Imagine this: you need some landscaping done so you find a landscaping company in your area and give them a call. They are very friendly over the phone, and agree to come out to give you a quote.
And then you never hear from them again.
Or, perhaps you get your quote, but the crew doesn’t show up when they are supposed to. Possibly the wrong materials are delivered to your jobsite, or no one seems to know who is responsible when you have a question.
Many of the problems people experience with landscape contractors have nothing to do with the landscape work itself. Dealing with a company that isn’t on track with its internal communication and organization can be every bit as annoying and frustrating having one deliver shoddy work. In fact, lack of organization is very often the underlying cause of substandard performance.
Why You’ll Never Catch Us With A Spreadsheet
Here at T. Lake, we learned a long time ago that good internal organization makes life a heck of a lot more pleasant, both for us and for our customers. These days, a big part of being organized boils down to finding the right software to make it possible.
Many landscape companies rely on spreadsheets and off-the-shelf accounting software to track and manage their businesses. We know, because we did it that way for years. We were using spreadsheets for estimates, to track labor hours, for all sorts of things. Every facet of the business was on some sheet somewhere.
It worked to a degree, but by golly was it inefficient. All it takes is someone messing up one formula and you have a ton of bad data. Plus nothing cross-referenced, so it was easy for things to get lost in the shuffle. It was frustrating for us, but even worse, it impacted our customer service. As hard as we tried, there were times when our estimates were less than accurate, or a crew didn’t show up at the right time, or a customer had to wait for us to figure out the data.
About 10 years ago we decided we had had enough. We needed a comprehensive green industry software solution that would consolidate and streamline all our data.
This Landscaping Company’s Biggest Organizational Asset
Thus began a year-long search to evaluate options. We started looking at more than a dozen choices, but by soliciting advice from peers and our accounting firm and through our own research we quickly narrowed it down to three strong contenders, and from there to one.
The winner? A product by Include Software called Asset, green industry software developed specifically for companies like ours.
With Asset, we were able to ditch the whole confusing mess of spreadsheets and pare down to one, highly efficient centralized solution for everything: estimating, proposals, accounting, scheduling, the works.
And oh, boy, has this green industry software made life easier for us. And you can bet our customers appreciate the improved efficiency, too.
Asset is composed of a number of modules that address the main day-to-day functions of a landscaping business. These modules help us perform every task that it takes to run our company with optimal efficiency, so that we can live up to our ideals and our promise to our customers:
Asset’s estimating module, Proposal Manager, is comprehensive and powerful. There is tons of data involved in creating a landscaping estimate, and Asset allows us to process it easily and stay on track with it all. With this software we can create different templates for each type of job; easily track proposals; manage various clients appropriately throughout the sales cycle; and easily look up which sales person has what in the pipeline and how much they sold.
The end result is that we now know explicitly what our margins are. When we deliver a price it’s very accurate, so our customers know they’re getting a viable, valid and professional estimate.
Customer Relations Management
Good customer relationship management (CRM) software is a powerful tool that helps a company understand its customers better and provide the best service possible. Asset’s CRM is very comprehensive and covers everything from first call to recurring service. All of our communication records, proposals, work orders, site maps, etc. are stored in one place so anyone on our team can access it easily and right away when the need arises.
We can and do track when someone calls in with a service request or for any other reason. This lets us follow up better with each and every client, so no client is left hanging or allowed to fall through the cracks. When a client calls, now there’s no more putting them on hold or shuffling through spreadsheets trying to find the relevant data. It helps us on the human relations side, too, because if there is a problem we can track it down to the origin, which could be a particular vendor or employee. That way we can address it appropriately and make sure the mistake isn’t repeated.
It’s the antithesis of ‘sticky notes,’ which is the system a lot of landscaping companies seem to prefer.
Scheduling is of utmost importance in meeting the needs of customers. For commercial jobs, especially design build work, staying on schedule is critical for keeping the job moving forward on time. Residential customers also appreciate being able to trust that the landscape crew will show up to mow before, not during, the big house party.
That’s why the Schedule Manager is one of our favorite components of Asset. It’s a great hub piece for all of our operations because it allows us to create intelligent schedules for everyone—including recurring schedules—that are simple to read and share. That way both crews and customers always know what to expect. No one’s wasting time starting at a whiteboard or moving magnets. It’s respectful of customers’ time, too, because they can get their scheduling questions answered right away.
The Schedule Manager handles dispatching, too. It’s possible to create paper task orders but in our case we invested in a mobile add-on called iCREWTek. Each of our team members has a smartphone, and we dispatch important details directly to these. This lets them clock in and out of their tasks and the property virtually automatically. This results in all sorts of benefits, because Asset’s green industry software is capable of tracking huge amts of data. For example when our crew mows a lawn it tracks the GPS location in real time so we always know precisely where they are and where they’ve been. We can also check against the truck GPS so we can validate that crews are where they’re supposed to be and when. It keeps everyone accountable which does wonders for reliability and security.
Best of all, all the modules link to each other so as soon as data is entered here it’s also available to the other modules, including payroll, accounts payable, accounts receivable, etc. It’s a huge time saver, and allows us to meet our customers’ needs accurately and efficiently.
Speaking of linking modules, the Job Manager module captures information from a number of other places and compiles this data into a huge volume of useful reports and information.
Every week we go in and check job efficiencies. Job Manager lets us find out quickly how many hours are posted to a job, along with any overtime, materials data, gross margin – just about anything we need to know. We can click a job and drill into it and look into what things have been posted and where; what crew was present on that job; how many guys, how many hours. We can always know in real time if we’re on or off, if we're doing the right thing.
It’s super helpful because it helps us avoid assumptions—and we all know what happens when we assume! This way we’ve got everything we need to find deeper answers and root causes, so if there ever is a problem we can go in and set it right before it escalates. It’s also done amazing things for our estimating. So many companies guess on all this stuff, which leads to underestimating and then to under-delivering. With Asset, we can accurately draw on data from prior jobs, so we can deliver up to expectations every time.
Billing through Asset is easy because once a proposal is created it posts directly into Job Manager and Schedule Manager, and from there directly into accounts receivable. No one even has a chance to fudge a spreadsheet or lose data through copy/paste. The result is highly accurate and on-time billing every time.
As an added convenience to our customers, we’ll soon be rolling out an add-on feature called Client Portal. We’ve noticed that many of our customers prefer online payment. Client Portal will enable our customers to easily access their account information and pay online at their convenience.
Experience the T.Lake Difference
A good tool combined with decades of experience is strong medicine. Having access to a tool as powerful as Asset has made us a better company. We know our data, and we benchmark it to our budget and our peers in the industry to ensure we’re delivering efficient service every time.
This results in a better bottom line for us and improved customer service and results for our customers.
If you’re fed up with disorganized landscape contractors and would like a taste of something refreshingly different, why not put us to the test? Contact us online or give us a call at 478-750-7733.
We won’t leave you hanging. We promise.