Creating a Marketing Plan for your Landscape Company
By Mark Bradley
Consider using a step by step process to create a marketing plan you will find its easier than you think, and it’s a valuable business tool that will allow you to plan your operation and obtain the profits you deserve.
Step One: Narrow Your Focus
From a marketing and services standpoint don’t try to be all things to all people. You really must find a target market. That may not sound like new news or new information, but it is amazing how often us landscapers forget this rule when handling new leads.
As a landscape contractor picture this scenario - The phone rings, you pick it up and somebody on the other side asks if you can you do “x.” you say “SURE” because you hate to turn away work and how hard can it be? The next thing you know, you end up being spread so thin that no matter what you started out to do in your business, you end up off target as a result of being over diversified. In many cases, when asked, small business owners describe their target market as anybody they think will pay them.
Unfortunately, the problem with that is that it becomes very difficult to distinguish your business from another – after all its unlikely you will be the best at anything if you do everything! Landscape clients want to believe that somebody can truly satisfy their needs and provide the service at a high quality and at a fair price.
If you operate a landscape company that specializes in designing and building great gardens and your lettering and signage simply reads “ABC Landscaping” you might be missing some opportunities because the public does not perceive you as the specialist. Consider adding a tag line – “we design and build dream gardens”, this way when people see your logo they know what you do!
I want you to really take a good hard look at your existing clients and find some common characteristics of your best clients. For me, the best clients are those who really trust what you do, who really value what you do, who really look to your specific expertise in or what you do, who really look to your specific expertise in order to bring them the results they want in there landscape needs.
By focusing your marketing efforts on specific geographical areas with a more targeted set of services in mind you will find that it is much easier to brand your company at a much lower cost, spreading your marketing efforts out over a large geographical area will make your company invisible in such a diverse and competitive marketplace as the landscape industry.
First identify in writing what it is that you really are trying to achieve. I find very few businesses that actually explain to their employees or other associates who their customers really are! In some cases, their salespeople don’t really even know what to look for in an ideal client.
Once you describe that, you can go out and tell the world. You really stop talking to the wrong people and stop taking work from clients who don’t fit your profile. In some cases, it’s just as important to know who is not a client, as who is.
Step Two – Find your unique selling position:
Obviously, you can see how that may relate to the first step. In many cases, something to differentiate your business can be as simple as serving a very tight niche market. It also can be the way in which you package your services. It can be in the way you price your services. It can be in an image that is related to your service. It could be your reputation for a outstanding design or a high level of attention in grounds care. The problem in the landscape industry is that your prospects really can’t tell the difference. One landscaper looks like another. It may not be true, but unless you’re spending millions of dollars in advertising to tell your story, in many cases they can’t tell the difference.
What happens is they pick up the phone and ask how much. That’s the way in which they determine one from another. They base their decision on price. If you can find a way, something that really makes you the obvious choice in your industry or in your market, and then you can tell the world that reason clearly, you will very quickly rise to the top of your market. Price really is not going to be the same issue for you at all as it is for others in the industry.
Here’s what I want you to do. A lot of times people say they provide quality work and fair pricing. Unfortunately, those aren’t differences. Those are expectations. Your prospects believe that if you’re in business, if you’ve got a business card or a sign out in front of your shop, that you meet those expectations. This can be done by an outside firm if you want, but I think you can do this very effectively yourself. Think about why your customers specifically buy from you, how they found you, what makes them stay with you, why they refer business to you. What I have found in many cases is that somebody who buys from you or somebody who uses your services is more capable of explaining what you do that is different or unique than you are. For many of us landscapers, we’re just doing it how we think it should be done.
Very often, you will find that there are little touches you provide that really are a big deal to your market or your specific clients. Those can be the things you want to tap into and communicate how you’re different. Another great place to look is with your competitors. What do they claim to do that is special? What don’t they claim? Where is your area of the industry not served? These can always be great places for you to go out and recognize when nobody is doing something, promising something, putting themselves out as an expert in a particular area. Maybe that’s a place that you can grab on to and have that as your point of difference. What you want to be able to do is to let people know how you’re different and unique. You can put it into a powerful short
phrase. I always like to tell people to try to answer a question with your
marketing phrase, your core message. The question is “What do you
do for a living?” if I am sitting at a party or on an airplane and
somebody asks what I do for a living, instead of simply saying – I am a landscaper, which is essentially just a title, I say something like “ I design and build backyard getaways for people who want their own private paradise”
Again, you’ll be tapping into your target market. You’ll be tapping into something that you provide that’s different. It almost forces the person beside you to ask how you do that. Capture a phrase that really gets at the heart of what your market is missing or at a dream – we as landscapers really are selling the white picket fence that people have always wanted. Explain something you do that is exceptional in eight or ten words. That can become not only the way to differentiate your business; it can become the real seed of all of your marketing messages. Everything will grow from that statement. When you go back to your staff and associates, teach everyone in your organization how to answer the question of what you do for a living. You create this memorable phrase based on what you know your ideal target market wants and that you can deliver. Teach everyone in your organization some variation of it and then expand upon it in all of your marketing messages. At The Beach Gardener we use “private paradise……take a journey into your own backyard” We sell people gardens that extend their homes and replace the traditional cottage or a luxury vacation by building a cottage or resort right in their own backyard.
