There’s no guarantee of success when you go into the landscaping business for yourself. Most of us understand that right out of the gate. We tend to focus on the possibilities of high rewards with hard work plus creative thinking and ignore the risk of failure. You saw…and you believed there was an opportunity for you to succeed!

This is good for our macro economy. Small business is the economic engine of capitalism. Small business, in our view, is freedom! We are glad you are somewhere on this journey pursuing freedom as we discuss the subject of Getting Better Landscape Employees.

Think about it.  There’s no guarantee that you will be successful hiring employees. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hire them! Nope, your future success is directly tied to how effective you become as a recruiter and manager of employees.  It doesn’t matter if you are hiring and managing the industry average six employees inside your business or if you grow your company to the top 5% in our industry and you employ 100 landscape employees…you’ve got to improve your human resource management skills over time.

We’ve learned that employee recruiting and employee management gets a little bit easier when you have a well-thought-out employee management plan. In this book, we’re laying out a plan that we wish we would have been given in the early days as a business owner. We base this series of recommendations on real-life recruiting, hiring, training and retaining a blue-collar workforce.

We acknowledge that these practices may seem pretty basic for a person highly trained in Human Resource Management. That’s okay. We also know that the vast majority of our clients – lawn and landscape business owners – didn’t get a degree or certification in HR management.  Therefore, we share the following with the hope of closing a gap in business education for lawn and landscape business owners.

We’re dealing with a problem that has existed since the dawn of time. That’s right. There has always been a challenge for business owners to find, recruit, train and retain good employees. The problem seems to have been amplified when our leaders invented the Covert-19 pandemic. (Not a misspelling. That’s sarcasm and disgust with the whole Covid-19 thing.) Instantly, within just a few weeks, the government poured money into the pockets of displaced workers. Money came without work. Workers were quickly segmented as “essential” or “”non-essential”. With that…the relationship between employers and employees changed…for at least a decade or so.

Since 2020, we hear non-stop bitching, moaning and complaining about employees. This author has witnessed employers standing directly in front of their employees telling the story that “no one wants to work” or “you can’t find good help anymore” or “the only thing employees do is play on their phones”.

How in the world can you expect to find “good help” or to ‘keep good help” if you are going around with the negative talk? You can’t! So please…if you find yourself doing this, stop it! Just quit it cold turkey. Live with the body shakes or speech impediments you may acquire as you suffer through the withdrawal symptoms!

Your responsibility as an employer is to always be recruiting, then teaching. This job NEVER ends…unless your business ends or you die! Get it?

We want you to be a successful lawn and landscape business owner. So we are laying out a very simple but very effective way for small business owners to create opportunities for their workers. Really. It doesn’t matter if you have a handful of employees or scores of employees. This is a strategy that works regardless of the outside economy or the size of business.

Creating Opportunities for Employee Growth:

  1. Adopt a simple, 3-part strategy to increase employee pay
  2. Always reward education
  3. Encourage and explain advancement

Let’s discuss each of these ideas in detail.

Regardless if you are trying to recruit new workers or keep the best workers, the subject of pay is an important subject. There seems to be a conflict between employers and employees.

Employees want more money. Employers would rather pay less money. This applies in the vast majority of cases. Now, I have to admit, there have been three, but only three, very rare cases where employees have requested LESS MONEY. We’ll discuss these three cases in a few moments. This way you’ll be prepared to be the best HR manager regardless of your situation.

3-part strategy to increase employee pay

The data released from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the average tenure of a USA employee to be 4.1 years. We believe that if you are keeping your workers 4 years or so, you’re about average. If you keep them for less than four years, you’ll need to re-evaluate your human resource practices. If you keep people longer than four years, you’re probably doing things right…but you might be overpaying your people. So figure out what your retention record is so you can benchmark your company. Generally speaking, the longer someone stays with you, the more money they earn. Simple idea right?

Next, every single year, inflation erodes the purchasing power of the almighty dollar. The longer an employee stays with you, the more likely they will need to get pay increases just to maintain their standard of living.

As employers, we must look at the inflation data with a careful and watchful eye. Historically, inflation was rolling along around 2-3% per year. So employers (including government agencies) increased their worker pay by 2-3% per year. We call this a Cost of Living (COL) adjustment. Every employer needs to understand that giving our employees a COL increase is a responsible way to help retain those we would like to keep. Think of the COL as an annual pay raise that someone is given if they are doing their job in an acceptable manner and you want to keep them in your company.

