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OPERATIONS

Chapter
Get em’, Do em’, Track em’ – The Work System Part 2

I’m really hoping that this section of the guide, the work system, is the easiest for you.

It’s really the part that you probably know the best and should make it easier to translate into a framework for everybody else.

Now, if you’ve done the exercise from the previous chapter, you should have a pile of notes and logs to use as the basis for this chapter. We’re going to break it down into these 3 basic parts…although it’s really more like 2 because the track em’ part kind of deals with the other two, as you’ll see.

Just to make things clear, what we’ll be dealing with in this section is only stuff that actually pertains to mowing the lawns, or whatever other services you provide. I know that all the parts of your business really go together to make that happen, but we’ll be dealing with those other things later on.

Because when you think about it, there’s kind of a process to getting and doing the work when you look at the big picture. It goes something like this:

Marketing and advertising to get the phone to ring.
Answering the phone and speaking with a prospective customer.
Visiting the prospect’s property and making an estimate.
Doing the work itself.
Invoicing the customer.
Tracking payments.
Staying in touch and caring for the customer.

That’s to say nothing of equipment maintenance and so on. But for this part of the work system, let’s focus only on what you do after you’ve made the appointment to make a bid on a prospect and what you do after you win the job. The other stuff we’ll deal with in the “O” part of POW!

As for the tracking part, that kind of gets built into the bidding and working portions, but I’ll address some specifics in its own sub-section a little later in this chapter.

Okay, ready to go?

Get em’ – Accurate and successful bidding

Remember that our goal here is to create a system based on your experience that’ll let anybody create and present an accurate estimate to any customer. Of course, for the foreseeable future, that’ll still be you. The point is to have a repeatable formula from which you never deviate.

Before you cut your new helper loose to run his own crew, you’ll be bidding on jobs. Once he’s running a crew, you’ll still be focusing a lot on the management side of the business and doing bids yourself.

So why bother with this?

Well, eventually, your new crew chief and maybe even every new crew chief, is going to bid on jobs. Maybe regularly, maybe only sometimes. After all, you can’t be everywhere at once, right?

Sooner or later, as your operation grows into a truly big business with dozens of employees, you’ll probably have little time to focus on visiting individual lawns to give estimates. And you want a system that does this for you whether you’re the bidder or whether it’s one of your guys.

Another reason is that what happens when your second crew is working and one of the neighbors walks over and asks how much it would be to do her lawn? If you follow the old saying that you should strike while the iron is hot – and I believe strongly in that – then you want your crew chief to be able to give her a good estimate right there on the spot.

So with a good Get em’ system in place, you can rest easy knowing he’ll provide an estimate that keeps you profitable.

Author’s note:

I want to pause here for a quick second and address something. More often than not, when I’m talking about you and your helpers and crew chiefs, I’m using the pronoun “he.” Yet I don’t want to make it seem like I’m assuming only men are in this business.

It’s true that the lawn care business is predominantly male… it’s not entirely so. I happen to know several very successful lawn care companies that were started by, are run by and are mostly staffed by women. And some that are a mix of both women and men.

So if you’re a lady reading this, know that I recognize and acknowledge you and that my over-use of he, him and so forth is just a convenience.

Okay, resume normal operations…

So what do we need to create an accurate bidding system that works every time? We need to know what factors go into your bids now. We also need an instrument that the estimator can use at each job site.

An instrument being something like a printed sheet with blanks for specific information, checklists and a formula to calculate the bid. It may be that you’ll have more than one type of bidding tool, too.

For instance, how you bid a mowing job may be different than how you bid a snow removal job. That’s going to be different than how you bid a shrub pruning job, too.

For now, let’s deal with a residential mowing job, because that’s your primary focus.

First, let’s list all of the things that you need to consider when bidding on a job. Feel free to add to this list if there’s something you use or consider that I didn’t itemize:

Total square footage of the property.
Square footage of the house.
Square footage of the driveway.
Square footage of patio, pool or other fixed concrete area.
Approximate linear feet of edging required.
Number of flower beds, planters and areas that need weed eating.
Distance from nearest current customer.
Additional services like weed pulling, plant trimming, etc.

