A landscape lighting manager interviews a potential new hire

The World of Landscape Lighting – Business Challenges: Hiring & Firing

Of all the things Pat and I have had to do in our landscape lighting business, one of the hardest has been to let people go. I can’t think of a more uncomfortable responsibility we have as leaders, and I think it’s one of the biggest issues that business owners struggle with. Since 2014, our thoughts on firing have been shaped by the training we’ve received through Infusionsoft’s Elite Forum. If you’ve spent any time around me, you know I talk about them a lot. 

They’ve helped us learn how to integrate our purpose and core values into every aspect of how we run our landscape lighting business, including how we determine who we fire and how we fire. The task of firing becomes much easier once you’ve pinned down your purpose and core values. But how do you actually prepare for and accomplish the task itself? 

In her webinar, “Firing for the Vision,” Infusionsoft’s Cindy Eagar lays out how to set your employees up for success and how to determine when they need to be let go. 

Set Expectations Up Front 

Your employees should know upfront what successful performance looks like. Cindy defines performance as “results plus values.” When you lay out your expectations and your company’s core values, your employees will know how they can excel at their job, and you will know how to best coach them and hold them accountable. The owner of a landscape lighting company sits at a table with an employee, looking over their computer while taking notes.

Coach Appropriately 

An employee’s performance can vary across what Cindy calls the “performance continuum.” Either they’re performing well or underperforming, but the coaching they require will depend on where exactly they fall on the continuum. For example, an employee in our landscape lighting business who is underperforming will need different coaching than an employee who has been poorly performing for a month. 

Fire Respectfully 

If an employee continues to underperform, even after you’ve coached them and allowed them time to improve, they need to be fired. Firing does not need to be a long, drawn-out conversation. Cindy says it can be done in 3 sentences: “As you know, we’ve had conversations about your performance. We have not seen the progress needed for success in this role. Therefore, we have decided to terminate your employment, effective immediately.” 

Provide Balanced Communication 

Once your employee has been fired, you need to tell the rest of your team as soon as possible. Be upfront and let them know that you had been coaching the individual who was fired, but his or her performance expectations were not met. This shows your team that you’re willing to put in the effort to help each of them succeed up until the day they leave the company. 

But What If You’re A Small Business? 

For small business owners, it can be incredibly hard to make the decision to fire that one team member, especially if that individual accounts for 25% of your company’s workforce. Working in our landscape lighting company, I’ve been there before, and it’s not a comfortable position to be in. You’re worried about having to do their job and finding another person who can replace them. However, putting in the extra work after they’ve been let go will pay dividends down the road. The short term effects of firing may be painful, but it’s best for your company in the long run.

To learn more about Elite Forum, contact Stephanie.Hitchins@Infusionsoft.com. As a small business ourselves, making the right decisions in hiring and firing has strengthened us for the better. You can learn more about our dedicated team here. 

The owner of an outdoor lighting business shakes a client's hand over marketing and design plans

Transform Your Outdoor Lighting Business With Marketing

Marketing is a tough game. In my own outdoor lighting design and installation company, Enlightened Lighting, I’ve tried everything from ValPak to Home Mag to radio ads. I’ve tried Google Adwords, targeted remarketing, Facebook Ads, Houzz, Home Advisor, and other online marketing campaigns. I’ve tried selling lighting bundles and good/better/best packages. But after 18 years of trial and error—with a heavy emphasis on error—I finally learned the “secret” to marketing. It’s simple, but it transformed my marketing: I needed to learn who my real customers are.

As you surely know, there are a lot of people out there who are simply looking for the best price on a 5-10 fixture outdoor lighting system. We don’t turn our noses up at these clients, but in 2011, I had a paradigm shift that changed the way I approached my customers.

I had just sent out 10,000 eight-page catalogs and the very first customer I received from this marketing piece was a successful, recently-retired business owner. He was planning on hosting a wedding for his daughter at his beautiful stone, colonial-style house. He wanted it to look stunning for her big day.

We spent an hour and a half walking the property and discussing how I could create a lighting design that would make the property look amazing. After giving him my design ideas, we spent 10 minutes discussing which products we were going to use on the job. He told me, “Use whatever product line you would want to light up your house.”

