Read how FreshBooks Estimates and Proposals gives U.K.-based F.B. & Sons the professional edge when winning new business.
If there’s anything partners Darryl and Marc Harbourne-Bessant can teach us, it’s that good things can come out of tough circumstances.
After a great personal loss, many parts of life were suddenly put into perspective for Darryl, Marc, and Darryl’s brother Lee Bessant. It compelled the trio to follow their dream of starting their own business, F.B. & Sons, Lawns and Landscapes. And lo and behold, 3 months in they broke even. Today they’re cruising along with more happy clients and big projects than they ever thought possible.
We had the chance to chat with 2 of the 3 co-founders from Birmingham, England. Read the interview below with Darryl and Marc to learn about their journey to success, how FreshBooks helps them serve their customers, and the strangest thing they’ve ever found in a customer’s garden.
Tell me how F.B. & Sons got started in what I understand to be a tough year for you both?
Darryl: The business is quite new. We set up this spring. However, my brother Lee has actually been doing this type of work for 18 years. He’s very experienced. For me, I was in I.T. for 12 years but was made redundant this year. I knew it was coming and I’d been on furlough.
And then in March, my dad passed away. It was quite sudden and really put things into perspective. I had always wanted to start something on my own and the name of the company actually comes from my dad, Frank Bessant. It was a nice nod back to him.
It has been a very difficult year losing him and my job, but if anything, we can now look back on 2020 as the year Lee, Marc, and I started a very successful business. We cannot believe how well it’s doing. We’ve been getting some really big jobs.
How did FreshBooks get on your radar?
Darryl: We originally started with Square but they closed our account without any reason or explanation. I remember scrambling to take screenshots of all the invoices and estimates we’d done. We probably had dozens of estimates and bookings.
That’s when we started scouting around for other options. I did a Google search and there was FreshBooks. When I checked it out, it just looked so easy to use. I saw you had a 30-day trial and I thought to myself: What do we have to lose at this point? After all, we needed something to start sending estimates now.
FreshBooks Estimates seems like a great fit for a business like yours. What was the experience like for you and your clients?
Marc: Customers make so many positive comments about Estimates and the FreshBooks platform. It really stands out. We keep hearing how clear and user-friendly it is. I get the impression that other landscaping companies aren’t using similar software.
I think having FreshBooks makes us look even more professional. Of course, we are professionals, but it reinforces our offering by giving our customers that security, professionalism, and ease of use.
Darryl: One thing that sets us apart from similar businesses is that we provide a transparent Estimate of what we’re going to charge a customer. We break it down—literally—line by line. The customer can see it all for themselves in FreshBooks.
And if they want to make a change, we just go into the Estimate, change that one line and send it off. We don’t have to go through emails and calculations again. It’s so much easier and saves so much time.
Have you also tried using the Proposals feature?
Darryl: We really like Proposals, which we send for the larger jobs. It’s used to create a schedule of work, including a day-to-day rundown of what we aim to finish. We also do a hand sketch of the plan of the garden, which is quite unique. I don’t know of a lot of other companies that do this. Then we get the customers to sign the Proposal.
Now we’ve got a useful agreement that we can reference throughout the duration of the job. In our line of work, it can be difficult to judge what you might find until you’ve broken ground, so having this agreement is necessary.
Clearly, Estimates and Proposals have been a game-changer for your landscaping business. What are some other features you find useful?
Darryl: The ability to take Deposits is really important for our cash flow, especially on the larger projects where material costs can be £3,000-£4,000. We don’t put the customer into our calendar until we receive that Deposit.
FreshBooks also has the ability to send automated reminders. As a small business, there are always plates spinning and if you have a tool to automate that for you, you might as well use it. It just makes things so much easier. And some customers do literally just forget to pay, so it’s great that the system reminds them.
I thought that might have been a British thing, being shy about asking for money for work that we’ve done. It’s still something that’s new to us.
You mentioned that you use Deposits to keep cash flowing, but have you thought of using Direct Debit too?
Darryl: We’re a little late in the year. We’ve got some plans to actually do some regular maintenance next year and offer Direct Debit for that. Since we only started up halfway through this year, it was a little difficult to get recurring maintenance plans in place. We’ve already got some regular customers at the moment, and I’d really like to move them onto a plan like this in the future.
In general, customers like that they can pay by debit or credit online. Smaller construction and landscaping businesses still like to work with cash, but some customers just don’t want to from a security or COVID-19 perspective. I think having FreshBooks’ online payment options has been the clincher for some of the work that we’ve got.
Marc: To add to Darryl’s point, I think a large part of us getting so many clients is because of FreshBooks. Unfortunately, some of our customers had really bad experiences with previous companies. And they haven’t been able to get any recourse because they paid in cash.
For us to be able to promote the fact that we can accept credit cards easily through FreshBooks is ticking that extra box for our customers. They know they’re protected and that we won’t run off and leave them stranded.
Many customers that accept online payments find Reports really useful for tracking the health of their business. Is that something you’ve also found helpful?
Marc: It’s great that when you log into FreshBooks, it’s got the Dashboard, with a month-to-month view of what we’re making and spending. Seeing the business creep into the green has, psychologically, been so rewarding.
When we first set this company up, we thought: If we break even by the end of the first year, that’s great. I thought we’d just get some hedges, a few lawns, and some odd jobs. It’ll be slow to start. I just can’t believe how quickly we got really big projects. We broke even after 3 months of starting. It’s incredible just how many people put their trust in us. We’re really proud.
You mentioned earlier that you never know what you’ll find when you break ground. What’s the strangest thing you’ve found in a customer’s garden?
Darryl: We’ve found lots of interesting things in gardens like old Victorian mattresses that were buried in some of these houses in the early 1900s. We even found an old one pence coin from 1913 of George V.
about the author
Lisa is passionate about small business success, having managed funding programs for hundreds of Canadian start-ups and entrepreneurs. She is presently Senior Content Marketing Manager at FreshBooks.