There’s something special about the term self-employed. When it applies to you, the Monday morning air has a different quality. Maybe the birds sing a little louder. You hit more green lights. The office coffee tastes a little better when it’s your name on the sign outside.
If you’ve made it to this point, You’ve probably been in the green industry for years. Maybe you started in your 20’s or late teens, spreading mulch or pushing a mower as a member of a landscaping team. It’s not a bad way to make a living, is it? Beats working in an office. Hey, you’re outside most of the day, in the sunshine and fresh air. You’ve got a mean tan going and you definitely don’t need to hit the gym after work. Keep at it long enough, and people start to realize they could count on you. Maybe you became a driver, a crew leader, soon you’re overseeing those young bucks spreading mulch and pushing mowers, the kind of people like you used to be.
If you keep at it, stay motivated, and keep trying to improve your technique, you might even develop a reputation in the area. With the reputation comes bigger, more complicated projects, and with more projects comes opportunity.
As landscapers, we know it takes years of dedication to reach the top of our field. But once we get to the top, well, maybe it looks a bit different than we pictured. Suddenly we’re answering questions about company culture, HR policies, investments in equipment, and technology.
It’s funny when you think about it. Most people get into the landscaping industry to AVOID staring at a computer screen all day, and yet here we find ourselves, making decisions about which screens to stare at and why.
Every business uses technology a little differently. Today, we’re going to look at some of the best computers for small businesses, and the best computers for landscapers, specifically. We’ll explore the question of tablets vs computers, Mac vs Windows, and talk about what the heck a Chromebook is and whether you need it if you want to stay competitive in the landscaping business.
The Tasks We Need Our Tech to Accomplish
Before you can decide which tech is right for your landscaping business, you need to think about exactly what you need that tech to accomplish. Like many industries, the landscaping business in changing and tech needs are changing along with it.
We’re sure you’ve noticed that within the landscaping industry, we’re starting to see a shift away from pencil and paper toward digitizing our plans and takeoffs. This is definitely a step in the right direction since digital plans and takeoffs are faster, easier, and more accurate than their paper and pencil ancestors.
While this change affects the technology we use in the field, we also need to be aware of the tools we will need in the office. Scheduling, negotiating deals with equipment providers and suppliers, managing the needs of customers and staff, replying to emails, sending review requests, working on marketing tasks – technology can make the management of all these tasks easier.
Identifying Essential Functions
While the landscaping technology requirements will change from company to company, there are a few things which we would deem as essential for the vast majority of landscapers, and we’ve compiled them into a handy list.
Many digital planning tools work directly inside web browsers, which means connectivity is key. Certain laptops and tablets come with 4G LTE connectivity, which means you won’t have to rely on wifi to access the internet. For landscaping technology, this is essential as wifi access outdoors can be unreliable.
In the landscaping business, you will often need to access the same set of plans from different devices, and maybe even in different locations. When you save your plans (and the adjustments you’ve made to them) to the cloud, you can be sure everyone in the company is referring to the same version. When you save files locally, you risk expensive, preventable problems caused by two people accessing two different versions of the same plan.
Mac or Windows? Some offices are Mac offices. Others are Windows. Controversial opinion, but we think both operating systems are great. However, some compatibility issues do exist between the rival companies, so if you want to make sure every member of your company has the same access to all your files, it might be best to choose one system and stick with it.
Which Tech Does it Better?
In the landscaping industry, we might be experts when it comes to moving earth, but navigating computer technology is a whole different beast.
There are stores full of different machines, all of which claim to be good at different things, and differentiating features can get pretty technical, pretty quick.
While your company might have different needs than other landscaping companies, this is going to be a general guide of our top choices for landscaping industry tech.
While laptops have become more powerful than ever, desktop computers can do huge amounts of heavy lifting. Certain programs, like CAD software, require a great deal of computing power and that’s where desktop computers shine. Obviously, desktops lack the portability you’ll find with laptop computers, which can cause them to lose major points in an industry as mobile as ours.
If you’re shopping for a laptop, it is possible you may be feeling overwhelmed, as there are literally hundreds of designs to choose from. Whether you’re looking to make videos, run games, or run a landscaping business, there’s a laptop out there for you.
Laptops can be great if you need to utilize a combination of online/offline programs and applications and tend to have a bit more power than Chromebookschromebooks. However, many laptops still don’t offer 4G service, which means they are wifi dependent if you’re looking to go online. This can be a detriment in our industry, though there are many products you can use to offset this, such as mobile hotspots.
Chromebooks are great little devices. They save space by running only web-based apps with cloud storage. Similar to Aspire Software, we designed our takeoff software to be run directly out of an internet browser, so the Chromebook is perfect for that. Additionally, since the Chromebook relies on cloud storage, you can be sure that your plan is being updated in real-time, from the field to the office.
Another feature of the Chromebook is 4G LTE connectivity, which allows you to access the internet even without wifi, which is a crucial component for those doing fieldwork with a Chromebook.
Combination tablets/laptops are becoming more powerful every year. These devices combine the ultimate in ease and portability with the traditional advantages of a laptop. While landscaping software has been slower on the uptick with tablet compatibility, that will definitely improve, and if you’re buying tech for today, you might risk falling behind tomorrow. Many of these babies are 5G equipped, and standard models come at an attractive price point for small business owners.
Conclusion + Our Reviews
The best practice for a landscaper tasked with making a technology purchase is first to identify your needs, and second identify your requirements for access. While this may look slightly different depending on the needs of your company, in our opinion, these are some winners for the landscape professional on the go.
Chromebook: Asus Chromebook Flip C434
Feel free to read this comparison by the technology reporters at The Verge, but for our money, it doesn’t get much better than the Asus Chromebook Flip. This is a powerful, portable computer that’s a great value for the money and should be able to handle any takeoff software as well as other programs you might need to run. It’s small and light enough to be carried around on the job, plus the screen rotates 360 degrees around for presentations you may have to make with clients. See the Chromebook in action here.
2-in-1: Microsoft Surface Pro 7
Is it a tablet or is it a laptop? With its original Surface, Microsoft gave us the answer we wanted. Both! Fully decked out, the Surface 7 is more expensive than the Asus Chromebook, but you’re getting a bit more under the chassis. Of course, where this is going to look really nice is in bidding and estimates, when you’re able to point out certain aspects of a design takeoff for a client and actually manipulate the screen to go along with your presentation. With the keyboard attachment, you’ll be able to type like a laptop while controlling the screen smoothly with touch or with a trackpad. Read the review here or watch it in action here.
Whatever you choose should reflect the needs of your business, not just today, but tomorrow as well. The times are changing, and the landscaping companies which continue to grow will be the ones who adapt the fastest.