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ajt22
01-24-2008, 12:30 PM
Hi everyone, I stumbled on this website just yesterday looking for something to help out my business. I bought a commercial lawn business a little over 2 years ago and it has been nothing but heartbreak ever since. Lost our biggest customer (about 40% of revenue) due to a state reg which required a re-bid every 3 years (the other co. underbid us by $100K/year!) and we've been going downhill ever since. I am desperate to hold onto this business since I am in debt up to my eyeballs. I'll lose my house if I don't since it was used as collateral for the SBA loan. Sounds bleak, huh. But I'm a fighter and won't give up. My big push right now is cold-calling, letter sending to commercial accounts, etc. Which do you think is more effective and does anyone have any tips on letters? My advantage is that most commercial businesses in my area are not owned locally so the owner is no where to be seen. Plus I'm a woman (sorry to use the gender card, guys) but does that help or hurt. My husband runs the business with me and he has lots and lots of experience, but ultimately, the burden is on me to make it work (don't ask!). One final question, I'm thinking of changing the name (National Grounds Mgmt) to sort of get a "fresh start". What do you all think? Thanks.

Steve
01-24-2008, 12:40 PM
Hi Amy,

Welcome to our forum! Nice to have you here!

We have a lot to discuss here so let me get started with this part.

You're story is very fascinating! Had you ever run a business before you purchased this one? What made you decide to purchase a business?

Did you see our free letter collection (http://www.gophergraphics.com/forum/cgi-bin/ikonboard.cgi?act=ST;f=1;t=1541) at the top of the page along the green bar?

There are a bunch of free letters there.

Is most of your customer base residential or commercial? Which do you prefer going after?

ajt22
01-24-2008, 01:02 PM
Actually, i never ran a business before but my husband was the one who actually started National Grounds back in the early 90s. Grew it into a pretty large business, then sold it to his partner. I bought it back from his old partner. I made a lot of rookie mistakes (trusting someone else to run and grow the business was the big one) but i'm learning! We do only commercial, which is a rough business. To make matters worse, the economy down here is pretty dismal so a lot of construction workers out of a job are pulling a mower behind their truck and cutting grass. That doesn't eat into our business too much, but that pushes the other residential guys into commercial. I'd like to stick with commercial since that is what we're geared for (big trucks, big mowers, etc). I'll check out your letters, thnks

Steve
01-24-2008, 08:38 PM
Hi Amy,

One of our forum members had this suggestion and you can read more about it in this post here (http://www.gophergraphics.com/forum/cgi-bin/ikonboard.cgi?act=ST;f=9;t=6968;st=0).

Quote[/b] ]
I leave a little more when visiting Commercial Accounts.

Not only do I leave a bussiness card (that is a given) but I leave 3 cards. I put together a small protfolio, that almost looks like copies of my webpages including all the services we can and will provide (never assume anything, when you do you know what happens it makes a ###-out of-u and -me (###-u-me). I build this in the MS Power Point highlighting key benefits of our services over and above the competing Lco's, with only a coulple of pitures of current clients and I also include a list of references. People make the mistake of listing "references upon request". The way I look at it is if it were I who was accepting bids or meeting with different companies for a service provider, and I had to ask about references when I have a company that has already provided them to me why would I request references from others if I have it in front of me, wheather they were low bidders or not they would have a better or best chance of winning my business. It saves me time, "Shows Completion." The portfolio also includes copies of business licenses for the area and Insurance certificates. Now I have a COMPLETE Package for their review.

You will find most business have to do things on certain standards, by this I mean before any work can begin all the proper paper work needs to be in order, If you go in there with the paper work already in order this is the advantage you will have over and above the others, keeping you one step ahead of the competition right where you want to be.
The more professional you apear the larger your Company will apear, with the paper work and presentation the more the prospective client will forget how small you are. If all paper work is in order and they need you to start they may send you a letter of intent prior to sending out the signed contract and this is good to go.


Quote[/b] ]My big push right now is cold-calling, letter sending to commercial accounts, etc. Which do you think is more effective

I think the big thing is knowing people and reaching out to people. The more people that know you the better.

Do you know people who work at these facilities? If so, see if they can find out who is in charge of property maintenance. Are you networking with your friends and family? Are you looking around the area at local businesses and seeing which properties really could use better grounds management? Are you presenting them with bids to service their property?

Quote[/b] ]Plus I'm a woman (sorry to use the gender card, guys) but does that help or hurt.
I think this can help. It makes you unique and stand out. We have met many great lawn care business owners on here who are women. Have you ever thought about putting together a press release and see if a local newspaper can do a story about you being a woman business owner?

A little while back one of our forum members who is a woman, painted her lawn care truck pink along with her mowers to really make her business stand out.

