More Leads Online Podcast Episode 001
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Austin (00:01): Mike, what’s up, man?
Mike (00:03): What’s up brother, man. How are ya?
Austin (00:04): Doing well, doing well. How are you?
Mike (00:06): Long time, no see kind of,.
Austin (00:07): Yeah. Yeah. It’s been a number of years.
Mike (00:11): I know. You’ve been off doing your thing for a little bit.
Austin (00:13): Yeah. It’s been a, it’s been an adventure, so sweet. Glad it came a full circle.
Mike (00:18): Yeah.
Austin (00:19): Yeah. So yeah, we got Mike Arnold up here from Creekside Outdoor Living in Crown Point, Indiana. When did you start the company?
Mike (00:31): Uh we started this up around 2008.
Austin (00:33): All right.
Mike (00:34): Tail end of that. Yeah.
Austin (00:35): All right. And it looks like you’re doing a lot of big big contracts now. Things are going pretty well.
Yeah, man. Lord has definitely blessed us quite a bit. We are I don’t know if I ever expected us to be handling the size jobs that we are. But it’s, it’s so much fun. It’s so much fun to watch this company blossom and grow and what we’re capable of doing nowadays.
Austin (01:00): Yeah, man. That’s awesome. Yeah. And I’ve, you know, I’ve probably seen about, I don’t know, half of that now. And so it’s been, it’s been cool to watch.
Mike (01:10): Yeah, that’s right.
Austin (01:11): So just so we have some context, like what services do you guys offer and what do you not offer?
Mike (01:17): Cool. so the company’s is Creekside outdoor living, right? So it has everything to do with the outdoor living experience. So we are facilitating the ideas, the design, the concepts, and then the build for anything that has to be really on the outside livable space, your, your outdoor living room, that’s your outdoor patio kitchen. We don’t do pools. We don’t do swimming pools, but we coordinate a lot with a pool company and design and where the pool should go. All that kind of stuff. Along with the typical lawn cutting. And we have the most, probably the most robust fertilizer program in all Northwest Indiana and then commercial snowplowing. So
Austin (01:58): What’s a, what’s keeping you going during this COVID season,?
Mike (02:01): Quite frankly, frankly, Man, this is a season where, you know, I’m, I’m hurting my heartbreaks for a lot of the people that are without work and are losing their jobs and are furloughed. But we are experiencing a season of growth and prosperity, no doubt because everybody’s at home and, you know, I’ll tell you what the media will want you to think that the world is coming to an end and nobody’s going to spend money with anybody anymore. But people do have money. They’re just a little bit timid to spend it. But I, I am coming across a lot of people who have done a great job of saving up for whatever reason. And they are stuck at home and they’re looking at their property going. This sucks. I want to be able to, if I’m going to be stuck at home, I want to be able to enjoy my property. And so that has resulted in we’re experiencing that the high call volume that spring normally gives a landscape company. And then some of the people who would, would never have thought about doing an outdoor living space are now doing that because I think the vacation budget for most American families is now going to start going into the home to make your sanctuary your safe Haven place. So,
Austin (03:13): Wow, man. Yeah. well, that’s great to hear that you’re that you’re doing well and yeah, I think I think a lot of people are starting to invest in, in their in their sphere. People are thinking about what’s important in life and so that’s, that’s, you know, family time. So that’s cool that you’re tapping into that and helping people achieve that.
Mike (03:36): Absolutely.
Austin (03:36): Um what has been your biggest obstacle to growing the company since you, since you started out?
Mike (03:45): Man, the biggest obstacle, and I’m sure you hear this all the time is people finding the right people, retaining the right people building up the right people and making, making sure that the people that we want here are being nurtured and cultured in a way that they’re a part of the team that are part of the family. And you know, that people always say like good people are hard to find. Right. And I really think, and I’ll, I’ll say this till I’m blue in the face, man, God has blessed me. God has blessed this company. And I thoroughly at times feel underqualified for the position that I am in to have such great, amazing talent underneath me. From the management in the office to the designer that we have to all these people across the board. Um now that I have these key people in place it’s, it’s trying to find a place for the people that are flocking to us now. So it’s no longer really a matter of we have find them, my people gotta find them, but man, we’ve got the right people. And it’s making sure that we’ve got enough work for those people. So you always have that balancing act, right? You build the beast and I gotta feed the beast. You have too much beast and not enough, you know what I mean? And I think that we’re at a really good balance right now. And could even maybe use one or two more people, but we’re at a cozy place. So that’s people, human resources, the answer.