We’ve helped more than four hundred lawn and landscape business owners set up their annual compensation plans as they attend our Profit Builder training course. So consider the situation where the business owner is planning the pay scale for the upcoming season. If he fails to include COL pay increases for his staff, his pay scale falls below that of his competition. This makes it harder to keep good employees. We highly recommend that you adopt the practice of increasing employee pay with inflation.

As we write this book, inflation is running around 8-10%. Therefore, cost of living pay raises MUST be inline with the inflation rate. But here’s the way we recommend you play this increase. We’ve found that providing four small pay increases, say once per quarter, does a better job retaining workers than providing ONE big COL increase. Sure, this is a small detail. But the results can be quite big. Just to make sure we are clear on this subject, here’s an example.

Jimmy is making $20/hour. Rather than give Jimmy a 10% COL and increase him to $22/hour on his anniversary date, consider the increase plan below.

  • March 15 – increase 3% or .60/hour to $20.60
  • June 15 – increase 3% or .62/hour to $21.22
  • August 15 – increase 2% or .42/hour to $21.64
  • November 1 – increase 2% or .43/hour to $22.07

We often hear comments like, “Are you kidding me? You really think giving a forty-two cent per hour pay raise is going to keep someone around? My experience is very clear. Giving out frequent, small raises to keep employee’s pay indexing upward with actual inflation will retain employees better than once a year cost of living increases. Test it for yourself and see.

Review the tenure of your employees after following our recommendation for a couple of years and see for yourself. Human resource managers know that small frequent raises help keep people around. We believe that most lawn and landscape business owners fail to follow this simple plan year after year. Then, unfortunately, they suffer with higher than necessary turnover and higher (than necessary) wages.

The cost of living wage increase is one of three important tools to help you arrive at the right wage rate for your team. Here’s what you need to know next.

Always Reward Education

Your employees are people that want to have hope that their future is going to be better than their past. From our early days of grammar school, we are told story after story about the bad kids who made poor grades or dropped out of school. Those without an education find life to be hard. It’s 100% true. Many with a poor (or incomplete) education are trapped in poverty.

We have been told, as long as we can remember, that when you get that “diploma”, life will be better. All of us buy into this idea. Remember this rule if you want to keep a good employee.

You MUST IMMEDIATELY recognize ANY employee who graduates and gets a diploma with higher pay. Those who embrace education and demonstrate the stamina to get a diploma are expecting personal growth. If you fail to give it to them, let me assure you…another employer will.

It does not matter if the diploma is from a high school, technical school or university, that piece of paper matters. It does not matter if a person attends an industry specific seminar and receives a “certification” or a “license”, that piece of paper matters. You must recognize this, plan for this and respect this system of reward.

Yep, this is built into our society. Your job is to support the system of HOPE that is woven into our society via the education system. When they graduate, you instantly recognize it by increasing their pay. Got it? I hope so.

The next question we usually get from employers is something like this, “How much of an increase should I give when they receive _________ (fill in the blank)?” Our answer is not an exact answer, but more of a method of thinking about how you will approach the pay increase when someone graduates.

Here’s an example of how we have created hope while encouraging education in our companies the past three plus decades.

At Bass Custom Landscapes we encourage and reward education achievements with higher pay. While working at our company, you are eligible to receive an increase in pay when you graduate or become certified in approved training. We currently have five approved lawn and landscape industry certification programs. These certification programs range in cost from $100 to $500 per program. When you graduate or pass your certification, the company will reimburse you for the cost of the training program. Then, you instantly increase your annual pay by $2000 per year. This means you could increase your pay by $10,000 per year while working in the position you are working in today, as long as you increase your education.

Please keep in mind that our example is not intended to put a price tag on a high school diploma, a university degree or an industry certification or license. Our goal is make you aware that education matters. The better educated your workforce, the better prepared they are to serve your customers and clients. That’s a good thing.

We’ve heard the naysayers over the years. They say, “If we pay them to get training, they just leave and go somewhere else for higher pay.”

Yes, we agree. We also HOPE the place they go is a new place inside YOUR company. Here’s the big reason you must encourage education while folks work inside your company.

