Saturday, July 20, 2024
The ‘Australian Idyll’ Show Garden at this year’s Melbourne International Flower & Garden Show (Image: Platylobium Landscape Design)
Landscape

How to outsource to outshine your competitors

By Gabrielle Stannus

Whether you design, construct, or maintain landscapes, you cannot wear every hat all the time. Using other professionals who are experts in their trade can save you time and money, and help your business reach its full potential. I spoke with Nadia Cole (Platylobium Landscape Design) and Matt James (Atlas Concrete and Landscapes), who advised me to do what you are good at and outsource the rest!

I first met Nadia and Matt at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show in March. They were enjoying the attention that they were receiving for ‘Australian Idyll’, the Show Garden for which they jointly received a Silver Show Garden award (see my May article ‘Four New Australian Idylls’). I was struck by the ease with which this landscape designer and landscaper worked together, and wanted to know how they made the partnership and their respective businesses tick.

Both Nadia and Matt said they are not afraid to outsource work when they need to, including for their Show Garden. “The first thing we outsourced was a site survey with a surveyor,” explains Nadia. “We did the design, we got him out and took some levels using the laser level on site, which gave us a really good idea. But the surveyor did a site survey, got all the contours and the change of heights because that was quite significant (for our site) at the show, and then put it back into CAD. Then we did our design and then he went out and marked our design on top of the geotech fab before we started building. It would have been impossible to get that done practically with a tape measure, and it would have been a nightmare. We would have been there all day!” says Nadia.

As we continued our conversation, I quickly found out that Matt and Nadia outsource many other tasks to help them design and construct landscapes, and to grow their businesses.

DESIGN SERVICES

How do you keep up with the latest innovations and technology in the design world as it moves further into the digital space, and get the best of what is on offer without necessarily having the skills, or time to learn them?

3D Visualisations

Nadia has outsourced some specialist design skills, including 3D visualisations. “Initially, when we were growing the business, we outsourced the 3D. As we grew, we were then able to hire and upskill the team where we are now fully able to prepare 3D landscape design, including topography, in-house.” My partner Ludovic has created and sold 3D models of indoor plants to designers wanting to use them in their 3D visualisations. If you want a niche task completed, you only need to Google it mate – there are some people with unique skills out there!

Landscape Architects

Nadia engages a qualified landscape architect on an as needs basis for her high-end, more complicated projects. “She has got that much experience, years of valuable experience. She is great. She will just come in and work when we need her,” says Nadia. Top notch knowledge when you need it most – a very smart use of time.

LANDSCAPING SERVICES

Need some new tools or equipment to construct your next landscape but are not ready to buy or teach your employees how to use or maintain them just yet? Smart employers will hire the machinery and tools they need, knowing they can also come with experienced operators to whom they can leave the hard work.

Nadia Cole and Matt James on site at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show 2024 (Image: Platylobium Landscape Design)
Nadia Cole and Matt James on site at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show 2024 (Image: Platylobium Landscape Design)

Pools

As a landscaper, Matt is confident in the skills he has learnt plying his trade and knows when not to overextend himself. “When it comes to pools, we definitely outsource that and leave it to the experts. We are comfortable with the aspects of landscaping that we do, and we know we can produce an excellent outcome for our clients,” says Matt of this decision.

Concrete sealing

Matt also outsources the sealing of all the concrete and paving his team installs. “We have one guy who does all our paving, and he has got specialist equipment. And the same with our concrete; we have a company that will follow up after we pour the concrete. They come in and put all the expansion cuts in, do all our acid washing and then seal the concrete,” says Matt.

Equipment hire

Given the nature and maturity of his business, Matt prefers to own his equipment to get his work done. However, both Matt and Nadia acknowledge the benefits of equipment hire, especially for those newer to the industry or considering branching out into a new service delivery arm. They both make use of equipment hire services for one-off jobs and special occasions, such as the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show where they hired a large excavator to help them lay out their “Australian Idyll” Show Garden. Nadia hires a truck to transport plants, pots and other materials when doing plant installations. “If it is something that you are not using every day, it is not worth investing in that piece of equipment,” says Matt.