Austin (05:16): Well, man, I love your humility. And like yeah. That’s, that’s so cool. It’s so cool to hear that it’s becoming easy Uh at this point you’re.
Mike (05:32): Easier. Yeah. It’s never, it’s never the easiest thing. That’s why companies have, I now know like companies have entire HR departments.
Austin (05:39): Yeah. Right. So, so how can, how can you help other people that are struggling with that issue tap into, you know, what you’ve accomplished in terms of is it, is it a culture that you’re building within company or is there specific recruiting techniques that you’re using that you, that are just hitting now? What, what what can companies in your field and other fields do to get good help these days?
Mike (06:11): Well the very first place that I usually go is to my own team, right. If I, if I have people on my staff that I have sought out and I want it on my team, or I haven’t fired, that means I want them here. Right. If I want them here, it means I like them. And if I like them, I might like who they like. So I really try to put some trust in the hands of the people that already work here and let that be my first Avenue. Sometimes that comes up dry and that’s okay. And then we got to start looking to other means, right? You’ll man, Craigslist used to be a place that you could go for that. And then you put strict qualifications. Like, you must have this, you must do this. And they go, yeah. I have experience in landscaping. I’ve been working at burger King for the last 10 years and we’re going, you’re not the fit. What are you doing? Applying? You’re wasting my time and yours. But you know, going online is certainly a method. But above all, I mean, you have to be a company that somebody wants to work for . Long gone are the days where somebody is just working for a paycheck. People will now take pay cuts in fact many of my people have taken pay cuts because the workplace was more valuable than the dollar. And so if you can create a place where people want to work and you will be profitable in the area of human resources and getting people on board.
Austin (07:34): Hmm. Yeah, I think that that pretty much leads right into what my next question would be, which is like, what are some specifics? You know, and as a, as, as a former business owner and being involved in management, I think we can get very busy with our own plight and our own stresses. And then not spend a lot of time thinking about what it’s like to work for us. Is there any specifics you can nail down about like what it is that an employee needs from you to love their job and to want to stick around after they’re trained
Mike (08:16): Quite simply, you have to not be an asshole. I mean, honestly, like so many people have come over here because me and my team, aren’t screaming at them and don’t get me wrong, man. I I’ve had my, my weak moments my days where I’m just, I’m frustrated. I don’t understand why it’s taking so long and I’m dying. I’m like, guys, you’ve got to get this done. Like, are we not, are we, what are we doing? Are we taking naps? I’m like, I’ve had my days. It might seem that, you know, they were in this room, they would be shaking their heads yes. But overall, like you, you have to be understanding of what they, the, our workers go through in a day what their mindsets are in. If there’s a level of trust too, that you have to have like you can’t just be, you know, over their shoulder the entire time. And if you do need to do that, then they might not be the right people I used to have to do that. I can’t tell you how many people, I could name 10 people right off the bat that I thought of them. My first thought would be it’s ha it’s funny. I always, I always, whenever I’m uploading a video to like my file folder on my phone, it will, if I, if I go to another app or if I shut my phone off, not much on my phone off, but I’d probably go to something else. It will stop uploading. And I, it’s always funny – I have to be looking at it in order for it to work. And that’s, that’s how it was with a lot of people. Like I had to be looking at it for it to work, lend to work. And I hated that. And I’m like, man, we got to get some better people.
This is, I need some people that have integrity that can be working hard even when I’m not looking or when my project manager is looking.
