Step into fear

Heather Monahan stressed confidence and accountability during her presentation at an LMN conference, plus more from the event.

Heather Monahan was out of her comfort zone Thursday speaking to attendees at Landscape Management Management’s Landscape Mastermind Summit – and that’s exactly what she wanted.

Earlier in the week, Monahan delivered a keynote for a media company. As someone who worked in media for several decades, she knew their pain points, she knew the people and she felt particularly confident.

While Monahan clarified that she was excited to talk in front of familiar faces, it didn’t do much for her.

“Did that build more confidence for me? No,” she says. “If we want to go for more…we’ve got to do things differently.”

Instead, speaking in front of folks in the green industry for the first time built up her confidence even more. Monahan says this is the first trick anybody – including landscapers – should know.

“Everybody needs more confidence in their life, and you want to know why?” she says. “Confidence is directly tied to revenue. People buy from confident people.”

Monahan insists that she wasn’t always confident. She remembers running into people who believed she grew up rich, but she grew up living with a single mother who cared for four children. They lived in a trailer in Massachusetts and bought groceries on food stamps.

Monahan adds she used to project this persona that wasn’t her, especially back then, but she was attracting the wrong opportunities for her because of that. “The more you can show up as the vulnerable you… the more confident you become,” she says, adding that people rally around that behavior and emulate it. “When we start doing that, we create bonds with people that are unbreakable.”

She also talked about how a previous employer fired her, detailing how scary it initially was because she had lots of bills to pay. Monahan also worried about whether she’d be perceived as a failure, but instead, she reframed it as being in good company. She Google searched: “Has anyone successful ever been fired?” From there, she found plenty of examples like Steve Jobs and J.K. Rowling. So, she took to LinkedIn and posted something her friends and family felt was too vulnerable, asking for help from anyone who she had ever helped before.

That vulnerability led her post to reach viral numbers, so much so that Elvis Duran – a radio show with 10 million daily listeners – asked her to join the show for an interview. From there, Monahan launched two books, delivered a Ted Talk and is a renowned keynote speaker. Next week, she’ll deliver a talk in front of 170,000 people in Saudi Arabia.

“If I don’t step into fear, things are not going to change,” she says.

As for turning some of that discomfort into confidence – and then into measurable revenue – Monahan recommends starting with a written goal. She told attendees that people are 90% more likely to achieve something if they physically write it down. It’s why people write grocery lists – that way, they won’t forget what it is they need to achieve, or buy, at the store.

From there, she recommends finding an accountability partner. She asked attendees if they’d ask their peers at their tables to serve those roles.

“You are in the room with like-minded people with similar goals,” she says. “People don’t win alone – we win in teams.”

New strategies for top jobs:

LMN’s CEO Mark Bradley hosted a panel discussion called “Unveiling Profitable Landscaping Strategies,” which focused on finding opportunities for high-value jobs and selling that work to clients. The topics ranged from jobs that usually produce the most revenue per hour to ways their teams sell enhancement work to existing customers.

The discussion included Marc Nissim from Harmony Design Group; Troy Clogg from Troy Clogg Landscape Associates; Ryan Markewich from Creative Roots Landscaping; Scott Lamon from Tynic Landscaping; and Cole Weller from Weller Brothers.

The panel began with each company’s president, owner or founder explaining how they decided what types of work they offer. For some like Markewich, the high-end, albeit challenging, design/build jobs proved most appealing. Markewich says it’s great to take on jobs that they’d be proud to have passersby see their company’s logo and sign out front on those properties. He wants work that, when people see their slogan of “making neighbors jealous since 1994,” they truly feel that way.

“One of the things that really helped me was going through the branding process,” he says, adding that it’s about much more than picking a logo and colors. ““Part of that discovery is finding out what your brand’s promise is. I’ve been at it 30 years… maybe I was just oblivious or thought more of myself than I should’ve. The answer to ‘how?’ was, ‘yes.’”

Meanwhile, Lamon called himself the “odd man out,” as Tynic Landscaping offers a broad range of services but treats each division of the company like its own business. Despite not specializing in one area of the industry, Lamon adds that they won’t take on work unless they feel fully confident they can do the job better than their competitors.

“I’ve been through the recessions, and I feel as though being a bit more diversified makes me recession-proof,” he says.

Bradley asked the panelists what types of jobs make the most money — Clogg says it’s snow for his team, and for Weller, it’s tree care and it’s enhancements.

Selling those enhancements can be tricky: It’s a fine line between going back to a customer to solve more of their problems versus being too pushy. Bradley asked Weller how they ensure account managers are actually spending time getting enhancement sales.

“First off, just as a leader, don’t accept ‘I’m too busy.’ We’re all busy,” Weller says. He will walk past his team’s “bullpen” area to see if account managers are sitting around at their desks, and if they are but enhancements aren’t being sold, he jokes that it’s a pretty easy connection to make. “The most effective way to (coach them out of) that is job shadowing,” he adds. “They need to shadow senior account management.”

Leveraging AI in this new era:

Mike Lysecki, LMN’s co-founder and chief technology, walked attendees through ways artificial intelligence can make landscapers’ jobs easier.

AI is a rapidly progressing tool that can already help landscapers in nearly all areas of the business.

“If you think the last 10 years have been fast in terms of technology, just wait,” he says. “Imagine something that can read the internet – that’s what we’re dealing with. It has a whole bunch of experiences. It didn’t do them itself, but it read them. It makes decisions no different.”