Quote[/b] ]I'm thinking of changing the name (National Grounds Mgmt) to sort of get a "fresh start". What do you all think?
I am guessing from National Grounds? I don't know if the name change would really do much, at least immediately.

ajt22
01-24-2008, 10:57 PM
Thanks for the info. Actually, I do have a "portfolio" that is much like what you describe; insurance, references, etc. The funny thing is my references are great, the looks is professional, but we can't really seem to connect. I'm going the letter route for now and a got a ton of names from SalesGenie so...wish me luck. I really need it. I just dodged a bullet today by getting the bank to not foreclose on my house. Talk about having the noose tighten!

ajt22
01-24-2008, 11:04 PM
By the way, I just read the thread about what is included in the portfolio. Living in Florida, hurricane clean-up is important to know beforehand, so I include a price sheet of what we charge, man-hours, equipment used, etc. I also let people know that we serve on a first-sign, first-serve basis. In other words, whoever gives us the ok and a clean-up deposit first gets scheduled first, usually within 48 hours. Just an idea for anyone living in an area prone to "environmental challenges".

realhuntin
01-25-2008, 01:01 AM
Hi Amy,

Welcome to the Gopher forum.

First I'd like to say 40% is a big bite, I understand the panic. This is crunch time, tighten up the belt, pull those pants up, tuck that shirt in and lets dig into this.

Being a woman has no disadvantages or advantages in this Industry. I know a lot of women LCO owners.

You can crawl out of this. First thing is to contact your Accountant and do a complete audit on the business. Look for every possible expense cut you can make, this is restructure time. DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT go out there looking for that one big job or contract to get you out of this, chances are greater you're not going to get it in a fast way, If you do great but most probably not going to happen. So lets get that out of your mind now. Look for quantity, the more recurring you can generate the stronger your business will be, do not limit yourself to only commercial, get out there and hit up the res market just as hard as if you where just getting started in business, hit those res areas multi-times not just once. You have an advantage on the trunk slammers, your established use it to your advantage. Then slam those small businesses the same way with letters and mailers, cold call, and phone calls. Get in their face. Step it up a notch. The accounting dept. or GM of the larger commercial facilities are the ones to contact most generally for being put on the bidders list.

Do you provide any of these services;
* Landscaping *(new & renovation)
* Hardscapes ( Patios, Driveway pavers, retaining wall or accent stone)
* Lawn, shrub, tree application programs

Do you have any Architect's, Home Builders or General Contractors that you work with, if not you need to get started on a list to provide service to.

Do you receive any new construction reports, such as The Dodge Reports, Bid Clerk, or Construction Manager, subscriptions? if not get it.

You really need to use your many years of established business to your advantage, I would NOT change the name at this time unless there are REALLY good reasons to do so.

Use your network to the fullest, all your current customers are your network, offer the management discounted rates to service their homes.

If you have SBA loan then you can ask for extensions and generally you will get them providing the circumstances. The Bank does not want your house they will work with you even if every 3 months you make one interest payment. Don't let the media push the bad economy scare off on you, it is a political tactic and history has proven by the time the media realizes we are in a recession, it is almost over. This isn't a political issue this is about getting your company back up on its feet and running strong. So lets get at it hard and full throttle.

Use your Friends and Family Network the same as if they where already customers. Join a BNI Group, great network to get good referrals from, takes some work but it is worth it in the long run.

You might want to set some short term goals, plains fro those goals and push it, if you don't have outside sales get some and put them on a commission only pay. you will have to pay more for this type sales person but it works out better for you. They bring you a deposit check you pay them, done deal. Outside sales helps you by spreading your company name to more businesses and following up on those letters you're going to send out. 3 sales personnel will be able to hit 8-10 potential customers per day each. That is 30 per day times 5 days total of 150 businesses per week. Try it. If it didnt work TruGreen would not be doing it every year all over the country, time is getting short for you on the start of the new season, so you don't have much time to get this in order, so work fast, stay focused, and GOOD LUCK!

Steve
01-25-2008, 07:43 AM
Tim, you really are a life saver here for many many people. I appreciate your thoughts.

Quote[/b] ]You can crawl out of this. First thing is to contact your Accountant and do a complete audit on the business. Look for every possible expense cut you can make, this is restructure time. DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT go out there looking for that one big job or contract to get you out of this, chances are greater you're not going to get it in a fast way, If you do great but most probably not going to happen. So lets get that out of your mind now. Look for quantity, the more recurring you can generate the stronger your business will be, do not limit yourself to only commercial, get out there and hit up the res market just as hard as if you where just getting started in business, hit those res areas multi-times not just once.

I really think you are dead on with this. When you are in survival mode, you don't want to swing for the fences. You want a lot of quick base hits to help turn the tide and improve your chances of survival.

Once you can see that things are picking up and you are landing more smaller clients, you are going to feel like you can breathe again.

We all tend to go into panic mode when disasters hit and its at that time we tend to make the worst decisions. We tend to make a bad situation worse and we do that quickly.

ajt22
01-25-2008, 02:18 PM
Thanks Tim and Steve, you are right about the smaller accounts. I have definitely gotten away from the mid-set that the 10K/mo account is the one I want. Basically, profit is the same and you don't have to sweat it if you lose it. Besides, those really big ones can be a real pain in the $&*#. The smaller ones don't act like you're in their mercy. Have had both and can say that the smaller ones are more loyal.