And we’ve, we’ve found that right balance now, like I, I show up at job sites now I’ll come around the corner. I don’t see a single guy in his phone. I don’t see anybody slacking off, like, they’re, they’re hustling as hard as they were when I was around the corner. So, wow. I think that there has to be a level of trust that you initiate, right? You kind of what are they, what’s the cop turn your guilty until you’re innocent until proven guilty. Yeah. And you kind of, you, you take that approach and you will begin to have your reputation for, because all of our workers talk to the other workers of similar industries. So it starts at a core of just who you are and what you want your management technique to be like, I, I’m using a lot of “I” terms, but it’s a lot of “we”because I’ve got so many, I really don’t do any of the managing of the job sites anymore. Other people do and they are more graceful and more skilled than I am with it. So it’s a very good thing that they’re doing it, but like them, right. They are handling things a great way and that word travels and some other people and other people are then that same day when they hear that they’re going, Oh, I just got screamed at for no good reason by my boss. Wonder it’d be like to switch teams.
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Hmm. So would you say that you would prioritize like integrity and character over experience then?
Mike (11:34): Oh yeah, dude, man, I, I have had people that had all the experience in the world but they were bad apples. They were cancers to the atmosphere and attitude of the company. You can change, you can train a good attitude. You cannot train and work with a bad attitude, man. I, I would rather go out there and sling shovels all day, then be miserable because I have to think about when I wake up in the morning, I have to think about, Oh, I have to go to work today and be around X person, this person, rather than this guy, doesn’t have a lot of experience. But like, man, he makes me laugh.
He’s, he’s super fun to be around and everybody’s happy and smiling, a happy work atmosphere is a hardworking atmosphere. So yeah, absolutely.
Austin (12:20): So it sounds like maybe, you know, how does like intelligence play into that? That might be a bit of a segue, but like, are you looking for some, somebody who first has high character and then hopefully, you know, is Picks up things quickly.
Speaker 2 (12:40): Yeah. I mean, you can’t just hire somebody who is just really good at smiling. Like that’s all, they’re good at work at burger King for that. You gotta, you gotta have the capacity to, to learn and to grow. Right. I mean, we’re always looking at what somebody’s past experiences and we’ll, we’ll give people shots that have no experience because they come in and they’re man, there’s a guy the other day who you sounded great on the phone and you called me personally. And he’s like, man, I’m just having a bad run. Like I I’m, I’m at a hotel. I spent all my last money on this. And I don’t have really much experience of landscaping, but I, I want to get back to my feet and I want to work. And I’m like, my heart’s bleeding and I’m like, I’m calling my manager and I’m like, dude, what do we gotta do? Like, can we, can we get this guy, John? Can we fit him in somewhere? And he’s gotcha. You gave him the opportunity. You didn’t even show up the first day. You know what I mean? So I don’t know yet. It’s, it’s paired like you, you need to have like character, you have to have intelligence it, depending on your industry, right? I mean, I’m sure people are watching this that are from several different industries. Like it’s not just landscaping, but yeah. I mean, you have to have some kind of gauge on intelligence if they don’t have a long list of references and, you know, education or whatever, then it’s a conversation you have to use your best judgment. Like how does this person talk? How, you know, do I feel comfortable going back and forth with them? You know? I don’t know.
Austin (14:16): Yeah. Yeah. I think, I think I think I agree that, you know, you can feel out someone’s character and their, you know, their general aptitude, but then I think the the experience can be almost like a, you know forbidden fruit, you know, it’s like, Oh, I don’t have to train you. But then like, if, if, if the, if the hubris is high and it’s like, you’d rather train somebody and if they are trainable if they, if they are capable of learning Then and they have good character. Yeah. I mean that’s yeah.
Mike (14:58): Cause if you don’t man, you, you just injected a disease that will spread in your company, the negativity.
Yeah. You gotta watch that. Yeah. Elaborate on that a little bit, if you would. Just like how to, how to be aware of that and how to make sure that you’re not that for your own company.
