Back to Business Basics: The ABC’s of Keeping Your Cool as a Small Business Owner

It’s a new year and things are more hectic than ever.  We are all juggling work and home.  Live and news is coming at us at warped speeds.   It’s time to find our center.  My focus this here will be on simple and smart business management skills for green industry leaders.


As small business owners we offer over complicate the situation. Admit it – it stresses us out.  I took that to heart and am came up with 26 simple reminders on how to “kiss”it – keep it simple seriously!   In the spring of 2015, I published the following list in the newsletter of one of the associations I lead. With a new year ahead – I thought it would be apropos to start off with my ABC’s of practical business management.


Business ManagementAccidents happen. Learn from them.  Find the teachable moment and allow the crew to share their thoughts. Ask the question “what could have been done differently?”

Be fair and equitable.   Treat employees equal.  Makes sure that you have policies and procedures in place that outline expectations and standards and stick to them!

Create a healthy corporate culture. Develop a culture that encourages growth and learning.  Encourage crews to work together to establish trust and respect for their craft.  Share stories of where the organization began.  Make sure to include both “heroes” and teachable moments.

Discover nature. After all – this is the tree and landscape industry.  Don’t lose sight of what you love about trees – As Dr. Alex Shigo would say “touch trees!”

Encourage employees to grow.  The best “labor pool” is already on your payroll.  Setting a path of key achievements to take an employee from ground worker up is a great way to build a loyal, experienced workforce.

Face the facts. There will be times when a new hire or a new client is just not the right fit – don’t be afraid to cut the cord.

Give back. Get involved in your community.  Take information about trees and their care to a local farmers market and set up an “ask the Arborist” table.  Everything you need can be found at  Your local chamber of commerce would love a fresh face on their team.

Have fun.   All work and no play – is just no fun.   Find a way to build some fun into your safety meetings.  Or incorporate a social outing into the calendar.  As simple as a picnic in a local park to taking in a ball game as a group builds loyalty and collaboration within the team. 

Invite learning. Every expert was once a beginner. Introduce your new employees to the training programs available not only in house in the industry as well.

Join a committee.   Get involved in the industry and participate in your community’s growth.  I have met some of my best friends (including my husband) working on a committee with International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).

Know your crews.  Keep track of employee’s personal information. Ask about their families and congratulation them on personal achievements.  Monitor their strengths and weaknesses to keep the right balance on the job site.

Learn something new every day.   Test your own knowledge by leading a tree walk or class at a local community college.  Volunteer with the local garden club or elementary school to share your knowledge of trees.  I guarantee you will leave feeling inspired.

Make time for family.  It’s easy to get caught up in the day’s events.  Especially when you are in the owner of a small business. The feeling that there is so much to do and so little time can become daunting.  Nevertheless, honor the dinner bell.  Put your work aside and go to the little league game or the ballet recital.  Trust me, the work will still be there tomorrow but the memories will last a life time.

Notice the little things.  A simple thank you or “Atta boy” will inspire your team to do more.  Just a few words of praise is all that is required.

Open the window.   I mean open it WIDE.  Whether it be the office or the truck, let the fresh air in.   Taking a moment to clear your mind and let the wind blow in can generate a new perspective and fresh approach.

Practice participative management.  Bring the team into the decision making process.  We tend to get bogged down in the “how we’ve always done it around here” mindset.   The best ideas can come from the least expected sources.

Quit procrastinating.   Sharpen your own tools.  Get your Tree Risk Assessment credential or try the ASCA Academy.  Take or teach a course at your local community college.  Keep your edge on the competition by committing to live long learning.

Read industry journals. Keep up to date on the latest in technology and practice by subscribing to industry journals.  It’s a great way to bring new and innovative ideas into your work.

Start each day on time.  Sleep well, rise early to get to the site before the crew.  Start each day on a positive note.

Trust your instincts.  Most of us have been in the industry for some time – we have worked in a variety of situations and know what works.  When making a decision to hire an employee, or take on a new client, trust your instinct.  You got this.

Understand what makes the crew tick.  We’ve talked about motivation in the past.  – A true understanding of motivation shows that managers can only hope to motivate themselves, lead by example and facilitate in the self motivation of the worker by recognizing the employee needs and assisting the employee in satisfying those needs.

Visit the job site more often.   Referred to as “management by walking around” going out to the job gives you a good idea of how the crews is progressing.  It wouldn’t hurt to chip in with the brushing or hauling.  They will appreciate the help and it’s cheaper than a gym membership.

Walk the talk. Don’t ask the crew to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. If you make a promise – keep it.

X-ray (Examine) the situation before reactingDon’t forget where we started – Accidents happen.  Things will go wrong.  Many times it not the action but our reaction that determines the tone.  Look at situations from several angles before taking corrective action.

Yield to common sense.  Because we are in the leadership role, we tend to think we need to control every little thing.  Yes, the buck stops with you, however you have done your homework and hired good people.  Let them take control the small situations and you manage the big picture decisions and events.

Zip it. Sometimes it’s better to say nothing at all. You don’t have to command every decision.  Allow the team to bring a solution to the table and try it.


I hope you find one or two of the ideas shared helpful – I’m no expert.  But I have been working with landscape industry professionals for over 35 years.  In that time, I have worked through some tough decisions, taking some knocks and bruises, but seem to have come out ok.  I’m wiser, happier and have more time to do what makes me happy in my craft and career.  I think I’ve allowed those around me to grow in their roles as leaders as well.   After all, that’s what it is all about –growth!    If you have tips and ideas to share, drop me a line at or post them on our social media – I would love to hear them.