Secret to a busy schedule

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Description:  As a Seattle landscape designer for 30 years, this is how I effectively handle the busy Spring schedule.
Author: Tom Barrett
Friday, April 27, 2018

I am a business-owner, team-builder, and landscape designer/builder of a growing clientele in the Seattle area, so my life and schedule can get a bit hectic when Spring arrives. I have been doing this work for many years, and if there is one thing I've learned it's the value of sharing what we learn with others. So I’m going to let you in on my little secret - how I handle the “Spring crunch”.

Seattle landscape designer's secret to handling a busy scheduleAs I observe and consider what the “information age” and the constant urge to be plugged in and responsive to our families, piers, clients and colleagues does to us, it is little wonder that nagging feeling of being overwhelmed becomes chronic.

When I feel overwhelmed, I simply prioritize my obligations and then try to tackle one thing at a time in order of importance. That sounds simple, but it takes some effort and strategy. I always try to place my family ahead of business (not always successful in that, but that is the goal.) In business, I typically prioritize my response to those clients and colleagues that provide the greatest potential for repeat business or referrals ahead of brand new opportunities.

Every new client represents a new opportunity; and with each, there is always the question of which will provide the greatest chance at signing new business. The sooner we determine their viability, the better the chance we have at a productive relationship. The answer to the viability question comes down to how well we vet each one. After listening to them describe their needs and wants, I offer my own insights.

When I go to a new client meeting, I always discuss the potential costs of their projects and make sure to clarify their budget requirements. When they say, “I don’t know what this will cost, that’s why I’m paying you to be here”, I reply that our typical crew day with labor, materials and equipment averages $2k. That translates to $10k per week or $40k per month per crew. We can then converse about the preliminary order of magnitude costs based on their desired scope and whether we are looking at a one-week job or a three-week job, or a three-month job. This is a great tool to bring them to their senses on the original question of what their budgets are. It helps us not waste design or estimating time on wild goose chases while enabling them to prioritize the way their projects need to be phased.

After each initial consultation I tell my new clients that I now need to take their input and re-walk their garden while I video it and “talk to myself” about “the process” of developing their gardens and the potential budgets. I will pace off yards or walkways or patios etc. and tell the story in the same manner as how I want to prepare our bid. Making that video greatly enhances my memory of each project as we move from consultation to design or bid stages. It is also a very useful tool when I share it with estimators or other tradespeople who I enlist in the design or bidding process.

As we pull in more potential clients, it is important that we think ahead and have a quiver full of other alternate designers and contractors that can help handle the excess workloads associated with limited time, limited human resources and too many balls to juggle. There seems to be plenty of work to go around right now so why not work on our team building skills as part of our hedge against the “insanity of the Spring crunch”.

So, I suggest as we learn to prioritize our workloads that we also talk up our projects with our peers and learn to lean on each other. I know that I am not a building code expert, so I build “code research” into my proposals and then collaborate with my peers, and sometimes pay others to execute the code research. This can also be true with other contractors across the board, from irrigators to those who specialize in concrete or electrical work.

In my experience, the best team building comes when we recognize the importance of each other’s time and make great efforts not to squander the professional courtesies that come with networking. Once I have a relationship with a specific designer or tradesperson that I trust, I use them exclusively and never ask for competitive bids. Working with those we like, and trust gives us a piece of mind that is so important during our busiest times. It also allows me the freedom to pursue other opportunities knowing that when I offer exclusivity, I will receive the same respect from them in return.

Happy Spring…and always remember to “stay calm and carry on”.

Tom Barrett

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