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How to improve productivity using technology

Landscape businesses aren’t always the most forward-thinking when it comes to using technology. However, anyone with aspirations to grow their business must embrace technology and new business apps in order to improve efficiencies within their team, as well as with clients, says MICHAEL JOHN McGARR.

Many landscapers are not the most tech-savvy because they and their employees are out on site much of the time, and not necessarily office-based. However, using new web-based apps on smartphones and tablets is the ideal way for anyone grow their business.

Web-based apps can be accessed from any device, whether that’s from home or the office, or on the move. This enables a growing business to share information, keep all paperwork online digitally, and allows directors and anyone else involved in the business, such as accountants, to access up-to-date information at all times.

They are also the ideal way to manage a team by organising their schedules, having regular communication and allowing them to update their own projects online.

In addition to this, clients are also getting more tech-savvy. The majority of customers no longer want quotes posted to them or have to phone you every time they have a minor query. They want to be able to get a quick response to their queries and have information accessible online at all times. There are few people who don’t own a smartphone, a tablet or a laptop these days, so it’s easy for both clients and employees to access the correct app or software.

It’s worth investing the time to train your team of employees in how you want them to communicate and share information.

Use a workflow app for better communication

When managing a team of landscapers, it’s really important to stay up-to-date on their progress in order to keep track of timescales, deliveries and expenses, as well as being able to keep the client updated. Trello is one example of an incredibly easy-to-use, web-based app, which enables you to set up different boards for each project. You can create to-do lists, keep notes of important contacts and phone numbers and keep the rest of your team updated with your progress, as well as assigning tasks to people.

You can add different people to the different boards, so only the relevant people have access to this information. As this app is cloud-based, everyone sees an updated version at all times. Many clients will appreciate having access to relevant project information, which should include written quotes, predicted timescales, links or images to products being used and daily photographs of the progress.

Other similar project management apps include Slack, Asana and Basecamp. In addition to Trello, we also use Timetastic to help us organise annual leave for staff, which I would also recommend.

Make your accounting digital

Anyone who keeps business receipts in their wallet, their car and in a small pile on their desk, should really think again. The same goes for anyone who has boxes of receipts to deliver to their book-keeper to input into a spreadsheet. There has been an increase in highly affordable accounting software launched recently, which actually enables business to do their own book keeping and payroll quickly and efficiently, as well as seeing their up-to-date finances instantly. They can also be linked to their accountant, who then has all the accounts information in order to file tax returns and calculate corporation tax.

Web-based software such as Xero and Quickbooks enable businesses to link up with their bank account, input all income and outgoings daily, take images of receipts to upload and send invoices.

It may be worth paying an accountant who is familiar with the particular software to set it up for you, but it will be worth it in the end. It’s also worth downloading the mobile phone app, as well as using the website, to keep accounts up to date where ever you are.

Streamline your social media

It’s incredibly hard for any landscaping business to manage all of their social media networks, but it’s completely necessary for any growing business. For any ambitious landscape business, showcasing your work publically is essential to the growth of your company.

Businesses that do not have comprehensive profiles on networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest are without a doubt losing business. Today’s consumers want to see examples of current work to get a sense of your business’s style, but also to build trust and to see how you work. Luckily landscaping is a really visual businesses, so it’s easy to showcase progress photos, our initial designs and of course, the finished product, across all social media channels.

There are many different social media apps, some with free access, and more detailed ones that have a monthly subscription. We use Statusbrew, but also like Hootsuite and Sprout Social. It’s massively beneficial to be able to post across all networks from one dashboard, as well as being able to reply to messages and follow important hashtags or topics.

Online idea and planning boards

By using websites such as Pinterest or Houzz, you can build up visual idea boards to share with clients, which they can feed back on. You can also ask your clients to start creating their own idea board on Pinterest or Houzz, or simply to collect images that they like, to help you get an understanding of their preferences and style. Doing this can save so much time if you have a visual guide of ideas and inspiration that your client has chosen.

Google Business apps

Google Business apps are well worth paying for and setting up across your team. Not only will it enable them to access their email and calendars across multiple devices, but you can share team information using Google Calendar. You can give other people access to your calendar, or vice versa, well as setting up team calendars in order to ensure everyone has visibility of ongoing work schedules. Google Drive is a useful alternative to Word and Excel because you will always have an updated version whichever computer you open it on, and you can easily share and edit documents with employees and clients.

We also use a free add-on app called Boomerang which enables you to schedule emails and set up read receipts for sent emails too. It might feel as though you don’t have time to implement new methods of working and to train your team on using them. Try out one new method of organising workflow using a new app or website at a time. Take your time to understand the best way to use it before you ask your whole team to implement it. Some people might need more training than others, or reminding to use the app to communicate and update information on.

However, for any business to grow and develop, it’s so important to put that time aside to strategically plan and assess your current workflow methods.

About the author

Michael John McGarr is the founder and director of Warnes McGarr & Co, based in Wigan, Greater Manchester. The business specialises in designing and building high-end gardens and contemporary outdoor living spaces. Michael also offers a consultation service for both residential and commercial outdoor spaces, as well as providing ecology reports for Paragraph 55 planning applications.

CONTACT:

01942 375 515 or info@warnes-mcgarr.co.uk

For more information visit: http://www.warnes-mcgarr.co.uk

About Michael John McGarr

Michael is the editor of Landscape Insight magazine. He draws from experience at a wide range of B2B magazines, including Management Today, Legal Business, Retail Week, Hotel Owner and Jewellery Focus. Feel free to drop him a line with any stories or feature ideas.

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