Have you ever wondered if there was a magic formula for accepting fewer consultations and still growing your business? We’ve got the answer in today’s podcast, and it’s all about charging initial consultation fees to increase the chances of signing more Hell Yes Customers for higher-quality projects.
00:00 Introducing Andrew Hardison from Hardison Landscaping in Raleigh, NC
When you're not picky enough about which landscaping clients you take on, it creates a ton of real business problems, like stressing out your staff, which causes low employee retention rate. It causes profit problems and a ton of stress for you, the owner. In today's interview, I talk with one of my clients about how he's charging a consultation fee for the initial appointment, and how that's helped him increase his close rate, attract higher qualified leads, and how he's balancing personal development, running his business, and raising a family. Andrew also shares how offering fewer appointment openings to potential customers actually increases demand for his company.
Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the Landscapers Guide. I'm Jack Jostes and this show is all about sales, marketing, and leadership ideas for the snow and landscape industry. And if you're new to the show and you enjoy it, make sure you subscribe at landscapersguide.com/podcast. So you'll get an email each week with our episodes and we'll send you our top three right away.
Today, I'm excited to interview Andrew Hardison from Hardison Landscaping, a design build landscaping firm in the North Carolina area of, he's in Raleigh and the surrounding suburbs. Andrew runs a very professional company focused on customer experience, process, and attention to detail. So I'm excited to have Andrew on the show today to talk about some of the processes, how he's charging for appointments, and how he's really balancing running this great company with a growing family and a growing property too. So Andrew, thanks for coming on the show.
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me, Jack. I appreciate it.
Well, Andrew, before we get started, tell us a little bit about Hardison Landscaping. What services do you offer? Who are your customers? And how long have you been in business?
So that's kind of evolved over time. We kind of started out taking everything that we could, any type of work that we could. Quickly realized that I think what we excelled in was definitely going to be more of the design build part of it, hardscaping, through a couple of key hires, guys who knew how to do more of this cool stuff than I did. We were able to start taking on larger projects.
So, as of right now, we are definitely strictly design build. So we're doing, kind of what gets us in the door is usually paver patios, that's kind of our bread and butter. But we do those surrounding landscapes and the other features around it as well. Been in business for three years, had the business for close to 10 years, but it was kind of a side business, jump in a truck type deal at first. And then decided to leave my full-time job and chase my dream of the business.
Well, so how is it going? So you're three years into doing it full-time, really going for it. How is it going?
It's going really well. This year especially, I would say, since December of last year is when we really committed to processes and to the whole design build strictly, not taking any project that we could get, being a little bit more picky with our projects, and knowing the type of projects we want to do. It's definitely taken off since that point, where we kind of committed to a process.
03:45 How Catering to Higher-End Projects Saved Andrew from Burnout
What were some of the problems that you faced or challenges when you were less picky, maybe when you were just starting out, when you look back on that time?
The type of projects we were taking on were kind of ticky-tacky little things here and there, stuff that we weren't necessarily like... We would get a project that would say installation of some privacy trees, but we would also allow them to tack on stack firewood for them. And just finding those things and it's like you can't really get a sense of pride from that type of work. I know that there's, and I'm not, guys who are still doing that type of stuff, there's definitely a need for it. I'm sure a lot of people make a lot of money doing that. But for us and for my guys and just was trying to automate the company a bit too, to where I wasn't having to be on the job sites all the time. So we kind of had to focus more on a better process and just, I guess, higher end type work.
Well, do you think that you could be doing what you're doing now if you hadn't done the years of the ticky-tacky stuff though?
That's a great question. I think if I knew what I knew now from doing that, I think I could start a business now, but I do think those experiences led me to where I am right now.
Yeah. Because we're actually celebrating our 14th year in business at Ramblin Jackson. My seven-year-old son said, "Wow, 14 years?" And I'm like, "Wow, that's a really long time." And when I started, I did whatever I could get, whatever I could find. And I kind of think you have to go, I don't know how you would skip that phase of building a business, unless you bought one or maybe somehow you had a lot of business experience before starting it.
Yeah, absolutely. I think if somebody out there wrote a manual, like, "Do it exactly this way," and then you were able to trust that manual and follow it to a tee, I think it's possible. But I think with all businesses, I would imagine you kind of have to go through that struggle to realize, "Hey, there's probably a different way to do this, a more efficient way and a way that's not going to completely burn me out too."
