Digital Marketing 101 for landscapers

Is digital marketing a priority for your business?

It should be. But we realize it can be a challenge to get started for those doing digital for the first time. So we consulted our friend Chris Penny to give us some advice we could pass along to our partners. (His go-to pro tip for getting started? Install Google Analytics!) Penny is a 15-year landscaping veteran who operates a digital marketing agency called Lawn Authorities catering specifically to lawn care and landscape companies. He also runs a highly popular Facebook group where successful landscape business owners can share ideas and tactics with their peers. Here are Penny’s top 5 tips for landscapers looking to become local authorities through digital marketing.

1. Track data

Data can be intimidating if you’re not a numbers person, but its impact is undeniable. “If you don’t have a good way to track your data, you lose sight of the big picture,” says Penny. Making a first foray into digital marketing? It’s important to realize the differences from traditional marketing. “The first step to responsible digital marketing is collecting data and not just treating it like offline marketing, throwing it into the wind and seeing what happens.” With digital, the data dictates what works. So, where to start? Penny says a good first move is to install Google Analytics so you can track your customers’ behaviour on your website.

2. Lean on your website

While Facebook and Instagram are all the rage and a Google Ads campaign could propel your sales, there’s still nothing more crucial than your good old-fashioned — ha! — website. Penny considers a landscape company’s website its top salesperson. “They never get sick, they’re there 24 hours a day, they don’t forget anything,” he says. (Sound good so far?!) Your website contains all your business’ information, acting as a sort of robotic salesperson that you don’t have to train. Plus, it doesn’t forget details and is constantly improving — provided you give it the right attention. “Any time you make a change to your website, the change remains forever. We could make a slight Google Ads adjustment, and a two-second change might save us $10,000 over the next five years. That’s insane ROI.”

3. Gather reviews

What’s the first thing you do when considering a new restaurant to make a reservation at, a hotel to stay at, or a company to hire? If you’re like most people, you read what other customers have to say about their experience with that product or service. Online reviews are, Penny says, king. “I think one day anthropologists are going to look back at this time in awe with the impact of online reviews. Everyone looks at them. And they work.” It’s true. According to a study by e-commerce conversion rate optimization company, Invesp, 90% of consumers read online reviews and 72% of consumers will take action only after reading a positive review. Meanwhile, 86% of potential customers will hesitate to purchase from a business with negative online reviews. Convinced yet? The bottom line is online reviews have a major impact on buying decisions. Make sure yours are in check.

4. Prioritize positioning

Positioning is not only what you sell, but to whom you sell it. “It’s not just a matter of getting business; it’s getting the right business,” Penny says. The “right clients” are the ones that want the level of quality you offer and can pay the rates you charge. Penny suggests starting with your most profitable clients. Collect their feedback and inject that information — you can go as far as using the words they use — into your digital ads to attract new, quality clients. Establishing a position and spreading it online will help keep you efficient by delivering only the leads worth spending time on.

5. Hire a marketing manager

One of the biggest mistakes a CEO can make, according to Penny, is managing his marketing himself. In the past, creating a simple sales flyer with basic graphic design and copywriting skills may have been doable. But with all the data collection and analysis now required, Penny strongly recommends hiring an expert (part-time or even as a consultant) to oversee your company’s marketing channels. Don’t have the budget for a Marketing Director? A student intern with digital knowledge could take the load off your plate but keep in mind their experience could be limited. And a marketing company like Lawn Authorities could give your business the leading edge thanks to the massive amounts of industry-specific information it has collected for almost a decade. “When we sign up a new client, we’ve already collected a massive amount of data for them in their industry, saving them immense costs in trial and error,” says Penny. “It’s a no-brainer.”

Visit Chris Penny’s Lawn Authorities Facebook page to contribute your landscape expertise!

Motivational Tactics Aren’t Working? Here’s What Will.

“We’re a people business; we just happen to do landscaping.”

