Welcome to week four in my series of posts on starting and running a landscape or gardening business.

Covered so far:
Ask yourself some tough questions before you get started
Planning a business plan
Determining your market and finding customers

Having now determined what type of client you want to target, it's now time to advertise the fact you are in business and available.

Getting the word to reach all the right places isn't easy and you could spend a great deal of money achieving very little unless you give your advertising and public relations some thought.

There might be two types of garden contractor reading this: domestic or commercial.

The following information is a guide to how to approach advertising for domestic contracts but it can be applied to small scale commercial contracts where the contract may have a personal slant to it. For purely commercial advertising and PR, please read the notes at the end of this post.

Word of mouth and a note of caution
You've heard the saying that 'word travels fast'? well it's true and word of mouth is probably the best way to advertise your business. After all, it's not just peer-to-peer, it is also a personal recommendation and friends and family don't give recommendations lightly.

Word of mouth is also the quickest way to a PR disaster if something was to go wrong with a job. It is true that word and good news travels fast but it's also true that bad news travels faster so if you go down the route of working for friends and family then make sure you prepared to go that extra mile in a bid to keep your client happy.

Using the internet
The internet is evolving so fast these days that it's hard to keep track of the latest developments and before you decide what's right for you, have a think about your market segment.

Twitter and Facebook
Social media is currently taking the world by storm. it's still relatively new but extremely fluid and I'm certain we're still at the bottom of a long curve of disruptive technologies that will literally rip-up the rule book (if that's not happened already).

If you are a one-man-band operation it's going to be difficult to maintain a stream on Twitter but with mobile technology, it doesn't take more than a few moments to send a tweet or upload an image from a work location.
If a potential client tracks location based posts then there's every chance of being spotted.

Similarly with Facebook, having an account or dedicated page can be an excellent way to get your brand noticed and constantly recycled.

Social media works extremely well in stealth mode and you may not always be aware of a genuine source of an enquiry if it's generated through this method. What social media does is to create and maintain brand awareness and as long as you remain relatively active, the potential for generating enquiries in a relaxed and passive way is enhanced.

Keep in local
If you intend to work local to where you live then there's no point in advertising anywhere else other than local. Good places to be seen are parish magazines and local free papers.

Again, if you are staying local then I'd question if you need to spend a lot of money on having a website built for you. There are so many free or cheap self-build template and blog sites available and it'll only take you half a day or a day at most to produce something that can start working for you.

I started Landscape Juice as a blog in 2005 and although I would not expect you to try and replicate its content, it's testament to the fact that blogging works.

If you go down the blogging route then here's a few basic guidelines to follow:

Keep it simple - your site will function well enough with 3-5 pages but if you are a keen writer then feel free to add pages and blog posts.

Be Informative - content is key to attracting search engine traffic so write about what you know about - it's a good way to attract potential clients who share your passions for gardening or landscaping.

Be local - as I've previously mentioned. If you want to attract work locally then think locally. Centre your blog content about local stuff. Report on a garden open day at the vicarage; the local bring and buy sale; scout bob-a-job week or a school gardening club.

Include information about local suppliers such as your local builders merchants, quarries or sawmill to increase your chances of being found by potential clients who might be searching for information on or around your subject matter.

Flyers
I'm not a great fan of posting flyers through letter boxes, it was never that successful for me and if you go down this route then only expect an average return of 1-2%. However, having said that, there is always the chance that just one flyer can lead to a long-term successful relationship with a client.

Don't post flyers at random. Just as you would have identified your potential market, you will have to apply a similar process to where you target your leafleting.

If you are selling gardening services then I think you'll instinctively know where to pitch for your work. As you walk around the streets or estates, take a look at the potential client's surroundings: their car, the condition of their house and what state the garden is currently in - there's a very good chance that if the garden is strewn with toys and rubbish and looks unloved that you'll be wasting your time.

If the garden is already spic 'n' span then again you might be wasting your time. If the garden is somewhere in between and it looks like the home owner aspires to have a nice garden and their existing surroundings suggest that they might have the disposable income with which to afford having a gardener or landscaper in, then you could be on to a winner.

Van livery
Your vehicle is an ideal place to add promotional information about your services. It may cost you a couple of hundred pounds but after this, your advert goes exactly where you do and no better place to be seen is in the street or property where you're already working.

Similarly, placing a work board outside (I would ask permission) the house your working at sends out your message perfectly.

Yell.com or Yellow Pages
I'm a great believer that Yellow Pages has had its day and concerns about the environmental damage caused by the trees being pulped, the transport pollution involved in delivery and the amount of directories that go to landfill have banged a nail in its coffin. The internet has also rendered the need for a paper directory pretty useless too, so I see little benefit.

Yell.com has some potential but there is little need to pay to advertise with them because there are so many free options available. If you are offered a free listing with Yell.com then take it - it'll cost you nothing after all.

Give talks
Giving talks to local groups or even at a garden centre or plant nursery is an ideal way to not only help people but you can advertising at the same time, with the added benefit that your potential client gets to test drive your services and personality, at the same time as you do theirs.