My final design came out to $25,000 and— without hesitation—he wrote me a check for the full amount. He said the reason he went with my company over all the others was because he thought my designs were better.Outdoor lighting casts a warm glow around an awning and a lake to the right of it.

This stuck with me. It changed the way I interacted with my customers.

From then on, when I met with my clients, I stopped focusing on packages and promotions and turned my focus to outdoor lighting design. My marketing changed as well. Instead of trying to outdo the competition with discounts and lower prices, I turned my focus to showcasing our projects and amazing designs. I stopped offering my customers different fixtures to choose from: I simplified their decision-making process by focusing on custom lighting designs and offering heavy-duty fixtures that would last them for years and years to come.

I realized my real customers were interested in great outdoor lighting designs, not getting the lowest price. But then the question became: how do you reach out to these customers? Here are three items you may want to consider:

YOUR AUDIENCE MATTERS

With high-end, direct-mail marketing, you have control over who receives your mailers, and with the right mailing list, you can start targeting high-end clients in more affluent areas. You’ll also be surprised how effective word-of-mouth marketing and referrals are after you’ve completed an installation in an upscale neighborhood.

YOUR MESSAGE MATTERS

By marketing my expertise as an outdoor lighting designer and highlighting the high-quality fixtures we use, I was able to sell bigger projects to customers who wouldn’t try to haggle down the price. I also received fewer calls from unqualified leads and people who were looking for random electrical work.

YOUR BRAND MATTERS

How you present your company to your clientele is important. When you send out marketing pieces, you only have a few seconds to grab a customer’s attention, so you want to make a good first impression. In my own marketing, I’ve found that professional photography has been an incredible asset. Even if you don’t have a full-time photographer on staff, hiring a professional to go out and take shots of your best installations is worth the investment. Marketing may be a tough game, but it’s a game you can win if you learn who your real customers are, focus on what makes your designs unique, and stay the course.

To learn more about marketing for your business, check out the Sterling Lighting Storefront. It’s an online marketing tool you can use to make quality marketing materials for your business. Check it out and see how it can help your business here. 

Owning An Outdoor Lighting Company: How Many Shoes Are In Your Backseat?

Various Shoes belonging to an outdoor lighting company and its workers sit on a sandy beach.As a business owner, you’ve probably been told that you “wear a lot of hats.” As the owner of an outdoor lighting company, I never really thought about what it meant until the other day when I was heading from a design consultation to a job site. Once I arrived on site, I wanted to change out of my nice dress shoes so they wouldn’t get ruined by the mud. As I reached into the backseat to grab a pair of work boots, I realized they weren’t the only pair of shoes I had on hand. All in all, I had five pairs of shoes in my truck: a pair of dirty New Balance shoes, a pair of nice running shoes, two pairs of work boots, and my dress shoes. 

By the end of the day, I had changed my shoes two more times as I went from a design consultation to a job site to the gym to home. It was then I realized I’m not a man of many hats— I’m a man of many shoes. 

I—like you—am pulled in so many different directions. In the space of a few hours, I can go from looking professional while meeting with a customer to being knee-deep in mud while installing a lighting system, to running around a field while playing “fat guy” softball. Then, to wrap up the day, I make time for a night out with my wife or a playdate with my kids. As business owners, spouses, parents, and more, we need to be experts at managing our time and expectations. It’s easy to run through the day at 180mph, impulsively reacting to every problem that arises. However, this leads to sky-high stress levels, disorganization, and missing out on the most important aspects of our lives. There is still much I have to learn, but these are six lessons I’ve picked up while running an outdoor lighting company that have helped me to better manage my time and responsibilities: 

PLAN YOUR WEEKS ON SUNDAY AND REVIEW EVERY MORNING 

Take 30 minutes each Sunday night to create a plan for the upcoming week. Then take 10 minutes each morning to review your plan. This will help you to stay on top of your schedule and avoid missing important meetings, events, and deadlines. 

HAVE A SYSTEM TO ORGANIZE ALL YOUR TASKS 

The owner of an outdoor lighting company draws a marketing strategy up on a whiteboardClear out the clutter in your mind by writing down your to-do list. Find a reliable place to keep your list like a task manager app, a notebook, or a dry erase board. This will help you organize your thoughts and your tasks. 