As far as cutting costs, we are running about as lean as we can right now. Our biggest expenses are fuel, payroll and the payment on the SBA (which is interest only right now). Other than that, we've pretty much cut everything out. My crew chief is great with engine repair so he is doing double duty as
mechanic.

By they way, how do you get in with developers? I know they tend to use their own landscapers until the project is 90% built out. I'd love to get in on that. Nice fat budgets on those!

Can I ask a favor, though? Would you mind reading the letter I'm sending out and give me some tips on what you think. I'd really appreciate it. I'm enclosing a magnetized business card with it. Amy


Dear General Manager

Everything in Lee County seems to have come to a standstill. Even the grass seems to have stopped growing. But that shouldn’t mean your landscape contractor has taken the winter off. The cooler temperatures provide an excellent time for fertilization and weed control, as well as getting those clogged sprinkler heads working. And when was the last time the owner of your landscape provider paid you a visit to check on the progress of your maintenance program? Just because the economy has come to a screeching halt shouldn’t mean your service does as well.

National Grounds Management is a family-owned, commercial landscaping contractor which has provided unrivaled service to the Tri-County area for over 15 years. Because we only service commercial accounts, such as *****, we are especially sensitive and pro-active to the unique needs of a property of your size. You can speak to the owner of the business at any time, and be confident knowing that your needs will be addressed immediately. Besides, I can’t let you down. My customers pay my mortgage and if they’re not happy, I’d become just another dismal statistic.

If you would like a complimentary landscape maintenance bid, please give me a call on my cell phone at . I look forward to meeting with you!

Sincerely,

realhuntin
01-25-2008, 03:41 PM
Hi Amy,

Your letter is nice but you never want to talk politics or religion to clients, nor do you want to say anything that my sound desperate.

Developers are a little tricky to get in with. By tricky I mean you really have to be in their face and once they have a service provider they like, it is tough to break up that marriage.

If you don't mind I have made some light edits to your letter and I wish you luck.

National Grounds Management



Your Address Here
City, ST, ZIP
PHONE
DATE

Contact Name
Company Name.
Address.
City, ST ZIP

Dear Contact Name

Hello, please allow me to take a moment of your time. My name is Amy ******? And I represent National Grounds Management. *Our philosophy is to perform to the needs and satisfaction of our customers. *We do a wide range of property maintenance services and strive to do a professional job every time.

I would like to be considered for any and all Property Maintenance contracts or jobs that you may have coming up this year. *My company is professionally licensed and insured. *We run all commercial equipment and do this work on a full time basis.

The reason for this letter is to let you know about the savings you can get from utilizing our service. * National Grounds Management is a family-owned, commercial landscaping contractor which has provided unrivaled service to the Tri-County area for over 15 years. *We provide services for commercial accounts, such as *****, we are especially sensitive and pro-active to the unique needs of a property of your size. *You can speak to me at any time, and be confident knowing that your needs will be addressed immediately. Our equipment is well maintained so as to insure you a timely service every time. *We also offer a discount for new customers.

Please add me to your bidders list and please contact me for any size job you may be considering. *I am always happy to give free estimates.

In closing, I believe National Grounds Management can perform the job to your personal satisfaction. *We are competitively priced with other services in the area. *Please give me a call at your leisure to set up your free estimate and consultation. You can visit us at LIST YOUR WEBSITE.

Sincerely,
National Grounds Management


Amy
Owner

StartALawnCareBusiness
01-25-2008, 05:20 PM
Hi Amy:

I am jumping in on this thread a bit late.

Something in your initial post struck me a bit odd (forgive me if you've covered it and I overlooked it).

You lost a major lawn care contract when a company underbid you by $100K. Is that $100K over the life of the contract? or per year?

Tell us more about that contract.

If we can analyze what when wrong on this contract we can give you good direction for future projects.

What was your company's bid before you were underbid?
Do you think the other company will be able to do the work and not go broke? If this is the case, why did your company need to bid so high for the contract? $100K over is not a competitive bid on your part.

Is this contract congruent with the type of work your company regularly targets? If so, I imagine you have a hefty equipment list. Will that equipment translate into smaller jobs or do you need to downsize into more economical machinery?

What is your current equipment list and what type jobs are you already set up to do?

If you have a good deal of experience with large scale contracts and you have the equipment to manage this work, it might be better to beat the bushes and uncover other substantial contracts that will go well with your equipment and experience than to drastically change your M.O.

Since you are already recognized as a large-scale provider, I am sure you are on every bid list in town. You should be receiving bid requests weekly this time of year.

I definitely agree with Tim that you don't want to swing for the fences. But, 25 medium sized business and large residential lawn care jobs might be more in your line of work than 200 small residential jobs.

We had a thread going here on the Gopher forums a couple weeks ago about going after large contracts and the dangers of a company putting too many eggs in one basket. This sounds like a good case to learn from.

Thanks for letting me add my 2 cents.

Keith