Front office: Ahead of the game

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Updated Dec 13, 2019
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With the hype surrounding landscaping, it’s hard not to get swept up into believing that anyone can transform a backyard into a paradise, redo a patio or install plants.

But breaking into the landscaping industry isn’t for everyone. As veteran landscapers can attest, only those who possess thorough knowledge of the craft, maintain a strong customer following and remain determined to succeed will prove that they are cut out for the job – and keep competitors at bay.

Seal the deal with certification

“Let’s face it, it doesn’t take much capital to get started in this business,” says Richard Schipul, owner of Designing Eden, New Milford, Connecticut. “The $25 push mower is how the majority enter this business, and everyone has to start somewhere.”

While it’s important to remember these humble beginnings, Schipul believes only those do-it-yourselfers with perseverance develop into legitimate business owners.

Setting yourself apart from fly-by-nighters depends on several aspects. For one, some states won’t recognize a landscaper as a true professional unless they have been issued a landscape or landscape architect license. At present, California and Oregon administer exams for the former and Oregon landscapers must also obtain a landscape business license. For those wanting to practice landscape architecture, 47 states require a national exam be passed before receiving a license.

Newcomers and seasoned landscape contractors may also join professional associations and enroll in certification courses, even if their state does not require a license. Professional associations typically offer a code of ethics that member companies must adhere to, which, if followed, separates professional contractors from fly-by-nighters.

In addition, several certification programs and courses that recognize landscape contractors with proven skills are available through the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP). The organization’s certification program was created so individuals could set themselves apart from fly-by-night competitors.

NALP’s certification categories include the Landscape Industry Certified Manager exam, the Landscape Industry Certified Exterior Technician exam, the Landscape Industry Certified Interior Technician exam, the Landscape Industry Certified Horticultural Technician exam, the Landscape Industry Certified Lawn Care Manager exam and the Landscape Industry Certified Lawn Care exam.

These are stringent exams and the people who pass them have measured themselves against the national standard.

And for those who pass the test, continuing education is often necessary to renew licenses. Several organizations offer “credits” that can be earned through courses or service out in the field, and these can be carried over for renewal of your license.

Grow your relationships

But proving yourself on paper isn’t the only way to further your commitment to the industry. Developing relationships with your clients should be high on your list of priorities. This goes for both newcomers and skilled contractors who want to protect their client base from fly-by-night competitors.

Schipul agrees, “If we don’t do our best to keep our clients happy and we over-promise and under-deliver, eventually they will become disappointed and look elsewhere.”

Communication is key. Companies should attempt to educate clients on what’s best for them and perform routine follow-ups to make sure their needs are being met. Schipul says he connects with customers by knowing what they do for a living, learning their hobbies or even talking about the sports their kids play. This, in addition to helping customers see why they need a qualified landscaper, makes the difference in building long-term relationships.

In the end, it’s a matter of professionalism and what the public perceives the industry to be. Certain industries will always attract budding entrepreneurs looking to strike it rich. A person who is truly committed to landscaping and wants to be identified as such will want to get certified to prove his dedication to the profession.

For more information on certification, visit NALP’s website or the American Society of Landscape Architects’ site.

How can you promote your business?

  • Join a referral network that includes more than just landscaping companies. These groups help landscapers earn credibility in the commercial sector as well as the residential sector.
  • Design a portion of your website devoted to the services you offer.
  • Volunteer in community-based events, such as annual cleanup days.
  • Create a quarterly newsletter or pamphlets to display specials and offers, and distribute to current and potential customers.
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Landscapers use a variety of attachments for doing everything from snow removal to jobsite cleanup, and regardless of how often they are used, every landscaper has a favorite attachment.
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