And going back to those kind of ticky-tacky jobs, that's another thing, they do, they burn you out, especially if you're... Those type of projects too, some of the clients are typically red flag clients maybe, with those type of projects that are trying to get you to wash their car and landscape their yard type of stuff. So I just think catering towards higher end clients and higher end projects is just all around, it's just less stress.
06:35 Andrew Shares How His Team Benefits from Being More Selective with Projects
Yeah. Tell us a little bit about your team. How many people work with you? And what's changed in the last few years now that you've focused on a specific type of project?
So we have four guys on the installation crew and we have one, I call him a project manager. He's kind of essentially a foreman on the job site. The guys take a lot more pride in these type of projects now than I noticed when we were doing those ticky-tacky jobs. They definitely, I've noticed the guys, they take their own pictures when the job's done. I'm seeing them sharing on social media, like, "Look at the job we did." You can tell a sense of pride from it. So that's always great to see, is if your team buys into it and really cares about the work.
And I think part of that is just they get to see the end result and it's an awesome project. So it's hard to take pride in small jobs and stuff like that, I think. It gets a little bit difficult. You get a little bit of burnout from that. But to be able to go back and look at a hundred thousand dollar patio that they just built, I think it gives them a sense of pride.
07:45 Do Green Industry Business Owners Need to Work 80 Hours per Week to Be Successful?
Tell me a little bit, you had a conversation with Robert to prepare for the podcast. And some people think, "If I'm not working 80 hours a week, I'm not doing it right." Tell me a little bit about are they wrong? Is that the way, do you have to work 80 hours a week? Or what do you think about that?
Absolutely not. No. I know what you're saying. Yeah, definitely, I've got a lot of buddies that have lawn care businesses and stuff like that too. And then typically you talk to an older guy, who's had a business for 30 years, cutting grass. They'll tell you if you're not, again, if you're not working 80 hours a week, you're not doing it right. And I tend to disagree with that.
I don't really have the, it was kind of out, so when I started my business, I was definitely doing that, don't get me wrong. But I quickly realized with, I have six children, so I quickly realized that that wasn't going to be possible if I ever wanted to be a part of their life. So I think that there's a way to go about doing it without, again, and that kind of goes back to being a little bit more picky with the jobs that you're taking on and kind of screening your clients and making sure that the pro...
And it's a little scary too because I will say when we committed to these larger projects, these design build projects, you don't have the leads coming in like you used to. It's a smaller niche, I guess you would say. Though it can be a little bit intimidating, but I just kind of keep in mind if I booked 15 jobs before, small jobs, all I got to do is sell one job to kind of compare to that too.
When I had kids, I had a mentor who said, and I was working 80 hours a week or more sometimes, and when my wife was pregnant, somebody said to me, "So how are you going to manage your kids? How are you going to work this much? How is the business going to work without you working 60 to 80 hours a week?" And it was something I didn't really believe was going to have to change. And then once I had my first son, it was like, "Wow, I can't do both. I can't have a family and work this 68 hours a week."
And that was largely how I personally developed a lot of what we now do with our clients. Like picking a Hell Yes Customer and having a really dialed in sales process was born out of, I was like, "I don't want to screw around meeting with people who are not going to buy from me. And I don't want to take on projects that are a waste of time or we're not making money." It created this urgency for time and also money. I needed to make more money. So it's funny how those life things change what we're doing in our business.
10:40 Andrew’s Secret for Attracting More Hell Yes Customers from His Website
One of the things that you're doing that I like is you're charging for an appointment. So tell us a little bit about the steps of your process from maybe getting a lead through your website or a phone call to getting to the point where you've got a design sold. What are you doing to qualify people along the way?
A lot of the screening process for the Hell Yes Customer definitely comes from putting as much information on the website as possible. I try and update the website constantly. I've had pricing information on there for the longest time. It's kind of changed a little bit and evolved as we've changed our projects. So it's gotten a little bit more generalized into tiers, I guess you would say, like a tier one outdoor living space. And then putting all that information on there helps tremendously.
And then when a client reaches out, basically what happens is we'll have probably a 10 to 15 minute discussion on the phone. We'll just talk about their project. I'll ask questions. I'll kind of try and get a budget out of them if I can. And I kind of explain our process with them. And if they want to move forward, we say, "We can come on site and we can meet with you and it's $150."
When we first started doing that, it was definitely, it was scary because a client contacts you and you're wondering. And you tell them the 150. And I was kind of, to be honest, for a couple months there before I really committed to it, I kind of went back and forth, wishy-washy. If they would tell me, "Well, I've got this really awesome backyard and I want to do a patio," and I'd be like, "Okay, I'll see you in 15 minutes, I'll be out there." But you do that enough times and then you get enough clients that are really, they're looking for 10 different bids and you spend a ton of time with them and you quickly realize it's just not worth the time.