The next step in creating a standardized bidding system is to create your tool. A sheet of paper that you list all of these pieces of data as well as the owner’s address and contact info. Then you can have a section on the sheet that actually describes your formula for calculating the time it’ll take to do the job.

Tip: In order to do this, you’ll have to know something about how fast your equipment is.

For example, if you’re using a 48” cut mower (for easy calculation), and you normally run the mower at 3 miles per hour, or about average walking speed, then you can figure out how much grass you cut in a minute like this:

5,280 X 3 = 15,840.

15,840 / 60 = 264.

Now, we’re after square feet, so…

264 X 4’ (48”) = 1,056.

So, figuring roughly, you can cut about a thousand square feet per minute. Obviously, there are times when you can go faster and times when you’re slower. On a long open span of yard, you can kick up the speed and when you’re near the house or planters, you’ll have to take it easy so you can maneuver more carefully.

Yet this is a good rule of thumb. Of course, feel free to recalculate with your numbers if they’re different than my examples. Now we also have to figure this out for edging, right?

How fast can you edge? Edging is a bit slower than mowing, so let’s assume you walk at 2 miles per hour in order to edge properly. Let’s calculate your per minute speed just as we did above:

5,280 X 2 = 10,560.

10,560 / 60 = 176.

So you can edge 176 feet in a minute. Does that seem high? Probably. The truth is that edging is much slower and you have to start and stop a lot. But for argument’s sake, let’s say you can cut 100 feet in a minute.

So your bid calculation section on your bidding sheet might look like this:

Subtract house and other paved sections from total square feet.
Divide by 1,000.
Add all linear edges.
Divide by 100.

You get the idea. You’ll do the same thing for guessing how long it’ll take to weed eat and do other things. That you can figure out by your own experience. That’s what your notes are for.

Now we didn’t subtract any planter square footage from the property. It might seem important, especially if there’s a 50 square foot flower or tree bed right in the center of the front lawn, for example.

Well, feel free to do this if you want, but when you consider that you’ll have to weed eat this, things tend to work themselves out. This is where your notes and your own experiences come into play. You may want to add this in to your bid sheet.

So let’s say that you’re looking at a 12,000 square foot lawn, or 100 X 120 lot. There’s a 2,000 square foot house on it with a two car driveway that’s 20 feet by 20 feet. There’s also a 40 foot by 30 foot pool screen enclosure in the back.

So your total mowing area is about 8,400 square feet. You also have about 200 feet of edging to do also.

According to our numbers above, just mowing and edging is going to take you 10 or 11 minutes. That seems pretty fast, doesn’t it? Remember this is just an example and you’ll be doing real calculations with your actual data.

You also figure about 15 minutes of weed eating for a total of 25 minutes to take care of this lawn. This property is also 8 minutes’ drive from your closest customer, so let’s factor in 16 additional minutes to drive to and from this new customer.

So your total time is 41 minutes, which we’ll round to 40. Now you simply divide your man hour rate, which we’re still using as $52 by 40 minutes:

40 mins / 60 mins = .67.

$52 X .67 = $35.

So there’s your rate. Now anybody can give this customer a bid. However, I want to establish that at least for the foreseeable future, say until you’re running 4 or 5 crews, that you should still be doing the bidding. However, that’s really up to you.

The point is that by creating a repeatable formula with a set of rules and figures, you can easily and accurately give the customer a bid that’s in line with your man hour – which you already know is the Holy Grail of your business.

You also need to keep in mind that you’re trying to be competitive. By sticking to your man hour figure, which you’ve established from what we learned in the first guide, you should be able to do this. After all, figuring this number out took competition into account.

Now, my numbers above may not have been conservative enough. In reality, a 100 X 120 yard may take more than 25 minutes to actually work on… or not, you’ll have to figure that out.

Yet consider what happens when you add a helper. Remember how we said that you could probably work 1.5 times as fast? Well, in this case, that means that this yard is going to take you maybe 19 minutes to mow. You’ll still have to drive the 16, but now you’re looking at a 35 minute time frame.

Not much different, when you think about it – yet once you get a second or third customer in the same neighborhood as this new person, that drive time will dramatically shrink if not go away completely.

So imagine having 3 of these on the same street and each one taking you about 20 minutes. In a single hour, you and your helper could bang out 3 $35 lawns for a total of $105 gross earned in the business, which is a little better than double your man hour rate!

