More about GreenPal
4

The proper care and
feeding of customers

Chapter

How to Keep the Customers You Want, and
cut loose the ones you don't

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You're already here? Wow, that was fast!
You're doing great, feels good to learn new stuff doesn't it!

I bet when you first started reading this blueprint that you figured it'd be a long slog through a bunch of technical crap that would send you to sleep faster than a handful of Ambien, right?

But if you think about it, starting, running and being successful with your new landscaping business really isn't rocket science.

It's not that overwhelming when you just break it down into bite sized chunks. It's nothing you can't handle… I know, because I've been in your shoes.

And I didn't have this guide to help, either!

Okay, so we've gone through setting things up, buying equipment and getting the phone to ring… now let's talk about...

  • 1

    How to close those customers.

  • 2

    Perform the work correctly and...

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    How to do those little extras that make you stand out
    and keep the customers coming back year after year.

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Believe it or not, this is probably the most important chapter in this book. Every chapter is important, of course, yet it's how you deal with people that really matters. Like it or not, this is a people business, at least to some degree.

Yeah, for the most part, you're going to be sitting behind your mower with a pair of headphones on. But in order to get to that point and keep yourself there, you've got to be able to deal with potential clients as well as long standing ones, too.

So let me share a few proven secrets that help you close new customers and keep them pumping cash into your bank account each and every month…

Secret #1 – Take your business seriously
and be professional

Does this sound like a "duh" suggestion? On the surface of it, it makes perfect sense, right?

Yeah? Then why is it that so many service providers – IT guys, website designers, house cleaners, painters and yes landscapers, do such a half-assed job? Why is it that so many people start a business and then once they get some customers just phone it in?

You've probably experienced this yourself, I'll bet. You hire somebody to do a job and they show up late if they show up at all, maybe they make a few stupid and easily avoided mistakes, they do half the work and then disappear for a long period of time… you know the drill.

I'm constantly amazed when I do a service for somebody and the #1 complement they give is that they're surprised that I actually did what I said I'd do in a timely and professional manner!

So if you want to stand out among the other dorks that are your ha-ha-ha "competition"… then simply approach every cut like it's your only one. Treat each client as if they're the only one you have. Be respectful, timely, accurate and considerate and you'll be astounded at the results!

Because I'm sure that while reading this, on occasion you've wondered about competition, right?

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After all, in many states, you can't throw a stick without hitting a lawn truck. So you might be wondering if there's still enough work for you to make a living. Well let me assure you that there absolutely is, and it's partly because of the reasons I've laid out in this secret.

A lot of landscapers just don't get this idea. Maybe they're lazy, or maybe they just don't get it. But a huge percentage of your competition will be blown out of the water simply because you treat this like a real business. In fact, you'll more than likely find that many of your customers come to you from another company because they aren't happy with them.

So do the right thing…

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    Do the job right the first time.

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    If you make a mistake, own up to it and make it right.

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    If you agree to show up at a certain time, don't be late.

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    Speak in a professional and polite manner – Yes sir, yes
    ma'am and please and thank you – I know, but it works!

Which leads me to the next customer care secret…

Secret #2 – Answer the damned phone!

Again this may seem obvious, and it should be. Yet being conscientious about contacting your customers is going to go a long way. Especially when we're talking about new ones.

There are a lot of options out there and until they get to know you, a potential customer doesn't really care who he or she hires. So if they call you and you want their business, answer the phone immediately.

Of course, sometimes this isn't possible because you're working on a lawn. That's okay – have a very polite voicemail asking them to please leave their contact number and tell them that you'll get back to them within an hour.

And do so!

You'll probably be surprised at their reaction to this, too. We just live in a day and age when follow through has become a rare thing. If they're calling you, that means they want to hire you. So don't let much time go by without getting back to them!

Secret #3 – Be the best at your job

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By now you're probably saying, "Damn, Gene, when did you become Captain Obvious?"

Hey, I wouldn't be saying this stuff if there wasn't a need. Just observe the habits of many people doing this job and you'll see that it's painfully obvious that they don't get this simple concept.

When it comes to actually doing the landscaping work, you want to be an expert. You want your lawns to look immaculate when you're done.

It's not that hard to do, but there are lots of tips and tricks to learn that really make one of your freshly mowed lawns pop. In a way, it's kind of like you're an artist. Every lawn you mow becomes part of your portfolio. It shouts out to the world that this is a Mean Green masterpiece!

