Public relations (PR) is a very effective, low-cost way to market your service business. Many contractors think of PR as “sending press releases about design awards you’ve won.” But PR can be so much more.
Get involved in local events such as trade shows, seminars, garden shows, house tours, etc. Invite your clients (and their friends) to join you, and alert the local papers. Aim to do two to four events a year.
Host Your Own Event
Don’t sit back and wait for a good event in your market area; set up your own. Successful ideas can be:
- An open house at your shop
- A party for your clients and contacts
- A private tour of a local famous garden
- A mini tradeshow you put on yourself
Invite clients, professional contacts, VIPs, prospects and the press.
This can range from offering your place up for a charity drive to offering up your services to your town or a local charity. Don’t wait to be asked; identify work you want to do, and approach the politician or organization in charge.
Leading contractors from across the country are doing great things for their communities on an ongoing basis. For example, read about how Tim Worrell and Beechwood Landscape Architecture & Construction of Southampton, NJ, designed and oversaw construction of the Fallen Heroes Memorial in Shamong, NJ, which was dedicated this past June. Also, be sure to listen to Daniel Currin of Greenscape Inc. in Holly Springs, NC, talk about a recent project his company did in conjunction with PLANET's Day of Service initiative this past April (greenindustrypros.com/10939523).
Write articles on your area of expertise and offer them to local papers. Keep the topics timely and seasonal.
If you have good ideas but no time to write, you could hire a local editor to interview you and write the column for you. It could prove to be the best marketing investment you can make. Offer to become a columnist for a local newspaper or magazine, and turn this into a regular gig. It will pay off for those who persist.
Send press releases to your local newspaper(s) about your awards, product or technical innovations, recent hires and promotions, new clients, charity events, and other events discussed above. Set up a schedule and do six press releases a year.
The press releases must be written as “news," so don't get too fluffy or boastful. Stick to facts and make them sound newsworthy, as opposed to a commercial. Ruppert Landscape does an excellent job with press releases. Check out this example (greenindustrypros.com/10266055) from a few years ago to get a feel for how your press releases could be written.
Focus on Networking
Most landscape contractors say they grow their businesses by referrals. That's easier to do in strong economies, but is still largely the case today. But you have to take a strategic approach, and get out there and get after it. Here are some tips on networking, which is viewed by many as yet another element of public relations.
Find your focus. Identify which area of your business you want to grow the most. For example, is it landscape maintenance? Lawn care? Design/Build? Irrigation? Identify the client profile that is ideal for that area of your business. Focus your networking efforts around this target clientele.
Identify key influencers. Identify those people who know or influence this target client. They can be broken into two main groups.
The trade and professionals. Which groups and associations in your area are the best to target? Examples of trade groups include BOMA (Building Owners & Managers Association), ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects), AIA (American Institute of Architects) and your local association of realtors. Start with one association for every one or two networkers in your company. Make assignments and teach your employees how to network.
The influencers. Which community organizations contain the most influencers and are most active within your target geography? Examples of community organizations include the Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, church groups and your local garden clubs. For every one or two people in your company who will be networking, assign them to one organization. (Expert networkers can join multiple organizations.)
Plan on going to every meeting. Also spend time with members outside of meetings at their offices, and over meals and outings. Also, try to bring these people on as your clients so they can experience your services (even at a reduced rate, or for a partial service). Don’t be pushy, though. Use a soft sale approach.
Stay in front of them. By the end of 12-18 months, each networker at your firm should have built up a list of 25 people who are referring you or could be referring you. Stay in front of these people using direct mail, email and phone—along with the meetings you are attending. Don’t go overboard, though. If you see them frequently at meetings, then adjust-down the other touches.
Keep the list fresh. Cull your list of key influencers you’ve been staying in front of. Drop some people who have no interest or potential. Then add new people to the list—so you always have about 25 people with whom you are nurturing relationships. If one of your top 25 becomes a client, have one of your employees now nurture that relationship. That will free you up to continue expanding your own list.
Referrals and testimonials. Ask for referrals only after you have delighted a new client, because at that point you have made deposits in your “goodwill bank” with them. But instead of just asking for a referral, ask for a testimonial you can use—and ask for new clients to literally introduce you to potential clients.
Social Media Plays a Big Role Now
While trust is built though face-to-face contact, social media can help establish contacts and enhance your image and reputation. Facebook and LinkedIn are generally considered the most effective for networking, though Twitter is increasing in its effectiveness. Don’t try them all right away. Pick one and experiment for a while.
Social media marketing can be a great way to get your business’s name, products and services in front of potential and existing customers. When done right, social media marketing can lead to more customers and higher sales. Adhere to the following do's and don’ts, as offered by Pam Lontos, president of PR/PR (PRPR.net).
Do be predictable. You want people to know that they’re going to get a message from you every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (whatever days you decide). So create a distribution schedule and stick with it. If necessary, put reminders on your calendar so you remember to post your messages on those days.
Do follow the right format for posts. Be sure that your posts include helpful advice, insightful tips or unique trends that your followers will learn from. This kind of information will grab their attention and make them want more. The more helpful and unique your messages are, the more interest you will generate.
Do send contacts to your website. The goal of your posts is to not only reach your target audience and help solve their problems, but also to drive them back to your website to sell your products or services. It’s important to include your website at the end of all posts so visitors who want more information know where to go.
Do devote time to social media marketing. Individuals who are successful with social media marketing spend an average of five to seven hours per week developing and working within their network. It’s not always about the number of posts or contacts you make, but how targeted and quality they are.
Do make sure your profile is 100% complete. You won’t be ranked in the social media searches unless your profile is 100% complete. A photo for your profile accounts for 20-40% of your ranking, so if you don’t include a picture, you’re setting yourself up for failure. If you want your message to spread through the Internet, make sure your profile is complete.
Don’t be negative in posts. It’s better to deliver a positive message in your online marketing because people are bombarded with negative messages every day—and you don’t want to get lost in the mix. Be the one positive thing in their day so they look forward to reading your next post.
Don’t abandon traditional marketing. Don’t assume that you can abandon everything outside of the social media-marketing realm once you start seeing success. Social media marketing is just one part of a marketing plan that attracts people to your products and services. It’s useful and inexpensive, but you also need the credibility and marketing from other traditional publicity tools, such as newspapers, mailers, and radio and television commercials.
It's all part of an overall public relations strategy in an effort to grow your business. You'll get the most mileage when all components are working harmoniously together.