New skills in diagnosis is a benefit of becoming certified.
Photo courtesy of James Kalisch, UNL

Becoming a certified chemical applicator is more than just jumping through a hoop so you can spray and spread pesticides for a living. Sure, it’s a legal requirement to be able to demonstrate a minimum level of competency before the local municipality or state government, however, as you will read in this article, the concept of certification in general is much more.

Skill and knowledge acquisition

The most obvious benefit of certification is the increase in knowledge and opportunities for skill development. For example, if you learn that spray droplet size has a dramatic effect on drift, coverage of the target plant or pest and equipment choice, you can use that piece of information to choose the proper equipment, more effectively control weeds and other pests and limit the drift of herbicides to nontarget plants. In addition, you will increase your capacity to train seasonal workers in application technique and pest diagnosis.

Elevate past “mow, blow and go”

They’re out there: the mow, blow and go guys. These guys are in the business for a quick buck; they’ll do just about anything for $40, haul away brush, edging, re-sodding and so on. Unfortunately, to many consumers, they don’t see much of a difference between the long-standing legitimate lawn service operators/landscapers and the mow blow and go-ers. The proper credentials can go a long way to separate your business from theirs.

Benefits of adding credentials

The word “professional” means different things to different people. To some, it’s a designation of respect for the person’s interest in taking their job seriously enough to try their best to produce high-quality results on each job. Others understand that every field is changing and a true professional understands the importance of keeping their skill set current and pertinent. Others simply look at the word in a dictionary sense and take it to mean that it’s a person who gets paid to do a job, instead of volunteering to do it.

Becoming a knowledgeable pro involves dedication.
Photo courtesy of Clyde Ogg, UNL.

In order to be viewed as a real professional, endeavor to establish yourself and your business as a community leader. One way would be to become active in a professional organization and take advantage of opportunities to speak about lawn care or pruning at a local neighborhood association cleanup day. Or, you may volunteer to guest lecture in noncredit classes at your local community college to discuss similar issues. Both opportunities will enable you to educate people, as well as develop relationships with potential clients. And, this type of publicity and willingness to educate and interact with the public could help you familiarize the community with your name. Traditional service clubs such as Sertoma, Rotary and Kiwanis are other viable options.

While networking at a function of an organization, try to mingle with as many members as possible. In an organizational meeting, introducing yourself to members will enable you to learn about pertinent aspects of their businesses, emerging needs and ideas for prospecting new clients. Incidentally, you’ll also get a better feel for what other firms are charging for particular services in non-green industry fields, which may give you a competitive advantage.

Attendance at turf and green industry conferences is an absolute must.
Photo courtesy of the Nebraska Turfgrass Foundation.

Another way to get your name established as an industry leader is to contact your local radio personalities and offer to be a guest on their show and offer free lawn and landscape advice. Some stations will jump at the chance, while others may not. Some may agree to invite you to be a guest, but only if you buy an advertising schedule with their station. This may not be a bad thing, and advertising with the same station will usually guarantee better placement of spots and a better working relationship overall. The same can be done with your local newspaper. There is something magical about television or radio that legitimizes your name as an expert.

Joining groups that whose focus is unrelated to the green industry can be helpful as well as ones that are related. For example, if your service offerings include snow removal, mowing, fertilization, pest control and cultivation, joining a group made up of mostly arborists or sprinkler system repair specialists may prove to be equally as beneficial. Learning about new products and related services provides you with information power that can be put to work on your client base to expand work orders. Overall, linking with other professionals that offer related services to establish a mutual referrals arrangement can be an effective business plan.

Tout It

Even though it’s not natural for most of us, in a tasteful way, it would be helpful to adopt a little bragadociousness. When chatting with service club members or neighbors, a one sentence ready-to-go pitch, something along the lines of “Sure, we can take care of that for you. In fact, I’d be happy to show you some pictures of our work if you’re interested,” will be well received.

Write a newsletter that contains brief articles on timely topics. Create a “Meet the Staff” section where you list each certified applicator and describe the qualifications and credentials that they possess. Continue by describing how they can put their knowledge to work for your clients.

All in all, the benefits of becoming a certified chemical applicator are many and are an important first step in operating a successful service business. Make sure that it’s not your last one.

The author is a horticulturist and certified arborist located in Omaha, Neb.