Nadia and Matt hired a large excavator to move material around their ‘Australian Idyll’ Show Garden at this year’s Melbourne International Flower & Garden Show. The longer reach of this machine meant it did not have to move as much around the site, therefore minimising compaction at this heritage site (Image: Platylobium Landscape Design)
Nadia and Matt hired a large excavator to move material around their ‘Australian Idyll’ Show Garden at this year’s Melbourne International Flower & Garden Show. The longer reach of this machine meant it did not have to move as much around the site, therefore minimising compaction at this heritage site (Image: Platylobium Landscape Design)

Purchasing power

Trying to haggle for the best price on materials? According to Matt, you can outsource that work too! Matt said that he is a member of Trade Alliance Group, essentially a group buying scheme for landscapers, builders, and carpenters, concreters, and other tradies. “It is about the smaller guys being able to work together to get better pricing on timber, concrete reinforcing, and different materials because the smaller guy, because their volumes are smaller, they do not get that better price.”

BUSINESS GROWTH

Accounting and bookkeeping

Many of you are probably adept with a spreadsheet and online invoicing and billing software. However, outsourcing your business’ financial work to an accountant or bookkeeper can save you time and help your business to become more profitable. I remember the very first time I met with our business accountant – who made us money before we had even finished our first meeting. Both Nadia and Matt outsource financial tasks to the professionals.

“I have a good accountant. They have been great,” says Nadia of the person who helped her through a bumpy start to the year. In addition to helping Nadia track her finances, the accounting agency has also helped promote her business: “They have put me on their podcast, visited us at the Garden Show, posted about us on Instagram and put us on their website. Not only do they do our bookkeeping, but they also provide me with advice on how to improve and grow the business.”

“All of our accounting is outsourced, and we have engaged a bookkeeping company. They reconcile virtually every receipt, and they are absolutely brutal on us,” Matt says jokingly, “At end of the month they will just send us a spreadsheet of the missing receipts and we get pretty much grilled!”

Given so much accounting and bookkeeping is now done electronically, it can be very easy to find a business online who can help you and matches your business values. In my last job, we used an agency who could work remotely and provide those services we needed using online programs, without us ever having to meet with them in person. Another huge time saver!

Information technology

Nadia also outsources information technology (IT) management. Having learnt from experience, this is another area of work that I highly recommend landscape businesses outsource to the professionals. My partner, who is usually technologically adept, realised recently that it was taking him way too much time to resolve an issue we were experiencing with our server; time that he could better spend on our ‘bread and butter’ work, i.e. design. So, he called a computer business that provided online assistance to solve the problem without him having to lug our hard drive and computers almost 50 kilometres to Launceston to find a solution.

Website / social media

Nadia is no stranger to IT however, having built her own website after teaching herself how to do it on Squarespace. “It has been awesome. I am sure a professional could probably do it better, but it works well now,” says Nadia. Currently, all her work comes via Instagram or word of mouth. However, getting traffic to her website has proved a little more complicated than she first imagined, so she is in the process of outsourcing some search engine optimisation (SEO) work. “I had a go writing all these words and sentences that sit behind the SEO. But I thought to myself that someone can do this a lot better than me. I am potentially missing out on a huge market there, especially with the older generation who will look at a website or search in Google (for design services), while they will not search through hashtags on Instagram,” Nadia explains. I bet most of you reading this did not enter the landscape industry to become good at search engine optimisation! Why not outsource this work to someone else who can complete the task more efficiently and effectively in a shorter time frame. While you are at, why not search for some communications help with your website and social media too?

Photography

Landscape design is a visual medium. It pays to have good images to promote your work, so consider the benefits of outsourcing that work too. “We just started using a great guy who has come from photographing motor sport. He is doing our reels and drone footage, and he also photographed our display for the Garden Show,” says Nadia, “It is a much more professional output than an iPhone photo or a reel that we put together. I think to have this work professionally done and put together; it puts you into that next bracket promoting your business. You are only as good as the photos (of your work) from a marketing perspective, the content that you can put out there.” My tip: Make those images work hard across multiple platforms – they are your hero content.

THE FINAL WORD

“Matt and I are very conscious about building good relationships,” says Nadia, “You are only as good as the staff that you have got and the people that you outsource work to. My staff and my business, and the people that I outsource to are my business. Without them, I would not have a business. So, you have got to do the right thing by them.” Wise words indeed! Look after the people to whom you outsource work, and they will look after you and your business.

Gabrielle Stannus

Inwardout Studio

M: 0400 431 277

E: gabrielle@inwardoutstudio.com

Leave a Reply