So we started charging 150. It's a great tool that I think helps to screen clients as well. Because I would say if a client is serious about spending 80 to a hundred thousand dollars on a backyard, $150 consultation really shouldn't be a deal breaker. But there have been some. And I just have to trust that those probably weren't our clients anyways. So again, that's a great screening tool. That's really like I have no interest in really even collecting that 150. It's not about that, it's more just a little skin in the game to just kind of make sure they're serious about their project because I want to be very serious about their project.
And one unexpected benefit of charging the 150, it not only screens clients out, but it makes me... When I started really doing it, I got the sense I used to go to these quotes, these estimates, and if I immediately would realize that this is probably not my client, because we all know. You start a conversation, within five minutes, then you just know this is never going to happen. This isn't going to turn into anything. But you still got to give them the time of day and you still got to stay with them and you got to hear their whole what they want. You got to take notes and got to put a quote together.
So with this 150, when I'm there, speaking to them, I'm engaged. I'm into the project. I don't want to just pack up and go home. I'm taking measurements that I need. It made me, they get the best out of me, paying for that time as well. Because I know that it's, at the very least, I'm getting paid for my time out there.
And close rate went up a lot too. So it's like if I get out there, they pay that consultation fee, I found that there's a very good chance that I'm probably going to get that project.
14:30 How Paid Consultations Increase Close Rates
I found that too in my own business. We started charging for an audit. And that also allows us to then really focus on taking care of someone. So once somebody pays you that 150, now you have some skin in the game too, to follow up and get the proposal to them and show up on time. So I think it incentivizes a lot of good things.
And one of my favorite marketing authors is Dan Kennedy, who has a saying that buyers are buyers are buyers. And I like the idea of getting people to buy something, like the $150 consultation, because then it's that much easier to buy the next thing. "Well, I already paid something and I got some value, I'll buy the next thing." And then they buy the next thing and then hopefully a couple years later you're doing their front yard or whatever.
So it also positions you as an expert. So naturally, your close rate's going to go up because they're paying to meet with you, they're going to value your opinion and your design and your insight more than the person who's not charging and showing up late and not getting back to them. It's like, "I'm-
15:45 Can Landscape Companies in Other Geographic Locations Charge for Consultations & See Positive Results?
... going to choose that one." So you've mentioned you were afraid. I like that you share that because I think picking a Hell Yes Customer and starting to turn away work is scary. And then charging for something that you see trucks driving around that say free estimates.
And I love it. I have clients all over the United States, so there's probably somebody listening right now who's like, "Oh, well I can't get away with that because I'm in Florida," or I'm in whatever. Everyone thinks they can't do it, but I have seen it. I have clients in Texas, I have clients in Florida, Virginia, the Midwest, the West, all over the country charging for that consultation and seeing similar results to what you're doing. So kudos to you for doing it. What are some of the other ways that you're growing and learning new things?
16:46 Why Learning is one of the Keys to Great Leadership
I just kind of trying to figure out this whole business thing because I started off as a landscaper. I definitely didn't go to college for business or anything like that. So I'm just trying to, I think that's really important too because I think you can be the best tradesman in the world, but that doesn't mean you know anything about marketing or business.
So I think it's important, if you're going to, I've stepped away from the field, so I'm not out building this stuff anymore. So my job now is to keep my guys employed and feed my family. And the only way to do that is to learn the stuff that I don't know how to do. So just a constant learner.
For my employees, we take advantage of a lot of any kind of training opportunity that we can get. Definitely invest money in that. I'm very much so willing to send them off to different training opportunities. Just constantly reading and just trying to be better.
Yeah, I like that you're not only learning yourself, but you're thinking of your people on your team and sending them to learn new things is so important, I think from a retention standpoint. And one of our core values at Ramblin Jackson is grow or die. So that's all, especially with digital marketing and business, you have to be growing. You have to be learning and trying new things, staying with current trends, reading business books, different things to learn the business skill, not just the trade. Right?
Because there are a lot of marketing companies who are good at marketing, but they don't run a good business and that doesn't help their customers. So I'm with you on that. And a lot of times you're in the thick of it. You're needing to learn when you're stressed out or you are working 80 hours a week or you are in debt or whatever. All these reasons that you wouldn't have time to learn.