So if you really want to hone your skills, try spending a few minutes on YouTube, for example. You can find tons of awesome how to videos on everything from mowing to edging to trimming and even equipment maintenance.

Secret #4 – Perception is reality

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This one goes back to something I just mentioned. And a few other things as well. Let me start with your portfolio of lawns.

Always keep in mind that when you and your truck are parked in front of a customer's yard, you're an advertisement for your business. The neighbor across the street or down the block only sees you, your truck and your work.

And that leads me into an important piece of advice you may want to follow. And that is – don't ever do half-assed work!

Now, I'm not just saying this in the sense that you should always do a good job. I think that's obvious, of course. Yet there's another side to this coin and it often comes from a customer.

Sometimes you'll get somebody who wants to shave the price down. Maybe they'll ask you to only mow and not edge, trim or blow. They figure that instead of $35 for everything, you'll only charge $25 for just a mow.

And that goes back to the idea of perception. That guy's neighbors don't know what kind of deal you have with him. They only see you and the work you did. So if you drive away with a lawn that looks half completed, and then a few days later they see one of your door hangers on their front door… what do you think they'll assume about you?

That you aren't worth the money!

So my advice is to never cut services. You do the job right no matter what. If that means you want to discount the price, fine – but don't cut your costs by cutting your work. In the long run, it's only going to bite you in the behind.

I know it seems a bit superficial to say that perception is reality… but like it or not, it's true. So in keeping with that idea, try to keep in mind that you're a living advertisement for your business.

How you dress, the cleanliness of your truck, trailer and gear is all going to speak very loudly about you. Think about it – you see two landscapers cutting lawns in your neighborhood. You check them out because you want to hire somebody to cut your grass.

The first guy is driving a dirty truck with old grass clippings on his trailer and his equipment is filthy and rusted out. He's dressed like a slob on top of all of that.

On the other hand, the second guy has a nice neat truck and trailer. His gear is clean and organized and he's wearing appropriate clothing that doesn't look like it hasn't seen the inside of a washer in two weeks.

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Just based on this, which of these two dudes do you feel like is going to treat your home like he treats his business? The answer is both of them.

It's impossible for your truck, trailer and gear to be sparkling clean all day long. You're cutting grass, for crying out loud. But wiping things down and keeping things neat as often as you can combined with weekly or bi-weekly washing and maintenance really says a lot about how you're going to treat your customers.

Secret #5 – It's the little things

The truth is that I could probably write 50 tips on starting and running a successful lawn business. This book contains a lot of them, as does this chapter. Yet you can always think of something to do differently or to do better.

A lot of that comes with experience, though. Your second year will be so much better than your first year and so on. You'll be much better at closing clients, better at performing the work and you'll probably be ready to start hiring helpers by the end of your first year, too.

But before we move on to some other things, I want to share a couple of little points that will, once again, make you stand out and help you to build strong customer relationships.

Because really, that's what life is all about. Its relationships. Be it with a husband or wife, significant other, family, friends, employees and business acquaintances. And yes, definitely with your customers. Relationships if preserved well and treated respectfully are going to be the fuel that drives the engine of your success.

So do the little extras that your customers will appreciate. Here are some suggestions that cost you next to nothing in time or money and that are great business builders:

  • Christmas cards – Send a small holiday greeting card in December with a message not only wishing your customer and their family happy holidays, but that says thank you for your business and also bridges the season gap so they dont forget about you in the spring when it's time to start cutting again. You can also do with this with email for free if you're tight on funds.

  • Treat their home better even than your own – be extra careful and if something gets damaged because of your work, contact the customer and let them know right away. Make every effort to make it right for them.

  • Go the extra mile – Every now and then, do something a little above and beyond. If they only pay for a mow... Maybe spray the weeds in their beds every other month or something like that. If you see some bushes getting overgrown, offer to trim them up at a discount. These gestures go a LONG way when earning your customer's loyalty for years on end.

  • Offer solutions – Suppose you see that the grass is yellowing in a spot or patchy and getting worse. Offer the client a few referrals for fertilizer and aerator specialists. Take pictures of the lawn and post them in a Facebook Group like this one. These fellow professionals will help you figure out whats wrong. This will help you become a trusted advisor for your clients and more than just a grass cutter.

  • Get feedback – occasionally ask your customer how you're doing. Ask if there's anything they'd like to see improved on or would like to add. And when they tell you… act of the feedback so long as its within reason.