Mike (15:18): Yeah. well that little bit on that last one, you said there, I have negative days and I will leave, honestly, there’ll be days where I’m just in a mood and my my, my general manager he’s, he’s like he’s super near and dear to me, he’s super close to me. And so like, we, we can talk about whatever and he’ll just be like, dude, you’re in a bad mood leave, like just leave. And I’m like, alright. Yeah. Cause I know, I can tell when I’m bringing people down, if I’m having a bad day and, but I mean that on the flip side, the people that are continually that way you can, you know, I mean, if it’s the one person that everybody talks about, right. You know, like if anybody has it, who’s watching this and listening to this right now, there’s one person who’s coming to your mind because you just happen for me. I used to have that one person coming to my mind.
Austin (16:16): And they were good at their job in one regard.
Mike (16:19): Well go to the job, shakes showed up. They weren’t, they were decent. And they were, something was keeping them around. The guy was loyal. He was completely loyal. And I love that about him. He was loyal to me lives with the company, but there you go, right to the attitude, wretched, add to the negative aspect of everything. Everybody’s a, you know, a douche bag, blah, blah, blah. This person’s not doing that. And it’s like, no, no personal responsibility for anything. So,you know, weeding that out. We saw an increase in productivity like math. The mood of the building just skyrocketed. Uand I love the guy. Right. But dude, yeah. It was extenuating circumstances that got him fired. But I mean, if it wasn’t bad, it would have been something else sooner or later. So yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s a must man. Like even if the guy is, is you think he’s your bread and butter, blah, blah, blah. Like, no, you got to find people who take initiative. You gotta find people who have great attitude. We’ll bring up the rest of the company will be a voice of reason and positivity even in the face of challenging circumstances.
Austin (17:33): Wow. That’s good, man. And if you could do one thing differently from the start of your company in Oh eight, what would it be?
Mike (17:48): It’s not really related HR, but it would have been grow smarter. Okay. Grow smarter.
We just kind of would always just take everything that came our way and go, Oh, well, we’ll find out, you know, figure out how to do that. You know how to do it. But we’re like, we’re taking that. We’re taking that too much, grew too fast. Paid the price for that a little bit. We’re, we’re plateaued out now. We’re fine. We’re steady growing now. But you know what, right off the bat and like quality equipment that we need, you know, build the shop that we need and all this kind of stuff. So we were just a little bit overhead having for a while. So yeah, I dunno. I would, I would definitely grow smarter and, and know my numbers a bit more. It wasn’t until like in the last three, four, five years that we really took hard dives into what our costs are, what we need to recover in order to know properly how to price things and and how to plan for it too. So Yeah, that’s about it.
Austin (18:51): No, that’s, that’s good. I I think when you start out, you know, you have all this interest coming in and you’re like, Oh man, things are, things are going well. But if that, if you haven’t really decided like who you are, what you do, what you don’t do, then you’re dividing your efforts, which works well for a little while and then starts to compound.
Mike (19:12): Yeah.
Austin (19:12): Not everyone’s cross trained to do everything and you’re ending up having to be the guy who knows everything. And that, that is, that is, I think that other than good people, that’s the next best next, like huge thing is like, I’m saying no, you know, and, and, and growing
Mike (19:35): Because you don’t want it because if you’re a true entrepreneur to true business person, you look at every opportunity as like I got an opportunity slip or like the, the, the mere thought of saying no to an opportunity is like excruciating. Cause it’s like, dude, that thing came my way. It’s like, it’s like the stock market, you look at stock, right. You’re like opportunity everywhere, but there’s not, you can’t get in on every single one. Like you have to do what you can with your focus and your findings.
Austin (20:04): Yeah. I I had, when I was in own the screen printing business, I I had one situation where like a semi famous man hit me up and asked me to print posters for them. And so like, I was gonna like on the fly, like buy the equipment and do all this stuff. And like, it was like the busiest week of my year. And so I was like, yes, I’ll do it just because of who it was and everything.
Mike (20:32): Oh, no doubt.
Austin (20:33): And then I I’m like, I think 24 hours later, I was like, I’ve made a horrible mistake. So I called the guy back and I’m like, what did like leave a terrible taste in your mouth if I just was straight up with you that like, I should have no to this.
