November 29, 2013

Work hard, and remember to work smart


I often ask contractors why they decided to start a landscape business. They shrug or laugh, and say something along the lines of, “I wish I knew what I was thinking.”

If there is one thing I have come to realize running my own companies, it is that Thomas Edison hit the nail on the head with the line above. In this line of work, there is simply no way to avoid hard work.

Operating a landscape company requires enormous self discipline and an above-average work ethic. The seasonal nature of the work creates some peak demand periods that would test anybody’s capability as a manager — then throw in dealing with the public, weather, mechanical failures, people problems, and a list of project variables as far as the eye can see, and you have the perfect challenge for any self-identified genius!

As a business operator, I continuously strive to improve and grow my companies without adding to my personal workload. That said, I have found that there are times where I simply need to knuckle down and get things done that need doing! I don’t ever look at this like work ... I always look at it as an investment. I am investing my time in something that will provide a better future for myself and my family; investing in something that will ultimately make my life more enjoyable as the years pass.

Invest in the future
By investing time — which some people call working — I focus my time and energy on creating systems that will allow more work to happen in my absence without causing any disruption. Managing a business is about taking care of all of the things that other people don’t see; often the work that you are doing as an owner or manager is very hard to measure and it is almost always unrecognized by others. I have come to the conclusion that while operating my companies I will almost certainly need to get up early, stay up late, and think more about work than your average 9-5 employee, but if you can find anyone as happy as I am, let me know. I would rather think a bit more about my business than struggle and worry about money and things outside of my control. When asked why I started my company, the same answer always pops into my head: To control my own destiny and enjoy what I do each day.

Measure your personal contribution to your organization with a different yard stick than you use to size up those who work for you. Others may not see or understand your contributions; these people possibly never will and, quite frankly, if you are the owner it does not matter if others see your true value. Train yourself to be ruthlessly efficient and don’t waste time doing work that can be delegated to others. Identify the work that you cannot delegate and make time to find ways to create systems, or, if affordable, find the right person so that it can be delegated to a competent person.

Lead by example
The more you delegate, the faster your operation will improve because you are inventing time to work on more important things each time you delegate work. Lead by example. I mean the little things like keeping a clean desk, a neat truck, insisting others are following company policy regularly. Often people look for leadership from a mountain top, and forget that it starts with the basics and runs through every part of the business.

We developed the systems as the ultimate delegation tool. When I have a re-occurring problem, I need to delegate the project and provide resources for my team to assist them to resolve problems and increase efficiency.

With systems in place, I can delegate more tasks in the business. There is no possible chance I am going to be able to hire people who are just going to “know” which tasks I need done, and how I expect things to be done. Without clear expectations and systems, the end result is unpredictable. So, most of us fall back on that tried-and-true method, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”

Long-term strategy
I didn’t get into this business to do everything myself. I got into this business for my own freedom and independence. Without systems in our companies, we cannot achieve the goals we set for ourselves when we started. Without systems, we have little more than a job we could do for someone else, but with far less stress and responsibility.

As winter approaches, take the opportunity to make next year that much more enjoyable. It’s hard work, there’s no other way to look at it. After a hard season, it’s tempting to kick back and relax for a few weeks. But if you felt overwhelmed, overworked and/or underachieving this season, than I urge you to invest your time into building repeatable systems that will enable work to happen without you being there to manage every step. Create systems for:
  • Following up on sales leads
  • Selling each and every client with a sales process
  • Getting out of the yard in the morning
  • Estimating work
  • Ensuring equipment is maintained on schedule
  • Tracking and costing your jobs
  • Hiring and recruiting superstar staff
You’ll build a company that’s a lot less work, a lot more fun, and a lot more profitable.

Mark Bradley is president of TBG Landscape and the Landscape Management Network (LMN), based in Ontario.  Search the story archive at for other  articles by Mark Bradley, to get details on building systems for your company.