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SYSTEMS

2 Chapter
Knowin’ Your Mowin’ – Systemizing how you work

I love it when a plan comes together.

Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, The A-team

Plan your dive and dive your plan.

Navy SEALS

Okay, here we go. Now we’re getting past the theory and into some good old fashioned nuts and bolts.

I’ve mentioned that this book is mainly about systems. Rather than being a bunch of stuff about how to send invoices and how to edge, this guide is about how to create a set of rules that guide you and your employees.

I’ve tried to simplify the idea of business systems into as small a package as possible. In this guide, we’re going to mainly discuss 3 broad areas of your business –

WORK
OPERATIONS
PEOPLE

Under each of those headings you’ll have a few sub-categories, too.

You’ll probably notice that as you go through this guide, some concepts will appear in more than one system. For example, in the Work system, I’m going to touch on moving from your home operation to a facility. Well, you might think that should go under the operations system... and you’d be right, but it kind of bleeds over.

So bear with me if you find that some things are addressed more than once – just remember there’s a method to my madness!

What is the Work system

For this system, we’re going to talk about everything that comes under the idea of actually going out and mowing the lawns. We’re going to set up a set of guiding principles based on your experience that you’ll follow and that you’ll have others follow, too.

Your completed work system should encompass concepts such as:

How to mow your client’s lawns properly including trim, edge, and blow.
Guidelines  for how each job should appear once done.
Checklists  to be followed.
How to bid on lawns and all aspects of yard work
Tracking techniques.
How to adapt to change.
How to measure and improve your systems

Basically what you’re after is something you can hand over to a new employee.

It could be a manual, a set of checklists or even a simple method that you use to teach. At the end of the day, though, what you’re after is duplication.

People will only do one thing predictably... That is to be unpredictable.

The good news is... Your work system should turn any employee into you. Now, will they have your drive and passion for your own business?

Of course not – they’re cutting grass all day for $14 an hour!

However, in the people system, we’ll talk more about how to motivate and keep a good employee over the long term. How to get them emotionally invested in your business just like you are – guess what... there’s a system for that too!

Yet no matter how invested they may or may not be, they’re damned sure going to follow your system or they’re out! There’s no negotiation there. The whole point of this blueprint is to give you and your business the power to grow beyond your personal ability to work. To allow you to increase the size of your company and your income and set you up for as large a business as you want.

This is done through the most important concept of all...

To give your customer what they want!

Because unless your customer gets everything they want every single time you service their property, they’ll go someplace else. You won't have much of a business that way, right?

You don’t want to end up like most guys in the lawn care industry!

Be the exception and not the rule.

One critical component of the work system, and all systems, really, are the tools. The instruments that let you work. What I mean by this is the stuff you hold in your hand to guide you and your people on how to work.

Now I’m not going to give you every single form, spreadsheet or checklist you need. I’m going to leave it up to you how you actually create the tools or the components of your systems. I’ll give you some suggestions you can use, though.

Personally, I find that one of the best ways to get a new person, or even myself back when I was still a yard monkey, to follow a system was simple printed sheets. These included checklists for each job, a log to track how long it took for the job to be done and how much time we drove, a completed task checklist that we left with each customer when we were done and things like that.

Every day we had a set of task sheets for each job, a log and a standardized checklist we’d follow.
Very simple but very effective. And believe it or not, rather than be annoyed at all of these guidelines, most people I’ve worked with liked it because it gave them a clear idea of what their job was. It left nothing to chance and always improved their efficiency.

And if there is one guiding word for making money in the lawn care industry... its efficiency!

Mow to grow – building your work system by establishing a set of rules

So your goal right now is to come up with a pretty solid set of rules for how you’d like people to work for your customers. You should already have a good idea of all of this in your head. As I mentioned at the end of the last chapter, by now it’s probably pretty intuitive.

So what we need to do is to take all of that instinct and personal work ethic that you’ve created and translate it into something solid. To put it on paper, in other words.

Now I’m just talking about the actual billable work – not maintaining the equipment or cleaning the gear. The work system is primarily about how to mow, edge, blow, trim, pull weeds, fertilize, shovel snow, remove yard waste or whatever else you actually do right now for your customers.

Some of the auxiliary things like maintenance and cleanliness and deportment that we talked about in the first guide will kind of fall under operations.

So here are the 3 main areas that constitute your work system:

Get em’ - Bidding and estimating.

Do em’ – Performing the work.

Track em’ - Reporting.

Yes, you should be able to teach anybody you hire, especially when they graduate to a crew chief, to
service your clients in the same predictable way even though you aren’t there. This needs to be done
the same way every single time with nothing left up to discretion

Because here's the scary thing… if you or your helpers do things differently each time then all you're
doing is creating chaos.

Basically what I’m saying is everything done in the field to service your clients should be orchestrated as a hard and fast formula. A recipe, if you will.

  • 1 oz. trimming.

  • 2 oz. edging.

  • ½ cup of mowing.

  • 1 pound of cleanliness.

You’re going to create your own recipe, and then mix well and repeat!

I’m going to split each of the three main systems, the POW chapters, into 2 chapters each. I think it makes this elephant a little bit easier to eat. In the next chapter, I’ll get into more detail on the get em’, do em’ and track em’ components.

First, though, I want to talk a bit about how to go about creating a system of any kind. I think this will help you in creating every system in your business and make it easy.

Pencil magic – transforming ideas and feelings
into
hard reality

So what’s the best way to take what you know and translate it into a set of rules? Simple – just write everything down!

You’re probably saying, “Well, duh, Gene!”