So how did you find the time, going from doing this as a side hustle to starting, working 80 hours a week? How did you find the time to learn and implement these ideas?
18:57 How Streamlining Operational Processes Has Saved Andrew “Unmeasurable Amounts” of Time
Well, at first it was the I would be up until... I would work on the job site. I had one guy, when I first started my business, kind of a part-time helper. And then I would get home and I'd be up till two, three o'clock in the morning on my computer and my laptop sending out, this was before the charging for consultations, but sending out estimates for, 10 estimates and maybe I was going to get two or three of them. And I just thought that was kind of the way that you did things.
And then I guess I just slowly realized that there was a better way. There's got to be a better way to do this. But it definitely, you have to commit to it. You definitely have to commit to it. And I realized also, I wanted to be a dad to my kids. I wanted to be able to be there for them and they're the most important thing in the world. But you still got to make money, right? So I realized that there's got to be a way to do all of these things at one time and give my best to all of them. And it's a balance that it's tough to find, but once you find it, it's all worth it.
I agree. How much time do you think this has saved you? Having a Hell Yes Customer, charging for the appointment, following the sales process versus what you were doing? I'm sure that there are weeks, I know that there are weeks-
There are weeks or days that require more of you than others. But in general, how much time do you think this has saved you?
Unmeasurable amounts of time. I'm here, so my day kind of looks like I'll get up in the morning and I'll do an hour or two of emails or whatever's required. I'll stop by the job site.
I think the real nice thing is that I don't necessarily have to do any of those things. Like if I've got something else going on, and I need to take the kids to school and then I've got somewhere I've got to be for something that's in my personal life, I'm able to do that. I don't have to worry about it. I've got it automated, to a sense to where, for instance, on onsite consultations, we only do that two days a week, and there's two time slots for that.
So that was another thing too. It kind of makes the client, when they see that and they're able to book it through Calendly, or we can do it over the phone with them as well, whichever they prefer. But when a client sees that too, I think they're thinking, "Oh, they only do it two times a week. They must be..." I don't know, it gives you kind of a higher end appeal, I would say.
I agree. I love that you said that because I have some clients who they are driving around all over the place at all times and spending a ton of time scheduling and figuring out drive times. And I love that you've got two times a week. I have another client in Texas and they do it two times a week and it removes a lot of decision making. And that can be very stressful. And it just takes a lot more emails. "How about this time? How about this time?" And it's like, "These are the times that are available." And it's not like you're doing emergency tree removal or something, right? You're designing something for someone and they can probably wait till next Tuesday to meet with you.
And it's like, these are all things as a new business owner, especially when you're starting out or if you're just financially having issues or whatever it is, it's nerve wracking to commit to this. So I can understand why guys that own companies stay in the cycle of continuing to do it because you do see a hit to your leads. And you do see, you're all constantly thinking, and I still do it to this day, I'm constantly thinking, "I know this is what I should do, but is this going to be a bad thing for my leads?"
22:45 What Potential Customers Expect When Choosing a Landscaping Company
And every time I find out that actually a client wants to follow your process. There's obviously people out there that they want to be the boss of everything. But I do think that when somebody contacts a company, I think they want to follow your process and they want it to run smooth, and it's well worth it. To anybody who's still kind of on the fence about whether it makes sense to do all these things, it definitely does. It all works out.
Yeah, they really do crave that structure and guidance. And especially with something like designing a backyard, they really want to meet with someone who's going to have a process for asking them questions and inspiring them and then getting it done, so I like it.
23:35 Connect with Andrew Hardison from Hardison Landscaping in Raleigh, NC
Andrew. Well, thanks for coming on the show. For people who want to network with you, how can we get in touch?
Yeah. Absolutely. Thank you, Andrew. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode. If you enjoyed the conversation, send me a message on Instagram. Just look for me, I manage my Instagram. Send me a message, I'd love to just have a conversation with you there.
And also, if you're coming to the NALP Elevate Show in September in Texas, meet me and some of my staff at Booth number 1110, where we will be feeding people beef jerky and sharing ideas to help you attract more of your Hell Yes Customers. So check out landscapersguide.com/events in our show notes for more information about our booth and other upcoming live and virtual events. My name's Jack Jostes. Thanks so much for listening to the Landscapers Guide. I hope to talk with you next week.
All right, Jack, have a good one, man.
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CONNECT WITH ANDREW:
Find Andrew online at: https://www.hardisonlandscaping.com/
Connect with Andrew on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/andrew-hardison-258002245/
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