In other words, just do the little things that maybe nobody thinks about and your customers will remember that about you. More importantly... They'll pass that along to their friends and neighbors too.

Remember – everything you do and say is marketing… and marketing equals money.

Secret #6 – Firing and getting fired

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I hate to tell you this, but sooner or later, you're going to lose a customer. It's part of the business. It might not be your fault, or it might be because you made a mistake. But like it or not, you're going to get fired.

This can be because somebody doesn't want to pay the money anymore. It could be that they're moving or that their teenage son needs to learn a good work ethic and cut the grass or whatever. It could be that you broke too many sprinkler heads or that you forgot to cut the lawn one time.

It could even be a misperception. Maybe it rains really hard one week and you didn't cut the lawn that week. You've got one of those crabby customers who blames everything on everybody and unfortunately you catch the brunt of it.

The point is, don't take it personally. Be very professional. If the customer is angry, apologize and tell them that you understand, you appreciate their business and wish them good luck. If they just can't afford you anymore, tell them you understand and that you've appreciated their business.

Just try not to let it ruin your day. Life goes on and sometimes losing a customer can actually be a good thing.

Sometimes it's you who needs to fire them.

This happens more often than not with these people who always want something for nothing. They ask for free work and always seem to have a complaint no matter how good of a job you did.

At the end of the day, these clients can be more trouble than they're worth. If it comes down to it and you have to fire them, do so in a respectful and professional manner.

You can say something like,

"Mr. Snodgrass, it seems as if you and I aren't quite on the same page. I think maybe we just aren't the right fit. However, you've been a good customer and I'd like to suggest 2 or 3 of my competitors who may be able to meet your needs better than I can."
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No matter what, you can walk away feeling good that you handled it professionally. Mr. Snodgrass may even realize that he's pushed you too hard and will actually beg you to stay.

That's up to you, just remember that a pain in the ass customer can negatively affect both your attitude and your business.

What's worse…

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These days they will leave you a bad review online… so its best to handle these situations professionally.

Secret #7 – Take time off

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I know this one seems silly, too. Yet it's very important. Life isn't all about working. You absolutely need time to yourself – to relax and recharge your batteries.

It's easy to get into a situation, especially when you're new, where you end up working your tail off. Maybe even 7 days a week. I'd strongly suggest that you don't do this. Take Sunday off, at the very least!

First off, you need downtime. Second, our business involves a lot of loud and annoying engines. Give people a break from the racket!

Also, though, as we've talked about, you can reach the $5,000 a month net income level truly working part time – less than 60 hours per week. That's to say, less than 40 hours per week cutting grass. You may spend a few more hours doing other things, but the fact is that you can accomplish it all Monday through Friday.

That way you have the weekend. And if you get rained out a bit during the week, you can always use Saturday morning to catch up if you have too. On the other hand, if you book yourself up 6 days per week and then get rained out on one… you're screwed.

Also, you've got to make time for the other things in your business – bookkeeping, marketing, giving estimates and performing routine maintenance on your equipment.

So create your schedule in such a way that you leave time for work and time for play.

After all, part of the reason you're starting Mean Green is to be your own boss and make your own rules… and to enjoy the freedom that comes with it.

Chapter Review

After reading this, you'll probably notice that while many of the little tips in this chapter are handy, they're also pretty common sense, aren't they?

At the end of the day, you're cutting grass. It's not rocket science, is it? Yet by applying some common sense and a little know how gained from this blueprint, you'll be able to handle the extra things that make a seemingly simple business like lawn care a very profitable and satisfying business for you.

  • Be responsive

  • Be respectful

  • Be professional

  • Present yourself and your gear in a way that telegraphs how you'll treat your customers

  • Go the extra mile

  • Handle rejection, loss and even firing a customer like a professional

Okay, we've gotten through 4 of the 5 components of a successful landscaping business. The fifth component is going to deal with some things that you may not have ever dealt with or worried about before.

Component $#5 is the money.

In the next chapter, we're going to talk about how to manage your finances. We'll discuss expenses, payroll and taxes. Yeah, nobody gets excited about taxes, but the fact is that as a self-employed person, nobody is providing anything to you anymore

You've got to pay all your own taxes and healthcare, if you get it. Fortunately, though, your business makes that a little easier and gives you some advantages.

Finances may not seem sexy at first, but if you learn a few things about bookkeeping and keeping your ducks in a row, your accountant is going to really be able to help you out and help you keep more of your hard earned money in the bank!