I had the honor of giving a presentation at the 2023 TCI EXPO in St. Louis this past November. I addressed some common fears and reservations that small-business owners in the tree care industry might have about embracing new technologies. It makes sense that terms like “artificial intelligence” (AI) and “emerging technology” can seem intimidating and even irrelevant to the work done in tree care.
The question of where to start is a valid one, as is the concern about the time investment required to figure all this out.
Similarly, while many of us have heard about the potential of digital marketing and social media for business growth, the reality can often be daunting.
High agency costs with no guaranteed return, limited capacity to handle such tasks in-house and the lack of resources to hire a dedicated marketing team all can make these strategies seem unattainable.
And if business is growing steadily, why fix what isn’t broken?
The third reservation often revolves around human resources. Finding good people is no easy task, and there’s a fear that stepping away from the job site might lead to financial losses.
If you found yourself nodding in agreement with any of these concerns, you’re not alone. These are common challenges faced by many, and not only in this industry. The good news? You’re in the right place.
In this article, we’ll explore practical solutions to these issues, showing you how to leverage AI, social media and other modern tools to grow your business efficiently and sustainably. Integrating these elements into your business operations doesn’t have to be overwhelming or costly. In fact, with the right mindset and guidance, it can be an empowering step toward greater business success.
Just as a storm approaches over the horizon, challenges often approach in our business and personal lives. When this happens, we have two options: hide and hope it passes, or face it head on.
As we dive into this topic, consider the difference in behavior between cows and buffalo when facing a storm. Cows, when they see a storm approaching, often hide or, even worse, turn and run, thereby prolonging their time in the storm. Similar to driving down the freeway in the same direction as a storm is moving, it feels like the storm is following you, doesn’t it?
Buffalo, however, display a starkly different reaction. They charge directly into and through the storm, fully aware that doing so will lead them to sunny skies faster. It’s a powerful metaphor that speaks volumes about courage and resilience.
In our roles as business leaders, we encounter numerous “storms.” These might be tough accountability conversations, taking ownership for your team’s failure or delivering honest feedback that isn’t necessarily what someone wants to hear. These situations can be incredibly challenging, and it’s human nature to look for reasons to avoid them. But, just like the storm, these issues aren’t going away unless we confront them.
The goal here is not to paint a picture of doom and gloom, but to inspire you with the knowledge and courage to face your own storms. The truth is, avoiding challenges only prolongs the discomfort. On the other hand, charging into them head on, however daunting that may seem, is the quickest route to better outcomes.
Embracing change and innovation
The healthiest cultures have courageous leaders at the heart of them, which often means embracing change and innovation. This isn’t just about adopting the latest tech trends or hopping onto every new thing that comes along. It’s about being curious enough to understand how these innovations can be applied in your business.
Think about it. Less traditional methods of delegation, such as AI and automation, or even incorporating freelancers into your workflows, can free up your time and energy. This allows you to focus on the areas of your business where you can make the most significant impact.
And here’s the kicker: I’m not just spouting theory here. I’ve used these methods to scale (increase revenues without a substantial increase in resources) four businesses, also seeing firsthand how embracing change and innovation can drive growth and success with clients I’ve worked with.
But there’s more to it than just business success. At the heart of every great company is a healthy culture. And, in my experience, the healthiest cultures are those that aren’t afraid to try new things, to challenge the status quo, to embrace the unconventional.
TCI EXPO-attendee polling
We polled the group in attendance at my TCI EXPO ’23 session on this topic. By understanding the experience level in the room, I was able to tailor the discussion to ensure it was as relevant and valuable as possible. Let’s assume those interested in reading this article are similar to that representative group.
Social-media presence: A fair share is already utilizing social-media platforms for business purposes: 33% have a Facebook Business Page, 26% use Instagram, 15% are on LinkedIn, 14% have ventured into YouTube, while 5% are exploring X, formerly known as Twitter, and TikTok.
Advertising platforms: When it comes to advertising, Facebook is leading in this group, with 58% having advertised there: 24% have used Instagram for ads, 10% have utilized LinkedIn, 4% have tried YouTube, and 1% have braved the realms of X and TikTok for advertising.