Encourage and explain advancement

As employers, we need to play a little game. The game says that if you follow these rules, you can win. Let’s share an example for one popular job in the lawn industry. Consider the following a career path you can explain to new employees.

The entry level lawn maintenance technician is a great place to start as we describe the journey for advancement. The lawn maintenance technician level one learns the least complicated job first. They learn how to use the “bucket”. The “bucket” is the tool you use when you walk around the yard or the parking lot and pick up trash or debris that could be dangerous for a lawn mower to hit or disagreeable for our customers to look at after we have made a successful lawn maintenance visit. To earn your starting wages, and keep your current job, you must first demonstrate dependability using the bucket. When you have demonstrated success using the bucket, you can advance to power tools.

The lawn maintenance technician level one will receive training on using the following tools: shovel, rake, broom, string trimmer, stick edger, push mower, and back pack blower. When you have demonstrated safe and efficient use of these tools, you will be eligible to advance to lawn maintenance technician level 2. Your assigned training crew leader will teach you then evaluate your ability to learn the tools listed above.

Each time you advance in position, you become eligible for an increase in pay. The speed in which you advance in position varies from team member to team member, but most are able to advance in position within one to six months of start while working in our company.

Team members who demonstrate they are safe an efficient using these tools become eligible to pursue the lawn maintenance technician level 3 designation. During this phase of your training, you will be trained and evaluated using the following tools: step ladder, walk behind lawn mower, zero turn riding mower, and ride on blower. You will continue to be evaluated on the work you were trained on during level one and level two training. As you demonstrate consistency and dependability as lawn maintenance technician level 3, you will become eligible for promotion to the lawn maintenance lead technician.

The lawn maintenance lead technician must advise their training supervisor they wish to advance in the company. They must then bring a copy of their motor vehicle report (MVR) to our company for evaluation. The applicant’s MVR will be submitted to our commercial insurance provider for review. While your driving record and approval from our insurance carrier is underway, you begin to receive training on the following: customer service, pesticide safety, job records, incident reporting, employee recruiting and customer recruiting.

Our goal is that employees willing to learn will embrace the idea that you can advance from a lawn maintenance technician level 1 to a lawn maintenance crew leader in a season or so. It’s pretty common for our team members to see their pay increase each time they advance in responsibilities. We like to encourage our team members to pay careful attention for job openings inside our company. We want you to move up in responsibility as quickly as possible while we operate safe and efficient job sites.

Please note, a good driving record and acceptance by our insurance carrier is a requirement to advance to a lawn maintenance crew leader.

We could go on describing the career path for the landscape installation technician, the hardscape installation technician, the lawn care technician, the landscape installation crew leader, the lawn maintenance crew leader, the hardscape installation crew leader, the irrigation technician and so on..but we think you can get the point here. Details matter!

Every time your company grows, you are creating opportunities for advancement. That’s a good thing for everyone who joins your company.

The entire game starts with YOU making this advancement game real inside your company. Until YOU believe in these ideas with your whole heart, then put these ideas into practice inside your company, you’ll be stuck bitching, moaning and complaining about employees.

We don’t care if you have a handful of employees or you are on your way to hundreds of employees, this is a plan that will serve you well.

We are here to tell you, being an employer is not easy. It’s much easier to explain this to you on these pages than it will be for you to build out this system inside your company. The only reason we can explain it to you is because we have done it. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt it’s possible for you to do it as well. For those committed to a wealthy future from landscaping, you’ll appreciate these human resource management tools.

So let’s review the plan. Repeat after me:

I will Create Opportunities for Employee Growth by

  1. Adopting a simple, 3-part strategy to increase employee pay
  2. Always rewarding education
  3. Encouraging and explaining advancement

Are you feeling better about your future working with employees? We hope you are.

As you get your employee systems built out as described, you’ll be ready for one of the best parts of being an employer. Get ready to discuss the Internship Program Strategy.

Tony Bass is the founder and CEO at Super Lawn Technologies. He bases his counsel and recommendations on his experience being an employer of blue collar workers for over three decades. He is the founder and often the lead instructor at the Profit Builder Training events for lawn and landscape business owners. He is the co-author of The E-Myth Landscape Contractor: Why Most Landscaping Companies Don’t Work and What to Do About It. He can be reached at .