Interview: Ironman Approach to Building Your Landscape Business
When we say “landscape business” we immediately think of nature and the outdoors. There is, however, another world that deeply overlaps with landscaping: the world of fitness.
GoMaterials sat down with fitness author, Ironman competitor, and former landscape business owner, Robert Clinkenbeard, to understand how the Ironman mindset can help you grow your landscaping business.
Could you tell us about your journey in landscaping?
ROBERT: I went to Scottish Agricultural College, Management College back in Scotland, and worked for the city parks department in charge of 300- 400 employees. They were beginning to merge departments and I felt I was moving away from my core passion.
After going through a divorce, my friends around me felt I needed a break. We ended up doing a trip in December of ‘98 out to Arizona. The weather was really nice, so I was able to enjoy the outdoors. I realized people were actually living a really good lifestyle out here.
“When I went back to the UK I just thought to myself: Life is too short. Why am I here?”
I ended up packing my bags in May of ‘99. I arrived here in Arizona with a couple of suitcases, no social security number, no credit history. Just put my head down and thought, “I’m going to make a go of this.” After some small jobs here and there, I went to work for a large landscape company called Valley Crest, which is now Brightview, and worked for them for two and a half years.
What was that like? What prompted you to start your own company?
ROBERT: Valley Crest was a really good company, they’re great people. Eventually, I felt as though it became a little too corporate. My partner and I were both working for Valley Crest and decided, “Why don’t we do this ourselves and make the core focus be on really taking care of our clients?”
In February of 2001, we started doing some small jobs on the side. Registered, got some more jobs coming in. About six months later, we had both left Valley Crest. We were doing the physical work during the day and then we’d go out at night and do a lot of networking and business development. Just getting our name out there.
It must have been exhilarating, building your own business?
ROBERT: Yeah, I mean, we were nervous, we were excited, there were always different motions going on. Just putting all of our time and money on the line knowing when this is over, we’re in charge of our own destiny, we’re not relying on other people.
You’re also a four-time Ironman competitor. How did that happen?
ROBERT: It’s quite an interesting story. Growing up, I was into football, soccer, then moved into rugby. When I came over to the U.S., it was a good way for me to build up my friends within Arizona.
I would be playing every week and would come into work with a broken nose or be beat up. It got to a point where my body was starting to break down a little bit even though I was still keeping up with all of the young guys in the sport.
I started running just to stay fit. Eventually, I thought I should try doing smaller triathlons. I wanted to push myself into that uncomfortable zone. I thought maybe I should try a half Ironman first, which I did — It was pretty brutal. I surrounded myself with some great coaches and at that point, I decided to go all in. I did my first Ironman in 2009. In just north of 11 hours, I finished that race.
What similarities are there between the Ironman approach and running a landscaping business?
ROBERT: There are actually quite a lot of similarities. It goes back to creating a vision — where is this going?
“Have a roadmap in place, where this is going in three years, five years, ten years. Then break it out into a one-year plan, and finally into quarterly goals.”
Running a 20 million dollar business and trying to squeeze in 20 hours a week for training doesn’t happen easily. It’s a case of discipline and preparation to get there. Creating agendas for meetings, for my training, making sure I’m fully prepared so that when I wake up in the morning at four o’clock, everything’s ready for me.
“Another key thing was surrounding myself with the right people.”
With my Ironman races, I had a swim coach, a bike coach, an overall training coach, and someone to help with nutrition. With landscape business, we’re not necessarily experts on all different elements of the business. If you’re not good at financials, you have a controller in place, if you’re not good at marketing, who on your team is good at marketing. It’s really important to have really great people around you to help you achieve your goals.
How do you balance a landscape business with fitness?
ROBERT: Luckily, I had a really good leadership team. I had managers in place to take some of this weight off of my shoulders, but I still had to lead my company. So I was up early in the morning at four, and I would go out and do my run or my biking but still be into work by eight. Then either I would squeeze a second training in during my lunch break, or when I finished work at five o’clock at night before I got home.
“Balance is really just making sure that you’re in touch with the most important things in your life. I call them quality time blocks. Make sure you block out an hour a day or two to work on your health, your relationships or where your landscape business is going.”
I have a family of five kids. I wanted to make sure they didn’t suffer from all my hours of training or working. I wanted to make sure I was home at a decent hour and spent time on the weekends with them.
You’ve worked with a lot of people in the fitness world and the landscaping industry. What separates the winners from the rest?
ROBERT: I really enjoy working with landscape business owners and executives who enjoy fitness. There’s just something about being hyper-focused on what the goals are. You know, it takes a lot of discipline for people to fit in fitness in a day. It’s always the thing that’s pushed off because they’re either tired or they’ve got something else going on. That focus, I think, makes a difference between people who coast through life or people who really get somewhere in life.
You spoke about delegating work to get more personal time. But many landscapers are a one-man team. What advice would you give them?
ROBERT: It’s definitely challenging when you’re on your own and everything’s relying on you. There are so many fractional options out there: you can hire a virtual assistant, you can hire somebody part-time or somebody remote to free up a little bit of your time. You might make less profit, but you’re freed up to work on your business, your fitness, or your relationships.
You’ve nailed organizing your schedule. Are there any tools or techniques that help with that?
ROBERT: I’m definitely not an expert, I do my best. I do have a virtual assistant; she’s a rock star. I use Trello to help keep us in communication and to prioritize the tasks I have in place. That’s probably the two biggest things that really helped me keep organized.
I set three alarms on my phone. I have an alarm in the mornings when it reminds me that I want to go out there and be the best athlete in the world. I get into my mindset and knock out a 10-mile run. My next alarm goes off at roughly eight o’clock, and that’s me going into my coaching mode. I want to be the best coach possible to my clients, so all the distractions go away. And then the last one goes off at five-thirty, which is family time. Going home and being focused on my wife and kids, making sure I’m present and not distracted.
Be sure to check out Robert Clinkenbeard’s book, “Ironman Mindset for Entrepreneurs” available at all major book retailers and visit The Radix Group website for a closer look at what he’s currently working on!