Team composition: Looking at teams, 40% have someone primarily dedicated to marketing or recruiting. There’s a bit of gray area here, with 31% who responded with “Kinda,” and 28% who do not have a dedicated person for these roles.
Freelance networks: Interestingly, only 23% have dipped their toes into freelance networks such as Fiverr or Upwork. This shows there’s potential for exploration in this area.
AI usage: When it comes to using AI like ChatGPT4, 10% are paying subscribers, shelling out $20 per month. Another 40% have used the free version, while 30% “haven’t even heard of her.”
As we venture further into our discussion about artificial intelligence, you might be thinking, “Oh no, I’ve missed the AI boat!” But guess what? You’re not late to the party at all.
The reality is that many people have heard about AI, but haven’t actually seen it in action or used it themselves. It’s like a mythical creature – much talked about but rarely encountered. So, if you decided to start incorporating AI into your business today, you’d still be ahead of the curve.
Reckless reliance is not the answer
As we venture into the world of AI and other innovative technologies, it’s natural to approach with a degree of caution. After all, would we want to blindly hand over the reins of our business to a machine? Absolutely not. That would be like giving a toddler the keys to a Ferrari – unpredictable at best, disastrous at worst.
Take, for instance, those who dove into AI without fully understanding how to harness its power. The results? A green sludge that was supposed to be a gourmet dish and an oddly deformed rendition of Elon Musk as a ballerina. Not exactly what they were aiming for, I’d wager.
Fearful avoidance isn’t the answer, either
The point is, diving headfirst into new technology without a clear understanding can lead to some “interesting” outcomes. Reckless reliance isn’t the answer here. Instead, we need to learn to steer the car properly before hitting the accelerator.
As we continue our journey into the exciting world of AI, it’s crucial to remember that hiding, ignoring or running from new innovations won’t make them disappear. The reality is, these technological tools are here to stay and will likely become an integral part of our business operations in the future. And when that day comes, chances are we’ll look back and think, “That wasn’t as bad as I thought. I wish I’d embraced it sooner.”
There is a URL at the end of this article to a video showing the fastest pit stop in the world in the 1950s compared to today. The point is, would you be okay with a 67-second pit stop when your competitors are clocking in at a swift 2.7 seconds?
Sure, the team in the modern pit-stop video is larger, but that’s precisely the point I’m trying to make. By learning how to leverage innovative tools like AI, you can achieve the results of a larger team without necessarily needing more human resources. Technology can serve as your additional manpower, helping you to streamline processes and increase efficiency.
But how do we get there? How do we embrace this change and start using these tools to our advantage? Well, typically, change occurs when: The pain of the current situation becomes greater than the fear of the unknown.
The knowledge about the benefits of change becomes so overwhelming that you can’t tolerate your current state anymore.
The influence from others is so strong that you’re held accountable and surrounded by those who push you to be better.
These are the key drivers that can motivate us to step out of our comfort zones and embrace new ways of doing things.
Which social platforms are best? And for what?
The social-media landscape is vast, with a variety of platforms, each offering unique opportunities. Based on the polling results of our sample audience, it seems most of you are already familiar with this.
In your specific industry, Facebook reigns supreme when it comes to B2C (business-to-consumer) interactions, while LinkedIn has the edge in the B2B sphere. If you’re not yet harnessing the power of these platforms to grow your business, consider this your starting-point.
Remember, social media is more than just a marketing tool. It’s a way to connect, engage and build relationships with your audience.
Cost comparison of advertising
Let’s now shift our focus to cost-effective business growth. If you’re still on the fence about prioritizing digital marketing over traditional methods, let’s break it down with some numbers.
Reaching an audience of 2,000 could cost you as little as $50 with paid search or $75 through social media. Compare that to the traditional methods such as newspapers, which could set you back by $250, or direct mail, which comes in at a whopping $900. It’s clear where the smart money is.
Sure, banners at the local high-school stadium and good old-fashioned networking have their charm and can still yield results. But we’re all about finding smarter, more efficient ways to grow, aren’t we?