IF SOMETHING TAKES LESS THAN 5 MINUTES TO COMPLETE, DO IT NOW

 Now that you have a to-do list, it’s time to get things done. Unfinished tasks are burdensome. Even if your to-do list is a mile long, focus on knocking out the small items before they become overwhelming. 

MAKE TIME FOR THINGS THAT GROW YOUR OUTDOOR LIGHTING COMPANY Schedule time to plan your marketing campaigns, your trade alliances, and your business growth. Difficult customers, tight deadlines, and daily stressors will always demand your time and attention, so it’s important to set aside time to assess your business and make plans for future growth. 

INVEST IN WHAT’S IMPORTANT 

When the pressure is on, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” This simply means that when we’re flying through life at a breakneck speed, we tend to only take care of the most pressing issues that arise. This leads us to neglect other important areas in our lives. So schedule time for your family and friends—even when life gets busy. Time flies by quickly, so it’s important to make time to spend with your loved ones. 

REMEMBER TO REST 

Everyone needs a day to rest and recharge each week, and you’ll perform so much better when you take care of yourself. If you’re anything like me, this may be the hardest advice to take. It’s so easy to neglect rest, but it’s integral to become a well-rounded person. It’s difficult to balance being a business owner of an outdoor lighting company, a husband, and a father. We all have many shoes to fill as business owners, and not a lot of time. However, if we take steps to manage our time better, maybe we can have enough time to throw a pair of golf shoes into the back seat.

If you own your own business and are curious about creating marketing materials, learn more about Sterling Storefront, a customizable marketing tool. Get more information here. 

Landscape Lighting Design: Keeping It Simple

Of all the lessons I’ve learned from running a lighting installation company, one of the most useful has been to keep things simple. From selection to landscape lighting design, I’ve found that the more choices you offer, the more complicated a project can get. By simplifying what my company offers, I’ve made things exponentially easier for myself—and for my customers.A landscape lighting design for a water feature next to a set of stairs

Keep Your Selections Simple

Everyone loves having choices. Walk into any department store and you’ll be met with a couple dozen different options for anything from toothpaste to pillowcases. And with the internet, your options are almost limitless. However, sometimes there’s a drawback to having so many different options to choose from. While it may be impressive to tell your clients they can have their pick of a hundred different path lights, it often draws out the process and makes your customers focus on the wrong thing. Ultimately, you want your customers to be focused on the effect, not the fixture. A landscape lighting design fixture: SL04 Mini Flood Light

Keep Your Fixtures Simple

Before I designed my own line of landscape lighting fixtures, I offered my customers good/better/best options. However, it muddled the water and, again, took my customers’ focus off the effect of lighting on their landscape and home. Instead, they become focused on weighing the pros and cons of more/ less expensive products. As a lighting designer, I want my customers to be confident that I’m offering them the best of everything. The best service. The best product. The best value. That allows them to keep their focus on what’s important: beautiful lighting for their home.

Keep Your Landscape Lighting Designs Simple

Similar to offering a good/better/best option is offering your customers lighting “packages.” While it may seem like a simple solution for your customers and yourself, it really just gives your customers another unnecessary choice to make. Ditch the A, B, and C options. Keep your landscape lighting design simple by listening to what your customers want and working with them to achieve it. Every home and every customer is unique, and by taking the time to understand your customers, you can give them exactly what they’re looking for without complicating the process.

If you’re a contractor looking for quality lighting fixtures for your clients, get in contact with Sterling Lighting for assistance. We’re located in Sterling, VA. You can set up a call here.

Little Things that Make a BIG Difference

When it comes to running a successful business, we often focus on the big things: beautiful designs, quality fixtures, friendly and prompt customer service, etc. However, as important as those things are, there are also small things you can do to help your business thrive. Consider implementing these 5 little ideas, and see the big difference they can make in your business!

Develop a Marketing Strategy

Websites, magazines, direct mail, social media, AdWords… trying to decide when and where to advertise can be overwhelming! And, let’s face it, if you said yes to every marketing agency that called you, you wouldn’t have any money left. Be smart and develop a marketing plan. Figure out when you want to advertise and how much you want to spend, then stick to it. Consistency is key! If you’re only marketing when things are slow and stop marketing when it gets busy, your sales cycle will experience the roller coaster effect. Start marketing today and you’ll bring in those sales you need months down the road.  

