Big Online Marketing on a Small Budget
It’s no secret….. Your customers are online, and your landscaping business needs to be too. Think your old-school approach to finding business will still work? Think again. It’s time to shift your focus towards how you will leverage online marketing tools to acquire and keep new customers.
Most of us understand the need to market our businesses online, but the amount of different directions we can go with our online marketing efforts is overwhelming. What if I put all my efforts into one channel and it doesn’t produce? How about cost? What return on my efforts can I expect? The internet is an overwhelming and complicated place. Don’t despair – there are several online marketing opportunities available to contractors at low, or even no cost and choosing the right digital channels to promote your business and retain customers can be accomplished regardless of low, or no marketing budgets.
Let’s take a look at the different online marketing channels and decide where is best to focus.
Think of your website as your online sales representative. In most cases, your website is the very first impression a prospective client will have of your business and on average, a user’s opinion of your company is formed within 0.5 seconds of their visit to your site. 0.5 seconds! Depending on your company goals and competition, you may not need the greatest website in existence, but something competent, professional, and usable is essential. After all, just “okay” is the equivalent of sending your sales rep out in the field in flip-flops and a tank-top.
But you’re a contractor, not a web developer. So how will you come up with a website? Here’s some different approaches you could take:
1. Build the Site Yourself
Got some technical skills? Online website builders allow you to build a solid website without having a big budget or technical expertise. Most often, these tools are offered for free on a limited basis. That is, all basic site building features are free, but if you want fancy plugins or need customization outside the offerings of their templates, you’ll have to pay a monthly or annual fee. There is an ever-growing collection of site builders available. Here’s a list of some of the most popular. Keep in mind that while website building tools have come a long way, building a site yourself still requires a great deal of time, learning, and most likely some frustration along the way.
2. Hire a Freelance Developer
Agencies are expensive! Freelance web designers can provide competent products at cheaper prices because they don’t have the overhead of the larger agencies. When working with freelancers it is very important to negotiate all details of the project. Make certain that every feature you’ll need on the project is detailed before given a price to prevent additional costs for website features that weren’t part of the contract. Find a provider that has a solid understanding of both the technical and aesthetic needs of the project, but also possesses a good plan to provide a solid Search Engine Optimization strategy so that you might collect leads from google searchers. Seek out a provider that builds sites on a content management system so that you will have access to the site to make basic edits without having to write confusing code. Ask the developer if they offer training for making site edits post-launch. Organize all company overview text and images to prevent extra costs and keep the project moving forward.
3. Hire a Student
Don’t have the time to build a site or money to hire a freelancer? Reach out to the art/tech department at your local university or high school. These students are always looking for internship work and will often take the job for little or no money to build their portfolio of work. They might be a little rough around the edges, but they have the resources available to help them get the job done.
4. Trade Services with a Web Designer
The last website I built was for a local landscaper in my neighborhood. We made a deal where I build and maintain his website (add images & other content as needed) and in return he aerates my lawn every Spring and provides random odd jobs needed in return. It’s a perfect agreement that works great for both of us. Keep your options open.
Ratings & Reviews
I am often told by contractors that most of their work is obtained via word of mouth. No doubt, word of mouth remains champion for harvesting new leads, but the landscape is changing as company reviews and testimonials become more readily available online. Sad but true in today’s modern world is the fact that people are doing a lot less face-to-face communication and turning to the web. Luckily, 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, so a sustained effort into gathering positive reviews across different online platforms will payoff bigtime. Just because your audience has moved online doesn’t mean word-of-mouth isn’t relevant anymore. In fact, with the ease and availability of online forums and review sites, it’s more important than ever.
So how do I get reviews?
1. Create/Claim Review Profiles
Set up profiles on multiple review sites and make it easy for your customers to access. Here’s some of the most popular recommendations:
Angie’s List, Google Local, Yahoo Local, LinkedIn, TrustLink, Trustpilot, ThumbTack
In my opinion, Google reviews are the most valuable because they’ll help your local listing increase ranking based on positive reviews, but I would encourage you to have reviews open on a few different review sites. Many review sites have available widgets that help you to easily incorporate your reviews into your website or newsletters. Another neat feature of some of the sites are review request templates that will email an easy-to-use review request to your customers. If you happen to have a designated budget for review collection, companies like Review Push can help collect reviews and publish them to different review sites, thus getting the most bang for the buck out of a single review.
The best way to increase reviews for your business? Just ask. Customers understand the value of good reviews for your business (they very likely chose you after viewing positive reviews online.) If you provided a satisfactory service, they won’t be annoyed if you request a review. Act fast! The likeliness of a customer going out of their way to write you a review diminishes the longer you wait.