It may seem obvious, but you’d probably be very surprised at how few people, especially in our business, actually take the time to do this. The act of writing things on paper is tremendously powerful and not only lets you put your ideas down where you can actually see them… it helps you to generate new ideas and improve on old ones.

Action steps:

For the next week, two weeks or even the next month, I want you to begin writing down everything. And I do mean everything.

Let’s break it into the 3 sub-areas of the “W” part of the POW business system model. The get em’, do em’ and track em’ categories.

I want you to write everything down whenever you bid on a job. How long it took you to come up with the estimate, what methods you used to calculate it and I also want you to keep track of the ones you closed and the ones you didn’t close on and write down why if you can.

When it comes to working each job, I want you to jot down how you went about doing the work. I want you to keep a log of the time you started and stopped each job. I also want you to track driving time as well.

When it comes to working each job, I want you to jot down how you went about doing the work. I want you to keep a log of the time you started and stopped each job. I also want you to track driving time as well.

I also want you to keep track of all of this stuff somehow. For the next week or two, it’s okay just to leave each day’s notes in a pile. Don’t worry about being neat or perfect or creating Excel spreadsheets or anything yet.

All I want you to do is write stuff down on a clipboard every day and be as detailed as you possibly can. Then after a week or two, you’ll take a day to go over all of this raw data and create a set of tools from it.

You’re going to find out a lot by doing this work.Right now, you’re probably thinking that this might seem silly. You know what to do in your business already. You know how to bid a job and how to mow and how to send

Fair enough – but you may be surprised at what you learn by doing this exercise. Again, we want to solidify your intuitive knowledge into a hard set of rules. By doing this exercise, you’ll discover a lot of things that make up how you work that you may not even realize.

Here’s the crazy thing… this simple exercise is the beginning of what separates the small time self employed grass cutters from the lantrepreneurs that actually own a profitable lawn care business.

That’s why I want you to really take the time to do this and spend maybe a few weeks on it. I think you’ll find a lot of interesting information comes from this and you may even learn some stuff about yourself and how you operate that you didn’t consciously realize.

Then you’ll be ready to create your work system and set yourself up to start hiring help and you’ll be poised to hit the fast track of the big money!

Bonus section – Brace for impact!

Before we jump into the 3 sub-systems, I want to talk a little bit about growth. This is probably more suitable for the operations system, and I’ll address it more there, too… yet I think this is a good time to get you mentally prepared.

What I’m saying is that you’ve got to start planning for and expecting growth. With growth comes money and with bigger money comes bigger logistics.

Right now, you’re probably running your business out of your home. Maybe you store your truck, trailer and gear in the side yard. Maybe you’ve already moved up to a storage unit.

Right now, you’re probably running your business out of your home. Maybe you store your truck, trailer and gear in the side yard. Maybe you’ve already moved up to a storage unit.

Yet as you get bigger and you get a couple of employees, and especially when you start running 2 or more crews, you’re going to have to move the operation away from your house.

Your neighbors aren’t going to appreciate people coming and going all the time. They won’t like extra cars being parked on the street and maybe a lot of industrial gear in your yard.

It could be that your neighborhood association or even city ordinances won’t allow it.

So you’re going to have to start planning to move to a real facility. Maybe that’s a basic storage unit or storage yard at first. Perhaps you’ll be looking for an industrial park that gives you a service bay and a small office.

At some point, though, this is going to happen. When you’re running a few crews and you’ve hired an administrative person to do the billing and marketing and so on, you’ll need a small office. You’ll need a couple of storage bays to keep your trailers and to maintain your gear.

Luckily, the types of facilities you’ll be looking at are pretty common and usually very reasonable. It also centralizes everything and gives your company a more professional feeling.

Start storing your nuts

The point of this is that I want you to try and limit your liabilities. Sooner or later, you’ll have a second crew which means a second truck, trailer and set of gear. It means that you’ll need to rent a place to work out of, etc.

Rather than simply get a new loan or put things on a credit card, I want you to try and run your business as debt-free as possible.

Well… not exactly debt free. You’ll always have debt, the trick is who do you owe money to? Do you borrow from Discover or MasterCard or your bank… or do you borrow from yourself?

For instance, if we refer back to the first guide, we figured that you’d need about $25-$30K to set up a crew. In that case, just you. But you’ need a truck, trailer, mower or two, trimming gear, gas cans, water jug, etc.

So does it make sense to borrow another $30K from the bank at 10% or from the credit cards at 22%... or borrow from yourself at 0%?

I’m going to estimate that you’re at least 6 months out from starting a whole new crew. You’ve got to hire your first helper, train him and get him ready to take command of his own crew. That’s at least a 6 month process. Between finding the right guy and getting used to how things work for him and you, you should figure on that much time.

Yet, you should also be able to do at least 1.5 times the amount of work in the same number of hours each week with a helper. In theory, you should be able to double your productivity… but as I said, that’s not really how it works.

So basically, you and your helper should be able to bill for 3,000 work hours in a year, assuming you’re working at least 40 hours per week.

Now the truth may be a bit different – so that’s something else you’ll want to track carefully. You may find that the two of you can do 1.7 times the work you can do in the same time alone… or maybe 1.35 times.

Yet here’s the deal…

Even after you buy the new truck and send your helper on his merry way… you still should be storing your nuts. You should think of it like you owe your business $17,100 if you spend that stash. You are basically creating your own 0% financing and that’s the absolute best rate you’ll ever get!

Okay, okay… I won’t beat this horse to death. I just wanted to get your head ready for what’s to come. Now, let’s move onto get em’, do em’ and track em’!