Mike (20:47): I can’t do this. Yeah.
Austin (20:49): And he honestly he was like, honestly, that I think he just won my respect by being able to man up and say that we’re still, we’re still cool. But but it’s so hard. It’s so hard when, when the, when people are flashing opportunities to pare down and, but, but if you go out, they get out of control, it can get pretty stressful. Yeah.
So it was the ability to to have a high output quality, high weight, high quality output. Yeah. You lose the ability to that because you lose your focus.
Austin (21:32): Yup. Yeah. Yeah. When your mind starts to go, the quality starts to go and then you, if you start making excuses, then that’s when you get into proper business ownership.
So you don’t want to do any of that. Yeah. I mean, that’s, that’s great to hear that you’re they’re operating that way. What is something that you wish every homeowner knew?
Mike (21:56): Every homeowner?
Austin (21:57): Yeah.
Mike (22:00): Landscaping costs money. Yeah. Yeah. We, we I’d say one of our, our biggest, I’d say two things. What the first one would be. One of the biggest hurdles that we face is that people have a, especially people who are buying, building new homes, especially those people, because they just got done, got getting upsold by the builder for every little thing for brass doorknobs for the, you know, the touch faucet thing, all that stuff. And they’re like, wow, we are $20,000 higher than we thought it would be. Oh, wait, we need to do the landscaping now. And it’s like eight times out of 10 that people think it’s going to be half of what it actually is. Yeah. We’re any kind of landscape for their lawn establishment for their plantings. And that may they go and up going there bare, bare minimum. Um they allow their builder to do a concrete slab in the back yard that they’re going to have to just tear out one day because they didn’t budget accordingly for a product that will last them a lifetime. Now. so number one, I would say things cost money like our high end landscape type projects. They, they, they cost a buck relatively speaking on. The second thing I would say is there is a very high return on your investment with the type of projects that we are installing.
Austin (23:23): Really.
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Mike (23:24): I think we are like in terms of like an outdoor living space with lighting and kitchen and all that kind of thing, I think we are like number two or number three on the top,utop positive percentage ROI things that you can do for your home right behind like a basement bathroom or something like that. In our area, studies have shown and people have told me that we can expect to earn about a dollar or $2.50 on every dollar that we spend on landscaping. So it is a, a luxury to be able to go outside and spend time on this beautiful patio and spend time around the fire and the kitchen and all that kind of stuff. It is a luxury, but it’s not a luxury like the vehicle that you buy and drive off the lot. I mean, immediately loses value. It’s something that’s going to appreciate over time. It’s going to earn you back a positive percentage in the home value. Uso those would be two key things,ufor any homeowner at anywhere to focus on. I suppose
I, I think if nothing else kind of comes out of this conversation, other than me knowing that that’s awesome. I I’m I’m, I’m like Mr. Frugal now. So yeah, that, that that’s, that speaks to my soul. And also I just love hanging out with friends outside these days, especially with everything that’s going on. Obviously a little bit distant. But when you, like, when you can’t, when you can’t you know, when, when you, when you can’t go do all the things you realize, it didn’t really matter that much anyways, you know, when the business, you know, is in jeopardy or whatever, and everything’s kind of in flux, you realize like, Oh, you know, everything that really matters just is do I have enough to make memories with the people that I care about? And dude, yeah. And so if you’re helping people do that.
Mike (25:25): Contentment is key,.
Austin (25:26): What’s that?
Mike (25:28): Contentment is key.
Austin (25:30): Oh yeah, totally man. Uwell,uwhat, what, what, what comes to mind when you hear the word SEO?
Mike (25:42): Space, energy object, social Enneagram operation. I don’t know. I know.
Austin (25:54): Yeah. do you first off, do you get a ton of solicit solicitation calls from like digital marketing companies?
New Speaker (26:03): Oh yeah, yeah. Oh yeah. At least one a week minimum.
New Speaker (26:06): Really?
New Speaker (26:07): Oh yeah.