Answer the Phone

Think about how much you spend just to get a single call to your business. With that in mind, it’s critical that you have someone there to answer the phone when it rings. You can have the best marketing plan in the world, but if you’re not able to handle answering the phones, you may be throwing away thousands of dollars every year. Consider hiring a receptionist or using a third-party answering service. It will be well worth the investment.

Follow Up

Never underestimate the importance of good communication. Follow up with your clients after your crew has completed their installation or service call. This can take a while, but every time you put yourself or your company in front of your client, it only strengthens that relationship. And following up with every sales call is a must! If you typically give a bid and wait for that potential client to call you back, chances are you are losing sales. Follow up as many times as it takes until they give you a firm yes or no.

Show Your Appreciation

After your work is completed and everything is done, go the extra mile and show your customer how much you appreciate their support. Consider sending gourmet chocolates, Edible Arrangements, a bottle of wine, or some other gift, thanking them for their business. These inexpensive gestures can go a long way.

Ask for Feedback

These days it seems like every receipt has a survey on the bottom. Customer feedback is a great way to help you improve your business, and reviews promote your business and build better leads. You can even use a third party company like Reputation Loop to generate online reviews, fast. The concept is simple: After you complete an installation, your customers receive a quick, easy survey. They respond to questions about their experience with your product/service and, if it’s positive, they’re asked to post a review online. So many customers check reviews before deciding which product or service they’ll go with, so don’t overlook the importance of good reviews!

Our Mission

This article is the second in our series on the building blocks of a successful business. You can read the first article here.

If purpose is your business’ “Why,” then mission is its “How.”

As you may recall from our last issue, purpose sets your business’ direction. It is the driving force behind some of the most important decisions you’ll make as a business owner. However, purpose is not something that can be fulfilled or accomplished. That is why discovering purpose is only the first step. Next, you must craft your company’s mission statement.

Mission is what you use to measure how well you are moving toward your purpose.

Think of purpose as a cardinal direction, such as “West.” You can travel west for an eternity, but it is not a final destination. What measures your success and your impact is not reaching your purpose. Instead, it is the pace at which you travel. Just as you can travel towards West at 1 MPH or 1,000 MPH, your business can move towards its purpose at a slow or fast pace.

Mission is what you use to measure how well you are moving toward your purpose. For example, let’s say your purpose statement is, “We will dazzle our customers with outstanding lighting designs.” Although you have a lot of leeway with that purpose statement, it sets confines and kickstarts discussion about how well you’re doing. Although you’re moving toward your purpose if you work all year and end up dazzling two of your customers, your business won’t be around for long at that pace.

You want your mission to stretch you. This is where your BHAG comes into play. Your Big Hairy Audacious Goal should be something that’s achievable, but also challenges you to work harder and smarter to obtain it. It could include a dollar amount (“Our mission for 2018 is to make $1,000,000 in sales”). It could include a number of installations (“Our mission for 2018 is to complete 300 installations”). There are so many possibilities, but it’s up to you to figure out what’s right for your company.  

Once you have your mission set, you are better equipped to plan out the steps to achieve it. In order to fulfill your mission, you may need to hire more technicians, buy a new truck, or launch a new marketing campaign. After you’ve come up with three or four actionable steps, you’re on your way to effectively completing your mission and pursuing your purpose.

There may be bumps along the way, but when you set goals and you have a clear idea of where you’re going with your business, you’ll be able to achieve more.

Damien Sanchez – Co-Owner

This article appeared in the sixth issue of our newsletter. If you’d like to read more articles like this, visit our NEWSLETTER PAGE and sign up to receive our free newsletter in the mail! 

You Need a Marketing Plan

This article appeared in the sixth issue of our newsletter. If you’d like to read more articles like this, visit our newsletter page and sign up to receive our free newsletter in the mail! 

Very few businesses can succeed (and remain successful) on word of mouth alone, which is why marketing is so important. For small businesses, it is especially important to use your marketing to raise brand awareness and to help you compete against other companies offering similar services. Marketing is essential to growing your business. But where do you begin?

