Sound advice from an industry veteran

Many years ago, my boss gave me some important advice after my team had completed a difficult project. He said, “Bill, congratulations on finishing this project. Of course, you know why you and your team succeeded, don’t you? Discipline was the key, and it’s always the key to getting something done.”

With so much experience under his belt, he knew that the only way to overcome obstacles and complete tough tasks was through rock-hard discipline. With all the distractions of the world we live in today, without strong mental and physical discipline, it is very difficult — no, it is nearly impossible — to stay on task, let alone complete a complicated task.

Certainly, a major distraction for all of us is the economy. It overshadows virtually everything we do. Indeed, the financial outlook has changed dramatically for all green industry companies. The recession has created huge challenges for owners who are trying to be profitable and still maintain their high-quality standards.

This being his fourth recession, it is not a new challenge for Landon Reeve, CCLP, founder of Maryland-based Chapel Valley Landscape. The three previous recessions occurred in 1974, 1981, and 1990, and although the present recession runs deeper and broader than its predecessors, Landon is confident that Chapel Valley and the majority of green industry contractors will survive.

His advice for company owners experiencing an economic downturn is to take stock of their strengths and focus on the basics. “You have to reduce expenses to match income,” he told me. “This is difficult to do. You’ll lose good people, and it just isn’t fun. Budget cuts will force people and companies to do things differently, run leaner, and keep a closer eye on waste and expenses.”

Landon noted, though, that cutbacks cannot be done haphazardly. Owners must take a more holistic systems approach and find a sustainable balance between revenue and expenses. “Still, you have to be aggressive with cost reductions,” he emphasized. “If you wait too long to make the tough decisions, you will run out of funds and be out of business. The key point to remember is that during a long economic downturn success is survival. Those who survive will be in place to reap the benefits when the economy finally turns around.”

Even in a recession opportunities exist, Landon went on to say. He noted that companies with good resources have great opportunities to position themselves for the next upturn. He identified buying out smaller companies; diversifying into a different customer base; and developing sustainable environmental, business, and personal models to become more efficient and productive as potential opportunities. Looking for business niches that complement core business strengths, looking for weakness in competitors, and leveraging your strengths are some other opportunities.

“Now is the time to work on retaining clients and building stronger business relationships,” Landon said. “Take advantage of the fact that many of your customers and potential customers now have time for meetings, which in the past you could not have scheduled. Use this time to build relationships and make new contacts.”

This is sound advice from a savvy industry veteran who, like my former boss, understands that discipline is one of the hallmarks of being a professional. Having discipline allows owners to stay on task and focus on the basics — to make the difficult moves that Chapel Valley and other successful companies have had to make over the last year. It also gives owners the wherewithal to recognize their strengths and take advantage of opportunities that the recovery will bring.

We can all learn by studying successful entrepreneurs and individuals and understanding how they overcame difficulties — all the more reason to attend PLANET’s Green Industry Conference, October 28–31, 2009, in Louisville, Kentucky. Sitting next to a veteran like Landon at the Breakfast With Champions is worth the trip in itself, not to mention the other networking opportunities and seminars at the conference. It is designed to help us through the difficult times and show us how to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

We’re living in a new economy, what Landon likes to call “a new reality.” One of the best places to find answers and new approaches will be in Louisville this fall. In the meantime, take a moment to explore many of PLANET’s other resources, including the new Lawn Care Toolkit and the up-and-running PLANET Blog, all designed to help PLANET members grow their businesses and take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Bill Hildebolt, Ph.D., CTP, CTP-CSL
PLANET President

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