Lee Buffington has come a long way from mowing grass as a teen to earn extra cash. Although he initially planned to study medicine, Buffington continued to cut lawns over the summers in college, ultimately deciding to switch career paths and launch his own business.
Twenty-eight years later, Buffington is CEO of Thrive Outdoor, a landscape management company based in Fort Payne, Ala., with other locations in Alabama and Tennessee.
“That's where it all began, just cutting grass back in those days. And now, we've got 100-plus people and a lot of growth ahead of us,” Buffington says.
Thrive Outdoor focuses on recurring services, primarily commercial maintenance work for universities, estates, government buildings, and healthcare facilities, as well as some light construction projects. Buffington uses Aspire business management software to streamline all facets of his business, from accounting and payroll to job costing and scheduling.
Before onboarding with Aspire in 2015 as one of the company’s first customers, Buffington used multiple software solutions to run his business. He says the disconnected processes caused his administrative staff to duplicate efforts, making them prone to frequent mistakes.
“In the early days, we had eight software products that we used prior to Aspire,” he says. “And they were just various pieces, from Excel to industry-specific products. Aspire allowed us to combine all of those into one.”
Now a seasoned Aspire super-user, Buffington says the software helps Thrive Outdoor grow revenue by improving workflows, eliminating duplicate data entry, and leveraging real-time business data to make meaningful business decisions.
Real-time business intelligence guides key decisions
Buffington says one of the top benefits of running his company on Aspire is that it provides him with accurate, real-time business intelligence so he can make data-driven decisions.
“Prior to Aspire, reviewing our financials was oftentimes months in arrears to get accurate data, making it not very useful,” Buffington says. “And with Aspire, we can do that in real time and actually make adjustments as we move through the process. Whether it be a maintenance account or a construction project, we can make tweaks along the way to improve the outcome.”
Tracking top accounts via Aspire dashboards
Buffington says Aspire’s data ensures he can determine the profitability of each account. It allows him to focus more time and resources on the contracts he needs to renew.
“That's how we're tracking these accounts from a portfolio perspective—pulling all the data together so we can make sound decisions as to, ‘Are we moving in the right direction? Wrong direction?’” Buffington says. “Before Aspire, we spent a lot of time and energy compiling the data. And by the time we got the data, it was outdated. You're not able to make real-time decisions.”
Buffington says he keeps an eye on a couple of core KPIs in his Aspire data dashboard in regard to account-level metrics.
“I initially had a lot, but it can be difficult to keep track of,” he says. “I’ve narrowed it down to a few I look at every day, such as cash received, cash owed, and how we’re tracking in revenue and cost.”
From a forecasting perspective, Aspire data enables Buffington to provide customers with plenty of advance notice if he needs to adjust costs. He says customers appreciate the heads-up and are less likely to pull back on services if they have time to prepare.
“If we see we're underwater and know we need to increase prices the following year, we're now able to have the conversation four to six months ahead of renewal, so they know it's coming,” he says. “It's not a surprise to them. They can plan and prepare because otherwise, it results in, ‘We don't have the extra budget, so we need to trim some services. We like what you're doing, but we're going to have to adjust the scope.’”
Better accounting practices boost revenue
When it comes to keeping the books at Thrive Outdoor, Buffington says Aspire’s real-time data helps him accurately understand profitability or loss, by tracking recognized revenue versus invoice revenue.
The recognized revenue model records revenue as it’s earned, not when it’s received. Buffington says the model proves critical for truly understanding your financial outlook for businesses that focus on maintenance agreements and recurring services.
“When you're dealing with invoiced revenue in the maintenance world it is oftentimes a balanced billing approach to bill the same amount each month. This provides for a false sense of profit or loss if you’re not tracking earned revenue. Without a program like Aspire, you feel like you're making money in the wintertime, and you're losing money in the summertime because you're invoicing much less than you're putting out in terms of cash outlay.
“And really, it should be in real time. What are we doing today? What are we earning and what are we putting out today?” he adds. “The recognized revenue model has really changed the game for us. It is what we wanted when searching for the best software on the market and we adopted it immediately when we went live with Aspire.”
“It allows you to scale”
Buffington says Aspire business management software streamlines manual processes and back-end work, allowing him to focus hiring on positions that drive revenue, not administrative support.
“Aspire allows us to grow our team without needing to add roles in the administrative sector,” Buffington says. “That's been very impactful and one of the many benefits of Aspire. It allows you to scale, and that's part of what this software can do for you.”