And last but not least, there's the specialist landscaping and horticulture social network, Landscape Juice Network - sign up here.

Commercial advertising
Advertising your business brings a different set of challenges; not least because there's often a greater geographical range that a business will have to cover so therefore a slightly different approach is needed.

I would say that a website is the very first thing you should create: it doesn't need to be expensive but it does need to be done professionally so take time and care. Link your site to Twitter and possibly a dedicated business page on Facebook but if you do go down this route, make sure you update it regularly.

Again, utilising the Landscape Juice Network is also one way to get in front of a growing number of potential clients.

There are a host of topics that have been created already - see Advertising on the forum.

As always, this blog post is not exhaustive so if you have a specific question regarding any of the content or you'd like to add links to other resources or add details of your experience then please feel free.

Resources metioned in this blog:

www.blogger.com - free blog software from Google
www.typepad.com - professional paid-for blog platform
www.tumblr.com - free blogging platform



Business idea and evaluation - asking yourself some tough questions
Business plan - how to plan a business plan
Determining your market and finding customers - finding your rightful place on the ladder
Advertising your garden business
Registering a garden business

Views: 2741

Tags: advertising, business, course, promotion, publicity


Pro Designer
Comment by Jackie finch on October 22, 2010 at 15:15
so useful.......just got to DO IT!!!
Comment by Ofer El-hashahar on October 22, 2010 at 16:33
Great Blog post, Phil.

I guess it is hard to put it all in one post. I and some others, once, added few other ways to advertise a gardening business in one of the threads in Landscapejuice network. That is what great about landscape juice so many people share there experience. It helped me a lot.
Comment by Fenlandphil on October 22, 2010 at 17:13
Sound useful advice as usual Phil, thank you.
Comment by T & S Plants on October 22, 2010 at 17:56
As a Nursery we tend to approach things a little differently, in particular with relation to mail shots.

Identifying your market, as Phil states is key, which we do to a fine detail. In the past for mailshots sent out for events like Open Days, Launches or anything else a little special, we have around a 10% success rate. So 500 Letters = 50 customers, and perhaps another 25 over the next few months that have apologised for missing the event, but still interested enough to visit.

The key we have found is to personalise things:
Hand witten envelopes, forget these computer generated packages that everyone else does
Address your mailshot to the person, not the householder (okay it's easier to write to a company as we do, but do your research)

So in February 2011, should a hand written envelope land on your doormat postmarked Dorchester, that'll be from us. If it doesn't arrive, sorry, but you can still come and see us!!!


Perhaps Landscapers and Designers
Comment by Alex Brown on October 22, 2010 at 18:26
My latest discovery has been local chat forums and yahoo groups. Our local one is for called Marlow Parents and has generated a lot of work by asking clients to mention me to the group. Im sure all areas have such a thing and may be worth investigating.
I do mail shot but only to neighbors to where we are working, if we are working in front gardens then it is a good opportunity to show off our work to any potential clients nearby.
Lastly, whenever I see a fellow landscaper / builder at a builders yard I introduce my business and make sure they get a card to help build a local network. Quite often we give away and take work from competitors.
Good luck
Alex @ Blue skies garden services and water systems.
Comment by Keith Barker on October 22, 2010 at 18:49
One advertising medium not mentioned is online pay per click advertising, either on Google Adwords or on Facebook. There are tools available to enable a local supplier to restrict their advertising to their vicinity, and Facebook allows you to target via demographic criteria. We've found Adwords in particular to be a very cost effective method of advertising.

PRO Member
Comment by Phil Voice on October 22, 2010 at 19:03
Thanks everyone for your comments and some excellent additional suggestions.
Comment by joy grey on October 27, 2010 at 9:21
Word of mouth advertising certainly got my garden design and consultancy business started back in 2004. I designed a garden for some friends, charged very little, did the best job I possibly could and they were really pleased with the garden I delivered. They subsequently recommended me to a number of other people and I have been busy ever since! You are absolutely right tho' - you do have to go the extra mile when you are working locally and for friends - you end up doing a lot of hours that are then difficult to charge for.

PRO Member
Comment by Jen@A&J Owenwindows&gardens on March 24, 2013 at 19:25

Hi Phil, some interesting information here!

Comment by andy @Doughty Garden Maintenance on March 24, 2013 at 20:51

Great info there Phil,

One thing I would say regarding Yell.com (can't remember if i've already ranted about this on here) I have a free advert with them which was set up through a phonecall from them trying to sell me and advert, I said I wasn't interested so they offered me a free listing,

I agreed, they said they'd take text from my website so there was nothing more to do.

Foolishly I never even looked at this listing. I then did a quote to remove some tree stumps and after giving a price, the lady said that "It says on the website that if I quote Yell i get a discount" I had to explain that i don't do discounts and that the yell listing was an error. I didn't get the job incidently,

I checked the listing and sure enough it said in big red font "QUOTE YELL FOR A DISCOUNT" I rang them up and told them to either remove it or close the listing. they removed it.

Basically what i'm saying is always check the listings with yell or any other directory to make sure nothing like this is on your listing....

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