Being in the green industry wasn’t my original plan, even though I was shoving around a wheelbarrow at a young age.
However, after about 20 years I’ll have to admit, it’s worked out pretty well for me. Who would have known when I was spraying lawns in 1998, I’d find a career I love, decades later.
After seven years as a lawn and tree care technician and another seven in consultative sales, a shared vision unfolded.
The company I worked for understood that in order to market our full-service offerings, we needed to have someone dedicated full-time to marketing. Since I was the sales guy who handled the company’s Facebook page and kept harassing my sales manager about how we really needed to blog, the challenge fell into my hands.
In early 2012, I began my official first day as an in-house marketing manager. Our 7,000 clients often forgot which various services we offered. Between full-spectrum residential and commercial solutions for lawn, trees, landscapes, athletic fields, and even structural pest control, there was a big marketing challenge ahead, and one I enthusiastically accepted to help the business grow from $10 million to a $13 million in annual revenue, just 4 years later.
To be successful at marketing in the green industry you have to be excited about learning and finding new resources when you need additional help. One of those resources just happened to come my way the spring of 2012 via a PLANET (now NALP) webinar.
After listening to Chris Heiler’s webinar about marketing for lawn and landscape companies, I downloaded all the free resources I could from the Landscape Leadership website. Over the next five years I asked Chris questions on Facebook, spent time with his team at a marketing conference, and low and behold, after those years of seeing great marketing success in my current position, I decided it was time for an exciting new challenge.
In the summer of 2016, I left my latest employment of 13+ years to join the Landscape Leadership team as part of the account management team. We handle 12 to 15 green industry clients at any one time. These are companies with annual revenues from $2 million to $20 million. They range from B2B to B2C, maintenance to design-build, from the Northeast, to sunny Florida and Texas, the Pacific coast and even in Hawaii. It has been a blast, and I’m still learning a lot every day.
7 Lessons Straight From Me, Just For You
At the time I am writing this, I’m about five months into working at Landscape Leadership. It’s been a great move for me, and every week I seem to stumble upon some new revelation about better marketing for landscapers, lawn care providers or tree services. I thought I had it pretty well understood, but it’s fulfilling to find out ways to improve, even if that means admitting I was partially wrong about something in the past.
One thing I especially love about the green industry, is that when it comes to knowledge, our people are very giving. All those years, Chris gave me tips, even when he knew he may never get our business.
That’s what I aim to do with this article: share with you my own seven lessons to help you become a better marketer for your business.
Lesson #1: Working with Most Marketing Agencies is Frustrating
Realistically, unless you are working with a marketing agency that specializes in lawn care, tree care or landscaping clients only, you’re going to be paying to teach someone how to do their job.
Even the best digital agencies in my local area had very little knowledge about lawns, trees, landscapes and pests. I had to explain when the right time to run certain campaigns were, why we couldn’t use words like weed “killer”, and how drastically different pavers were from poured concrete patios. The lessons just never seemed to end.
I thought this was just my former frustration but unfortunately, the more I talk to green industry companies across the country, the more I see that this is very common.
A good marketing agency will eventually come to understand some of these subtleties (hopefully!), but in the first couple of years, expect them not to know how to tell crabgrass from crabcakes. That’s a lot of wasted time and results.
(RELATED READING: Hiring a Marketing Agency - 5 Questions to Ask Your Potential Partner)
Lesson #2: Very Few Green Industry Companies Have a Healthy Relationship with PPC Advertising
Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising can work in some instances, but it comes at a premium price and typically a lousy ROI. I suspected this when I started out as an in-house marketer, so I banked on writing really good content instead, then moved on to supplementing the content about four years later with a couple thousand dollars of PPC ads each month (mostly as an experiment that yielded lackluster results).
In my experience, PPC ads just never delivered when compared to organic leads through our website. You’d drop thousands of dollars in a month on those PPC ads, get a 1-5% click-through rate, and end up with about 10-20 leads. On top of that, only half of those leads would reach the appointment or proposal stage (despite calling them immediately, and several times over afterward). Then, if your sales team closes at 65%, you end up selling less than twice your ad spend.
That doesn’t leave much room for profit. In my opinion it’s better to invest in inbound marketing than spend endlessly on pay-per-click.
Lesson #3: Writing 400+ Blog Articles Didn’t Make Me an Inbound Marketing Expert
I was an early adopter of the whole inbound/content marketing approach back in 2012. I consistently wrote one to three articles every single week, and our website traffic soared! We even got a ton of leads too!
Here you’ll see just what a few years of blogging can do to website traffic. That’s a 546% improvement! The orange line indicates our website traffic in 2012, and the blue shows just how many more visits we got in 2015 after a couple years of blogging.
And remember, it ain’t all about the traffic! Where’s the quality leads? Wouldn’t you like to see a 83,000% increase in leads through your site?! Yes, you read that right, no typo!
The following graphic illustrates how blogging turned our website into a lead generation machine! Look at the flatline orange (2012) compared to the blue (2015) leads coming in from our website.
No doubt about it, blogging really works if you do it well. The big issue is, not every landscaping or lawn care company that blogs is doing it in a manner that will actually make a difference. When it comes to blogging, it’s not so much the what (having a blog), as it is the how (the strategy and execution).
I missed a huge amount of opportunities too, by only doing it mostly right. If I had only known then, what I know now. I still see green industry companies still making these big mistakes.
Common Blogging Mistakes:
- Writing short articles, less than 600 words
- Not using best SEO practices in blog articles
- Assuming every reader is ready to buy and not writing content for all stages of the buyer’s journey
- Not having an offer and Call-To-Action (CTA) for people who are just starting their online research. Not everyone is ready for a “FREE ESTIMATE NOW!” Have an offer for the person who is just starting to dream about their potential project.