AI is already being used in tools like QuickBooks for basic stuff, but it’s going to be able to do things like run automated cash flow reports each week or handle all of payroll. For scheduling, it can use weather forecasts and routing plans to tell crews when and where to go. It can help upsell services to clients based on what similar clients previously purchased. In marketing, it can rewrite website content to prioritize search engine optimization or produce newsletter copy to send to clients, though Lysecki clarifies that the internet may become so full of AI-generated content that SEO won’t pick up on that type of content.

AI can even be used for client communication and proposal generation – Lysecki likens artificial intelligence to a person standing over your shoulder offering reminders, like forecasting how much materials might cost or how much you spent on that material last time. “It’s getting very, very precise with how we estimate work,” Lysecki says, adding that we’re going from “estimates” to what he deems “exactimates.”

Of course, not everything is perfect with AI. He showed an example of a tweet that went viral when someone convinced AI to give him its Chevy Tahoe for $1.

Lysecki also pointed to AI-generated content like a recipe for creamy biscuits that included cream cheese and golf balls. He asked AI to build a picture of animals, and it identified a kangaroo as a lion, plus a panda as a dolphin.

But the technology is progressing fast. Lysecki likened this era to the Industrial Revolution.

“Think right now of AI as another tool,” he says. It will usher something like that in.”

Some power plays for your company

Alexis Dean, the founder of Dovetail Academy, which helps entrepreneurs build their businesses, offers three power plays that company owners can use to help boost their companies.

First, Dean recommends focusing on “the inside game,” which means that leaders should spend some time helping themselves.

“As entrepreneurs, you must be the thermostat, not the thermometer,” Dean told attendees, meaning they must set the tone for their whole organization. She offered four key tenants in this regard, including humility, self-discipline, extreme ownership and, perhaps most vitally, reflection. It’s here where she recommended that all company leaders take at least 20 minutes, preferably an hour, once a week to step away from the office and reflect.

“People buy into the leader before they buy into the business,” she adds.

Dean also says that leaders need to focus on relational leadership. She says people are never going to care about your company as much as you, but by fostering great relationships, you can get pretty close.

“It’s using the essential skills of empathy, communication, and collaboration,” she says. “Notice I didn’t call these soft skills – soft skills don’t exist. These are just as important as hard skills.” 

Dean adds that your team should know its purpose. Relay what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

“You want to repeat this so often that your team makes fun of you,” she says.

Finally, Dean adds that transforming a company into a community is essential. She says that research into thousands of successful teams has proven that the number one winning factor is psychological safety. This is the shared belief that it’s okay to take risks, express ideas and concerns, speak up, and admit mistakes without fear of negative consequences.

Dean points to a five-story tower built by a ski resort, which was initially supposed to be an observation deck overlooking the scenic views but instead faces a swamp and forest. Dean believes this failure comes from the team being unable to point out the mistake while building because they had fears of retribution or being fired.

She also adds that “community and belonging aren’t just nice-to-have features – they’re essential.” Dean showed harrowing statistics about the loneliness and depression epidemic we face worldwide, where one in four people suffer from loneliness. She says by bringing people together, and by giving employees a sense of belonging, the impact is seen on the business right away. Employees having a sense of belonging in the work place leads to a 75% decrease in sick days, 50% decrease in turnover and 56% increase in job performance.

How? Dean says companies can achieve more inclusion by focusing on celebrating unique traditions or holidays, rethinking rewards and gifts and by eliminating language around employees like calling women “girls” or “sweetie.”

“Everyone in this room has the power to do this,” she says.

Some key numbers

LMN CEO Mark Bradley admits that he can be a reactionary leader. In his haste to fix problems, he says he frightens some of his team, making it sometimes difficult to admit things aren’t going well.

However, identifying key metrics helps everyone strip away emotion and talk about job performance using the same language. Metrics allow you to talk rationally.

“You create the culture where, everyone just knows what it is,” Bradley says. ““It’s just the truth. Metrics are just that – they’re the truth-tellers in your business.”

Bradley says establishing tangible goals, especially in revenue per hour and gross profit, increases the likelihood that employees in the field are making the right decisions when you’re not around. He says the key to increasing revenue without hiring more employees is simply by bolstering the revenue per hour metric, which means he really encourages companies to stop selling jobs that are low in this metric.

On jobs that don’t meet the revenue per hour metric, Bradley says he’s seen crews point fingers at estimators, and estimators point fingers at crews. Making sure the goals are clear and creating a system that won’t let anyone book low-revenue jobs are essential objectives.

“When you learn to focus on revenue-per-hour…you change your future,” he says. “Commit to this this year. Don’t sell that low revenue-per-hour work.”

Bradley says landscapers can no longer pay employees below the poverty line and continue to book jobs with low revenue per hour. This is something he’s told attendees along his Mastermind Sessions tour, and he’s had customers complain about being unable to book $200,000+ jobs, saying they’re unavailable in their respective markets. He believes these jobs exist everywhere.

“They exist in every market,” he says. “There are people worth many, many millions in every town in this country.” 

Booking those jobs comes down to creating a culture backed by the numbers. Beyond those two figures of revenue per hour and gross profit margin, Bradley also says numbers like retention rate, the net promoter score and the number of callbacks/complaints will help landscapers provide the best customer experience. Statistics like a crew score, department efficiency rate and estimated versus actual hours shed light on company’s inefficiencies.

These are just a few of the numbers he covered during the session, but Bradley says it all comes down to employee development. He spent $2.5 million on training for his employees and got his company to $50 million in revenue. 

“If you don’t have a system for this, if you’ve not trained people to understand this, put the time into it,” he says. “If you create systems and you create processes and you create a training program and you invest in these people… they can get a lot of work done in your absence. When you create metrics that can unlock their true potential… now you’ve got business partners.”