, like Aspire, for your landscape company, you are making a bet on the long-term viability of the software vendor.  Specifically about the probability that the software company’s product and people can support you as you grow.  

Key Purchase Question: Will Your Landscape Company Outgrow The Software?

You don’t want to be in the unenviable position of having to buy software to manage your landscape business again in a few years because you outgrew the product.  This is why a higher price tag in the present is justified because you are buying insurance that you WON’T have to go through the process all over again.  

That’s why I say you can spend too little.  This one facet of the purchase process is often overlooked, but in my estimation, it may be the most important element in the entire purchase process.

Does The Software Vendor’s Price Allow Them (and motivate them) To Continuously Improve The Product?

It takes a lot more money to maintain and upgrade a software product that it ever took to “write” the very first version.  You should understand the vendor’s financial condition and their vision and plan for upgrades and potential changes in technology.

Understand that a financially strapped Software as a Service vendor with poor profit margins will cut back on product improvement first.  They’ll “circle the wagons” to focus on keeping the current product version working, because they don’t have the resources to improve it.  This lowers the value of the software and stalls new customer sales, which continues the downward cycle.

On the other hand, a SaaS vendor with a healthy profit margin is motivated to continuously improve the product.   This attracts new customers and provides even more resources to improve the software.

Product Development Questions you should ask during your selection process.

  • Will the software grow as we grow or will I be stuck with old technology?
  • Is the product built on a mobile cloud-based platform?
  • Can the software function remotely across multiple branches and regions?  
  • How is my data managed and secured?
  • Do I own my data?
  • What is the risk of data loss and the recovery process?
  • How do I get updates? How often?  What’s the process and the cost?
  • Are the owners committed to the landscape industry long-term?  
  • Is the company financially stable?  Is their pricing model sustainable?
  • What does the organization chart look like (Remember it takes lots of people to support software)?
  • Can I speak to them before I make a decision?  

Again, think of buying landscaping management software, like purchasing a car.  You want the car you buy today to run as good or better ten years from now…  That can only happen if the product was great initially and the service and maintenance schedule is backed up by a plan and money.

How To Buy Landscape Business Management Software Part Four: Deployment

This is the fourth, in a five post series written to help landscape contractors buy landscape business management software.  You can see part one here , part two here and part three here.

Software Deployment Is Hard. The Goal Is To Make It Easier.

Deployment and software installation can either be a nightmare or just a hard slog.  There is no easy way to trade out one system for another without experiencing a learning curve.  The goal is to minimize the pain and duration of that curve.

What you need to know from the software vendor is the truth about this challenging but essential process.  What kind of deployment support and training will they provide and what does it cost…  and how will they manage your learning curve?

Questions you should ask during your selection process.

  • What are some of the changes we will have to make given how we used to do things?
  • How will it change the way I do business?  
  • What systems that now cost me money might go away?
  • Will we have to run systems in parallel?
  • Who will be our point person to guide us and answer questions?
  • How long – realistically – will this take?  Best case and worst case?
  • How much bandwidth will we need on our end – as our people are already busy?
  • How much of our existing data and history can you convert?
  • For that which is not converted, how will we handle it?
  • What are the key areas where in your experience the deployment can go wrong?
  • How much time will you spend training us?
  • How will that process work?
  • How will we set up our reporting to get the information the way we are accustomed?
  • What is follow-up training like after the deployment?
  • How do we/you train new people as they are hired?
  • What if we are not happy with the deployment?  What are our options?
  • How do we stay on time and avoid schedule slippage?

It’s Important To Have A Clear Software Deployment Plan And Process

Deploying software is a huge business interruption…  so be sure you and your vendor have a plan to minimize that pain and lost productivity while making certain the software is set-up the way you want to look at reports.

How To Buy Landscape Business Management Software Part Three: Support

This is the third, in a five post series written to help landscape contractors buy landscape business management software.  You can see part one here and part two here

The Importance Of Landscape Business Management Software Support

You do not want to purchase software and (a) use it incorrectly, (b) use less than half its features, or (c) have to keep using your old spreadsheets.  The vendor you go with should offer preemptive support to help you get the most from your software.