3. Make It Easy
The average customer will not look for ways to leave your company a review. This is why you need to ask and make it as convenient as possible for them to do so. Put direct links to your review profiles in multiple places such as a follow-up email, newsletter, website, social profiles etc.
4. Incentivize (but Don’t Buy) Reviews
Be careful here because the last thing you want to do is make it seem like you’re paying for a good review. Be careful in the wording and make an offer based on the customer writing a review, not on writing a “good” review. Maybe you offer a coupon for 10% off a lawn mow or a $5 Starbucks card.
5. Show Gratitude
If the review site allows for it, you should thank each person who reviews your services. Not a bad idea to even surprise a reviewer by sending them a freebie like a company t-shirt or hat. This kind gesture of appreciation can turn a satisfied customer into an incredibly loyal customer for years. Respond to negative reviews also. This requires biting your lip sometimes, but keep it professional and offer up your side of the story. Sympathize with customers that had a bad experience and look for opportunities to remedy the situation and have the customer take down the review.
Local online business listings are results that come up in search engines for local businesses that match the search criteria. This is not your website, this is the online equivalent of your old yellow pages listing. This listing is FREE, and perhaps the most important step in all your online marketing efforts! Google is boss here, so we’ll focus on the Google Business listing. To rank well and provide all necessary information, you must fill out your google business listing as completely as possible. Your listing should have the following items:
- Business Name
– List your business name, and ONLY your business name. No shenanigans here. Attempting to stuff this with keywords will result in ranking penalties and possible suspension.
- Address or Service Area
– Many landscape contractors might not have a storefront. Nonetheless, put an accurate shipping address and set your service area to tell google how far you’re willing to travel to perform your services. It’s an important ranking factor to have a consistent shipping address across multiple listing channels online.
- Phone Number
– Customers will have the ability to click your phone number to call you, so make sure it’s accurate.
– Again, customer will have the ability to click through to your website, but google also uses websites heavily when deciding ranking placement. Make sure your website is mobile friendly, or else Google will penalize you for it here.
- Business Hours
– Use accurate business hours so customers know when to expect you to answer calls or emails.
– Photos can help you convert potential customers. Show off the work you’ve done, an fancy looking truck fleet, or a uniformed crew. For an extra SEO boost, title your photos with a keyword and target city, for example “lawn mowing denver co”.
– A higher number of reviews will help you listing rank higher.
– Here’s where you put all the information about your company. Share as much relevant information as possible, and include keywords that are pertinent to your business without “keyword stuffing”.
We all know that social media is a free, and powerful tool for businesses, but how do you leverage social media to create more business? First, you’ll want to create business profile across social channels like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. These profiles should be filled out completely, including business services, locations, and with high quality photos of you, your crew, and past work. Ultimately, the goal of social media is to grow business, gain revenue, and retain existing customers. To accomplish this, create and maintain a good social strategy that will create a personal relationship with you and your audience. In addition to high quality photos of your crew and your work, show the personal side of your business. Create valuable how-to videos, post funny memes. Post specials deals on seasonal service. Post jobs throughout their process. Respond and interact to any comments you might get and immediately respond to any reviews you receive, positive or negative. Social media should be part of your business process. Make your profiles both aesthetically pleasing, inspiring, and resourceful.
To build your following across your social channels, give customers a reason to follow your business. Perhaps offer lawn-care or fertilizer tips. Maybe “Follow us on Facebook for Exclusive Special Offers.” Don’t oversell your specials, because you’ll train your customers to only use your services when you’re offering specials. Instead, offer specials once or twice a year and package services to get the most return on your promotions.
If you’re not in the habit of collecting your customer’s emails and adding them to your newsletter list, you should be. When done correctly, email campaigns can be your most successful marketing & communication channel resulting in a substantial increases in your bottom line. Promotional email platforms like Mailchimp and Constant Contact allow free subscriptions for up to 2,000 email list subscribers and very affordable plans thereafter with a more than justified return on investment. Also, these tools provide email templates that are easily modified and deployed to your subscribers, send mobile friendly emails, and have clear opt-out options. If you’re emailing your contacts from a personal email acocunt with 1,000 bcc’d contacts, you need to stop that yesterday!
Promotional emails are a great way to build loyalty and advertise your services throughout the year. Don’t be annoying, but a monthly newsletter or seasonal newsletter is a great addition to your digital marketing strategy. Think cross-selling. Do you offer snow removal or holiday lighting installations? What better way to inform you customers of your full range of services? Keep your email content similar to your social media approach: Provide genuine, authentic content complete with how-to’s, special promotions, service packages, and warm wishes. A great rule of thumb is to only send emails that you would want to receive yourself in your inbox.