Step 3 – Branding - Again, this is related back to points one and two. Everyone has heard the phrase “image is everything.” To some extent that’s what I’m talking about. In some ways, people really can relate and attach themselves and be more memorable if they can connect to an image. By that I mean it can be a photo. It can be the color of your trucks. It can be the way you package your services. Those are all great ways in
which you can differentiate your business. I also want you to think in terms of branding, say the name of your service or all of your services. How about creating products from your services? I essentially provide marketing consulting services to the landscape industry online, I like to call it an online marketing service for landscapers but its packaged as Landscape Management Network along with all of the other products we offer. What about adding a service feature? Let’s say you sell a product to a
homeowner. What about adding service features in ways to enhance those products you sell and then naming them? For example, if you offer an urn service, why not call it the “Outdoor Decorating Package” and add optional services like Christmas Urns + Lighting to increase your revenue within your existing clients. The whole idea is to create something much bigger than just being the mow and blow maintenance service or the typical landscape contractor that needs to compete based on price. What if you provided platinum-level garden care packages? You could then have other levels of services you offer. You could even call your weekly service visit something more interesting like “the weekly tune up”. Some of it is just packaging and branding. But how often have you purchased a product because you felt it was somehow bigger than just the product itself. You may have thought this because of the way it was named or because of the people who were endorsing it.
Step 4 – Marketing Kits - Some of you probably have a box or two or five of those glossy tri-fold brochures that you wrote a bunch of marketing sales copy for and said you are this or that. Not to pick on anybody, but that’s just what a lot of us landscapers believe we need to create. We think we need a brochure. What I believe and what we teach the LMN members is to create something that I call a marketing kit. It’s a series of documents that can be very flexible, can be personalized easily; you don’t go down to the print shop and print 10,000 of unless you have 10,000 people you want to
send it to that day. It’s something you can personalize for the good leads or a prospect that you are really interested in. In my landscape company we have a twenty five page book of colour photos and descriptions of past projects that we leave with potential clients, each one costs us about one hundred dollars, but we only leave them when we know we have a serious prospect, it is well worth the expense when you consider they will leave it out on the kitchen table during the decision making process, we are confident its quality and contents will be unmatched which will ultimately bring us the type of projects we are interested in. A package can come in many forms. I like to use a pocket folder or file folder too, I get the folder custom printed with our logo and I fill it with many documents, pictures, certifications and vendor brochures that relate to the specific sales meeting, it can contain anything that relates to that lead whether it’s a snow lead or a landscape maintenance lead. Then I like to create just a series of information sheets. The first one I like to create is something I call “The Difference.” By that I mean whatever your business is, you create a one-page document. Start by sitting down and picking out the three absolute biggest benefits of doing business with your firm or the three absolute ways in which you know you are so different than anybody else Take
one whole page and explain how you’re different Rather than talking about how great you are or how long you’ve been in business, spend an entire page getting into a benefit and a difference, at least three. That page alone will be so different than what most people are producing at the first sales meeting, you will already have started to differentiate yourself from the others. You obviously need to have a page that talks about your products or services. Just give the basics. I love case studies of past projects, state the problem, show some before and after pictures and describe how your solution solved their landscape dilemma. A case study is proof. You’re showing them somebody that got the result you’re telling them they’ll get.
Step Five – Lead Conversion.
Make sure you have a professional lead management and sales system, you need to have a repeatable way of managing new leads and following up with clients to make sure that every qualified lead is converted into a contract. Your marketing plan only be as effective as your lead conversion capability. The cost of letting the good qualified leads pass you by is far greater than anybody can calculate.
Step Six – Use Technology - One of the great things about technology and the web and web sites and all of the things that are out there now is that it really allows you to market to prospects and current clients over time. By having a great web site people can visit you and see your work without ever calling, people don’t use the phone and phonebook anymore, and most people are to busy to meet five contractors to look at pictures that can be seen on the web. Your prospects will almost certainly visit your website before calling – if you don’t have a great website than get one! At Landscape Management Network, we offer outstanding websites from $3500.00. You may consider creating a monthly e-newsletter that people can subscribe to or unsubscribe to automatically. It keeps you in front of your clients, because you’re pumping out this publication on a weekly basis or a monthly basis with plenty of information on your services as well as some educational information so that people understand your services. First, you need to have a web site. Then you should build into your website some manner of capturing email address of people who visit your website. Many times they’ll come there and if you don’t capture that information, you’ve lost the opportunity to market to them over time.
I suggest looking into google ads, It can really be a great source of local traffic. For many people, the web is the phone book. You should be investigating and finding out about pay-per-click local advertising, where you actually only pay for clicks for people who live in a certain geographic area. There are some tremendous automation tools like this out there that can really work for you 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, and really make what
may be a small business, a small marketing effort, seem much larger.
Step Seven - This last step is really in some ways more of a housekeeping one, but
it’s amazing how important it is. There are simply not enough hours in the day.
You didn’t start your business because you wanted to be a marketing expert. I suspect most of you started your businesses because you wanted to do whatever it is that your business does in this vast landscape industry. What you probably found very quickly is that what that business does consume is most of your day. Unfortunately, marketing, which is an extremely important aspect of the survival of a business, is very easy to shove aside as a result of the day to day work involved in running your landscape business.
I suspect that many of you who are reading this article are owners of the business and your card says “President” or “Owner” or “Principle,” probably one of your most important functions that you have in your business is the Chief Marketing Officer, although you never play that role. Carve out a portion of every day, if that’s what it takes, and make an appointment to do marketing. Just take it one step at a time. It is such an essential aspect or element of the long-term, not only success, but just survival of your business that you have to treat it as such.
Mark Bradley, President of Landscape Management Network
Visit us at landscapemanagementnetwork.com for more information.