Growth in Your Back Pocket

The most effective marketing strategies for landscape contractors are based on networking.

The key to making your business grow may be in your back pocket. Check the names in your PDA, Blackberry, cell phone or address book. All those friends, relatives and associates could lead you to more business opportunities than you can handle.

As you look through the list of people you know, you may be surprised by just how many there are: business associates, accountants, lawyers, insurance brokers, friends and relatives. And the list doesn’t include only the people you speak with in your day-to-day life. What about the people who aren’t listed, like your next door neighbor, mail carrier, barber, electrician or plumber? The number of names you can come up with is longer than you ever thought possible.

In fact, it is estimated that most people could come up with 250 names. And that number will grow at an increasing rate as you begin to make contact with your personal sphere of influence. Everyone on your list also knows 250 people, meaning that once you get to know a person and he or she becomes part of your network, you’re also gaining access to the 250 people in that person’s network.

An aspect of human nature is that people would rather do business with someone they know and trust than with a stranger. The proof lies in the fact that most people use the same accountant, car repair shop and doctor again and again.

The same can hold true for you. The same 250 people who make up your personal sphere of influence­—the people who know you and like you—automatically comprise a network that represents the strongest base of potential customers for your business. They are not only potential new clients, but also potential referral sources.

Start Expanding Your Sphere Now

While 250 is the typical size of most people’s sphere of influence, there is no need to limit it to that number. Each one of us meets new people every day. We encounter new faces when visiting clients, while attending social gatherings, and even waiting in line for a cup of coffee.

It is mandatory to always have your business card with you. You may also want to carry a notebook or tape recorder wherever you go so you can write down names and contact information of newcomers to your sphere of influence. You’ll be astonished by how quickly it grows—and by how many new business opportunities arise out of cultivating your existing, ever-expanding referral group.

Of course, once you’re building a business relationship with someone from your sphere of influence, it’s critical that you provide the highest level of service. Otherwise, you stand a strong chance of losing their business, which could mean losing the other 250 members of their sphere of influence, as well.

Therefore, it’s critical to be consistent, which is the best and only way of building a strong reputation. All it takes is one bad experience for a customer to find a new lawn service or irrigation contractor, even though that customer has been loyal for years.

Create a Lead-Generating Machine

Getting started with contacting your sphere of influence is always a bit difficult because it’s easy to make up reasons why you don’t have the time. That’s why I recommend that you break your spheres into sub-spheres.

For example, that pile of business cards from potential clients, vendors and professional associates can be put into groups. Then give each a value based on the potential business they can generate to your company. This will help you identify who you should start contacting first.

You must be consistent and persistent once you start contacting your sphere. Start by sending out an initial introductory letter to all of the A’s on your list. Follow up with a telephone call, and then a second mailing of a postcard or brochure.

Keep in mind that this is not a one-shot deal. You may need to repeat the entire process several times in order to get a response.

When you talk to your contact, be sure to ask if they or someone they know has a use for your services now or in the future. Do not get discouraged if you hear them say no. Keep contacting that individual on a regular basis. I have found that it can take up to four calls or letters from the same contact before I received either an opportunity to bid or the name of a hot lead.

Most landscape contractors have a file filled with proposals they’ve given to clients over the years. This is the “hottest” sphere of potential clients in your possession. Contact these clients on an annual basis, asking them for the opportunity to bid on any of their projects. Ask for the names of other project or property managers within their company that you can contact.

You can contact them using the same letter, telephone call and mailing scenario that I outlined a second ago. These are very hot leads and should not be taken for granted.

When it comes to your ever-expanding sphere of influence, none of your 250-plus contacts should be taken for granted. Each represents a potential source of new leads and business. A little planning, persistence and consistency can turn that sphere into a revenue-generating machine. Start making it happen today.