These are the words of one of our employee motivation role models, Strathmore’s Jessica Milligan. We love her holistic approach to getting the most out of her team. Employee motivation is the number one thing Milligan thinks about every single day, and her approach has been passed down through the ranks of her family.

Founded more than half a century ago by Jessica’s grandfather, Strathmore is a family-run urban landscape management company, and Jessica is part of the third-generation to operate the business. She’s worked with the organization for 15 years, starting at the entry level and working her way up to become the general manager, now overseeing 230 employees and working alongside her brother and father.

Milligan’s outlook on the importance of Strathmore’s employees is refreshing: “It doesn’t matter which business we’re in,” she says. “If we didn’t have this amazing team we wouldn’t be successful.”

Here are her top tips for maintaining a motivated team all season long.

Hire Often and Purposefully

Peak hiring season for most landscape companies is in the late winter and early spring. The melting snow and school years winding down signals that a spree is about to ensue. But Strathmore takes a different approach: “We’re hiring continuously. We don’t wait until we have an opening before we fill it. We’re constantly recruiting, interviewing, hiring, orienting, and training new people so that we don’t ever wind up short staffed. That way we are able to find good people when they’re looking rather than waiting for the spring when every company is hiring and we’re all in competition for the same pool of talent.”

Maintain a Meaningful Culture

Strathmore operates under a series of eight core values: respect, integrity, proactivity, education, efficiency, sustainability, trust, and safety. “The culture of hard work, discipline, and excellence is really built into our team,” says Milligan. “My siblings and I were lucky to learn that culture from our parents and grandparents and that’s the only way we know how to do things.”

The company’s dedication to these values is apparent at every stage of their employee onboarding process, and if a person doesn’t match up, Milligan says that the relationship won’t last very long. “We’re very frank with people during the interview process about how serious we are about our core values. We let them know plainly that if we don’t share a set of values, it won’t work. The team is so strong that they won’t want to be a part of it.”

Define a set of values that guide your employees toward building a meaningful culture. After that, it will be easy to know which candidates will be a good fit for your team — and which won’t.

Do Your Due Diligence

Strathmore’s fit-testing doesn’t end with the interview — landing the job doesn’t mean you’ve earned a permanent spot on the team. Strathmore starts off its new hires with a two-week working interview, during which the employee works in the field on a trial run.

“We don’t believe a company and employee can convince one another during an interview that there’s a great fit. We’ll try an employee on several different teams, during which time there is a lot of communication between managers so we can find out where their skills are best suited. If it doesn’t work out during that two-week interview, we shake hands — no hard feelings — and that’s it.”

Give Clear Direction

Each generation of Strathmore leadership has to work through its own set of challenges that come with running a business with your relatives. But they’ve spun that into a positive tool they can use to influence good habits on their team. “Because we’re a family, it was important for us to establish clear roles from the outset. Overlap opens up room for conflict; being clear with our own roles helps us when it comes to making our team’s roles and responsibilities clear.”

The fact that the Milligans have become strong at creating clear direction has trickled down to their managers: “We have a hard-working staff because they have a sense of doing what they’ve set out to achieve every day. There’s always more you can do in gardening, but we make sure our teams know exactly what they’re working towards.”

Create Predictability

Strathmore shuts down for a week at the end of August, giving all of its employees paid vacation at the same time, and ensuring everyone’s schedule is identical. Building a predictable schedule makes it easier for each crew to manage its day-to-day workloads since they know they’ll have full access to their team members each and every day.

Strathmore also rewards its employees on a consistent basis: Friday fun days occur on the last Friday of every month. The company-sponsored events give employees the chance to hang out at the shop after their shift with their coworkers playing ball hockey or eating pizza. At the company’s annual Family Day during the fall, team members can invite children, grandchildren, or a spouse for an activity like apple-picking or picnicking in the park.

BONUS: How to avoid losing your employees

Milligan tells us there are a few things she sees happen over and over in companies that need to be avoided in your company at all costs:

1. Getting upset that people have no common sense.

Why? That’s a failure of management, she says. You simply can’t assume common sense.

