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.
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.
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.
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.
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