With an accurate bidding system, you’re going to be able to remain competitive, make sure that your bids are always in keeping with your man hour rate and therefore keep your business profitable and eventually you’ll be able to hand this system to a crew chief so that he or she can do their own bidding down the road.

Caution: Remember, you want to follow your bidding system every time without exception. So many lawn care companies fold for exactly this reason – they don’t use a system and therefore allow chaos to reign and destroy them from within!

Do em’ – A perfect job done perfectly every time

This one should be the easiest system for you to create. It’s the very core of your business and the thing you do every day that you work.

This is a great time to study those notes you’ve been making. Because like bidding, there should be a certain method to your madness. Certain ways that you work that help you do a quality job as well as complete it quickly.

You develop your company's repeatable technique that gives your customer what they want each and every week.

Again the idea here is efficiency. If you bid on a job for $35 that takes you 40 minutes, you want to be able to actually do that job in 40 minutes or less.

More importantly, you want your helpers and crews to do this if not better as well. While the bidding stuff above will primarily be in your wheelhouse for a while, the working portion will very quickly become somebody else’s job. And a job that’s mainly done out of your oversight. But don't worry… Even though you’re not there laying eyes on every lawn that gets mowed, your systems are the glue that holds your business together.

So what you want to do now is try and figure out your best methods for both doing the individual tasks for each property as well as in what order you do them overall. This may make little difference at the end of each job, but that’s up to you.

The other things to think about here is how is each job going to be done when it’s a crew of two guys. When it’s just you, it’s pretty irrelevant in what order you mow, edge, blow and weed eat… well, okay, it doesn’t make any sense to blow first does it!

But with 2 guys, now you’re splitting up the tasks, and it’s probably going to end up with a mower and a trimmer. One guy is going to start with mowing while the second guy works on edging and trimming. Hopefully they’ll both finish at the same time and can grab two blowers and wrap things up.

What you don’t want is one guy sitting around sucking on a cancer stick while his partner is out there chewing up grass. Both men (or women) should be working at the same time and there should be little unproductive overlap.

If we go back to our example above where the lawn takes 10 minutes to mow and 15 to trim, then guy #1, let’s say the crew chief, will finish mowing before his helper finishes trimming. What should happen is that the chief puts the mower away, grabs the spare edger or whacker and helps finish up the auxiliary jobs. Then they can both quickly blow and move on to the next job.

Tip: It may seem knit-picky, but the order in which the trimmer works can have a big impact. Maybe you have him start in the back of the property. That way, when the mower is done and grabs a whacker or edger, he doesn’t have to try and figure out what’s been done. Since he’s already in the front yard, he can work on the stuff that clearly hasn’t been trimmed yet.

That’s up to you, obviously, but you're creating your company's most efficient method that serves as the repeatable procedure that will be followed over and over to deliver a consistent quality job to your customer at a fair price.

The word “ORCHESTRATION” applies here.

Organizing activities into an efficient, effective and profitable pattern.

This is where you can really benefit from an individual job check sheet. At the beginning of each shift, your crew, or simply you and your helper, get a stack of sheets for each job to be done that day. Each sheet has a list of tasks that must be done for that particular customer.

Some will be identical and some won’t. But so long as each box is ticked off on each job, then you’ll always know that every customer has been cared for properly.

This is one of those systems that you’ll probably end up tweaking a bit as you go along. Remember, the next 6 months will be you working with a single helper. As you train him or her, you’ll also be adapting your systems as well. It’ll be a learning experience for both of you.

During this phase, you should be thinking to yourself… ”What if I was not in the truck? Are my systems strong enough to make sure everything gets taken care of for my customer?”

If the answer is no… then why not?

You’ll need to focus on this question in order to make your systems and methods tighter and more specific.

For example … let's say you get to the third lawn on the route , and you run out of weed eater cord.

Now you have to drive all the way back to your house or shop to go get more, and you killed 30 minutes… or to put it a little more realistically… you lost $26.

So here’s a little method I’ll talk about again later on. I call it the 5 shot analysis. You ask yourself why something happened at least 5 times to drill down to the answer:

Why did we run out of cord?
We didn't have any on the truck
Why didn't we have any?
We forgot to check before we left the shop.
Why did we forget to check?
Because nothing reminded us to do so.

