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.