- Blogging about topics that are too much about your company and not enough about solving a prospective customer’s problem. Would you really care if you saw that your plumber won the Golden Plunger award or more about the article about the best kinds of new faucets for your bathroom?
- Not being consistent. If you aren’t blogging two to six times every month (600+ word articles), progress will come slowly.
(RELATED READING: The Number of Pages on Your Website Matters - Here's Why)
Lesson #4: Great Google Ranking Requires More Than a Nice Article or Pretty Website Page
I fancy myself a pretty good writer and communicator. I know I can make an article about mulch actually interesting and practical. Still, that’s not enough for great results.
I’ve learned a ton since joining Landscape Leadership about what makes an interesting article get found. Little tweaks like internal linking with the right anchor text, using extensively researched keyword phrases in blog articles and website page names, headings, copywriting, image names, image ALT text, and meta descriptions, etc. makes a huge difference in landing on that first page of Google.
Lesson #5: There’s an Easier Way than Using a Franken-Ware System of Software and Apps
Cue the groaning monster….(GUURRrrrRRR). I had slapped together so many systems, programs, spreadsheets, and apps that my marketing would have won best prize at the next Halloween party. Sure it worked pretty well, but it was way more complicated than it needed to be.
There’s never going to be one piece of software to run your entire business. However, there is a super cool tool that I knew of but hadn’t used before coming to Landscape Leadership. And, it can handle most of your sales and marketing activities. HubSpot is the one piece of sales and marketing software that could have easily replaced many systems combining:
- CRM (my pre-sale use of RealGreen System’s Service Assistant)
- Marketing and sales pipeline tracking (our many Excel spreadsheets)
- Most of my emails (Microsoft Outlook)
- Most of my web analytics (running tons of Google Analytics reports)
- Website and blog management/improvements (I can’t believe I thought Wordpress was easy to use then)
- Email marketing software (the only cool thing about MailChimp was the “Rock On!” Monkey fist when you sent off an email)
- Social media publishing/monitoring tools (Oh my many columns and csv file uploads on Hootsuite)
- And a few more, but this is tiring even just remembering now!
Use a single “all-in-one” marketing platform, like HubSpot. Working within one platform will allow you to be much more productive and allow your reporting to be more comprehensive and accurate.
(RELATED READING: 10 Reasons Why HubSpot is Perfect for a Landscaping or Lawn Care Business)
Lesson #6: Lawn Care Companies, Tree Services & Landscaping Companies are Too Fixated on Social Media
Now let me first say I love the concept and application of social media for business.
Unfortunately, the game has changed drastically since 2012. You have to pay to make an impact now. I made the list of Lawn & Landscape’s Top 25 Twitter Accounts in the green industry with good ol’ @MyTomBom, and I had a ton of Facebook Fans, Pinterest Pins, and people wanted to know what I thought about Instagram for landscapers, but it was all vanity metrics.
The way things are now, you’re not going to get a huge source of website traffic or sales qualified leads organically from social media. Don’t stop doing it if you feel like social media allows you to connect with your customers, employees and community, but from a
pure marketing perspective, make sure your money is first invested in your website. Another way to say it: Invest in yourself, not Facebook.
Writing a 900-word educational blog post is hard work. Posting a picture or sharing a link on Facebook takes 60-seconds. This is why 90%+ of lawn and landscape industry companies have a Facebook page but less than 5% publish meaningful content to their blog on a regular basis. Guess which provides better results when it comes to landing new customers? Do the hard work.
Lesson #7: Green Industry Companies Don’t Spend Nearly Enough on Marketing
The U.S. Small Business Administration recommends spending 7-8% percent of your gross revenue for marketing and advertising if you're doing less than $5 million a year in sales. We believe 2-5% of revenue is ideal for most green industry service providers (this would include marketing-related salaries).
I was thrilled to have 2.5% to work with at one of the nation’s Top 150 Landscaping Companies, but that is far more than most companies are allocating to marketing each year. How do you expect your company to grow when marketing is an afterthought?
(RELATED READING: How Much Should a Landscaping or Lawn Care Business Spend on Marketing?)
Here’s Your Marketing Homework
Those were some tough lessons I’ve learned over the years, but also still make me grit my teeth at my own naivety as I look back. But, we do the best that we can and try to find what help when we can. It’s about progress, not perfection.
I want you and your company to succeed, regardless if you end up becoming a Landscape Leadership client or not. Learn from these lessons and start creating a better marketing plan for your landscaping, lawn care, or tree service company. Now the bell at the end of class is going to ring in a few moments, but let me give you some homework first.
Homework: Sit down with your team and ask these questions:
- How do we feel about our current partnership with our marketing agency? Is it actually a partnership or are they just a vendor?
- Are we spending or investing when it comes to online marketing?
- Do we have a blogging strategy that is delivering a lot of qualified leads, and can we say how many?
- Is our website really just an online brochure, talking about how wonderful we are, or is it meeting the needs of prospective customers?
- Are we using too many systems or tools to handle the sales and marketing for our company?
- Are we spending too much time or money on social media, particularly compared to developing great content for our website? Why? What have our results been?
- Are we spending 2-5% of our annual revenue on measureable marketing initiatives that give us the results we want?
I hope those questions generate a lot of great discussion and better decisions! Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, and subscribe to our blog. You can also take advantage of a bunch of free resources on our website. When you’re ready to talk (or even apply for a job years later like me), we’d love to hear what you’ve learned along the way!