Q & A: Where to find employees

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Q: Sorry for the lapse, we’re dealing with more employee struggles and we’re down to only 3 employees.  Our most experienced and long term— 20 year! employee is simply unable / unwilling to train and coach new employees in a friendly manner.  He’s churned and burned way too many potentially decent, but not perfect, employee candidates.  We know he needs to go ASAP but he’s our only certified applicator, only one that can prune and perform our other higher profit services.  In the meantime, we’re intending to isolate him as a 1 man team to reduce chances of warding off others, while keeping up with schedules. 

A: Hey- last spring I lost my manager of 10 years, and I only had 1 returning 5 year foreman, and one 2 year experienced laborer without a drivers license.  I fired my office guy, and hired a new manager who had no experience with landscaping (just very driven). We were stacking our one experienced foreman with 4 other inexperienced guys, doing jobs very inefficiently, barely made a dime the first half of the year. In June one of my employees stole one of our trucks and broke the windows out and punched holes in all our trailers with a measuring wheel. Rock bottom. We ended the year doing more sales than we ever have, had a profitable year, have all 9 guys return this spring, and have the best manager I’ve ever had (wish I had him years ago), an experienced, dedicated office lady, and we only lost our mechanic but have 2 promising candidates lined up! Reason I’m saying this is just friggin’ push through it, shit sucks sometimes, but I’d be willing to bet losing your 20 year manager will be a blessing in disguise. Based on what you are saying he’s probably already checked out but just showing up to his “job” and is bringing negative energy to the business. Time for him to go! You got this!

Q: Word of mouth, generous referral bonuses, Craigslist & Indeed are not working!  We can’t get any qualified applicants in the door.  Any ideas?

A: So, a few things- You are hesitant to raise your prices, but if you don’t, I suspect there isn’t too much extra money there to pay your guys competitively.  

Do your customers want a landscaper that shows up to their house each week, and does a good job, reliably? Well, that requires decent equipment, experienced employees, and a owner that is getting compensated fairly to make it worth keeping the business running. Once you know what it costs to keep your equipment reliable, keep your guys around with competitive compensation, and get yourself paid fairly, this is what you need to charge. This is just what it costs to provide the service that your customers want. 

With the new manager, and after what happened last spring, I told my manager listen just pay whatever it costs to keep these good guys around, we can’t run the business without them and we can’t afford to keep retraining and recruiting new guys. We are giving $500 return to work bonuses to everyone (including office lady) and everyone is paid market rates or higher (15-19/hour versus 13-17/hour last year). But you know what? Our two man crew of experienced guys is crushing it on our spring cleanups, getting them done under half the time they took last year!

Second thing is I’ve been to the GIE expo in Kentucky 4 years, and I started noticing common trends from all the classes. And one of the common things was ALWAYS BE RECRUITING. They say treat recruiting like marketing, as in you are always marketing for work so you should always be marketing for employees. Right now, you and every other landscaper is looking for help. So you are competing with everyone who just realized they need help this year. My suggestion would be keep your ads running year round (we refresh our craigslist ads every month, sometimes more frequently). On indeed, don’t waste your money paying for the ads, but make sure to mark them closed then copy and paste and create a new ad. If you leave the old ads indeed will drop them in the search results. I also built a marketing automation so everyone who applies year round goes into our database, then the system automatically texts them throughout the year during critical times asking them if they are still looking for jobs. So start now, run your ads year round!

So that’s to help for the future, but for right now? Have you logged into indeed and messaged all your past applicants (see attached screenshots). Also, the good ones, hand pick and call, our office lady has had a lot of luck with that.

Yards signs- we have had some luck with now hiring lawns signs, stick them out by telephone poles- simple signs “now hiring landscapers xxx-xxx-xxxx”. (100 yard signs for $99 through this link). Also business cards- saying same basic thing- put them out in local stores on bulletin boards. You never know what is going to bite. The best luck would probably be on indeed or craigslist, but contact your past applicants. If you rain craigslist ads last year, search your gmail inbox to try to locate those past leads.

Hope this has been helpful, its not easy! But stick with it your having a tough spring, but just remember you’ll get through it. I can totally relate, been there, you are not alone!

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