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Protect your reputation as you grow

Growing a successful business is an ambition for many small landscape firms, but it comes with risks. Next Level Tradie’s Daniel Fitzpatrick discusses how you can avoid them

You’ve built up a good reputation and you don’t want to lose it – but to achieve strong profits for the long haul, you need to grow, win bigger and better projects and, as result, be able to command higher prices.

Unfortunately, as you grow, it can be hard to keep control. If staff are messing up jobs, fixing mistakes can be costly. When work is not done to your standards, it gets stressful, clients get let down, and your reputation comes into question.

This is why many landscapers get stuck at their current level of income. Or try it for a while and then scale back, deciding it’s not worth it. Running a local business comes down to relationships. Reputation is everything.

Here’s how to protect it:

1. Keep the main thing the main thing

Consistently delivering a quality outcome for your clients is essential. It’s the number one priority – and the best insurance policy for your reputation.

If you build a great experience, customers will tell each other about it.

As you grow, you’re going to have increased costs. To cover this, you need to charge more. But, you can only charge more if you provide better value, which means holding yourself to a higher standard of service.

Don’t be the same. Be better! Let your team know that customer service is everyone’s job and have standards for behaviour: be punctual, respect property, leave things tidy, use polite language, and have a helpful and accommodating attitude to customers and other trades onsite.

Make sure your communication is on point by keeping lines of communication on point and customers informed. Give multiple contact numbers and emails for all team members up the chain, including yours, and sort problems early.

Check in with clients at the end of the job. Show them what you’ve achieved. Wow them with a thank you gift at handover.

It’s also important to manage customer expectations. Make sure they’re realistic and everyone’s on the same page. Explain your process. Educate them around what they’re trying to achieve.

Be honest and transparent. When everything’s out on the table, there are no surprises.

Make sure variations are agreed on and clearly documented, so there are no arguments over the bill later.

2. Deliver exactly what you say you will

Quality is the best business plan, but you (and your high standards) can’t be everywhere. So, it’s vital to start documenting systems, checklists, policies and procedures.

Everything should go through the system, not through you. Get everything out of your head, so that there is a documented benchmark for whether work is up to scratch or not.

Robust systems allow you to keep your team organised, projects on schedule, get all resources onsite, ensure everything is done right, and minimise mistakes – while juggling multiple jobs.

Systems will set you free and keep staff accountable to the same level of care and commitment you have (or close to it).

Remember that your team is working within the infrastructure you’ve created and 94% of problems are a result of the system, not the people.

3. Don’t cut all the ropes

Your employees are out there, representing your name every day. You want them buying into your vision, your standards – and taking responsibility for their part. You also want to create an environment where they perform at their best.

Set them up for success. Make sure they know exactly what’s expected. Set targets, so they stay motivated, on track, and always know whether they’re winning. Install a reward system.

Invest in the best tools and equipment to get the job done to the highest possible standard (and boost productivity).

If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. Provide interesting projects, recognition for a job well done, ongoing training and a safe workplace. Also, let them in on things going on in the company – it helps keep them invested.

Put the necessary checks in place, so you’re keeping tabs. Check in with your team at regular intervals – especially at critical points in larger jobs. Then you’ll be able to intervene early if the job is going south.

Hold team meetings to ensure everyone’s heading the same way and touch base often in one-on-ones. This should ensure you’re well informed of any issues – not blindsided by a call from an irate customer or disgruntled employee ranting on Facebook about a boss that doesn’t care.

Don’t be afraid to move on a staff member with a bad attitude. Do it sooner rather than later.

Staff theft is also not uncommon. Your name can get dragged through the mud if the media gets hold of the story. To prevent this, run background checks when hiring, and keep careful track of tools/materials, so you know if stuff goes missing.

4. Stack the odds in your favour

Studies show that 93% of customers are influenced by online reviews. So, build and manage your online reputation on purpose.

Maintain an active online presence (website and Facebook page at least) that showcases your expertise and talks about what sets you apart – your quality guarantee, awards, RML membership, before and after photos of your work, and success stories.

Make it easy for customer to leave a review.

Why not incentivise your team for positive reviews? Reward them anytime their efforts get your company a 5-star review!

Monitor for new reviews and mentions using Google Alerts.

Respond quickly to all comments on the same platform. Always be professional, helpful and polite. If you’re in the wrong, own it, fix it, put things right. This is an opportunity to turn this client into a raving fan. If they’re being unreasonable, a solid humble reply explaining the situation should make this clear to all.

Future clients will read your replies (especially to complaints) and formulate an opinion on what you’re like to work with. They’re looking to see any hint they’ll be ripped off, of shoddy work, that you’ll be hard to deal with, dishonesty, lax communication, if you leave a mess and don’t care, and whether you’ll fix things if there are any unforeseen problems.

5. The faster you go, the bigger the mess

Don't try to grow too fast or run too many projects at once as it can be hard on cashflow, and 82% of businesses fail because of strangled cashflow.

This gets you into trouble, hurting your reputation as things quickly spiral out of control.

Suddenly, you’ve run out of cash for suppliers, you’re on stop credit, you’ve got no money for wages, and customers are furious you can’t finish the build.

I’ve seen this play out too many times. It comes from not having the strong foundation and infrastructure needed to support your growth.

Remember, what’s happening in your business now is the result of what you put in place 12 months ago.

Are you thinking strategically, playing the long game and pacing yourself, with a good business model and solid gameplan?

You’ve need to watch your numbers like a hawk. Make sure you have margin in the jobs. There is no point 'growing' if there’s no extra profit. Know which jobs you want – say no to the ones you don’t. Play to your strengths. As a specialist, you’ll be able to build your reputation quicker.

Need some help to get your business tweaked for optimal results? It’s time we had a chat.

Trades business coach Daniel Fitzpatrick has been helping tradies increase profits and win back their weekends since 2010.

Need some help to get your team performing at the highest level? Book a free strategy chat with Next Level Tradie director Daniel Fitzpatrick here:


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