2.Managers referring to their team as my team.

Why? It sets a tone. We’re all working together toward a common goal, so we should always refer to the group as our team.

3. Lack of acceptance toward women in the industry.

Why? It’s a historically male-dominated field, so it’s important to create a work environment in which women feel welcome and accepted. Strathmore’s field horticultural maintenance team consists of roughly 40% women, and its management team is 50/50. “We make a big deal of the fact we accept women and our culture accepts them,” says Milligan. “This makes us a destination employer for women.”

Must-do’s for a Successful Landscape Season!

For the last few months you’ve either been burning a lot of fuel cleaning up after these nasty storms or are one of the “lucky” contractors who closes up shop for the winter. So, either the light at the end of the tunnel is here or that sweet winter break is almost over. At least, we’re hoping it’s almost over… we can’t wait for summer to come! But before summer starts, GoMaterials is happy to help you achieve a successful 2019 landscape season with these top four Must Do items.

  1. Start Hiring— it’s never too early

In business, employees are everything, and that couldn’t be truer than in the landscape construction industry. With such skilled and unpredictable tasks to perform every day, good employees take years to mold and these days good skilled landscape employees are rarer than flying pigs. So, make sure you start your hiring process as early as possible. Then, interview thoroughly. Once you find an all-star, treat them well because they will help build a great name for your company!

2. Get your equipment tuned up

Breakdowns suck! They are usually expensive to fix, delay your jobs, and always seem to come at the worst time. (Then again, there is no good time because we contractors run at such a high pace all summer long). Ensuring your equipment is well taken care of ahead of time (i.e. greasing, changing oils, cleaning/changing air filters etc.) will help reduce the number of breakdowns you incur during the summer. Fewer delays and expensive repairs mean happier employees and more money in your pocket at the end of the summer. So get all those tune ups done before the snow melts so you can hit the ground running!

3. Start selling and building relationships

This is probably the most fun part of any contractor’s job: planning a client’s dream yard! If you want to have a successful summer you need to start selling now. This way you can book a good part of the season up before the year starts, allowing for an easier plan and a less stressed you. You’ll sleep easier knowing the team has work for the upcoming year!

4. Touch base with your sub-contractors

Sub-contractors are just as important to your business as employees are. Finding good subs is crucial, so don’t hesitate to interview them like you would an employee. You need to make sure their work is great because at the end of the day it’s your name on that job. 

If you can hit these Must Dos, you’ll be sure to start your season off on the right foot allowing you to have a great summer!

7 of Instagram’s Most Inspiring Gardens

We’re not going to lie — we’ve been spending quite a bit of time browsing Instagram lately. The image-based social platform has been not only inspiring us, but treating us to scores of eye candy.

From #gardensofinstagram to #landscapephotography to #gardenporn — yes, #gardenporn is a thing and it’s way more appropriate than you think (most of the time) — we can’t get enough. Fortunately, we’ve put all that scrolling time to good use and collected some of our faves to share with you. So next time a rainy day washes you out of work, fill the void one double tap at a time with these 7 strokes of landscape genius.

1. All the way from Mount Wilson, Australia’s Breenhold Gardens, this winding staircase and fall foliage are giving us a serious forbidden forest vibe.

2. We’re just going to assume they had one day of Purple Rain and that was that.

3. Isn’t this just adorable?! Yeah, and the garden too.

You can save time and money on your next landscape job. Learn how in 96 seconds.

4. Warning: Do not peep this garden on an empty stomach!

5. Get yourself a dog or two that cares as much about your garden as you do. #dogdaysofsummer

6. We’re as obsessed with Kew Gardens as you are, @roamatdawn! Greenhouse and water lilies… what’s not to like?

7. Uh, yes please! A glass of wine around the fire, in THIS garden?! We could get used to nights like this.

Read more: 7 Trending Plants for the 2018 Season

How to Ensure Profitable Landscape Jobs

Have you ever completed a project, and instead of feeling the satisfaction of a job well done, you just become overwhelmed by a feeling of uncertainty? Like you weren’t even sure whether that job was truly profitable for your business? We know the feeling. We have a huge appreciation for the hard work everyone in our industry does, and because nobody deserves to feel lost when it comes to their financials, we’re giving you some easy steps you can implement right away to help guide you on the path to profitability.

