As much as ants may be a pest, they can also be a helpful reminder about the importance of planning ahead.
The ant spends the summer – his “off-season” – preparing for the winter. When you run a seasonal business like landscaping, it can be tempting to think of the off-season as down time, but to remain competitive you need to have the discipline to use the winter to plan for success.
Keeping the urgent from crowding out the important is critical in business. It’s particularly tough in seasonal businesses that have very intense periods that can make or break the entire year. But that’s also why it is incredibly important to make effective use of the down time to get your marketing and advertising set up so you are harvesting the most from the busy time. Here are a couple of things you can do to make sure you are top of mind and easy to find when the customers start calling.
Tip 1: Tune up your online presence. If you don’t have a business website, get one. Its 2015 – people won’t find you if they can’t read about you online. There are plenty of services online to help you build one. If you already have a website, your work is not done. There are several things you need to do to make sure your online presence is working as hard as it can to help you find new customers. Here are a few:
- Fix your business listings. You might be shocked to see all of the places your business is listed online. A quick Google search will bring up pages of information from Yellow Pages, review sites like Angie’s List and Yelp, map listings, services directories from local newspapers and more. If you’re not managing these listings, it can damage your business. A wrong phone number or inaccurate information about your services can turn potential customers away. Search your company name online and check all the listings to make sure they are right. You need to contact each listing service and provide them with the correct information about your business, and keep it updated whenever you make a change.
- Optimize, Optimize, Optimize. A good website that can’t be found is the proverbial tree falling in the forest. Search engine optimization (or SEO) is a series of important adjustments to your website to improve its page position on search engines. Things like proper titles, descriptions of services, and links to other sites. It’s important to get this right. Think about it, when is the last time you went to the second or third page of Google results? Try searching for your services (not your name) and see who comes up on the first page. If you are not there, get to work. There are good books like “Local Online Advertising for Dummies” or lots of info online to help you. You will need to keep up to date as some of the rules change a few times a year.
- Get social. You can’t ignore sites like Facebook because 69 percent of consumers are more likely to call you if they also see your business on social media, according to a study by TMP Directional Marketing. Creating a Facebook page is just the first step. The hard part is getting followers and keeping it current. Put a link to your Facebook page in your email signature and on your business card so that your customers know where to find you and consistently post content, like seasonal tips and photos of just-completed jobs, to keep them engaged.
- Manage your reputation. You also need to have a presence on the big reviews sites like Google, Yelp and Angie’s List because 78 percent of purchasing decisions are impacted by online reviews, according to a study by Ipsos Open Thinking Exchange. Send an email to your happy clients to ask them to write a review about their experience with instructions and a direct link. Post those positive reviews to your website and social media pages to get the most out of them. You should also monitor and respond to reviews. It makes a big impact on consumers if they see that you’re taking the time to address a review, regardless of whether it’s negative or positive.
Tip 2: Clean up Your Contacts. It can be a drag to go through old emails, scraps of paper and random notes in your cell phone, but the offseason is when you need to take care of the things you don’t have time for when you are running from job-to-job in the spring. An accurate and informative contact list is one of your most powerful marketing tools. The investment you make now will pay off when you want to send a special promotion or reach out to your best customers. Maintain your contact list by adding new customers, updating out-of-date information, and entering notes about previous jobs, birthdays and any other important information about your customers.
Tip 3: Stay in Touch. They say luck is being in the right place at the right time, so why not create your own luck by being in a lot of places, often. If you plan ahead and invest a little time in your contact list, you can get in front of your customers early and often to make sure they call you when they need seasonal maintenance or decide to start a new landscaping project. Here are some ideas:
- Be helpful. If you provide information your customers need, they are more likely to open your email and, as a result, think of you when it’s time to book a job. Send regular emails with seasonal tips like indoor gardening ideas, how to make a DIY wreath, when to dispose of a Christmas tree and how to prepare for spring. If you have a robust, well-maintained contact list, you can also send personalized messages and birthday greetings. Consistency is important here. Weekly or monthly newsletters should arrive every week or month. Birthday and holidays greeting need to arrive on time or it can backfire and broadcast sloppiness.
- Send early-bird promotions to your best customers. You don’t have to wait for the spring to start booking jobs. Encourage your previous customers to schedule jobs in advance with a seasonal offer. This way, they will already be committed to you when your competitors reach out to them and you will have more time to spend finding new customers.
- Encourage referrals. Successful projects are an advertisement for your business when a neighbor or friend compliments the homeowner. Make sure that your satisfied customers keep you in mind for referrals. Email them details about your services, rates, and referral discounts that can easily be forwarded to friends, family and neighbors. With the holiday season coming up, your customers will be attending lots of dinners and parties with friends and relatives. Make it easy for them to recommend you with a quick note and a first-time offer they can share with their friends.
Having a seasonal business means that there are natural ebbs and flows in your business, but it doesn’t mean that there is up time and down time. Think like the ant and take advantage of the off-season to establish a marketing strategy that will ensure that you can focus on completing jobs and generating revenue for your business as soon as spring comes.
Paul Bascobert is Yodle’s President of Local. Yodle is a local online marketing tool that helps 45,000-plus local businesses, including 1,000-plus landscapers, find and keep their customers. You can find out more information about Yodle at www.yodle.com or by contacting the company at firstname.lastname@example.org or 877-276-5104.