Ah-ha! So the solution? A checklist you go over each morning to make sure everything you need for the day is on the truck and trailer.

Your helper and crew chief to be may also be of value in helping you hash out some of these systems. Listen to their ideas but always remember that it’s your business.

Track em’ – analysis and adaptation

Okay, here’s where a good system and set of rules can really have long reaching effects on your business. Because if you put a good tracking system in place, you’ll really be able to analyze how your business is doing, where to make changes and how things can be improved.

What’s important to understand is that this isn’t a one time thing…

Whether it’s you and your team wearing the same uniform doing the same services for the same customers every week… you’ll always be looking for ways to make things more efficient while predictably delivering excellent results to your customers.

One of the most important and ironically simplest systems of all is going to be a time tracking log, yet 99% of lawn care business owners don't do it.

But you're not like them, because you're reading this guide.

With a simple log that lists each job for the day and a space to write time in and time out, you’ll be receiving a ton of valuable data every day that you or your crews work.

Think about it – if we use our example from Get em’ where you quoted $35 for a 100 X 120 property, you have to stick to that 40 minute ceiling.

So you know that you’re leaving yourself 8 minutes to get there, 25 minutes to do the work and 7 minutes or so to get to the next job, right?

Well, if you logged a completed job at 8:40am and then get to this new one at 8:45 and then log out at 9:08 and then log into your next lawn at 9:15, you have a lot of info there.

You know that it took 35 minutes to complete this new lawn, which is better than you estimated. On the other hand, if it took you 50 minutes, then you’ll know that you have one or more issues. First, you may be taking too much driving time. You might also see that the actual work time is longer than you thought and so on.

You can then make adjustments to your driving, working or even bidding systems to compensate. If this 100 X 120 job is taking you 50 minutes instead of 40, then on the next one, you might give a price of $45.

This is really handy when you start working with a helper, too. Let’s say that you find that even with a helper, you’re still taking 40 minutes. Why is that? What adjustments can you make to compensate?

I don’t care if you are working alone or have 5 guys with you – that $52 man hour for Mean Green (or whatever amount you use in your business) must be met or beaten. You have to think of that figure as a solid brick wall you can’t break.

If anything, adding help should improve your time. It shouldn’t cost you more money because the help allows you to work faster. Your help should at worst keep you making the same money and at best dramatically increase your productivity and profitability.

A word of warning…

You can't just throw bodies at a problem. What I mean by that is, you can't just put more men in a truck to get more work done.

Why does this matter? Because every additional man you add is marginally less productive than the last. This is why for residential mowing 2 man crews are optimal and rarely does a 3 or 4 man crew make economic sense for average sized lawns.

You might be billing 50 hours per week at $52 and actually making $104 because of your helper. Awesome! Yet it shouldn’t go the other way around.

That man hour rate can’t be broken. You can’t simply increase it to compensate for a helper. Why not you might ask?

Simple – you have to stay competitive!

If a lawn that takes 1 hour to complete costs the customer $52, and that’s a competitive rate in the landscaping business where you operate, then you can’t simply charge the customer $75 because you hired two dudes and you need to cover their payroll. Doesn’t work that way.

Manpower boosts productivity within the constraint of your man hour rate. That’s the law and don’t dare break it!

Another tracking system you might want to make can involve customer satisfaction. Periodically check in with each customer to gauge their happiness with your work. This can be done in a variety of ways and can easily be incorporated into the computer side of the business in your customer management software such as GreenPal.

When it comes to the work system, you want to track and make a system to track:

Effectiveness of bidding.
How the work is done with your repetitive predictable technique.
Quality of the work.
Efficiency of the work.
Whether or not you’re meeting or beating your man hour rate.

As I mentioned earlier, much of this stuff will be addressed again in both the people and operations systems chapters. It all ties together. By the end of this guide, you’re going to be on an entirely different level and poised to really skyrocket your business.

Yet in order to do that, you need people, which is really one of the biggest parts of this blueprint. People are the core of your business as you grow and you want to get started on the right path. So if you’re ready, let’s move on to the “P” in the POW!