The best years in business are marked by a full fall and early spring schedule. Skimpy sales and production during these months can quickly dry up your cash flow and leave you gasping for revenue come springtime. Here are a few suggestions to keep you selling now and hopefully, have more banner years.

Create the urgency

Let’s face it, all good companies that have been in business for any length of time are pretty well booked from April through July, sometimes even into August. Why? Customers are motivated to buy because they have a sense of urgency. They want their outdoor projects completed for Memorial Day celebrations, high school graduations and 4th of July parties.

It’s the seasonal crush we all deal with as the warm weather approaches, and outdoor activities and entertaining begins. It’s the best of times to sell.

So how can we use this yearly boom to our sales advantage now? It’s all about how you ask one simple question. You may currently ask the customer when they want to get their work done. However, the better question is, “When do you want your project completed by?” There is an important distinction. The first question assumes that they know how long their project will take, factoring in bad weather delays, labor issues, and work schedules of other trades that may be concurrently working on the site. The second question gives you some very valuable inforbY

Know who you are selling to

Customers who contact you now for work to be done next spring are called “planners.” They are not the ones who run out and buy a pool the first 100-degree day of summer. Those people are, quite famously, called “impulse buyers.” Planners tend to take more time to decide on the design of the project and the contractor. They will ask to see your work, read a testimonial list and review your website, page by page. They’re the ones who never order their food in a restaurant the first time the waiter comes to the table. They want to hear all the specials and read the entire menu! Knowing about them, though, can work to your advantage.

Provide ample information about your company and yourself to the planners. This may include customer testimonials, your website address, a biography sheet, business license, insurance papers, and any certificates and commendations you have received. Were you part of a memorial project that was in the paper? Have a copy of the article in your portfolio. All of this is important to planners, who want to get to know you and, hopefully, want to do business with you and your company.

Spend the extra time and money during the design phase. Present yourself as a true professional by producing a top-notch design presentation. Use 3-D imaging software or outsource a design service to provide them with a virtual experience of their project. You increase the likelihood of winning their business when you’re able to help the planners visualize their projects. They will be most appreciative of the professionalism and extra effort presented to them.

Never tell them that you can start immediately. They are savvy customers who will read your desperation and become difficult negotiators. They will wonder why you don’t have a busier schedule, and will want to be reassured that they are not making a mistake by choosing you. The bottom line is that they’ll make you jump through more hoops to sign a contract, and for less money. A very bad combination.

mation. This is usually the date of an important party or event.

Here is what you can do with this bit of information. Let’s assume the event is an outdoor graduation party in the third week of June, and you’re selling a house patio. I would remind my customer of the stubborn winter we experienced last year, the rainy spring and the surprise “add ons” people have us do once we’re working on their projects. I would let them know that it would be prudent to schedule their start date at least two full months ahead of their completion date. Explain how this will allow the plantings, grass and fencing to be completed as well. These customers are planners and will appreciate your expertise on scheduling. I would often commend them for planning and to take advantage of “being ahead of the curve.” I would encourage them to secure their spot in the spring schedule. They have time on their side, but not much time. Spring schedules book solid quickly.

I would also encourage them to get as much done in the fall as possible for the same reasons. I would tell them they would be assured of having the entire season to enjoy their new project, even as spring begins to warm up. This strategy may allow you to schedule their project into two different phases, hardscape in the fall and landscaping in the spring.

The time is now

Your sales window is from mid-September through November. Now is the time to advertise to gain an edge over your competitors, and follow up with phone calls to all who you gave estimates to this past year. Additionally, send a letter out to all your existing customers, informing them of a discount they could receive by securing their spot now for fall and spring projects. It is precisely the time to make extra efforts to generate sales, and spend a little extra time and money. You will reap the revenue benefits for it later.

Opportunities do not come to those who wait. They are captured by those who attack.

...General George S. Patton

EDITOR’S NOTE: Kevin Smith is president of Online DesignScapes, LLC, an internet based landscape design service. Smith owned a landscape design and construction company for 23 years before he sold it in 2006.