First, some context. Even before I started my tree care company, ConservaTree, I was unhappy with the standard business model in this trade. You sit around hoping for the phone to ring, you go and meet with a customer who tells you what they want to get done, you give them a price for said work, usually based on some arbitrary hourly rate, and then you hope that they go with you. You churn through customers, constantly looking for the next one. You’re able to make ends meet… maybe, but you never really feel like you’re getting ahead. And then the truck or the chipper breaks down. Sound familiar? We work harder than most tradespeople, so why does it seem like our services are so undervalued? Why are we lumped in with “landscapers” and “grass cutters”?
This standard tree service model is one in which our services are undervalued and everything is about price. Price is the only thing that matters. “Why should I hire you to trim my Copper Beech, when I already got another quote from Beaver Tree Service and they were $100 cheaper?”. Trying to differentiate yourself based primarily on price is the absolute wrong way to run a business. It is a race to the bottom, and as Seth Godin says, “the problem with running a race to the bottom, is that you just might win.” Instead of acting like trusted advisors to our clients and leveraging our specialized knowledge about plants and trees and landscape management, we have commoditized ourselves and our work, and we go around trying to fit everything into nice little boxes. “You want me to deadwood that maple? That will be x amount, sir”. “Raise the canopy on those 3 birch out front? That’s gonna be this much ma’am.”
This business model is reactive. What we need is a proactive business model, one in which the differentiation is not price, but value. We are professionals. We have detailed knowledge about trees and landscapes that a homeowner doesn’t have. So when they call us in, it shouldn’t be them telling us what to do and asking how much it’s going to cost. It should be the other way around! It should start with a good exploratory conversation about their long-term goals for the property in question. What are they trying to achieve 10, 15, 20 years down the road? Once you have had that conversation, at that point then you can start making recommendations to achieve those goals. You tell them what they need, because you are the tree doctor! Right? You know far, far more about trees than they do! You should be the one telling them what they need, not the other way around!
The Bottom Line
If you run a tree service or tree care company, you need to wrap your head around this:
Our business, our actual business, is providing solutions to homeowners and property owners, and those solutions come in the form of tree work. So tree work is a byproduct of our actual business. The actual business is communicating one-on-one with homeowners and property owners, establishing relationships, and providing value and long-term solutions to help them achieve their goals. That is our business. That’s what we do. Tree work, you know: trimming, removals, planting, fertilizing…these things are just a byproduct of that business.
I have something that I need you to read. It is an e-book called Breaking The Time Barrier.
I rarely make recommendations to my audience, but when I do, it is for something that I wholeheartedly believe in. I found this little e-book through Tim Ferriss’s podcast, I read it as fast as I could, and I knew right away that it was spot on, and could help a lot of people in this trade. This short read is specifically for people in a service industry like ours. It was written by Mike McDerment, the co-founder and CEO of Freshbooks. It is distributed for free on their website. The original e-book is 70 pages long, mostly due to formatting and large font size. I spent about 3 hours removing all the formatting and produced a printable version of the full, complete text, which is only 29 pages long. Please, please invest 30-40 minutes to read it. And then re-read it. Seriously. It is fantastic. It will change the way you think about your business. Read it, print it out, pass it along to someone else who could benefit. It might just change the way you think about your business, and the role that we play as professional arborists.
Download as PDF
You can find the original version (70 pages) here.
Praise for Breaking the Time Barrier
“People constantly ask me ‘How can I get a 4-hour workweek with a service business?’ This story is the short answer.”
– Tim Ferriss
Author of the #1 bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek
“Spectacularly simple, remarkably true, for every small business owner who’s determined to grow, Breaking the Time Barrier will work for you!”
– Michael E. Gerber
Best-selling author of The E-Myth Revisited
“This book unlocks the truth about how to build an insanely profitable business.”
– John Jantsch
Best-selling author of Duct Tape Marketing
“In order to understand the difference between time and value, just read Breaking the Time Barrier. In about an hour, Mike McDerment will get you up to speed on the fundamental difference between churning billable hours and delivering value to your clients.”
– Sam Glover
Editor-in-chief of the law practice blog, Lawyerist.com
“Breaking The Time Barrier is a must read for every business owner who’s ever struggled with putting a price tag on their services. If only it would have been around when I started my design studio.”
-Tina Roth Eisenberg
Founder of CreativeMornings, swiss-miss.com
“It’s the eternal struggle of the freelance worker: how do you price your work in a way that’s fair to both you and the client? Nothing less than your career success and personal happiness hinges on this question. Spend an hour with this book, and you’ll come away with a whole new way of looking at your value and your relationship with your clients.”
– Daniel H. Pink
Best-selling author of Drive, A Whole New Mind, and Free Agent Nation
“I urge my friends in public accounting to first read the book and then make sure every one of your small business clients does, too. It could prove to be the most important 30 minutes you invest this year!”
– Gregory L. LaFollette
Climb high, Work smart, Read more.