Which social platform?
Now, let’s look at the breakdown by social platform. Some platforms align with or are even less expensive than Facebook and LinkedIn. So, if you’re feeling adventurous, feel free to explore those.
But for simplicity’s sake, and especially if you’re just starting to dip your toes in the digital marketing space, I would recommend sticking with Facebook and LinkedIn for now. They offer a good balance of reach, cost effectiveness and ease of use.
Now, let’s talk about one of the most user-friendly platforms out there: Facebook. It’s a platform that makes it incredibly simple to get your message across to a local audience. And no, this isn’t just limited to promotions or educational content.
Consider this: What if we start treating HR and recruiting more like marketing than legal? What if we become unapologetically vocal about our core values, boost posts about our vibrant culture and advertise our job openings? You’ll quickly find that being open about who you are as a company yields far better results than you’re likely seeing. It attracts talent that aligns with your values and helps in retaining talent, too.
To help you get started, at the end of this article, there’s a URL for a short video tutorial on how to boost your first post on Facebook. It’s simpler than you might think. The value of digital marketing is clear.
But I still don’t have capacity
But what if you don’t have the capacity to take it on, and aren’t in a position to hire someone for the job. That’s where freelance networks and automation come into play.
Welcome to 2024, where the gig economy continues to thrive. More people are turning to freelance work, offering their specialized services on global marketplaces like Fiverr and Upwork. Yes, there may be a language barrier sometimes, and yes, it takes effort to provide creative direction. But consider treating this process similarly to how you inform AI, i.e., by creating a company profile guide that can be shared as part of a repeatable way of quickly getting others up to speed. This could improve results not only with freelancers but also with new hires and existing employees.
I’ve put together a templated example of a company profile guide that you can download at the end of this article. Going through this exercise might be the most valuable takeaway from this article. We often assume we have clarity about our business and that everyone is on the same page. However, when we document our processes, goals and core values, we often realize there’s room for improvement. Start with filling that out, then everything else becomes easier.
Whether you need a quirky birthday video from a clown, contact info for decision-makers to expand into commercial work or someone to manage your social media, you’ll find it on Fiverr. And the best part? There’s likely an option that starts at just five bucks. (See the URL at the end of this article for a video of Fiverr to help you get started.)
Training an AI to think and talk like you
Next, I want to share a method for training an AI to think and talk like you. It’s called the Bright Method, and it’s a simple, structured approach that can yield great results.
The Bright Method stands for:
- Brand: Define your business’s brand, including its unique selling proposition, tone of voice and key messages.
- Role: Determine the role of the AI. Is it a customer-service representative, a sales assistant or something else?
- Instructions: Provide clear guidance on how the AI should interact with users.
- Goal: What is the ultimate goal of the AI? Is it to provide customer support, generate leads or something else?
- How: Outline how the AI should achieve its goal. This could include specific conversation flows or responses.
- Target: Define your target audience. Who will be interacting with the AI?
By addressing these key points when training your AI, you’re more likely to get the outcome you’re looking for.
Now let’s take a deeper dive into AI tools. There are plenty of ways to train AI tools, many of which allow for customization and one-time entry of details. The example I’m about to share is primarily based on the free version of ChatGPT (3.5), where you must train the AI at the beginning of each conversation. Once you’ve gotten the hang of this, consider upgrading to ChatGPT4 for $20 monthly. With this version, you can store descriptions and documents for reference, saving you time and effort in the long run.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even build your own GPT using a step-by-step guide at the following URL: https://zapier.com/blog/custom-chatgpt/
While the Bright method is helpful, I’ll stress this one thing again: Take the time to fill in the company Profile Prompt template! If you’re unclear about something related to your business, then AI, a freelancer and your team will be, too.
Give me more tools!
Finally, I’d like to mention Google Bard. Even since TCI EXPO ’23, this tool has emerged as a promising competitor to ChatGPT. While we’ll focus on ChatGPT for now, Google Bard could be worth exploring in the near future.