It’s hard to change – no doubt.  But change you must when you purchase business ERP software.  Your reports and processes no matter how inefficient are habits.  Habits are hard to break.  Great support helps you form the right habits to efficiently use your software.

The term “support” can be used as an ambiguous catch-all phrase.  There are many flavors and types. Does “support” mean, email, phone (recorded or human), forums, knowledge base, other? Make sure you understand all the support options being offered and are comfortable with them.

Support Questions you should ask during your selection process.

  • How will we learn how to use it?
  • Do you have a user’s manual?  
  • Do you have training videos?
  • Do you have user support groups?
  • Strong Software Support Is Important

    Strong Software Support Makes A Difference

    Do you come to our place to train us?  Or is it all done remotely?

  • Who does that and how often do we see them?
  • Do you have a support center?
  • How does it work?  Phone contact?  Web contact?  Both?
  • How much does support cost?
  • How long does it take to get a response?
  • If I cannot get a good response, how do I speak to a supervisor?
  • How much training is involved?
  • How are new releases trained when the software is upgraded?
  • Do I have to pay for that?
  • What are some of the issues that other people have experienced in training?
  • How did you address those?

Strong Landscape Business Management Software Support Makes A Difference

When you think about it, why would you buy anything as complicated as business management software without an owners’ manual and a support life-line to help you make the most of your investment? 

Great support cuts through complexity and helps you get the answers, assistance and results you need in the most efficient way possible.

How To Buy Landscape Business Management Software Part Two: Cost

This is the second, in a five post series written to help landscape contractors buy landscape business management software.  You can see part one here.

What Should Your Landscape Business Management Software Cost?

The cost of software is not just the quoted price tag.  Without knowing all the cost details, you can pay too little as easily as you can pay too much.  That’s because software is relatively inexpensive to write, but very expensive to support for the software company.  Your cost is like an iceberg; most of it is below the surface.

“Price is what you pay.  Value is what you get.”  – Warren Buffett

Questions you should ask during your selection process.

  • What is included in the quoted price, and what is extra?
  • What additional costs might I incur for hardware and servers?
  • money costWhat additional costs might I incur for support?
  • Are there additional costs for upgrades or new releases?
  • What is your product plan for upgrades over the next two years?
  • Will I need to add staff to manage your system?
  • What set-up costs might we experience in addition to the quoted price?
  • Will I be charged for on-site training visits?

It’s Important You Understand “The Real Price” Of Your Software

Every software company must price for current staffing to support the software, as well as future costs to keep up with client needs and changing technology.  Make certain you understand the real price.  

Finally you need to consider the Opportunity Cost of not purchasing… 

Ask yourself, How will this landscape business management software help my landscape company make more money?”

Besides the expenses, also get a handle on the return on invest you might expect.  Any vendor must justify their price in terms of dollars gained for dollars invested.

How To Buy Landscape Business Management Software

This is the first, in a five post series written to help landscape contractors buy landscape business management software.

My Experience Buying and Selling Software For Landscape Business Management

When I was a consultant, I recommended business management software to my clients. Now that I own a landscape software company, I sell it. Knowing what I now know as a software business owner and as a consultant puts me in a unique position to help others make better choices when purchasing software for their commercial landscape companies.

The Cost Of Making A Wrong Decision Is Very High

If you’re looking to buy software to manage your landscape business, it’s essential to do the right kind of due diligence before selecting a system.  Why? Because the cost of making a wrong decision is so high.  That cost comes in the form of time, money and disruption in all areas of your business.  So it’s important to reduce your risk by educating yourself to make a smart, informed decision.

This remainder of this post will serve as a general overview of the four categories of question that should inform your software due diligence process. Subsequent posts will address each category in detail.   Here we go:

First: How much does it cost?

The cost of purchasing software for landscape business management is not just the price tag. You must consider costs like:

  1. Support
  2. Upgrades
  3. Hardware
  4. Back-ups and server space
  5. IT consultants… not to mention the cost of downtime during deployment (software set-up and training).

It’s as easy to pay too little as it is to pay too much.

Here’s something you should know about the software business:  It’s relatively inexpensive to write the software. It’s very expensive to train, upgrade, and keep it working.

