April 6, 2016

Five plans for success


Mark Bradley As a landscape contractor, you’ve probably been raised with some great virtues, and maybe none more so than ‘hard working.’ But hard work is like a nice steak — it tastes great, but it doesn’t make a great meal all by itself. It needs to be paired with other elements to create a truly great dinner. A good company needs more than hard work, too. Like a great dinner, your hard work will resonate better when it is paired with the right ingredients. 

To get the most out of your hard work, you need a plan to succeed. Here are the five simple plans I use throughout the course of the year to help ensure success for me and my employees at our landscape company.


Like a good wine, your strategic plan should be aged at least five years. It’s your vision for the company. Other plans are relatively useless without this one. It sets the vision for where you want to take your company. Your other plans are built to serve the goals of the strategic plan. It should answer questions like:
  • Are you trying to grow your sales? By how much? How many people will you need?
  • Are you trying to build an exit strategy?
  • What’s the single metric you’d like to improve most in your company? What is it today and what would it be?
  • Which obstacles are you going to have to overcome to reach your five-year plan?
The strategic plan should be revisited at least once a year, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be more often. A good strategic plan should be straightforward and actionable, and shouldn’t bog you down in details.


Your operating budget is where the rubber starts to hit the road. It sets concrete, objective, numbers-based goals that serve your strategic plan. To put it simply, your operating budget is like your Profit and Loss statement, but in reverse. Your P&L tells you how much money you made at the end of the year. Your operating budget is a plan you make at the beginning of the year to tell you how to make a specific profit. It includes:
  • Sales goals
  • Field (crew) labour hours and payroll budget
  • Equipment expense budget
  • Material expense budget
  • Subcontractor expense budget
  • Other expense budget
  • Overhead expense budget
  • Target net profit
Your operating budget guides you through-out the year to help you stay on target to hit your sales goals, without overspending on time or materials. Even better, your operating budget will kick out a pricing system that will 
ensure your estimates are also serving your plans. Using basic numbers from your operating budget, you can ensure that all your estimates cover their costs, your company’s overhead, and the profit you’re hoping to make.
Each year, your operating budget should be the vehicle that drives you closer and closer to your five-year strategic plan.


We all need schedules to help us manage our work, upcoming tasks, and the sales pipeline. However, it’s your one- or two-week schedule that’s going to see the most action. It’s hard to schedule accurately beyond that window, as our work faces many external variables such as weather, equipment availability, other trades, material availability and more. 
Use a one- or two-week plan to help improve efficiency in the following areas:
  • Crew and labour planning: How much labour you need and how jobs are assigned.
  • Equipment allocation: What equipment is needed, where and when?
  • Material planning: Identifies key ordering and drop/delivery dates for materials
  • Subcontractor planning: Subcontractor start and end dates on jobs.
  • Cash flow management: Planned start, completion, and milestone dates will help you better manage cash flow and vendor payments.
Everyone in the company should also understand that plans can (and will) change, sometimes daily. I found that crews get frustrated with constant change, so it’s important to have an open discussion with them on all the different variables that go into the plan and why it can (and will) change. 

Changing your schedule shouldn’t be viewed as a negative, unless you’re constantly going over budget. If your company can react quickly to changing events, you own a strong competitive advantage in an ever-changing industry.


A good estimate is so much more than a price. The estimate is the plan for success on a job. So many contractors rush the estimating/pricing phase, just to get a price out the door. But at the end of the day, you will inevitably need to plan and manage all the labour, equipment, materials and subs required to complete a job. So why not plan those before the job, to ensure you’ve got the right price, the right timelines and a tool that will help delegate and make people accountable for managing its successful completion?

Estimate plans can hide the costs and prices, but should clearly communicate the essentials of the job to the crews and office staff performing and managing the work. Estimates should include:
  • Estimated labour hours for all major phases and tasks 
  • Estimated equipment (this will have a significant impact on the labour hours!)
  • Material quantities, sizes, colours and other details
  • Subcontractor information
Another step that will greatly help Step 5 (the daily plan) is communicating end-of-day goals to the crew via estimate notes. A quick and easy summary of how the job was estimated might include:
  • End of Day 1: All equipment mobilized and access ways complete. All excavation and rough-grading complete.
  • End of Day 2: All conduit and base installed and compacted. 50 per cent of hardscape surfaces installed.
  • End of Day 3: 100 per cent of hardscape surfaces installed. All garden beds prepped and filled with soil.
  • End of Day 4: All plantings and mulching completed. Final cleanup on hardscapes and jobsite complete.
It’s a simple step that can be communicated in 10-30 minutes per job, but it will more than likely save hours of estimating mistakes and poor job management. 


Daily planning is essential to staying the course. Not only should your business be planning, but your people should too. Jobs should be planned and re-planned each and every day to ensure:
  • Daily goals are being set and communicated to the crew
  • Obstacles and needs are being considered and surfaced daily
  • Office and field staff have a consistent flow of information
Each and every day, foremen should plan and communicate end-of-day goals to their crews. Not only will it improve the on-time performance of jobs, it feels better to work in an environment where you’re hitting goals, not just spinning your wheels every day.
To that end, try downloading our free daily planning app. Search the Google Play and iTunes stores for LMN and look for the 4 o’clock 4 app. It’s free.
The 4 o’clock 4 is meant to ensure daily planning is happening — but it also ensures the office knows what’s happening in the field, and vice versa. It surfaces common obstacles and creates accountability through four simple daily questions:
  • What are your top three goals for tomorrow?
  • What got completed today?
  • What obstacles are slowing you down?
  • What do you need from me?
  • Information?
  • Materials?
  • Equipment?
  • Labour?
The app then sends an email with all the answers back to the office, so that progress, goals, obstacles and needs can be dealt with swiftly. Give it a try this year … I can just about guarantee greater success and a more transparent, accountable company.   

Mark Bradley is president of TBG Landscape and LMN, based in Ontario.