It all started one weekend when James Tolentino bought an aerator to unplug his lawn before fall. His neighbors watched, and they wanted a hand at aerating their properties, too. They began to notice Tolentino’s perfect cut, clean edges, his immaculate yard. “As a result of how beautiful I had got my yard up, my neighbors would ask me to do their yards, and then I began doing lawns in other neighborhoods,” says the owner of Imperial Landscaping, which serves the greater Winston-Salem, N.C., area.
Tolentino eventually left his full-time job delivering propane in 2008 to ramp up his lawn business. “I bought a trailer, I bought zero-turns and from that, everything just evolved,” he says.
Well, his growth from a few neighbors’ lawns to the 200-plus customers he serves today didn’t happen without a great deal of work – and dedication to marketing by delivering quality and earning referrals, and by focusing on search-engine optimization and getting found on the Internet. “When I started getting ranked on top with search engines, that started driving customers,” Tolentino says.
When the phone rings – and it hasn’t stopped ringing for as long as Tolentino can remember – the first thing he asks is how the caller found Imperial Landscaping. “I cannot discount word of mouth, but the vast majority of people tell me they found me on Google, Yahoo, MSN or other search engines,” he says.
Setting a precedent for quality.
Tolentino believes in good, old-fashioned referrals from neighbors, friends and people you trust. That is, after all, how his business turned from a hobby of keeping his yard perfect into a career of caring for clients’ properties. Imperial Landscaping’s service menu covers the gamut, from mowing to lawn care to installing plantings and designing patio spaces or more.
Searching for an SEO Provider
If an SEO company comes knocking, be skeptical. That’s what James Tolentino advises.
“Legitimate companies don’t come knocking, and if they promise to put you on Google within a certain amount of days or give you a guarantee, that’s a red flag,” he says.
“Companies that have a great deal of success in SEO will not give you any guarantees, although they have great track records,” he says.
Here are some other pointers Tolentino offers when choosing an SEO firm to enhance your visibility on the web.
Interview prospects. Tolentino searched for SEO firms and spent time vetting them over the phone by asking about their process, experience and successes.
Check the reviews. Tolentino compared the information those SEO firms gave him over the phone with the reviews he read online. While these reviews are not 100 percent accurate, a slew of dissatisfied customer reviews was a red flag.
Beware of guarantees. Getting his website to the “top page” took a good four months after Tolentino engaged an SEO firm to redesign his site. Go in with realistic expectations, and be weary of firms that make promises for overnight success.
As clients asked for more services, Tolentino worked to expand his business so that he could cater to the demand. For example, the company added lawn care services when Tolentino was hearing from customers who were dissatisfied with their providers.
“They felt the larger providers were too big and would just come on their properties and spray a little here and there, and they’d be off to the next customer,” he says.
What differentiates Tolentino in a hot market packed with landscape companies and the full spread of national players is his down-home honesty and commitment to quality.
At first, Tolentino was doing everything himself, but several years ago he hired his first employee – and now there are four. He spends the majority of his time focused on client service and sales/estimating while his key folks perform the work on jobsites. Because he grew his team, Tolentino was able to provide services his customers demanded: lawn care, landscaping.
Tolentino earned his lawn care applicators license and trained his staff; though they had experience from previous jobs, he says.
Another key team member has design experience. Because Tolentino hires the best he can find, he makes sure to pay them a premium wage.
“I give them the top pay in the industry and I keep them happy – and that keeps customers happy,” he says.
When the business was young, paying a top wage wasn’t easy, he says. “I was pretty much giving away my profit. I just hung in there.
“I had a full-time job so I was able to maintain my employees’ good salaries and concentrate on impeccable service.”
The economy tanked just as Tolentino was starting his landscape business.
“Basically, the lawn care person was the first person to go,” he acknowledges, adding that he was not making money for a short while. “But I had determination,” he says.
“So, I started diverting my attention to SEO and getting ranked among the top,” Tolentino says. “Being on that first page of search results is priceless because it lends some credibility to your outfit,” he says.
After a company is found on the “front page,” the next stop for many online consumers is reviews sites. What are others saying about the service?
“Once they read the positive reviews about our company, they are calling or filling out the web form on our site,” Tolentino says.
He has solicited reviews from clients, but getting people to carve time out to write a ditty about their positive experience is a challenge.
Few will offer to sacrifice a moment or two. If they’re happy with your service, they just continue buying from you and don’t complain.
Tolentino did capture a couple of positive reviews. His company won a local customer satisfaction award, which helped. Every bit of positive feedback helps.
What also helps is hiring an SEO firm to focus on improving the search engine ranking of your website. Tolentino did some shopping around and eventually hired a firm to redesign his site and propel his rankings to the front page.
The investment was modest compared to the return. “They got my phone ringing,” Tolentino says.
Now it’s his job to make sure the service that is delivered meets expectations.
Ultimately, Tolentino’s goal is to give clients the assurance that the lawn care chores are checked off the to-do list.
“That is why they call in the first place, because they don’t want to manage their lawns because they don’t have time. The last thing I want is for them to manage me.”