While marketing may seem like a huge—and expensive—task, once you have a plan in place, it becomes much more manageable. A marketing plan is the key to marketing success, and it all starts with establishing a budget.  

The key to marketing success is making a plan and sticking with it!

If you want to see growth in your business, you should plan on budgeting at least 10% of your annual sales on marketing. Some businesses will set aside up to 20% of the annual sales for marketing, but 10% is a good amount when you’re just getting started. Once you have a budget in place, you can start setting goals and dates.

In marketing, timing is everything. Early spring is very effective because homeowners make purchasing decisions based on their income flow and cash availability. In the early spring, many homeowners will be getting tax returns back, which frees them up to spend a little extra on things like outdoor lighting.

Deciding what types of marketing you want to pursue is also important. Although we now live in an age of technology, direct mail is still one of the most effective tools for B2C marketing. According to the Data and Marketing Association, from 2015 to 2016, direct mail customer response rates increased by 43% and customer response rates increased 190%.

Because we’ve seen for ourselves how effective direct mail marketing is, we created Sterling Storefront to help you launch your own direct mail campaign, providing you all the resources you need to get started, including a library of high-quality, professional photos.

Incorporating social media into your marketing is another way to reach thousands of potential customers simply and effectively. One of the reasons social media is such a popular way to market is the ease in which you can interact directly with your customers and target potential new clients.

Video is another effective tool to use on your social media platforms, emails, and website. In a survey of consumers by Animoto, 56% of those surveyed said that if a company has a website, it should have a video. And, in fact, if a company did not have a video, a quarter of those surveyed said they lost interest. Visual content, especially video, should not be overlooked when considering how best to market your services to your customers.

Finally, and this may be the most important thing yet, stick with it. I’ve seen so many lighting professionals start marketing their company and then drop it when they get busy. If you want to see your marketing pay off, don’t stop just because other things pull your attention away. Marketing is too important for you to put it off or quit.

Jim Heim – General Manager

Light Travels: The Florida ASLA Annual Expo and Conference

Last week, our Sales Representative, Scott, and I went down to Florida to attend the Florida ASLA Annual Expo and Conference in Boco Raton, FL. We had a great time connecting with so many talented landscape architects!

Thank you to everyone who stopped by our booth and took the time to talk with us about Sterling Lighting’s fixtures.

 

Scott and Jim at their 2017 FLASLA booth.

 

Jim Heim

General Manager

Announcing Our Photo Contest Winner!

Congratulations to our Sterling Lighting photo contest winner, JJ Parks of Radiant Exterior Lighting! His submission received high marks from our panel of judges for lighting design and photography composition. JJ’s photo also performed well on social media, bringing in 47 likes/retweets across all platforms.

From a design standpoint his entry won for various reasons: The light source is hidden and the light is very even side-to-side. It showcases the different textures of the architecture, especially the stonework on the home’s facade. The lighting also brings out the entrance of the home, making it stand out and adding curb appeal to the property.

Thank you to everyone who submitted photographs for our contest. We love seeing our fixtures in action and were impressed by the high caliber design work!

The winning photo from JJ Parks of Radiant Exterior Lighting!

 

Wrapping Up Our 2017 Photo Contest

Sterling Lighting’s 2017 Photo Contest is officially over! Thank you to everyone who participated in the contest, and we can’t wait to announce the winner on July 10th!

Take a look at the final entries we received:

Entry from J-Squared Outdoor Living and Lighting

Entry from J-Squared Outdoor Living and Lighting

Entry from J-Squared Outdoor Living and Lighting

Entry from J-Squared Outdoor Living and Lighting

Entry from J-Squared Outdoor Living and Lighting

Entry from J-Squared Outdoor Living and Lighting

Entry from NiteLiters

Entry from NiteLiters

Entry from NiteLiters

Entry from NiteLiters

Entry from NiteLiters

Entry from NiteLiters

Entry from NiteLiters

Entry from NiteLiters

Entry from NiteLiters

Entry from NiteLiters

Entry from NiteLiters

Entry from NiteLiters

Entry from NiteLiters

Entry from NiteLiters

Entry from NiteLiters

Entry from NiteLiters

Entry from NiteLiters

 

Don’t forget to check back with us on Monday, July 10th as we announce the winner of Sterling Lighting’s 2017 Photo Contest!