For me, 20 years in business, one fundamental thing that has enabled me to get overgrowth plateaus is to focus on what is working and double down on that. So often as business owners, we want to fix what is not working, when in reality you need to look at what is working and do that better.
Your business might be surviving off of Facebook ads or search engine optimization, or cold call sales, whatever it is you need to look at what is working and figure out a way to do it 10 times better. The reality is that you won’t fix what is not working, double down on what is already working.
As a part of my series called “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bryan Clayton, CEO and Co-Founder of GreenPal.
GreenPal is the largest on-demand lawn service platform, matching homeowners with vetted lawn care providers. It’s the most seamless and affordable way to book same day yard services and snow removal across the US, at the touch of a button. The app has over 200,000 active users and completes thousands of transactions every day.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was actually forced in entrepreneurship by my father when he made me mow the neighbors grass on a hot summer day.
He busted in my room and he said “you have a job to do you’re going to go mow the neighbor’s lawn.”
Good thing he did because something about making money for myself and owning my own business really stuck with me.
By the end of that for summer I had over 20 customers in the neighborhood who I was cutting grass for.
Over a 15 year period of time, I built that little lawn mowing business into one of the largest landscaping companies in the state of Tennessee, where I live. I grew it to more than 150 people and over 10 million dollars a year in sales before it was acquired by one of the largest landscaping companies in the United States in 2013.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
A very small mistake in the beginning of our business almost torpedoed it before it even got going.
Our company just passed 20 million in annual revenue but it almost was sunk by a divorce two years ago.
Here’s the story…
I have to admit when I founded my company with my two co-founders four years ago, crafting a buy/sell agreement felt like creating divorce papers on your wedding date just in case you need them later.
Luckily we listened to our counsel and crafted the buy/sell agreement… because fast forward three years later one of my co-founders wanted out of the business because he was getting married and having a child. As it turned out his new wife didn’t want him pursuing his entrepreneurial dreams any longer.
Life happens and you never know what the future holds.
Fortunately in our case we had a stack of documents to go back to and unequivocally discern what he was owed for his portion of the business.
As you can imagine it was a lot less than what he thought and that agreement saved our company.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When I started my first business mowing yards, it was me doing all of the work manually, 13 hours a day.
One thing that got me through the day, each and every day was listening to talk radio on my headphones while mowing yards for my clients. I would listen to Dave Ramsey in the afternoons.
While I must admit, at first his show annoyed me. I thought his advice was condescending and pretentious, but overtime Dave Ramsey‘s advice on how to manage your personal finances debt-free and how to run your business finances in the same fashion were foundational to how I approach building businesses and managing my current business.
Without Dave Ramsey’s mentorship and advice in the early years I wouldn’t have been able to sell my company for eight figures and my existing company wouldn’t be where it’s at today.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Life happens to those while they are making grand plans for it.
To me this quote embodies as an entrepreneur you need to have a bias towards action and if you’re not making continual improvement on your goals, then years will pass you by and you won’t get anywhere with your business.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
GreenPal is the easiest way in the world for a homeowner to hire a lawn mowing service to cut their grass at a great price, even if their lawn is over 4 feet tall.
Homeowners sign up in a matter of minutes and get competitive bids from local lawn mowing services that are competing over their grass cutting service.
They can then read reviews and hire the lawn care company they want to work with in a snap with our app.
GreenPal enables homeowners to get done at minutes would normally take hours or days.
GreenPal currently has several hundred of thousands homeowners using the app and powering over 30 million dollars a year annual revenue of grass cutting services nationwide in the United States.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I believe to build a successful company and create a new product from scratch, you have to be the best in the world at something.
The GreenPal app focuses on one thing and that’s making hiring a grass cutting service simple.
The GreenPal app is the easiest way in the world for a homeowner to get hooked up with a great local lawn mowing service in their neighborhood, at the best possible price to come and mow their grass in the same day.
Normally a homeowner would have to call around, leave a bunch of voicemails and wait for returned phone calls. Then they would need to meet people in their yard, haggle over prices/services and then manually pay them.
With the GreenPal app, everything happens seamlessly, magically with a touch of a button.
When you first started the business, what drove you, what was your primary motivation?
I founded my first company, Peach Tree Inc. while in college. Over the course of 15 years, my team and I grew the company from 1 to 150 employees with annual revenue of 10M, and ultimately was acquired by a national organization.
On the second go around, building my second company — GreenPal, I wanted to build it with the emphasis of helping other small business owners. I wanted to create a marketplace that would give them an opportunity and a chance to grow their business just like I did.
The GreenPal platform enables a hardworking, skilled lawn care operator to grow his business by off-loading to us sales, marketing, account receivables and bookkeeping.
This frees them up to focus on their craft, creating well maintained landscapes. We relieve lawn mowing services of these burdens by bringing them new customers and making sure they maintain a solid stream of cash flow by getting his invoices paid within 24 hours for the work they complete.
All of the participants on our platform are small business owners. Some call them micro-preneurs in the new sharing economy, but we believe they each embody the essence of entrepreneurship owning and operating their own business. Each is a unique small business with a 100 different problems going on every day. Our job is to make their life a little better by helping with the major problems they face such as getting new customers and effectively managing accounts receivable.
