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  • Writer's pictureEric McQuiston, PLA

Optimizing Efficiency:

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

The Power of Work Areas

Work areas fit together like a puzzle
Work areas fit together like the pieces of a puzzle

As a professional landscape contractor, the ability to estimate and propose projects accurately is a skill that can make or break your business. It's often said that the devil is in the details, and this adage couldn't be more true than when it comes to complex landscape endeavors. Breaking down a project into manageable components not only simplifies the estimation process but also ensures a seamless execution. At the heart of this strategic approach lies the concept of work areas – the unique parts of a project that encompass all the necessary elements and costs required to accomplish specific tasks.


Understanding Work Areas: Building the Project Puzzle

Imagine a jigsaw puzzle, each piece uniquely shaped to fit into the larger picture. Similarly, work areas are the individual pieces that constitute a comprehensive landscape project. These areas are designed to be unique components, distinct from one another and yet essential for the project's entirety. Some of them can stand alone while others are dependent on each other. For instance, proposing a patio without considering the accompanying, and necessary, retaining wall would be akin to trying to fit a puzzle piece to a missing piece. In this scenario, grouping the patio and wall into a singular work area, perhaps named 'Patio Terrace and Seating Wall,' ensures that these interdependent elements are addressed cohesively.

However, not all elements are dependent upon each other. A natural stepping stone walkway leading to the patio terrace could, conceivably, function independently and thereby form its own work area. Likewise, other independent or optional features like pergolas, water features, planting, drainage, irrigation, and lighting can be segregated into separate work areas since they may not be dependent on each other for a successful outcome. This modular approach provides both clarity and flexibility in the estimation process, allowing you, as the contractor, to present your client with a comprehensive, yet, customizable proposal. Make sure when developing your work areas that you understand which are dependent on each other and which can be considered optional. And make sure that the customer understands what work areas are necessary and which are optional.

Putting the Puzzle Together
Putting the Puzzle Together

Defining work areas has the added benefit of clarifying and prioritizing your production. Your crews will appreciate a well defined, and understandable, goal. Setting attainable benchmarks in the overall construction process ensures satisfactory completion of each project component and a feeling of achievement. In addition, clearly defined work areas will provide a logical construction process. Understanding that sub-surface work like drainage or irrigation should be done before surface work like paving can make the construction process more efficient and effective. As a general rule, work areas should by organized in order of completion: sub-surface work first, hardscapes next, and finally softscape, planting, and lighting.


Implementing the Methodology: Crafting Precise Estimates and Proposals

When initiating the planning, design and/or estimating of a new project, the first step is to break the entire project into discernible, and independent, work areas. This process should ideally be considered during the design phase. Each project element – be it hardscapes, carpentry, drainage, irrigation, lighting, or any other aspect – should be identified and delineated. Subsequently, you can estimate the costs for each work area independently, considering factors such as labor, materials, equipment, subcontractor fees, and overhead recovery. Additionally, you might incorporate modifying factors such as risk assessment, site accessibility, and travel expenses into your calculations. Don't forget to include your profit margin in your unit or work area costs at this stage.

The culmination of this meticulous estimation process results in a detailed breakdown of materials, labor, and equipment necessary for each specific portion, or work area, of the job. This will help immeasurably when it comes to project planning. But, more importantly, this itemization essentially becomes your Price – the amount you will charge your client to complete that particular work area of the project. Armed with these clear estimates, you can proceed to develop a comprehensive proposal tailored to your client's needs.

Crafting your Proposal
Crafting your Proposal

Crafting the Perfect Proposal: Communicating Value to Clients

A well-crafted proposal is not just a document; it's a testament to your professionalism and expertise. Begin your proposal with a warm welcome, expressing gratitude for the opportunity to present your services. Briefly outline your qualifications, experience, or your company's mission statement to instill confidence in your potential clients. Then, methodically present each work area in a paragraph or two, providing a detailed description of the tasks to be undertaken, the materials to be used, and the methodology employed. A wise company will save these descriptions as boiler-plate verbiage to be used again in similar situations.

Each work area should be accompanied by a single Price. It is much better to offer a single price for each work area rather than an itemized price. It conveys to the customer that you will accomplish the work that you have described for that particular fee. This avoids argument and contention. If you feel that the customer is the type who wants to negotiate the price down, add a risk factor to your pricing to accommodate this! By adding a 5% (or more) risk factor, you can cover potential cost over-runs and still comfortably offer a 5% discount should that customer prove to be easier than anticipated knowing that it is already built in. Keep in mind that you are not cheating the customer, your price is determined by your costs + your profit, A difficult customer costs more, simple as that. And while some people may think that you are robbing them or they just like negotiating, this can be costly to you and your company. You must accommodate this modifying factor! Add the markup and be prepared to negotiate it or offer it as a discount. It is always easier to negotiate from a position of strength than weakness. If they accept your proposal, as is, with no argument, they are your kind of customer and maybe you could throw in a little unexpected bonus or as we in Louisiana call laigniappe - a little something extra a couple nice container plants or a few extra light fixtures! You will be a hero.

Moreover, consider offering some work areas as optional enhancements to the project, giving clients the freedom to customize their landscaping endeavor further. For instance, a fountain feature could be presented as an optional work area, allowing clients to decide whether they wish to incorporate it into the overall project scope. This is a great way to add value to the project for both you and the client. If their budget is $50,000 then develop a project that can be accomplished for that budget. But, maybe add a $2,000 fountain or a $3,000 lighting solution. Chances are your customer will say go ahead with that and you will have increased your sale and the customer will be much happier with the result!

Communicating confidence and value
Communicating confidence, professionalism and value

Following the detailed breakdown of work areas and their corresponding prices, provide a total cost for the entire project. Conclude the proposal with a heartfelt expression of enthusiasm for the project and a genuine eagerness to collaborate with the client. Your Terms and Conditions should reiterate your commitment to providing all necessary labor, materials, and equipment in a timely and minimally disruptive manner. Request the client's signature as an agreement to the proposal and its payment terms, in most cases this will constitute a biding contract.


Conclusion: Empowering Your Landscape Contracting Business

In the competitive landscape contracting industry, precision and transparency are key. By embracing the concept of work areas and implementing a methodical approach to estimation and proposal writing, you empower your business to thrive. Clients are not just looking for landscapers; they are seeking trusted partners who can transform their visions into reality. By breaking down projects into manageable pieces and communicating the value of each component clearly, you not only streamline your workflow but also build lasting relationships based on trust and professionalism.

~ Eric

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