1. Plan ahead

You’ve heard the expression time is money? This is true in few industries more so than landscaping. One way to save time, and therefore money, is to scope out your job site before beginning the work so you can plan for proper access. What do we mean by that? Measuring your entry points to a backyard, for example, can inform your choice of machinery size. Since a bigger tractor means a faster job, it’s good to know your bandwidth before you arrive at the site having shortchanged yourself. Another example would be knowing that you have to level some ground. Now you can order extra dirt from the get-go instead of having to scramble halfway through.

2. Don’t forget your wasted materials

These are two dirty words in our business: wasted materials. Let’s face it: our jobs are rarely as efficient as we hope them to be. Waste is inevitable, but you have to take it into consideration when you’re preparing. One of the more common mistakes we make is failing to factor in the extra materials you won’t end up using. We’re talking about things like windy driveway borders you have to cut stone to accommodate. This is uncontrollable waste, but it has to be accounted for. We suggest calculating an extra 15-20% in your budget. Other times, it’s controllable waste that can be avoided by simply taking the time to measure your jobs ahead of time.

3. Account for overhead

Your overhead is the ongoing expense required to operate your business — things like your company’s liability insurance and your warehouse’s rent costs. These are costs that are difficult to directly calculate into every job, but still need to be considered. So how do you properly cost overhead into a job so that your budget is accurate? The best way to calculate overhead is on a time basis. Simply add up all your costs per month that are not directly associated to a job, including a receptionist, rent, or office expenses. Now take that monthly expense and divide it by the number of days in the month to determine your overhead cost per day. With that number, you can attribute a value to each project: if a crew spends five days on a job you can multiply your overhead cost per day by five to get the total overhead cost for that job.

4. Check the forecast

Don’t save this one for a rainy day! Weather delays suck — but they happen. When you first laid out your budget for your upcoming project, you probably did so under the assumption that every working day would actually be a full, uninterrupted working day. Did you hear that? That was Mother Nature laughing at you. Even if your crew is the landscape-warrior type that works in any conditions, over the course of a summer there will be times when it’s just not possible. Factor in roughly one or two rain days a week, depending on where you live. And don’t forget to account for a few other factors: the work will be a little slower in muddy conditions, lack of work means lack of revenue, and transport costs are higher when crews are taking rain breaks back at the shop.

Do you have other tips that we didn’t mention… Let us know below! We’d love to hear from you.

The Ultimate Project Management Software Comparison for Landscapers

You’re about to make one of your biggest decisions towards impacting your business: It’s time to choose a project management software. Whether you’re onboarding a PMS for the first time or you’ve just ditched your old one and are single and ready to mingle, there are so many things to consider when it comes time to choose your new software. Bottom line: You need a software that’s going to help your business make money and keep your customers happy. But each company promises that their product will do that. Are they all lying? Of course not. Each company offers something different, and the person making this decision for you needs to choose the software that offers the features that best match your business needs.

We’ve compiled a list of the top eight project management software products that are specifically geared for landscaping. These guys get what you do every day. They understand your needs. So which product is best for you? That’ll depend on what you’re looking for. Consult our comparison table so you can make an informed decision and start making serious progress.

Click here or directly on the chart to see full sized version. You can also look below for description of the evaluation criteria for each software.

Customer Support: The company has a team that handles customer queries.

Client Communication: The software allows for communication within the platform.

Mobile: The software is compatible with smartphones.

Payment: The software is able to process payments directly to customers.

Staff Tracking: The software is able to track each employee using GPS technology.

Estimating: The software is able to assist in projecting final job costs.

