D’Anna Wade was her parents’ first employee when they started Wade’s Lawn Service, based in Goodlettsville, Tennessee.
After studying public affairs and public administration, she worked for an international NGO focused on women’s health and rights while also getting her feet wet in consulting, working on her parents’ business to get their business systems in place. Eventually, she moved to Houston, Texas, and worked for a large oil and gas company doing corporate social responsibility (CSR) work for several years.
In 2020, the oil and gas industry was hit hard with the advent of COVID-19, which resulted in her layoff as part of the company’s nearly 30 percent workforce reduction. Rather than apply for a job with another company, she decided to step out on her own. That year, she launched StandOut Communications, a communications agency that leverages beautiful and bold copywriting and design to help businesses connect with their audiences.
“It gave me a chance to look at the kind of life I wanted live… and the kind of life I wanted to lead,” Wade says. “Ultimately, when it comes down to it, I really value my time and my freedom. Being laid off was the best thing that could have happened to me in 2020.”
Now, Wade spends her days managing a team of people who work on developing communication strategies for her clients across a range of industries, including the green industry. The part of the work she enjoys most is brainstorming with clients; she finds the creative process incredibly energizing as she and her clients come up with creative solutions to tackle their business problems.
In addition to communications consulting, she also does project management consulting, helping companies implement systems to improve processes and efficiency. One thing she has seen happening with most businesses she’s worked with is that they have a misguided belief that software can solve all their business problems.
“All the time, I see businesses buying and deploying new systems as though they believe that the new software is going to solve all of their problems,” Wade says. “Systems are only as great as you make them. You must invest the resources in having the right inputs and ‘architect’ to tailor the system to meet the needs of the business. If you don’t, you’ll end up like most companies — either reworking your business to meet the needs of the system or not using the system at all.”
Wade stresses that investing in customizing systems is a growth area for many landscaping companies. She goes on to say that another growth opportunity for landscaping companies is in their communication strategies, especially around corporate social responsibility (CSR).
“It’s called corporate social responsibility, but really, it’s just about companies being good neighbors and good stewards,” Wade says. “I think sometimes companies get a little bogged down with the word ‘corporate.’ They think they’re not big enough for people to care about what they’re doing in the community or how their work affects the environment…and that’s simply not true.”
She says all companies should be thinking about CSR as it’s a dynamic way to engage their employees while making a positive impact on the community.
Wade says the best way to get started is to look within. She advises to first engage your leadership and your staff because you must have buy-in from your internal organization if you expect to do anything good externally.
“See what they care about,” Wade says. “Bring what you care about to the table too and see where there’s overlap. I like to tell people to think in “themes” and to think of specialized skills and resources your business has that might be donated. If you can connect your CSR activities to something that relates to the work that you do, then you are well on your way to finding an outreach opportunity that creates a positive impact and makes sense for your business.”
For the landscaping industry, themes around education, sustainability, and the environment naturally emerge, but there are plenty of others. Wade goes on to encourage companies to work with their employees to develop the themes that resonate most with them and identify potential collaboration points with local organizations and projects. Use these inputs to develop and refine your strategy.
“When your employees see their ideas and the things that matter to them being incorporated into the company’s CSR plan, you greatly increase your chances of rolling out a CSR program that your people will participate in,” Wade says. “If your people care about the outreach activity, then there’s a good chance that the communities they serve will feel that too. Nothing enables possibility like the power of an authentic connection.”
Wade says there are lots of landscape companies doing a really good job communicating CSR and positioning themselves as good stewards of the environment.
“I always felt that the landscape industry has huge advantage in terms of talking about how they interact with the environment,” Wade says. “I have seen the messages get better over the years, and I love seeing companies highlight the measures they are taking to become more sustainable.”
While larger companies are often better poised to share messages broadly, Wade says all companies, no matter their size, should be sharing what they are doing. She says it just comes down to selecting a focus (theme) and setting an intention about who it is you want to be when it comes to CSR.
“You can start wherever you are,” Wade says. “If you want to start sharing about sustainability, you can begin with a simple audit of your daily operations from start to finish. Look for areas of opportunity and come up with solutions. For example, what happens to the plant material you remove from a customer’s property? Is there a way to incorporate battery-powered equipment in your operation, and what environmental impact could that have? Are there days you can run less trucks, and if so, how might that affect your company’s carbon footprint?”
Landscaping companies can periodically use this simple exercise to find areas of improvement and evaluate their current sustainable practices. What’s more, is that it is easy to bring all the good you are doing to your customers’ attention with a well-crafted social media post. CSR is a great way to connect with your customer base as well as potential customers.
“Those small messages are little signals that say to your customers, ‘Hey! Guess what… we care about being good environmental stewards!’ which is something that’s really important for today’s consumer,” Wade says.
She encourages landscape companies to tell their stories, even the things that seem insignificant. Someone might find that ‘thing’ interesting and it presents an opportunity to connect with you.
“All in all, I would like to see more landscaping companies become more ‘green’,” Wade says. “With all the technology that currently exists and is in the works, I’d love to see owners really embrace this green movement more. I feel like incorporating green technologies and green practices in your business is a no-brainer. I mean, as lawn care professionals, you are literally the stewards of the land—the only commodity we can’t make more of. That’s why you are in the best position to lead the charge in how we take care of it.”