New Speaker (26:08): Super spammy.
New Speaker (26:10): Yeah. It’s excessively spammy..
New Speaker (26:12):
Yeah. We’ve got a, we’ve got a bad rap for that. So we’re working on trying to figure out how to either play directly into that issue or, or just, you know, grind out, turning the tide on that. Have you, have you is that, is that a marketing approach that you are using?
Mike (26:37): So, so I really don’t get too crazy into that cause the majority of our leads come from word of mouth. And one thing that I find is when we start pumping any kind of like online advertisement or have like advertisement in the book in the yellow book, which nobody does that anymore. Somebody yeah. Nuts to me, but that’s crazy. We do attract a lot more people who are, they want a landscape job versus they want a Creek job. They want to get eight, nine quotes, which is nuts, even if you are quarantined at home. But those are the kinds of things I feel like when we press that kind of marketing, it attracts those kinds of clients. And that’s not really what we want. We want the people that were referred to us by somebody else that we did a high top notch job for. Yeah, because we know those are, those are people who are serious and they’re the people who, it sounds bad, but waste our time. Then you have to be protective of your time in this industry or you’re never going to get anything done.
Austin (27:40): Yeah. I I’ve had, I’ve had similar experiences with digital marketing. I think once you start opening yourself up to people that you, that don’t know you from Adam there’s like a degree of vetting and customer education that happens when somebody is referred, you know? And so yeah, I think like coupled, you know, if you, if you were to take like the next step and say, Hey, we’re going to scale further than word of mouth could, could, you know, pitch us. You, you, you, you do have to build like qualifiers and customer education into like the first initial steps almost so that a time waster is dissuaded from your company.
Mike (28:38): The other way, the other simpler way to do that is to charge for your consultations. Yeah. Well that, that would be, that would be taboo, but that’s that’s a sure-fire way I know that I’m not going to be wasting my time because if this person ends up, they just want an eight quotes. I’m not going to be the cheapest. And I already know that they already know that. But my time wasn’t wasted and people are serious. That’s, that’s the way to tell who is serious about doing work with us versus they just, they just want, They want the people that want a deal more than they want a good job.
Austin (29:15): Yeah. Would you, would you like, would you ever like refund that if somebody did make a purchase, something like that.
Mike (29:22): Sometimes and that’s, that’s just situational. No, but I mean, I, I do place a high value, a monetary value on my time or on the time of somebody that I send out to be a qualified person, you know what I mean?
Austin (29:40): Yeah. That’s a, that’s a, that’s a good objection. I’ll, I’ll have to take that to the team and come up with some you know, that’s kind of what we’re doing here anyways is I’m trying to, Oh, are you there? Yeah. Yeah. What’d you miss? Yeah. That’s, that’s a good objection. And yeah, that’s kinda what we’re, what we’re trying to do here is it’s one thing to get a bunch of business funnel, then it’s a whole nother thing
for that to be an enjoyable experience. More business isn’t necessarily a good thing. And I know that sounds crazy. But it’s actually easy for us at our company to get people more leads. It’s difficult to qualify those leads or, or have a reciprocal relationship with our clients where those leads are being qualified. And it’s, it’s also difficult. Um just for people to even want to grow and not feel overwhelmed with the work they have to tackle some of these issues we’ve already talked about, about finding good help. And so man, this has been, this has been super awesome. I feel educated and now I have my, my, my mind spinning on, on, on the next things that I want to go try and tackle. Thanks so much man for your time. I really appreciate it.
Mike (31:02): A hundred percent. I appreciate you bringing me on.
Austin (31:04): Yeah, for sure, man. All right. Well, get back to work and go sling some more outdoor living, right?
Mike (31:10): Yeah, man.
Austin (31:11): All right, I’ll see you. Yep. Bye bye.
Owner Creekside Outdoor Living
Creekside Outdoor Living is a comprehensive landscape company serving families and businesses by designing and creating stunning outdoor living spaces, landscape enhancements and providing superior outdoor services throughout Northwest Indiana and Chicagoland For over 15 years.