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Build a marketing plan that works. On the block.

Chuck Bowen | February 14, 2013

Build a marketing plan that works

The fourth annual Lawn Care Summit opens in Orlando with a focus on sales and growth for 2013.


ORLANDO – The fourth annual Lawn Care Summit opened Jan. 8 in Florida to record attendance. More than 200 LCOs and pest control operators came to Florida for three days of technical and business training focused on the lawn care industry. The event, co-hosted by PLANET and the National Pest Management Association, is sponsored by Real Green Software, Bayer, Syngenta, Agrium Advanced Technologies, Dow AgroSciences and Holganix.

This year’s conference is the largest since PLANET and NPMA started co-hosting the event in 2008, and offers training for owners to develop their sales, marketing and operations, as well as high-level perspectives on the future of the lawn care industry.

In the keynote address, Andrew Pototschnik, founder of the marketing agency Lawn Care Marketing Expert, exhorted attendees to approach marketing with as much focus and energy as they do other parts of their business.

“We’re slacking when it comes to our marketing,” Pototschnik said of the green industry. “We don’t understand that our marketing is an investment in our business. In order to grow our businesses and grow our businesses quicker, we have to invest in our marketing.”


How to build a marketing plan.
The most important thing for LCOs when it comes to marketing, he said, was to first establish a goal – what do you want to accomplish with your marketing budget? Before you get distracted by the latest shiny things, define what you want to get at the end.

“Focus on results. Focus on accomplishing marketing goals. Find out what works in your business, in your market for your customers and go down that road,” Pototschnik said.

He gave attendees a list of common goals for lawn care companies and which marketing tools made the most sense to reach them:

  • Get a lot of leads cheap: SEO, pay-per-click advertising, offline marketing targeted to your core customer demographic
  • Build route density: targeted PPC, door hangers, gift cards for customer referrals
  • Increase the lifetime value of your customers through referrals: gift cards, referral website, social media campaign reminding customers of their value and asking for referrals
  • Increase upsells: targeted phone calls, offer special services, email, post card mailers
  • Reactivation of lost customers: personal phone calls, targeted mailers, emails


He stressed the idea that “there is no such thing as old school marketing” – from telemarketing to door hangers to SEO, the best marketing is the kind that works.

“You need to be doing multiple strategies all at once, and what works for one company might not work for another company,” Pototschnik said. “Focus on what works for you. Focus on getting a return for your investment.”


4 key points.
Pototschnik counseled attendees to remember four things when it comes to setting up their own marketing plans:

  1. Marketing is an investment. The money you spend on it should produce more value in sales.
  2. Scale marketing as you grow. Plan to change, but increase, your marketing as you grow.
  3. Start somewhere, even if it’s small. A start-up company likely won’t have the budget to conduct a full-court media press. But you have to do something.
  4. Sitting on your hands costs you money. A marketing plan might not bring in all the sales you need, but no marketing plan will bring in even less.



Negative reviews. Pototschnik fielded a few questions about online review sites like Angie’s List, Yelp and Kudzu. Specifically, LCOs were concerned about dealing with negative feedback from customers (or their competition in disguise). His advice? Reply early and reply often.

“You want to be honest. Reply to all your negative reviews to address the issue. Be public about it. We all make mistakes,” Pototschnik said. “Never have an argument with a negative reviewer. Go above and beyond, publicly, to do whatever it takes to make them happy.”

Other sessions from the conference’s first day included an update on lawn care regulations in battleground states of New Jersey and Florida, M&A tips and the results from RISE survey of consumer perceptions of pesticides.
 

 



On the block

Jim Mello shares some quick tips on buying (or selling) your company.


ORLANDO – Acquisitions can help landscape contractors increase revenue, build market share and expand into new territories. But the process can be time-consuming, stressful and blow up quickly.

At the Real Green Systems Users Conference last month in Orlando, industry consultant Jim Mello gave attendees some key questions to ask when considering the purchase (or sale) of another company.


True value.
The first question every buyer and seller asks is often the most difficult to answer: How much is this company worth? Mello stressed to attendees that many variables impact the final selling price of a company – service offerings, customer mix, market and geography, and level of profitability.


Keep in mind.
Regardless of those variables, some key things to remember in any transaction include maintaining confidentiality. A two-year confidentiality agreement – in writing – makes the seller feel more at ease and protects both sides of the table during the sometimes drawn-out sales process.

“That’s the primary reason sellers are afraid,” Mello said. “The last thing you want is the word to hit the street that you’re for sale.”


Due diligence process. Mello calls this the “tire kicking phase” for the seller. “Up to this point, you’ve gotten a bunch of paper,” he said. “Now you can verify if what you’re getting is really what you’re getting.”

And this look under the hood can push the selling value up or down. Contractors should inspect properties and compare pricing structures.

Also review the financials, operational reports and service calls for the past three years, looking for continuity of service at the account level. “This shows how that company has been performing and taking care of their clients,” Mello said.

“You’re going to be taking care of these clients and you want them to be happy and satisfied when they come on board.” Mello also suggests calling a sampling of customers: “If you get disconnected phone numbers, put the brakes on.”


Purchase agreement.
When everything checks out, bring in the attorneys and put your offer in writing.

A purchase agreement spells out all the details of the sale, including terms, any non-compete agreement and holdbacks. Mello suggests including a cancellation clause as well. This typically guarantees that the next regularly scheduled service will be performed.

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