How to Stand Out from the Competition

Stand out from the competition

By Matt Shaffer

A wise person once said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” And for landscape industry professionals, truer words have never been spoken. Our industry is competitive, and as it continues to grow and evolve, it’s becoming more difficult for companies to stand out from the crowd. Sure, the demand is there; but while it may be easy to get business, the real challenge is keeping it.

You may be asking, “With such a competitive environment, how do I stand out? Aren’t we all doing the same thing?” Or, to put it another way, how do you go “above and beyond,” when compared to the competition? I believe the answer lies in the details. There are some things you just can’t control, but at the same time, that’s no excuse for not taking care of the many things you can. For example, you might think that showing up on time in a clean shirt and washed truck doesn’t matter, but it can truly make all the difference in getting and keeping business. Why? It all comes down to the image you choose to create for yourself.

Pay attention to the little things

Perception isn’t fair, but it’s real — and it’s life. Warren Buffet said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” I’ve always tried to live by that rule; however, it’s unfortunate how many people seem to overlook it altogether. In my opinion, it’s a matter of discipline and a good sense of pride — both in the work you do and the way you present yourself.

The perception of messy people and dirty trucks is that you simply don’t care. And if I’m a business owner seeking to hire someone, why would I trust you with my money? Instead, put forth your best effort toward everything you touch, and strive to leave each situation better than you found it. Take care of your stuff. After all, what’s the downside of looking good and being organized? If you communicate that you pay attention to the little things, you’ll be more convincing when you guarantee to treat a new customer’s property accordingly.

Hold yourself accountable

Old habits are hard to break, so if you start out with high standards, it’s easier to keep yourself accountable as time goes by. You might argue that the “finished product” is more important than all the superficial things like appearance, etc. I disagree. For the customer, it’s not an either/or, it’s a package deal. I can promise you—from my many years of experience in this industry — that all of these factors influence a decision when weighing out competitors for new service. You want to make yourself memorable (and in a positive way!). In fact, if you do better work but don’t look great, you have the hard part covered. But don’t forget to put some effort into the other — equally necessary — aspects of running a successful business.

A little customer service goes a long way

When it comes to the customer-facing side of a landscaping business, a little goes a long way. You don’t have to overthink it; there are a few practical steps you can take that will really mean a lot to potential customers.

For starters, be on time; show that you’re conscientious of your client’s schedule and that you’re an organized and reliable business partner. While you’re on site, keep it clean and professional. That can be as simple as picking up trash, controlling grass clippings, and maintaining fresh mulch as the season progresses. Make it a point to always leave it looking like you were just there. When stepping into the office, crisp billing sheets, consistent letterhead, and a tucked-in shirt all communicate professionalism, so they’re an easy win-win if you ask me. Remember, it’s all about the details, so the more you show they matter to you, the better.

Set yourself up for success

The business-facing decisions are more challenging. Knowing your limits and creating healthy boundaries might be the most valuable counsel I can give to hard-working landscape industry professionals. This becomes more important as your business grows. In other words, don’t try to be everything from the “face” of the company to working in the field to running administrative duties, etc. Trust me, you’ll burn yourself out.

If you don’t want to be the face of the company, hire someone who will be. Appoint someone to take care of all the vehicles and equipment, and another to oversee sales and bidding. Once you have your staff structure in place, pay attention to your employees, work next to them, and get to know them. More importantly, pay them what they deserve. Incentivize additional profits for staff members for successful planting, maintenance, or other select tasks. The options are endless. The main takeaway is this: If you have employees that feel valued and appreciated, they’ll also be empowered to do their best work, and that’s more valuable than I can express.

The professional landscaping industry is fiercely competitive, and there’s a slim margin of error to getting and keeping business. Yet, minding the details can be a secret weapon for those seeking to gain an advantage against the competition. This practice will help you provide a premium service and boost your bottom line in the long run. However, you can’t do it alone. Lean into the skills and abilities of your team, and make sure to compensate and reward your employees accordingly. These all add up over time, and if you set out to do your best work and look the part, you’ll be sure to leave a lasting impression with everyone you meet.

Matt Shaffer is a world-renowned golf course superintendent and turf expert. He has worked at some of the most prestigious golf courses in the world, and now owns his own business called M.A.T. (Minimalist Agronomic Techniques) where he promotes his philosophy of “less is more” when it comes to turf maintenance. He is currently working with the Ryan and Steiner brands on “Mondays with Matt,” a social media video series, sharing tips and stories from his experience in the turf industry.

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