“Seeing is believing.”

“The proof is in the pudding.”

“Show me the money.”

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

There’s a similar literary expression: “Show me, don’t tell me.” This refers to showing someone an example to help them understand what you’re saying.

Have you ever been frustrated that your employees, staff, co-workers, spouse, children or man on the street doesn’t understand what you’re trying to say, even after you’ve explained it for umpteenth time? If so, try taking a different tact.

Seeing is believing

I was recently attempting to describe to a crew leader over the phone how I wanted a client’s tree pruned, as I couldn’t be there to show him the job. Back at the office, phone in one hand, the other making sawing motions in the air, I was trying to describe the limb I wanted taken off. I also explained that there are a lot of suckers he should remove, as I was spreading my hands apart to demonstrate how far I want the tree pruned away from the eave.

When finished describing what I wanted, I waited for his confirmation that he understood.

All I heard is crickets.

After a long pause, he said, “Can you go over that again?”

So, I tried again – same results.

There’s no doubt in my mind he had no idea what I wanted, and not because this co-worker is dense; far from it. He’s led crews for 10 years, is an excellent tree pruner and warrants clearer directions than I was giving him in this example.

In one of my few flashes of brilliance, I asked if he could text me a photograph of the tree.

As an afterthought, I added, “and put a ribbon on the limb you think I’m telling you to take off.”

He said, “Sure.”

Ten seconds later, I had a picture of the tree on my phone. We were now looking at the same tree – and limb. We began to have an intelligent conversation about the job. With that being said, I couldn’t help but wonder after we ended the call how much clearer yet my instructions would have been if we were FaceTiming.

Using technology

A few weeks ago, I was asked to provide a tree appraisal for a client who lives 400 miles away. The client told me, over the phone, that the trees were already removed but the stumps remained. The client also informed me that there were photographs of the former trees, courtesy of Google Earth Street View. These pictures provided me with enough information to identify the tree species and assess their general condition. But even with the photographs, and even with Google Street View, I still needed to measure the diameters of each stump so I could determine the trees’ sizes. Without this data, I couldn’t begin my calculations. Frankly, without them, I was … “stumped.”

Short of driving the full 400 miles to measure each stump or trusting that the client’s measurements were accurate, I asked the client if we could FaceTime so that I could watch him measure each one.

The client hesitated for a second, and then said, “Yes, I can.”

Two days later I was following him around the site on my iPad as he stretched a tape measure across the top of each stump. By taking this simple step I saved myself an 800-mile trip, not to mention I saved my client the expense of 14 additional hours of my consulting time.

A new way to estimate

I’ve recently been adding photographs to my tree care estimates, whether I’m estimating pruning, documenting a diagnosis or identifying a tree for removal. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the photographs have dramatically increased my sales close rates. There’s something about a picture that instantly implies to a client that I understand exactly what they want. Additionally, with the assistance of some software programs such as Sketch and Macaw, I can also circle or highlight their tree to clarify further what we propose to do.

We’re not using YouTube videos — yet. But I know of other tree care companies that are, and to great effect. I’m told that if we want to learn how, “just approach one of your youngest employees. They can create them in their sleep.”

I don’t doubt it.

Photos as tools

There are countless instances when taking photographs can improve your business. Given that everyone has a camera in their smartphones these days, it’s never been easier. Here’s a few applications where taking photos can help:

  • Document the condition of a property prior to a job to prove that any prior damage isn’t your responsibility.
  • Create a photo journal of past projects. Put them on your mobile device, also, to show instant examples to clients on jobsites.
  • Show a homeowner why — instead of telling them — their tree has anthracnose instead of oak wilt, or that their tree is split and needs to be cabled. Email or text them the evidence if they can’t meet you on the property.
  • Show before and after pictures of your tree work.
  • Show a crew that you need to remove this tree, not that one.
  • Send a photo of a plant, insect, damaged leaf or branch to a diagnostic lab for identification.

With a little imagination, you can probably think of several other applications.

A drawback to utilizing photographs has been that it’s slowed me down. Like learning any new skill, however, once I became more proficient at it, the little extra time it takes to photograph a project has been more than made up for in the time I save showing jobs, selling work or identifying issues. Instead of selling five jobs out of 10 in a day, I’m selling five out of seven. By the end of the day, I actually accomplish more in less time.

The crews also love having photos to guide them.

It’s not absolutely necessary, but I suggest acquiring some software to improve the quality of placing your photos into reports or estimates. You don’t have to buy publishing software, since most desktop computers, tablets and smartphones already have that ability. But typically, this software is clumsy to use, and it’s easy to become frustrated. Again, it takes some time to learn the newer programs, but once you’re proficient you won’t regret acquiring them.

The tree care business is such a visual business. Our work occurs in real life and in real time. There’s nothing virtual about it. What we do results in making tangible differences people can see. Yet, we so often try to describe what we do audibly, or in print.

Doesn’t it make sense to show people our work versus telling them?