Invoicing: The software has a template which you can use to invoice customers.

Budgeting: The software has a template which you can use for budgeting.

Reporting: The software is able to log statistical data to provide insights.



7 Trending Plants for the 2018 Season

Spring is finally here and that means warm weather, melting snow, and of course, landscaping your customers  home. If you did planting work last fall, it’ll start to pay off now in beautiful bursts of leaves and flowers. If you’re starting fresh this April, this list of popular plants can inspire you. These are seven plants that stood out to us last year and continue to thrive in gardens and yards everywhere for 2018. We look forward to seeing them in full bloom this season!

1) Buxus (Boxwood)

The Boxwood shrub is one of those plants that resists disease and bugs better than most. They grow slowly and they’re typically small, but they’re beloved for their versatility. In the summer, they enhance a garden in full bloom. But in the winter (in places you can garden in the winter), the Buxus becomes the centerpiece: a strong, green shrub that defines the character of your garden.

Fun fact: Boxwood is often used to make chess pieces. The white pieces are made with natural, unstained boxwood, and the black pieces are darkened. Checkmate.

2) Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ (Feather reed grass)

The Calamagrostis is a vertical plant that is always one of the first to emerge in the spring and it requires little maintenance all year long as its blossoms change colour. Because of its height it stands out (literally) in any garden as its flowers stem to around five feet tall. Its namesake, Karl Foerster, was a German botanist in the early 20th century.

Accolades: This plant won the award for PPA Perennial Plant of the Year in 2001

3) Hemerocallis (Daylily)

The Hemerocallis is one of the top perennials on the market. It’s colorful, handles heat well, and requires little care, which is why it’s garnered the title Perfect Perennial. Commonly known as the daylily, the Greek word Hemerocallis comes from the words “day” and “beautiful.” That sounds about right!

Fun fact: Some of its flowers are edible. In fact, the Chinese use it in dishes like hot and sour soup, moo shu pork, and of course, daylily soup.

Are you preparing for your landscape season? Here are 4 must dos to set yourself up for the best season yet!

4) Gleditsia Triacanthos (Honey Locust)

The Honey Locust tree sheds and regains its leaves annually. Its wood is rot-resistant, helping it prosper in urban areas, even in climates with a nasty winter like Massachusetts and Ontario. The Gleditsia is easily crown-raised, which is why we love it as a provider of shade over a deck on a hot summer’s day.

Fun fact: It’s called the Honey Locust because of the sweet taste of its legume pulp, which can be fermented to make beer. Cheers!

5) Acer Palmatum (Japanese Maple)

The Japanese Maple is probably your garden’s main feature. We see them in many sizes and are typically dome-shaped, but it’s the wide range of colours that amazes you about this tree. Red, orange, green, pink… you name it! They leaf out early in the season, so spring cold snaps are not friendly to the Acer.

Ideal for: Containers or small gardens

6) Lavandula (Lavender)

Lavandula, commonly known as lavender, is a recognized as easily by smell as by sight. The popular flower is a staple of gardens worldwide, and its oil is often extracted to provide a refreshing scent to perfumes and lotions. Easily recognizable by its colour — lavender, of course — you can remove the plant’s flowers for many uses: sprinkle them over a warm bath, freeze them in ice cubes for a summer sangria, or shower the bride with them at your next wedding.

Fun fact: Lavender oil has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, making it an effective mosquito repellent.

7) Magnolia grandiflora (Magnolia Tree)

If you’re a fan of golf, early April means Masters season. Even for non-landscapers, golf’s first major of the season brings to mind images of the famed Magnolia Tree, synonymous with America’s south. The Masters is played annually at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, opened in 1933 and built on the site of a former nursery. The club’s main driveway, called Magnolia Lane, is lined with 60 magnolia trees.

Hot tip: Magnolia tree bark is easily damaged by debris; when mowing the lawn around one, make sure to point your mower away from the tree.

The future of landscaping is here. Visit our website to learn more