For the enthusiasts among us who are always on the lookout for new tools to streamline their work, I have some recommendations. As a self-proclaimed tech nerd, I’ve explored multiple unconventional ways of delegating tasks, and some have truly become game changers for me.
Let’s start with Motion. This tool is my go-to for time blocking. It syncs with all my calendars and uses AI to auto-calendar tasks based on urgency, importance and my most productive work periods. If I miss a task, Motion notifies me and adjusts my future schedule for maximum efficiency.
Next up is Fathom. If you’re like me and dread taking meeting notes, Fathom is going to be your new best friend. It joins my Zoom, Teams and Google Meet meetings, recording them and creating a transcript, summary, questions, actions and more. It’s a game changer. I even use it during in-person meetings with colleagues, then often feed the transcript into ChatGPT to form next steps. Plus, the link to all this automatically logs into my CRM (customer-relationship management platform).
Short-term outsourcing solutions like SellX and Magic can be lifesavers when you need to delegate sales and administrative functions without breaking the bank.
For social-media management, Hootsuite offers a single platform for posting and monitoring all social-media accounts.
Video editing can be a tedious process, but BeCreatives offers unlimited video editing for $899 a month. Recently, I’ve switched over to Descript, where I edit videos by removing words from a transcript. I then feed these into Swell AI to auto-create short videos optimized for SEO (search engine optimization).
Accountability partners for change
Change is the only constant, they say. And yet, how often have we found ourselves inspired by an idea or a plan, only to let it slip away in the daily hustle?
Remember when I mentioned that change occurs through one or more of three factors – knowledge, pain and accountability? Well, hopefully the insights you’ve gained thus far have been too compelling to ignore, and you’re ready to move past the pains you’re experiencing toward something better. But if you need an extra push…
That’s where your peers in this industry come in. One of the most effective ways to ensure follow-through on commitments is to voice them out loud and invite someone else to hold you accountable. In our programs, we assign accountability partners at the end of each session. This partnership allows you to offer and receive the gift of accountability – a follow-up at a predetermined date a few weeks after you learn something.
So, here’s how the Accountability Partner system works:
- Introduce this article to someone else. This will give you a fresh perspective and a new source of inspiration.
- Express the desire to hold one another accountable for a follow-up conversation in 30 days.
- Put it on the calendar.
- During this conversation, ask each other, “How have you done with your follow-through?”
- Reflect on your progress: “Are you satisfied with it?”
This process not only aids in ensuring you stay true to your commitments, but also fosters a sense of community and mutual support.
Friends, the horizon of possibilities is truly limitless. But remember, every journey begins with a single step. In this case, that first step is leading your team and business into the storm, embracing the tools and strategies we’ve discussed today.
So go ahead, log into ChatGPT, post your first job on Fiverr, boost that Facebook post, fill out your company profile template.
Do something today with the knowledge you’ve gained. The storm might be intimidating, but remember – as buffalo, we charge into it together. Let’s continue to build healthier, stronger workplace cultures everywhere.
Remember, the benefits of embracing these cost-effective methods of delegating through AI, automation and freelance far outweigh the risks. They are powerful levers that enable you to responsibly scale your tree care business.
Here’s to charging into the storm together!
Find links to resources mentioned in this article, view a recorded webinar on the same topic and download a copy of the presentation and the Company Profile Prompt Template here:
TCI EXPO 2023 Presentation & Downloads | Leveraging AI & Social to Grow Your Tree Care Business – CultureShoc
For a quick overview video of Fiverr:
For a video showing the fastest pit stop in the world in the 1950s compared to today:
For a quick video tutorial on how to boost your first post on Facebook:
Joe Jurec is growth leader and ITS (into the storm) coach with CultureShoc, a team of facilitators and EOS Implementers® who offer EOS® leadership development, team building, executive coaching, career-
development coaching, public speaking and other services that strengthen company culture. www.cultureshoc.com
This article was based on his presentation on the same subject during TCI EXPO ’23 in St. Louis, Missouri. To watch video click here. The URLs listed under Resources are live links in the online versions of this article.