Buying QuestionSecond: How is the landscape software deployed?

Installing a new system takes time. The experience will produce frustration… and the new system will never function exactly like your old one.

The key to selecting the right software is to know the extent to which the software company will be involved in setting you up properly.

You should clearly understand the software vendor’s “deployment process”… how long it will take, and how much they do for you for the price quoted.

Third: How is the landscaping software supported?

Every software company makes choices in product design that affect the way you do.  I’ve included four below and linked them to how my company handles them for reference:

  1. Reporting
  2. Estimating
  3. Purchasing
  4. Scheduling, etc.

Some of these design choices may be in conflict with your current practices. This means you will need to learn not only the software but new landscape management business processes.

How will the software company “be there” to answer questions… what is the promised level of on-going support including response time and extra fees?

Fourth: Is the product built for the long-term?

Cloud software as service (SaaS) is the future. This means your data will be managed off-site (great cost saving), and that the software should provide full integration (significant productivity gains).

Before you buy you need to know:

  1. Is the product scalable (can it grow with you without you spending more money).
  2. Does the software company have the financial strength to re-invest as technology advances.
  3. Does the company have a “product road-map” outlining future features and functions.

You do not want to be “stuck” with an old system in a few short years.

Software Purchase PlanningThe Devil Is In The Details

The next four posts in this blog will address each of the above areas of the purchase process in greater detail.

My objective is to provide you with a road map allowing you to compare landscape business management software systems side-by-side and make the best decision you can. Again, the cost of making the wrong software decision is simply too high in terms of money, customer satisfaction, and employee morale.

It’s my hope to provide you with additional information and insights to help you make the best choice for your company.

Can Landscapers Trust Their Numbers? Part Three.

This is the last post in a three part series on business process and financial management for landscape contractors. (Read Part One.  Read Part Two.)

Stop mismanaging your paper workflow by abdicating all paperwork management to your Administrative staff.

You must have Sales and Operations staff involved in managing the key business transactions: 

  1. Estimate
  2. Work order/ticket
  3. Purchase
  4. Time-sheet
  5. Invoice   

You Just Can’t Leave This To The Administrative Staff.

Here’s why.  Your Administrative staff has very little to do with the creation and execution of any of these transactions.  There is so much information they DON’T have that it almost impossible for them to manage the numbers without responsible Sales and Operations staff involved daily.

It Takes A Team.

Salesmen and Account Managers initiate the estimate and create the work ticket.  Operations Managers make the purchases and manage the time sheets.  Sales and Operations people usually must cooperate to get the invoicing right.  What does the Administrative staff know, except that which they are given?

Yes, I’m saying your Administrative staff needs more respect and the best way to give them that is for Sales and Operations to manage the paperwork for these transactions.  I think just made some friends (Administration) and some enemies too (Sales and Operations)!

It’s Not Complicated But You’ve Got To Execute To Get Trusted Numbers

Aspire_Financial_Systems_For_Landscape_Flow

Click to enlarge

When you think about it …  it’s a pretty simple process.  

  1. For each transaction someone must initiate it (with proper and complete information),
  2. Someone must review it while it is in progress (with real-time reporting on transaction/ticket status), and
  3. Someone must correct, complete, approve and finalize it (by producing accurate estimates, work tickets, purchase orders, time-sheets, and invoices).  

Who?  Together both Administration and Sales / Operations must every day to keep the numbers right through IN PROGRESS reporting on ticket status…  or else you will have a mess at the end of the month.

What Happens If You Don’t Have A Trusted System For This Work?

Transactions won’t be corrected and financial reports will suffer accordingly because their is no time to do all the research to fix all the mistakes that naturally get made every day and if not corrected within 2 – 3 days they often become permanent.

Put Down The Bucket.  Pick Up More Profit.

Yeah, I want to throw up too…  so much work to get it right…  and people say landscaping is an easy business…  But managing transactions is essential to good numbers…  and yes it costs money.  But if you don’t do it, the cost of “bad numbers” is reduced Gross Profit.  So get everyone involved in managing the paperwork flow as outlined here.