By Jennifer Foden
So, you’re an experienced landscape and irrigation professional — or maybe you’re just starting out. What resources are out there to help start and/or grow your business? I interviewed four experts to get their thoughts on the best resources for your company.
Anne Bowering, communications specialist, Canadian Nursery Landscape Association
Trevor Freamo, operations manager, Bernwood Contractors
Simon St-Pierre, vice president, Le Regard Vert
Eric Corey Freed, founding principal, organicARCHITECT
What would you say are the best business resources for a successful landscape and irrigation company?
Anne: DynaSCAPE is excellent, cutting-edge landscape design software. Trade shows are an excellent opportunity to network with peers, see what’s coming up in the industry, and what’s trending. More and more, trade shows are being paired with a day or two of conferences, which provides world-renowned speakers and industry experts. In Canada, I’d recommend the Landscape Ontario Congress, Landscape Alberta Green Industry Show, CanWest Hort Show, HortEast Trade Show and Conference and many more.
Ensuring that your staff is up to date on training is key to a successful company. Not only is it good business practice, but it also adds reassurance to clients. Health and safety training is important. The Landscape Industry Certified program offered by the CNLA is a great way to demonstrate your professionalism. Certification is available for technicians, retail horticulturists, landscape designers and managers.
Of course, membership in your local green trade association is key to a successful business. Some of the benefits include: representation (being part of a national voice that advocates effective solutions on a municipal, provincial or state and federal level), networking (endless opportunities to connect with and learn from other industry experts who have been where you are), education and certification (online seminars, education opportunities, training courses, mentorship programs), member savings programs (significant discounts on equipment, vehicles, training, office supplies, etc.), and more!
Trevor: As the saying goes: a picture is worth a thousand words. I am a strong believer in providing several designs. Advanced landscape design software programs help you provide unique 3D designs complete with color images of the stonework and foliage configured to the property. We are also proud members of the Irrigation Association and Landscape Ontario, which provides our team with current trends and best practices.
Simon: You need a lot of experience to be able to call yourself an expert. I have been in the industry for several years, 11 at least. After a few summers in the field, I decided to get my landscape degree. It helped me to have completed some projects before starting my education. It makes a big difference with your competition, and the customer knows it. But now, a lot of the information can come from the Internet: you have everything you need to know. But for plants, the old experienced guy in the greenhouse knows best.
Eric: There are so many tools I use on a daily basis; it’s almost hard to keep track! For software, I use TypeExpander (saves me hours every week with it’s text shortcuts), Evernote (a must for keeping notes across all your devices), Dropbox (for file sharing), Wunderlist (my to-do list that syncs to Mac, iPhone and iPad), Calendly (for meeting scheduling) and FollowUpThen (lets me set up a reminder for the future inside any e-mail I write). I also use RescueTime (tracks my productivity), Apple Keynote (allows me to create full screen animations in my presentations), Skitch (for quick annotations to screenshots), Google Chat (to have quick conversations with staff) and Buffer (to queue up several social media posts at once across several platforms). I am a huge productivity nerd, and am always trying out new tools to help me work smarter, not harder.
Other tools I use regularly are SketchUp, Sefaira (software for high performance building design), WorkFlowy (online mind mapping), DropTask (visual mind map and to do list), Trello (project idea boards) and Horizontate (another project management tool).
There are also plenty of online reference tools, books, websites, conferences and courses to help you get started and grow your business. For example: Callison Matrix (matrix.callison.com), GeoCoding (geocoder.tomtom.com), City Climate Info (city-data.com), Sun Charts (solardat.uoregon.edu/SunChartProgram.html), Colour Lovers (colourlovers.com) and Color Jack (colorjack.com). For books, check out Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide by David Bergman, Places of the Soul by Christopher Day, Biomimicry by Janine Benyus, Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, Mid Course Correction by Ray Anderson, and Sun, Wind & Light by G.Z. Brown. For websites, some of my favorites are TreeHugger, Green Home Guide, Inhabitat, Archinect, GreenBiz, and BuildingGreen. Also, check our Autodesk’s free online Building Performance Analysis Certificate Program (http://sustainabilityworkshop.autodesk.com/bpac). Every year, I attend CitiesAlive: Green Roof & Wall Conference, Greenbuild and the Living Future UnConference.
What tools have you used for sales and marketing purposes?
Anne: As a competitive industry, it is important to get your name out there; however, for many companies, marketing can seem like a huge task. The trick is starting small, and some of the greatest marketing resources are the ones already available for free. Ensuring that your company has a social media presence is key. Social media is a great way to let potential and existing clients get to know your company. Post pictures of your projects, ask a question, hold a contest; it takes a few minutes to make a post, but the results can be worth a lot. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Houzz are all good places to start.
Trevor: In the past year, we have revamped our website. Having a website that has a lot of information: brochures, kit folders and marketing handouts is most helpful. We also have a fleet of vehicles that are well recognized throughout the city. Marketing at its best!
Simon: I did buy into a landscape company that has been in business since 1943. I already know the best way to market your business is the happy consumer who tells people about the good work you did and how beautiful their garden is now. The best tool you have is your work! Also, these days, social media channels like Facebook and Instagram are helping tremendously for marketing. We will see how that goes.
Eric: Since my idea of networking is really about making connections to people, most of my tools might be different than you expect. I use Dymo CardScan, so I scan all of the business cards I get (about 500 to 1,000 a year) and contact them within a week. I also add everyone I meet to LinkedIn so I can find them later. I use it to research whom I know in a city I’m about to visit, or who works at a company I want to partner with. If you use Chrome, and especially Gmail, you should get all these extension plug-ins: Augment (connects your email and calendar to Dropbox and Trello), MailTrack, QuickTweet (lets you switch between multiple Twitter accounts), Rapportive (shows LinkedIn profiles in your Gmail) and Rebump (sends follow up messages to your email recipients for you). I also set Google Alerts for dozens of topics so I can follow ideas, trends and people.
Where do you turn to if you have business or management questions?
Anne: Local associations are a great resource to anyone looking for more information regarding business or management. CNLA and its provincial associations are made up of boards and committees of industry professionals. They determine the direction of the association and the resources made available through it. Both on a local and national level, there are resources available for someone in any stage of their business.
Trevor: I have a variety of people and resources to turn to for advice and solutions depending on the issue. First and foremost I turn to my father and mentor, Peter, who has been in the business for over 35 years. He is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to any business practice. If there is something my father cannot help me with, I have several close colleagues and industry connections that I can go to at any time for advice.
Simon: When I do have a business question, I’m really well surrounded. My dad has been in business for several years. I’m lucky to have my father as a mentor in both life and business. But we all have to know a good circle of people. When I was a young landscaper and entrepreneur, I needed to have some approval on some subjects. I worked with Edith Desgagnes who has been working on a lot of award-winning gardens. And for sure the people we went to college with, we are at the same level, just started a business after school, so it’s really nice to exchange on our situations and give encouragement.
Eric: My first choice will always be to turn to a mentor or colleague for advice.
Jennifer Foden is a writer and editor based in Vancouver. www.jdfoden.wordpress.com
The design image above is courtesy of Bernwood Contractors.
FIND OUT MORE: Human Resource Tools for Landscape Professionals: http://goo.gl/LMzEuV