At the end of the day helping hard-working lawn care professionals grow their business is why we do what we do.
What drives you now? Is it the same? Did it change? Can you explain what you mean?
What drives me and my team today is helping small business owners materially improve their lives by giving them access to opportunities to grow their business, I love it when a vendor shares a story about saving their house from foreclosure or buying a new truck. It makes running the business a lot of fun.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, we are working on an instant book option that enables homeowners to hire their lawn care service professional without having to wait for quotes. This will help double the bookings of the lawn mowing services that use our platform.
The topic of this series is ‘Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue’. Congratulations! Seven figures is really a huge milestone. In your experience what was the most difficult part of being able to hit your first million-dollars in sales revenue?
One of the most difficult things is creating a sales engine at the core of your business. What I have found works is to look at what is working and double down on what is already working.
I have made countless mistakes trying to fix channels and marketing efforts that weren’t working and ignoring the few things that were working.
In our case we have doubled down on organic search engine optimization and that constitutes 50% of the user acquisition that we get for the GreenPal app.
Could you share the number one sales strategy that you found helpful to help you reach this milestone?
Look at the unique data that your business creates, and then leverage that data to create stories, craft articles and white papers to pitch to your local media.
Local media loves data and loves unique stories.
When you do this, it informs your search engine optimization strategy and improves your page rank which enables you to essentially get more customers for free.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you or your team made during a sales process? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In the early days of GreenPal we didn’t have a search engine optimization strategy and so we passed out door hangers as a way to get the word out about the GreenPal app.
One of our early customers found us from one of those door hangers and still uses the app to this day.
He said he tried out the app because he felt bad because he saw on his ring door camera that his dog bit me when I was hanging a door hanger on his front door.
Moral of the story is that you have to hustle up your first hundred customers by any means necessary even if it means getting bit by a dog.
Does your company have a sales team? If yes, do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
Our company acquires the majority of our homeowners organically through local search engine optimization. So we have a search engine optimization team but we don’t have any direct sales teams.
You have to learn what channels work for your business, and for our business a direct sales team to sell a 27 dollars lawn mowing just doesn’t add up.
However in some businesses you have to have a direct sales team to concierge customers onto your platform.
It really helps to test out direct sales and self-serve sales and figure out what works for your business.
What would you advise to another business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
For me, 20 years in business, one fundamental thing that has enabled me to get overgrowth plateaus is to focus on what is working and double down on that.
So often as business owners, we want to fix what is not working, when in reality you need to look at what is working and do that better.
Your business might be surviving off of Facebook ads or search engine optimization, or cold call sales, whatever it is you need to look at what is working and figure out a way to do it 10 times better.
The reality is that you won’t fix what is not working, double down on what is already working.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
In the early years we passed out door hangers to get the word out about our business.
We got our first several hundred customers that way, then we met with every one of those clients and asked them how they normally solve the problem of looking for a lawn mowing service to come take care of their yard maintenance.
The answer we came across more often was that people were finding their lawn mowing services from basic Google searches.
That was a key insight for us and we decided to bet the company on Google search engine optimization as a way to acquire new customers.
When it comes to competing in organic SEO, it really is a bet the company decision and you have to throw the entire company’s weight into that one channel.
But if you can compete to succeed in Google search optimization, it can prove as a competitive advantage and a renewable resource for getting new clients for years to come.
Based on your experience, can you share a few strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
Always do business with yourself.
And by that I mean, you need to sign up for your product at least once a week and experience what your customer is experiencing.
So often when we are running businesses we get lost in company logic and forget customer logic.
Doing business with yourself always closes the gap between company logic and customer logic, sheds light on where your business needs to improve and where you have unneeded friction between your customer and your company.
No matter if you own a hair salon or the next hot technology start up, doing business with yourself on a weekly basis will always help point you in the right direction of where your company needs to focus on improving.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
Our business revolves around intercom.com for capturing our customer analytics and making them actionable.
We have seen compounding improvements in customer activation by sending timely emails and in app messages when a customer has received custom quotes from our community of lawn service providers but have yet to pick one.
We send that data to intercom’s platform and then intercom recognizes when the user needs the message.
We also use Intercom to improve our customer retention by tracking what we call “red flag metrics”.
This is when a customer has gone longer than 14 days without a mowing service and we can sign them up for a series of touch points which include follow up emails and mobile app push notifications prompting them to come back and schedule more visits.
The amazing thing is that we simply send the customer data to intercom and then intercom effectively sends the messages out at optimal times.
Intercom has been an integral part of enhancing our customer lifecycle touch points and improving the effectiveness of our customer journey.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Our platform enables thousands of small business owners the ability to double their business in the first year of plugging into the GreenPal platform to run their lawn care service.
One of the things we take pride in is enabling minority owned businesses the ability to grow their business easier and giving them better access to the American dream.
That is a passion of our business and why we do what we do.
If we could inspire a movement, it would be for more platforms like ours to lower the barriers to entry for small business owners and particularly minority business owners. Giving them access to business ownership to improve their position in life, a means to earn material income while owning and operating their own business.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would love to have lunch with Andrew Chen, he was one of the first early innovators in growth hacking and growth marketing.
Currently he is a venture capitalist advising startups on how to grow their business through digital channels
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!